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Freebee Friday: Test for Free

Class Results 3 croppedIf expensive assessments leave a big hole in your budget, Naiku’s Benchmark Now not only can assess and track the progress of every student and class, but also allows the use of in class instant quizzes. Naiku for Teachers costs $159 and adds the ability for teachers to create, share, and import their own assessments. The company’s District product add things like importing existing tests as well as integrating with a student information system and creating school-based reports. There are free trials available.

 

Cord-free Audio

901_lifestyle1Regardless of its source, kids can listen to audio lessons, podcasts and video wirelessly with Califone’s 901 Wireless Headphone. Rather than the headphones connecting directly with the source, they work via a small connection box that plugs into a headphone jack. The set’s batteries should be good enough for a  full school day of listening and has a 20-foot range so that students can listen in different parts of the room. It costs $59.50.

Light Up a Lesson

C205 bThe promise of small, light and classroom-ready projectors has finally been fulfilled with Acer’s C205. It may not be the brightest projector in the school, but it is cheap to use, can run on a battery and should be in every school that teaches in small groups.

 At 11.9-ounces and taking up only 1.1- by 5.6- by 4.2-inches, it is among the smallest and lightest projectors available and makes traditional devices look gargantuan. A major oversight for a projector that will in all likelihood travel in a bag or pocket is that the C205 lacks a protective lens cap. The lens is recessed, but it’s not enough.

The white and silver device is quick to set up and doesn’t have a lot of things to adjust. In addition to a focus knob, there are only three brightness settings, an audio enhancement setting and a volume control for its pair of 2-watt speakers. Once you focus the image, you’re set to teach. In fact, it lacks things we’re accustomed to seeing on even budget machines, like keystone correction, the ability to change the image’s color temperature and a variety of presentation settings.

This is actually good news if you want a basic projector that is quick to get going or bad news if you like to tweak the settings. All told, it takes less than a minute to set it on a table, turn it on, connect with a source and start teaching.

C205 cUnderneath is a single tripod mount and a flip out front leg, but the feet aren’t adjustable, which might be a problem when using it on uneven or crooked surfaces. It comes with an AC adapter, HDMI cable and a felt bag, but there’s no remote control available.

Inside, the system has a Digital Light Processing imaging target that delivers 854 by 480 resolution, which should be just enough for most lessons. It was able to create a 41-inch image with the projector 39-inches from the screen.

The key to its abilities is that rather than a traditional high-pressure lamp, the C205 uses LEDs that are rated to last for 20,000 hours, or roughly 15 years of typical school use. In other words, expect for the C205 to outlast three generations of PCs never pay for another lamp.

For its size, the C205 has good connection potential with an HDMI port that can be used with an MHL-based tablet or phone source. It also has an audio and USB connector, but the latter can only be used to power other equipment and not to show items on a memory key. One big advantage of this arrangement is that the USB port can power a Chromecast receiver.

It worked well with wired and wireless sources, but the big bonus for teachers who have to roam the halls during the school day is that the C205 can be powered by its 3,960 milli-amp hour battery pack. On the downside, when you unplug the projector, its light output drops.

C205 aIt charges in a couple of hours and the 4,200 milliamp hour battery can run the projector for 2 hours and 20 minutes, more than enough for several lessons far from an AC outlet. Unfortunately, it has a crude battery gauge that glows green, orange or red and then puts an empty battery image on-screen as it is about to run out of power.

It was able to put a strong image on-screen in 10 seconds and get to maximum brightness almost immediately, which means that there’s no warm up period with students staring at a blank screen. After several hours of use with a variety of material, from interactive Web sites and online video to work with Word and Excel, I was impressed by its versatility. Surprisingly, for such a small projector, it has a fan, but the case never got more than warm to the touch.

The C205 puts out 146 lumens of brightness, slightly off its 200 lumen rating. That’s just about bright enough to be useful in a small group with the lights on. On the other hand, its image gets washed out when filling a classroom screen and it can’t compete with the sun streaming in on a cloudless June day. All out brightness is beside the point for such a small, light and self-powered projector.

The image it projects is fine for most educational material but suffers from screen door distortion that makes the projected image look like a piece of graph paper. Overall, the C205’s color balance is skewed towards blue, but there’s no way to adjust the color temperature of the projected image.  Its greens are too light and blues that look more like purple, but it excels at delivering accurate grayscale tones. 

All this is beside the point because the C205 works well and is more than enough for small group work. Even when in its maximum brightness setting, the C205 uses just 20 watts of power. That translates into an annual expense of less than $3, assuming it’s used for 6 hours a day during the school year and the district pays the national average of 12 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity. Put another way, the projector has a carbon footprint that roughly the size of a tablet computer and is about as expensive to run for a year as the cost of a cup of coffee.

At $350, the C205 is about half the price that schools expect to pay for projectors. Despite its limitations, having a projector this small, powerful and inexpensive will be a revelation for most teachers used to big, bulky and complicated devices. Think of its incredibly low operating expenses as a bonus.

A-

C205-sku-preview

Acer C205

$350

+ Tiny, light projector

+ Battery powered

+ Sharp images

+ Low power use

+ Simple operation

+ No lamp to change

 

- Few adjustments

- Screen door distortion

- No keystone correction

- Lacks remote control

 

 

 

Next-Gen Robot

8ae513f143c2125d14469bec810ff2cf_largeWhen Birdbrain’s Duo kit comes out later this year it will have been worth the wait. The system is being funded by a KickStarter campaign that has exceeded its goal and should be available in November. Like other Birdbrain kits, Duo combines the ability to program a sophisticated processor with input sensors and output actuators with arts and crafts. In other wrods, everyone’s bot is different. The robot is tethered to the controlling computer and can be programmed in Scratch, Snap or Create Lab Visual Programmer.

