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Freebee Friday: Content City

Net textsInstead of concentrating on creating classroom software for PCs and Macs, Net Texts is focusing on individual apps for iPads and iPhones, Androids and the Chrome browser. The system provides a good variety of classroom content that’s absolutely free with over 1,000 K-12 courses that are ready and waiting. The service has everything from a look at Greek sculpture from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art to a Big History survey.

 

Go to Guides

OneNote-ViewForget about handwriting and distributing study guides for tests because Microsoft’s OneNote has a new ClassNotebook Creator. It's all free and lets teachers clip digital and online items and assemble them into a comprehensive study guide that they can use, update and reuse. In fact, Chegg online curriculum service has made doing this a lot easier with a preset icon for grabbing the content for a section.

 

 

 

 

Wireless to Wired

Wrt-8 bLike the Linksys WRT 1900AC router for its high-speed and long-range? You’ll love the matching WRT-8 wired switch. It not only has the same color and design as the wireless router, but the feet of the router fit into indentations in the switch so that the two can be stacked, making for a neat professional look. On the downside, due to heat issues, the router needs to sit on top of the switch.

  Wrt-8In addition to eight wired gigabit ports on the back, the WRT-8 has a bank of LEDs up front that show that it’s turned on and which ports are active. Just like the WRT 1900AC, you can turn the lights off if you want a stealth network. The switch is unmanaged, but its ports are autosensing to optimize data flow and they automatically shut down if they’re not being used to save power. With built-in Quality of Service software, the WRT-8 can prioritize a LAN’s operations so that video can take precedence over slower-moving emails. It costs $70.

Desktop Redux

B27cxVeWaL8KmRUA_500To those who say that with the proliferation of tablets and notebooks, there’s no place in a modern school for desktop PCs, I say, look at the Asus M70AD. It’s a desktop system that exudes power, has all the creature comforts that schools need and has a secret when the lights go out.

Sure, tablets and slim notebooks are good for general everyday tasks, but the M70AD is a powerful machine capable of doing the heavy-duty work at a school or district. Just as appropriate for an in-house programmer or using CAD software as it is for teaching a graphics- or video-editing class, the bottom line is that the M70AD is for those who require a system that is more robust, powerful and dependable than the typical school notebook.

On the downside, at 17.0- 6.9- by 16-inches, it is a lot of computer. The slanted silver tone tower case has a lit on/off switch, pull-down door for drives and front ports. It comes ready for schoolwork with a wired keyboard and optical mouse.

On top there’s a thoughtfully designed tray for a phone or tablet. It not only includes a Near Field Communications (NFC) chip for instant connections and printing, but has a Qi-compatible inductive charge pad so that you’re device will never run out of power.

Hrl74c4FVbR8Dp9a_500Inside is one of the most powerful and best equipped systems around with a quad-core 3.4GHz Core i7 processor that can run as fast as 3.9GHz when it needs to. In a world dominated by machines with 2- or 4GB of RAM, the M70AD has 16GB of 1.6GHz RAM chips as well as a 1TB hard drive that’s assisted by 8GB of solid state flash storage; it’s the rare PC these days that includes an optical drive. If its $1,100 price tag makes you balk, Asus has a detuned version with a Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM for about $800.

Its forte is video with an Nvidia GTX 650 graphics accelerator board that has 1GB of its own video memory. It can also take up to 3GB from the system’s memory banks for a total of 4GB of available video memory, making it perfect for demanding graphics, video and scientific work. While the system can deliver 4K resolution, I only used an HD monitor and a W-XGA projector with the M70AD.

It also has something that the others don’t: the system’s 300-watt power supply has a built-in Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). The system can run for about 10 minutes without any external power, but after a minute cuts off the graphics so the display goes blank. Still, it’s enough time to safely and gracefully shut down the system without losing a bit of student or testing data. The best part is that the UPS is all automatic.

You can get inside the case without resorting to picking up a screwdriver and there’s a good reason to do it. There’s a lot of room for future upgrades like changing or adding hard drives and PCIe cards.

One of the best connected PCs anywhere, rather than one or two USB ports, the M70AD has a total of eight, two of which use the faster 3.0 spec; there’s are a pair that are up front for use with a memory key or portable hard drive. It also has a flash card reader (for Secure Digital, CompactFlash and Memory Sticks) as well as a pair of PS/2, HDMI, VGA and DVI video. This system has a wired LAN port as well as 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth built-in.

T8dmDU5SYomaIkRZ_500Its audio can blow traditional computers away. Inside is Asus’s Sonic Master hardware and software and the system has audio jacks for a surround sound system.

It all adds up to phenomenal power that puts most desktops to shame. It scored a 2,808.2 on Passmark’s PerformanceTest 8, putting it in the upper echelon of school computers and roughly four-times the performance potential of the typical PC. It not only puts out smooth video but worked well with CAD images and scientific modeling like the University of Colorado’s PHET and NASA’s Eyes Mission simulations, making it a great classroom demo machine.

