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Freebee Friday: Creative Collaboration

MC170_Collaborate_to_the_Core2-1 copy copyNeed some hints and pointers on how to get kids to work together? Mimio’s “Collaborate to the Core! 2” is a great start. The free book picks up where the 2013 manual ends with lots of real-world help. Inside are seven tips that teachers can use every day, from how to arrange the room to where to find downloadable lessons.



Keys to Technology

GP-500BP_R_closeHow do you fit the tone, richness and strength of a grand piano into a classroom-sized upright? You start from scratch and redesign what a piano is and how it works, and that’s exactly what Casio has done with its Celviano Grand Hybrid pianos. The company’s engineers worked with Beckstein to create a piano that is as much musical instrument as electronic marvel. It has Casio’s Natural Grand Hammer Gp-b300Action Keyboard that uses the same materials as on high-end premium pianos and adds Linear Morphing Technology for smooth transitions between soft and strong sounds. The result is two pianos that sound larger and more vibrant that you'd expect: the 4,000 GP-300 (right) is available now and the upcoming $6,000 GP-500BP (upper left) that should be available in November. They not only can mimic the tonal structure of three different popular concert tones and fill a room with sound but are the rare pianos that have a headphone jack for private practice.


STEM sans Wires

Action.gw-temp.ga-ipad._ice._freezing-point-depression-of-ice._salt._high-school.001.590.332Look at the typical lab bench during a STEM lab and you’re likely to see a tabletop dominated by a tangle of wires and cables. No more, with Vernier’s Go Wireless family of wireless sensors, which can connect you with the data without a cord in sight.

In addition to dedicated temperature, pH, heart-rate and exercise probes, Vernier has made Go Wireless much more versatile with the Go Wireless Link module that allows the system to work with more than 40 existing Vernier sensors. The list includes everything from accelerometers to UV light sensors, but lacks the ability to connect with a weighing balance or a microphone. It’s a sure bet that Vernier will come out with more sensors for this line as time goes on.

As is the case with the dedicated sensors, the Link line connects wirelessly with either the company’s LabQuest 2 handheld or its iOS and Android Graphical Analysis apps. On the downside, the system lacks the ability to work with a Chromebook, PC or Mac wirelessly, but Vernier is working on support for these platforms.

Product.gw-link-tp._hero.001.1280.721After getting and installing the app, you’ll need to get the probe and the pad communicating with each other. All the available sensors show up on-screen and connect in about 20 seconds, so there’s no time wasted getting the gear to work.

The Link’s case has LEDs that show it’s on and connected. Inside, it has a 250-milliamp hour battery pack that can power it for a school day. It’s recharged either with an included USB cable that snaps onto the Link or Vernier’s $40 Go Wireless Recharging Station that lets you charge up eight Links devices at once.

Once it’s connected, you can dig into the sensor’s ability, its software version and its all-important battery level. You can even rename it so that a classroom of kids can latch onto the right device.    

This is where the Graphical Analysis software takes over. It can accommodate up to three simultaneous graphs, show just the data as a chart or display each sensor’s output. It all comes together with the app’s fever graphs, which automatically adjust the range and scale to comfortably fit the data.

IMG_0048Before you get started, you can have the class press the icon in the upper left that looks like a pencil and paper to make a prediction. Then, let the lab proceed to see if they’re correct. At any time students can make predictions by scribbling on the graph.

As is the case with its other gear, Vernier comes into its own with its library of labs and activities that are in its printed books and on its Web site. There’s no shortage of YouTube videos to show how to do things.

The system works equally well with an iPad and an Android tablet. Go Wireless Link can not only help neaten up the lab but lets kids use their phones to collect data if the school doesn’t have enough tablets.