 

Connecting the School

DAP-2660_A1_Image-L(Side)The latest in school networking is D-Link’s DAP 2660, a WiFi access point that can not only use the latest 802.11ac format for top bandwidth, but blends in with the background, looking more likea  fire alarm. The $230 device works in both the 2.4- and 5GHz bands, can be wall mounted and powered by either an AC adapter or its Ethernet cable. There aren’t any protruding antennas to get in the way and it’s covered by a lifetime warranty.

 

Freebee Friday: OSX +

Osx yosemiteIf your school has a lot of Macs, you’re going to want to download and try out the new software, OSX Yosemite. It’s a step up and includes some interesting updates, like the redesigned Safari browser and the ability to move schoolwork among a Mac, iPhone and iPad. The beta software is free for you to try. All you need is a system running Mavericks (it’s also a freebee) and an Apple ID to grab the software and give it a test drive.

 

Freebee Friday: Test, Test, Test

Edulastic bWith probably the most test-heavy school year about to start, what’s a poor teacher to do? Snapwiz’s Edulastic has a new tool to create, administer and grade digital tests, and it’s all free. The tests are given in a secure browser widow, so all members of a class don’t need to all have the same hardware and software. Teachers can get instant feedback on their student’s work.

Powering Up the Classroom

Banner-juice-powerConnecting and powering up computers will get a lot easier with Bretford’s Juice system that allows schools to incorporate AC outlets or USB plugs and network connections into many of their tables. The power module has flip up outlets that fold away when not needed and up to eight tablets can be daisy chained with an innovative cable that has a magnetic connector.

Chrome with Oomph

6a00e54faaf86b883301a3fcd9717d970bIf your school’s Chromebooks have had trouble keeping up with tough tasks, Acer’s latest C720 model has a fourth generation Core i3 processor that’s at least 50 percent more powerful than the Atoms, Celerons and Pentiums that power Chromebooks. The system uses a 40005U model that runs at 1.7GHz and you can order it with 2- or 4GB of RAM and 32GB of solid state storage for $350 or $380. The system still has a 1,366 by 768 11.6-inch screen, WiFi, Bluetooth and a good assortment of ports.

Tidying Up those Tablets

Gc35538_powerdock5_1The biggest downside of the digital classroom is all the portable gear that now inhabits schools, from notebooks and phones to tablets and speakers. If only there was an inexpensive way to organize and store the gear while it’s charging. Enter, Griffin’s PowerDock 5 Charging Station + Storage, which at $99, can end slate chaos, at least as far as warehousing goes.

The design is ingeniously clever. Inside the 5.1- by 8.3-inch stand is a 50-watt power supply that sends out five streams of 5-volts of electricity to power and charge all sorts of devices; each device can grab up to 2.1-amps while connected. On the side are five USB outlets, which line up with the storage rack’s opaque plastic dividers that hold the devices.

The Charging Station does the rest, doling out power to each and every system. It works with tablets, phones and even portable hot spots. In fact, it can power just about anything that uses a USB-power plug.

Gc35538_powerdock5_3All you need to do is put the devices in between the dividers and plug their power cords into the USB outlet on the side; it can’t power devices that don’t use USB power. The computer rack can comfortably accommodate a variety of slates in their cases, from both iPad models, and just about any Android tablet up to those with a 10.1-inch screen. Beyond that, the charging rack gets unwieldy.

The result is that rather than having a warren of power strips and extension cords, each Charging Station can neatly store and consolidate the electrical cables for five systems into one power cord. Happily, it uses a two-prong plug, so the system works easily in older schools with antiquated wiring.

Over the source of several weeks, the Charging Station worked well, powering a variety of gear and never got more than warm to the touch, even when it was charging two iPads, an Android tablet, a Windows tablet and a Samsung hot spot. It can work with devices up to about an inch thick and everything fits in neatly.

The best part is that the Charging Station can put an end to leaving the classroom at night with stacks of tablets charging with individual power adapters. While the typical classroom will need five or six Charging Stations for a one-to-one arrangement or two or three if the devices are to be shared, they don’t take up a lot of precious shelf or table space and have soft rubber feet so they won’t scratch a countertop.

Gc35538_powerdock5_8If the gear travels to the kids, the Charging Station stand can be used on a cart. When it’s time to start digital school work, it’s easier and safer for students to grab a system from the rack rather than from a pile of slates or a shelf.

Because of the variety of items it works with, the unit doesn’t come with the charging cables you’ll need, but you likely to already have them. The problem, and it’s a small one for schools, is that with the tablets and the power outlets next to each other, you really don’t need cables that are 3- to 6-feet long. My advice is to either buy some shorty cables or get Velcro tie-wraps.

In fact, its only shortcoming is that you can’t stack the Charging Station units to make best use of a classroom’s limited space. Griffin and others, make cube-shaped storage systems that can be stacked, but they cost a lot more than the Charging Station’s $99, which is one of the best classroom bargains available today.

 A+

Gc35538_powerdock5_7

Griffin Technology PowerDock 5 Charging Station + Storage

$99

+ Neat, efficient storage for five tablets

+ Full USB charging

+ Works with iPads and other tablets

+ One power cord for up to five tablets

+ Inexpensive

 

- Can’t stack units

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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.