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Freebee Friday: Donate-a-Thon

Donors chooseIf bake sales aren’t adding up to enough cash to help fund the extras that every school needs, try setting up a crowd-sourcing project. Here, you post a description of what you need, set a goal and encourage parents and local businesses to contribute to meet – or hopefully exceed – it. DonorsChoose adds a twist: They take care of getting you the gear, whether you need a piano or a set of STEM sensors. The group asks for a 15 percent fee to help them fund their operations, but it’s optional. They’ve done this for more than 840,000 classrooms so far. Yours could be next.

The Bright Screen

Rp653Even as classroom projectors get brighter and cheaper, there’s a movement to replace them with large flat panel displays for everything from videos to interactive lessons. In addition to allowing the teacher or students to get right on top of the display without casting any shadows, a flat panel screen, like BenQ’s RP653, can stand up to the strongest sunlight streaming into the classroom. The 65-inch BenQ screen goes a step further in the movement towards collaborative lessons with the ability to interpret 20 separate finger inputs rather than the projector standard of 10. The Castleberry (Texas) Independent School District has outfitted 128 of its classrooms with these BenQ screens, which also have been engineered to reduce flicker as well as the blue portion of the light spectrum. The best part is that its tempered glass surface has been treated to cut down on germs, making it the cleanest thing at school. It costs $3,500.

Surface Pro 2 Power Trip

1536 adapter frayed cordIf the electrical cables on your school’s Surface Pro 2 power adapters have started fraying, you’re not alone. It’s a common fault with the systems and for safety’s sake, it makes sense to get rid of them right away. After all, the shorted circuits can cause them to overheat or worse.

Since all SP2 systems are long off warranty, you’ll need to get a replacement power supply. Happily, there are a multitude of choices when it comes to solving your Surface Pro power problems.

Eb9378d6-2583-46fb-8e22-109c4f83e953_1.50875b4ba77af87db6b1a77f2958cc8fFor most, the first stop will be the online Microsoft Store to get a direct replacement adapter. If you like, you can get the exact replacement adapter (model 1536) from Microsoft for $80. It puts out the same 48-watts that the Surface Pro 2 needs to recharge and has a USB port for charging a phone or tablet at the same time. It should fit right in with a magnetic power port that snaps right into the SP2. That said, you can do better on price.

Delta surface Pro 2To start, you can get the exact same adapter from Delta, the OEM manufacturer that makes the original for Microsoft. It costs $38 – half as much and not only puts out a steady 12-volt stream at up to 48-watts it looks the same and comes with the needed magnetic power cord. Like the original, it has the Surface Pro 2’s oddball magnetic power port and you can plug it right into an AC outlet or use the included cord. A bonus is that the power brick has a USB power port.

Runpower sp2Runpower has a clone of the Surface Pro 2’s original AC adapter that sells for less than $25 – one-third that of the Microsoft adapter -- yet matches the original 48-watt adapter spec for spec. It not only has the SP2’s unique magnetic plug, but the same bulky AC plug. Like the original, it also has the handy USB power outlet for charging a phone or tablet and is thermally protected against overloads.

24W-200x200A good stand-in for the Microsoft original is Laptop Charger Factory’s $23 replacement AC adapter. Although its 45-watt output is a little below-spec and might require slightly more time to get a full charge, you probably won’t notice the difference. It has the Surface Pro 2’s magnetic power plug and has a big bonus: you can plug the Laptop Charger Factory's AC adapter right into an AC outlet rather than using a traditional power cord.

Bolweo sp2At about $16, Bolweo’s Surface Pro 2 power adapter is a bargain basement power supply and one-fifth the cost of the Microsoft replacement device. On the downside, it puts out only 43- versus 48-watts for the original device, so you might need to spend some extra time charging the system’s battery pack. The Bolweo adapter may be larger and not look like the original, but it has the SP2 unique magnetic connector, is UL certified, supplies the right voltage and protects against overheating or overcharging.

3, 2, 1 BLAST-OFF

Vhs space stationaNot many of us could expect to hitch a ride on a rocket to the International Space Station, but the Virtual High School has something that’s nearly as good. VHS’s 15-week Space Station Academy Course is a middle-school science curriculum that simulates a trip to low earth orbit with a variety of lessons that are thinly disguised as missions. Each class has a variety of videos, interviews with astronauts and interactive elements to help students feel they really are in the space station.

It all starts with pre-flight training that has the class go over the design of the orbiting structure, learn its scientific objectives and get trained on how orbits, rockets and weightless life works. It culminates in a simulated Soyuz launch to the ISS.

Vhs space stationbOnce the preliminaries are out of the way, the next few lessons concern the actual daily activities on the space station as well as learning about the zero-g environment and what happens to the body in space. Other activities include fixing the station’s solar array and making a robotic arm.

Finally, it’s time to go home and the post-visit phase includes lessons on reentry and the heat that builds up on the spaceships hull from friction with the atmosphere. The sequence ends with a review of all the concepts learned on this mission and the creation of a report that summarizes the activities.


Hear All

FlexmikeLarger classrooms require an amplified teacher so that everyone can hear and understand the lesson, and Lightspeed Technologies avoids the hassle of a wired microphone with its Redcat audio system and FlexMike. Capable of reproducing the full range of the human voice, FlexMike weighs less than two ounces and can sit on a lanyard around the teacher’s neck. It has its own volume control and a school day length battery that can be recharged with a Micro-USB cord or two at a time with the $63 Cradle Charger. It’s being used in the San Antonio Independent School District’s 2,500 classrooms.  