Vernier Go Wireless Link


+ Wireless sensor connection

+ iOS and Android data collection and analysis apps

+ Works with LabQuest 2 hardware

+ Supports 40 sensors

+ Good lab outlines available

+ Charging bay for 8 devices


- Ignores many of Vernier’s sensors

- Needs to be charged periodically



The No Decision Notebook

21145543838_29cf89c207_oTired of having to decide between tablets and notebooks? Don’t, because Toshiba’s Click 10 provides both at less than an iPad goes for. Built around a 10.1-inch screen that can show full HD material, the Click 10 weighs 1.2-pounds and is only about one-third of an inch thick. The key to its usefulness at school is that it comes with a one-pound snap-on keyboard that transforms it into a mini-notebook that’s better equipped than just about any tablet with the latest 1.8GHz Intel Atom processor, 2GB of RAM and either 32- or 64BG of storage space. It has WiFi and Bluetooth built-in, a pair of cameras, two USB ports and a micro-HDMI connector for putting a lesson on the big screen. Price: $350.


Instant 4K

20509216642_23f678e974_oGot a bunch of graphics computers that are stuck in the HD or earlier era?  Kensington has a plug-in adapter that can turn just about any recent computer into an ultra-HD powerhouse. All use the latest DisplayLink chips and software to bring top resolution to the classroom on a budget. At $100, the VU4000 plugs into the USB 3.0 port on a PC and has its own DisplayPort for connecting to an ultra-HD display. You can also set it up to create a monitor array with a pair of screens. It works with Windows 7 and 8 but not 10.


Freebee Friday: Scaling the Heights

MacBook-ElCapitan-SafariNotes-PRINTThe latest version of Apple’s OS X software for Macs is out and it’s a free download to upgrade. Called El Capitan, the system software works with all models that were introduced in 2009 and some older ones, provides a modest performance boost and lets you show two apps at once on a split screen. The list of new features include new Notes program that can accept phots, documents and other files as well as an improved Spotlight search engine that can check for things like weather, news and stock prices. You can now pin sites from the Safari browser and – happily for the noisy classroom – you can now instantly mute the audio.

Freebee Friday: An End to Cyberbullying

Common senseThe Internet may be a great place to learn on your own, but it’s full of bullies who take advantage of kids. October is National Bullying Prevention Month and Common Sense Media has a full program on how to educate students and teachers about the dangers of being online. It has everything from what cyberbullying is and what’s safe behavior online to advice on how to deal with the worst elements of the Web. While you’re there check out the organization’s apps and eBooks.


Freebee Friday: A Big Boost for Computer Ed

Ms tealLooking to start up to intensify your school’s computer education program? Microsoft is helping out with $75 million. No, you can’t have it all, but the company will use its YouthSpark nonprofit to seed schools with the gear and expertise needed to make computing rank among reading, writing and arithmetic. The money will be distributed through TEALS, Technology Education and Literacy in Schools.

Log-in and Learn

Edulogo 2In this age where teachers and students often need to show up with their own computers, the flexibility to be able to work with anything and everything is essential. Education.com’s online curriculum not only can keep a classroom filled with lesson plans, activities and games, but works with just about any computer you can throw at it.

Because it runs in a Web browser window, Education.com can work on anything from a traditional school PC, Mac or Linux machine to an iOS, Android or Chromebook system. This opens a world of mixed machines at schools, regardless of whether students and teachers bring their own or are supplied with whatever is on hand.

I used Education.com nearly every day for several weeks with whatever computer I had handy, including iPads, Androids, PCs, Macs and Chromebooks. The beauty of this scheme is that not only will the service work on a variety of classroom devices, but kids can use it at home for assignments or enrichment. On the downside, the screens can look slightly different in different browsers and the browser framework can be clunky compared to dedicated apps that use the entire screen.

It takes just a minute to log in and the site’s response is quick and reliable. Education.com is well-organized and visually-oriented. There's a prominent green bar at the top that has links for Games, Worksheets, Workbooks, Activities, Lesson Plans, Science Fair and a catch-all for everything else in More. Once you get to the content overview pages, there’s a search bar, grade and subject categories as well as preview images of every item.

