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Freebee Friday: Chromebook Test Drive

C731tLooking to try out Acer’s latest rugged Chromebook? The company is offering trial loaner machines to schools at no cost, all you have to do is apply and then listen to a call with their marketing people. A few weeks later, a Celeron-powered C731T touch-screen Chromebook will arrive to try out. There’re neither shipping fees nor any obligation to buy any systems, making this one of the best freebees we’ve seen.

Freebee Friday: Hooked on Freebees

Phonics freebeeMastering phonics is the usually first step towards reading and writing fluently and Primary Concepts’ FREEPhonics is ready for your school. Housed inside an eBook, FREEPhonics has 82 lessons that teach the basic sounds to our earliest learners and how they fit together as the basic building blocks of language. There are sections on vowel pairs, blends, diphthongs and the whole package has been designed to be a fun introduction with exercises that add, switch and remove letters from existing words to see the effect. It’s all free, but you need to register.


The ABCs of Phonics

IXL_Learning_Analytics_Trouble_Spots_ScreenshotIXL Learning’s pre-K Language Arts program has been updated and expanded with a greater emphasis on phonics as the building blocks of reading and literacy. The curriculum focuses on adaptive learning that adjusts to the student’s needs so that everybody learns at their optimum pace. Its teacher-based IXL Analytics can not only track where each student stands next to expectations and the rest of the class but identify those in need of extra help.


See and Connect

AP3916-RightExtreme Networks’ Wireless AP 3916 is a device that can do double duty by acting as an 802.11AC access point and a high-power IP surveillance camera. The small, surface-mounted access point has a 2-megapixel sensor and high-qualilty lens that creates full HD video streams in H.264 format. It has a wide field of view of 112-degrees and can be configured with Extreme’s ExtremeCloud Cloud-Managed Networking Platform.


Dock Your Mac

Henge 11 bLots of schools continue to use early Macbook 11- and 13-inch Air models because despite being small and light, they have been durable. One problem is that there aren’t a lot of accessories for them still on the market. That is, except for a very nice docking station from Henge Docks that is not only inexpensive but charges the system while connecting to a monitor, speakers and USB accessories.

The white plastic Vertical Docking Station measures 8.8- by 5.5- by 4.3-inches and is solidly built. Because the system sits vertically, it takes up less desk space than the notebook on its own. It matches the Apple industrial design with a smooth finish and heavily rounded corners, but its white plastic shell looks odd next to the Air’s aluminum skin.

There are docks that work with just about any 11- or 13-inch Macbook Air systems, made from mid-2010 to today as well as ones for MacBook Pro models. The devices come fully assembled, have a rubberized interior and there’s no software to load. On the downside, there are no cables included in the box, but more on that later.

The dock’s top opening matches the profile of the Air system so you can’t put the notebook in backwards. While you’ll need to remove any protective plastic cover, the Air system slides right into the dock and only requires slight pressure for the ports to make contact, seat and connect. You need to be careful that the system is inserted straight down or the ports won’t line up. The system can be released with a slight tug.

The dock’s base has nonslip feet so it stays put on a desk and the notebook is securely held in place on the desk, but there are no tie-down screws for permanent installations in computer labs. Plus, unlike traditional horizontal docks, you can’t open the lid and use the system’s keyboard while its docked.

At the base, the dock has pass-through connections for the system's USB and mini-Displayport connectors. The vertical dock, however, doesn’t work with newer Thunderbolt-based displays, although other vertical Henge products work with Macbook Pro and Macbook Pro Retina models.   

Henge 11 aOn the top is where you plug in your power cord and there’s a handy power-cable guide on the side. Next over are audio and the system’s other USB port, which is out in the open and perfect for use with a wireless keyboard receiver or a thumb drive.

It’s the fault of the Macbook design, but there’s no way to easily connect the Vertical Docking Station to an Ethernet wired network for use in a computer lab. My solution is to use an inexpensive generic USB-to-LAN adapter, which worked fine.

Because the dock and Macbook Air rely on mini-Displayport for video, there’s a good chance you’ll need to get a video adapter cable for the display or projector The good news is that Henge sells ones for HDMI and DVI devices for $25 each, but if you shop around, you can get ones for half that.