Even when it is using all its computing potential, the system stayed cool ro the touch and uses about 110 watts of electricity. This adds up to an estimated power bill of about $25 per year (assuming it gets used for six hours for every school day and electricity costs 12 cents per kilowatt hour, the national average).

In addition to Windows 8.1, the M70AD comes with some cool programs, like Fingertapps Instruments (for music lessons) and 32GB on Asus’s online WebStorage system for three years. The Asus Manager consolidates the most important configuration items – from BIOS and driver updates to setting up the power scheme. The system includes a 1-year warranty.

If you need a high-performance system that doesn’t have to move from room to room, the M70AD puts power in its place.

 A

YnDIYCbyUS2L486j_500

Asus M70AD

$1,100

 

 

+ High performance

+ Good assortment of ports

+ NFC pad with inductive charging

+ Built-in UPS

+ Powerful Graphics

+ Top configuration

 

- Size

- Price

 

 

A New Vision for Education

Netop Vision MERather than adding onto NetOp’s Vision software, the company has brought tablet technology to the classroom with an all-new Vision Me app. Available only for the iPad, there are separate programs for teachers and students, but there's nothing for Android systems. When it’s set up, Vision Me can not only put the teacher in control of what every student sees on their screens and block Web access for errant students, but can broadcast to a select group or display any student’s display on the classroom's projector.

A big step forward for education, Vision Me’s software is integrated with Google Drive and Dropbox so that items can be stored locally or online. Any assessment can have videos in them and teachers can get an instant snapshot of each student’s progress. The system can be used over vacations as well as the summer break, costs $7.50 per student per year and there’re district-wide discounts.

Sensing Science

Product.gw-ph._hero.001.1280.721Vernier’s Go Wireless sensor system has a new module for pH levels that like the temperature sensor doesn't require a cable. It can not only sense acidity and connect to an iPad via a Bluetooth link, but its output can be graphed with the free iPad app. The software graphs pH level from acid to base, making it perfect for a biology or chemistry lab. It costs $99.

WiFi, the Right Way

AerohiveThe latest version of Aerohive’s ID Manager makes setting up a BYOD environment a lot easier for anything from a traditional PC or Mac to a tablet, phone or even Xbox game machine. The set up emphasizes the self-service approach by providing every new client with a pre-share-encryption key that can be generated from a student list or configured on the fly for a guest. At any time a student can be dropped, for things like an expulsion, or new ones quickly added.

Next Gen iMac

Imac-retina-step1-hero-2014Starting today, there’s a new iMac in town that blows the others away with what Apple is calling a Retina 5K display. The key is that Apple's latest all-in-one computer has a 27-inch display that can show an amazing 5,120 by 2,880 resolution, double that of the old iMac and four-times the number of pixels as traditional HD material. That makes it perfect for image and video work and can even make a regular old Web site look better, but the new iMac has no touch-screen options.

Encased in aluminum, the iMac has a slew of ports in the back. Inside, the system exudes pure power and comes with the latest Mac OSX Yosemite software. You get the choice of either a 3.5GHz
Core i5 or 4GHz Core i7 processor along with up to 16GB of RAM; each system comes with matching keyboard and optical Magic Mouse. The iMac’s graphics have been upgraded with either AMD’s Radeon IMac27-Yosemite-Homescreen-PRINTR9 M290X graphics processor with 2GB of dedicated video memory or the M295X graphics chip with 4GB of built-in memory. You can set it up with either as much as a 3TB hard drive or up to 1TB of solid state flash storage chips.

Despite all these high-performance extras, the new iMac with Retina 5K Display uses one-third less power than the last version of the system, according to the company. On the other hand, price is no object here, because the new iMac with the base Core i5 processor and 1TB of storage starts at $2,499. There are smaller and less powerful models for as little as $1,100, but they have more pedestrian screens.

Freebee Friday: Picture Paradise

FlickrNeed historical photos of the Depression for a lesson or just looking for a certain shot of piles of money for a school fundraising flyer? Flickr has millions of copyright-free images, including at least one to suit your needs. Just set the License terms to Creative Commons on the main page and search to your heart’s content. Many of the images have historical explanations, links to similar ones as well as information about who shot it and often what camera was used. In addition to shots of the first moon landing and Prohibition era-cartoons, there are images of every president, early computers and a whole lot more. In many cases the only restriction is that you give credit to the originator.

Self-Service Set Up

Casper-focus-focus-on-app_800_531_84_1396010603If setting up apps on your school’s systems is killing too much of your time, let the users do most of the work. JAMF’s Casper Focus software can simplify the situation by sending iPad apps and ebooks to a group of students and then recalling them when the class is done. The app can lock a classroom’s worth of screens on a particular site or text, increasing the time spent teaching. The app is a freebee.

 

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Tech Tools are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.