Freebee Friday: Getting an A in Security

A+ securityThe need for enhanced security at schools has never been greater but this doesn’t always translate to the needed budget authority. Enter A+ Security, which attempts to consolidate all the security aspects at school in a cost-effective manner. After assessing the risks to students, staff and property, A+ will put together a plan that can include everything from video surveillance and access control to panic buttons and visitor management systems. Their technology can even record license plates of those in the school’s parking lot. It’s all summed up in the company’s “Securing Our Schools” booklet – a must read.


Any Which Way You Can Dock

HorizontalDockMacBookPro201615TB_LP_R9The dearth of docking stations designed for Apple’s MacBook Pro notebooks is at an end with the latest pair of devices from Henge Docks. They not only have the same dark gray industrial design of the current systems, but work with everything from the 13-inch MacBook Pro (with or without the Touchbar) to the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. They should be out in a few months.

Starting at $499 the  Horizontal Docking Station lets you connect to a variety of accessories by placing the notebook into the dock, while still being able to use its screen and keyboard. The dock has more than a dozen ports and can Horizontal hengedrive four separate screens while connecting to a wired network, HDMI, audio and SD cards. The dock not only charges the system’s battery, but give access to your choice of a pair of USB-C or Thunderbolt ports.

The company does a flip with the Vertical Docking Station that is simpler and starting at $149, it's much less expensive. Slide your system into the dock and it can connect with a display, keyboard and mouse. You get pass-through access to two USB-C connections.

Table It

Table compositeIf the profusion of projection tables is any measure, classroom projectors are not meant only for the traditional wall screen anymore. Like Epson’s all-in-one Interactive Table Cart, these tables not only let you tilt the work surface but they are perfect for small group interactions and collaboration. While all have wheels for rolling from room to room as needed, the carts vary from small, easy-to-move ones to huge behemoths that have motorized adjustments.

The good news is that they generally work with Epson’s family of ultra-short BrightLink projectors and can make the finger the most effective teaching tool. On the downside, many of these projection tables cost as much or more than the projectors they work with. Of the four, only the Boxlight table includes the needed interactive projector.

Conen workIT

Conen workITOne of the most automated interactive table available for the classroom, Conen’s workIT is also one of the largest. It has a motorized lift and tilt mechanism that can raise or lower the work surface at the touch of a button. Its 67- by 50-inch rectangular whiteboard projection surface yields nearly 74-inches of workspace that can be tilted from full vertical to full horizontal positioning.

When it’s time to move to another room, the workIT’s 2-inch casters allow it to be rolled to where it’s needed. The casters lock in place to keep the table from rolling away. It’s available at CDW for $3,000.

TeamMate WorksZone Interactive Table 2

WorksZone-HEROThe WorksZone Interactive Table 2 may not be the largest or cheapest interactive projector table available, but it does have a built-in motorized height adjustment mechanism that can help make going from horizontal to vertical positioning a snap. On the other hand, you’ll need to tilt the screen manually if you want to change its angle.

The 60-inch work surface can be combined with an optional notebook tray turning the WorksZone system into a completely self-contained teaching center on wheels. It’ll fit through standard doorways and can be rolled to where it’s needed on its lockable casters. Unfortunately, it’s one of the most expensive of the four at $4,100, $4,400 if you want the notebook tray.

Copernicus irover 2

Irover pairWhile it isn’t as flexible as the others here, the irover2 has a cool trick up its projection sleeve. While it can’t be set at any angle, the irover can be locked in at vertical, horizontal or a tilt of 10-degrees, covering many of the most popular orientations.

It has a built-in notebook tray and optional lockable storage box for a variety of accessories and gear. You can manually adjust its height by 17-inches, bringing it close to the floor for smaller or wheelchair-bound students. On the other hand, it works with a variety of projectors, has convenient handles for pulling or pushing it into place and a handy tray for markers and erasers. At $1,950, the iRover2 is a bargain.

Boxlight P10 DeskBoard

Boxlight deskboardDon’t let its oval work surface fool you, Boxlight’s DeskBoard delivers a lot of interactive space for students and teachers to work with. The 67.3- by 55.1-inch whiteboard means that it can work with the largest interactive projectors and accommodate the largest group of students. Its motorized mechanism allows the DeskBoard to be set up horizontally, vertically or any angle in between as well as move up and down nearly 20-inches.

There’s a big bonus: a wired remote control that lets the teacher get the positioning just right without breaking a sweat. The P10 package costs $5,400 with an education discount, but includes Boxlight’s P10 projector, Quizdom’s Oktopus presentation software and a full PC.


Chuck the Keyboard

A12Is Lenovo’s Android-based Yoga A12 a mini-notebook or a tablet? The answer is a definitive yes. One of the first systems to replace the mechanical keyboard with Lenovo’s touch-sensitive Halo surface that has the outline of the keys, the A12’s 360-degree hinge allows it to be a traditional notebook, tablet or upright presentation machine. You tap it just like a regular old keyboard, but since the keys have no height, the whole A12 can be slimmer and lighter. First used on a Yoga system, Halo includes haptic buzzing feedback as you type and learns your style of typing to improve its response. The A12 system weighs under 2.2-pounds, despite having a 12.2-inch HD screen. The $300 system is powered by an Intel Atom x5 processor and comes with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage.

Tinker with STEM

Tinker 10 packStem projects get a lot more creative with Tinker’s Electric Motors Catalyst kit. More so than the electric motor, gears, wheels and other parts, the key to the Catalyst kit’s success is its deck of cards that challenges students to build anything from an egg scrambler to a vehicle. The company provides helpful videos and standard alignment. Available for $45, Tinkering has 10-packs for $399.

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