There’s a trick you’ll need to use to get the Vertical Docking Station to work with a display or projector. Because Macs go to sleep when the lid is closed you’ll need to get the InsomniaX, NoSleep or Caffeine app which keeps the system from nodding off. Or, if you’re fast enough, plug the Macbook into the monitor you’ll be using and make sure it is sending the image to the screen. The, quickly unplug the mini-Displayport cable from the Macbook and plug it into the dock while inserting the system into the dock. It’s awkward but effective.

The dock connects in a matter of seconds, turning a 2011 vintage Air into a desktop system that’s connected to a 27-inch in full 1080P HD resolution. That’s a step up from the system’s native 1,366 by 768 resolution display.

At $65, the Henge Docks Vertical Docking Station is a true bargain, but only includes a 90-day warranty. This is not nearly enough to stand up to the rigors of school use.

The bottom line is that Henge Docks’s Vertical Docking Station can inexpensively turn any Macbook Air into a desktop computer with all the expected accoutrements. Just as fast, it can be released and resume its life as a notebook computer.


Henge 11

Henge Vertical Docking Station


+ Inexpensive

+ Doesn’t take up much space

+ USB and video connections

+ Rubberized interior

- Need cable adapter for video

- 90-day warranty

More iPad for Less Money

Ipad-201703-gallery1The latest iPad is like a breath of fresh air by replacing the Air 2 line at a steep discount. The updated 9.7-inch iPad is powered by the latest A9 processor, has enough battery to last for 10 hours of use and comes in silver, gray and gold. It combines iOS software with access to more than a million apps, many of which are free educational programs. It comes with 32GB of storage, WiFi and Apple’s Retina 2,048 by 1,536 resolution screen. Starting on Friday, it’ll be available for $329, $309 for students and teachers and $299 for schools -- at least $70 less than the retiring Air 2.

The Budget Balancing Act

Allovuue logoPut away those interlocking budget spreadsheets because Allovue’s Balance Budget lets you not only see the big picture of your district’s budget but all the minute details from every department. The software’s interactive approach makes using spreadsheets obsolete and inefficient by allocating available resources and putting the budget in line with the district’s educational and institutional goals. All members get real-time updates of the changing budget, including across the board salary and benefits packages and the company is working on a toolkit for adding district-specific options. You can see a demo of the app.

The Printer As Print Shop

Epson WorkForce Enterprise WF-C20590 finisher  bridge unit and high capacity paper unitEpson dives into new printer territory with its WorkForce Enterprise WF-C20590, an inkjet printer that can do all the printing a school (or district) needs. Capable of delivering 100 pages per minute, the system has ink cartridges capable of creating 50,000 color and 100,000 black and white pages. The system can not only hold more than 5,000 pages of a variety of sizes and thicknesses but can collate and staple documents. The best part, rather than a laser printer that requires a dedicated electrical line, the C20590 tops out at 320-watts of power and can adjust its ink nozzles to make up for clogs.

Freebee Friday: Mummies, Uncovered

MummyMummies are the subject of a real-world exhibit at New York’s American Museum of Natural History and the stars of an online show as well. The presentation, which originated at Chicago’s Field Museum, is a historical testament to the way people lived and died in the ancient world. There are mummies along with many of the items they were buried with. In addition to the expected Egyptian mummies, there are ones from Peru.

MummiesWith the help of the latest CT scanning technology, isotopic investigation and DNA analysis, archaeologists have been able to peer inside mummies. This virtual unwrapping revealed a lot about mummy no. 30007 and her world. Her bones are clearly on view without having to unroll her burial shroud or disturb her journey into the afterlife. Plus, scientists have taken all the information about mummy no. 30007 and put it together in an eerie sculptural recreation of what she might have looked like before she died of tuberculosis, something like 2,000 years ago.

Charging Two-For

PVC-Cable-5Those teachers who need to live and work in both the iOS (iPhone and iPad) and Android worlds, never seem to have the charging cable at hand. It’s not a problem anymore with Yatra’s 2in1 Super Cable. The USB cable has a micro-USB plug for Androids but a tethered snap-on Lightning plug for charging an iPhone or iPad. The braided cable has been designed to last and has a three-year warranty. It’s available with plastic or aluminum plugs, cost $20 and could be the last cable you need to get. 

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