Ed.com common coreEducation.com does a great job of supplying teachers with ideas and materials for primary students, but some of the categories get sparse for older children. For instance, Education.com’s Brainzy games stop at 1st graders and there are no lesson plans beyond the fifth grade level

Brainzy forms the core of Education.com’s offerings. While the games often run on half the screen, they are effective teaching tools with hints, lots of animation and sounds and a sequenced approach that builds on prior usage.

While many of the activities have built in quizzes, there’s no comprehensive assessment section. Plus, the teacher’s dashboard for tracking student progress only covers the Brainzy games and not the rest of the site. Parents can’t log in to see how their children are doing and teachers will need to transfer the results manually from Education.com to their grade books.

Teachers have access to a wide variety of resources and content, most of which include Common Core links. In addition to a slew of games, the site has read-along stories, songs and no shortage of games and activities. One of my favorites is the Science Fair section, which contains grade- and category organized practical classroom math and science ideas. There’s everything from what’s inside power tools to the golden ratio.

The newest section is a deep selection of lesson plans. Created by actual teachers, there are six subject areas for pre-school through fifth graders. The plans are generally complete, but might need some customization to cover specific state requirements.

Ed.com lesson plan

Happily, each lesson plan has a suggested time limit and often individual activity timing; most are calibrated for 90 or 100-minutes. There are hundreds of plans with more being added all the time. They have a standard format and are dominated by bullet points for the main ideas, so are easy to follow.

A big bonus is that the lesson plans generally have a variety of worksheets, and this is where Education.com excels. The site has 15,000 worksheets available in an extensive library that covers topics like the different parts of the body, mixed math problems and an excellent set of a dozen planning sheets for arranging the main idea and supporting facts for writing an essay.

On the downside, there’s no place for teachers to share ideas, lesson plans or even just chat about what works and what doesn’t. The company is working on something it calls Teacher Tips for this sort of interaction.

Nothing there for your exact lesson? Go ahead and make your own with Education.com's worksheet generator. There are sections for reading and math, but nothing for science or language topics. There is even a way to make a maze, Sudoku or crossword puzzle.   

Ed.com worksheet generatorEducation.com has a free version as well as annual Plus ($48) and Pro ($72) accounts that cover 3- and 35-students; Pro subscribers also get extra teaching tools. The real worth of Education.com comes when an entire school or district uses it. The price per student can drop significantly with bulk orders. Plus, the site now has a store for buying physical books, flash cards and science kits.

Able to bridge the software gap among iPads, Windows, Androids, Macs and Chromebooks, Education.com is off to a good first-year start with lots of materials teachers will use every day. Like the children it aims to teach, the site needs to grow, fill-out and mature to be able to handle the range and complexity of subjects that teachers face every day. 


Edulogo 2


$72 per teacher per year (limited to 35 students); discounts available on bulk orders

+ Works on PCs, Macs, iOS, Androids and Chromebooks

+ Lots of activities and games

+ Excellent worksheets

+ Pre-made lesson plans

+ Pre-K through High School


- Limited number of students covered with paid accounts

- Short on assessment integration

Next-Gen Pixel

Hero-image_2xGoogle has used its first two Pixel Chromebooks as demonstration platforms to try out new ideas for squeezing a lot of computing power into a small and very portable case. The latest, the Pixel C, is no exception and takes this concept into new territory with the ability to be a tablet for viewing content or a keyboard-centric system for writing.

Unlike Asus's convertible Chromebook Flip, Pixel C is a detachable system with a tablet that docks with a keyboard. Under its silver skin, the Pixel C is a full Android tablet that will be based on Google’s new Marshmallow OS. It’s powered by an Nvidia Tegra X1 processor with 3GB of RAM and high-performance graphics. The system will be available with either 32- or 64GB of storage space and is charged with the new Type C USB connector that also can move data into and out of the system.

Pixel c bWith a 10.2-inch screen, the new tablet shows 2,560- by 1,800-pixel resolution at a 1:1.4 aspect ratio that mimics the shape of A4 paper. The key to its flexibility is that the system has an optional Bluetooth keyboard, but rather than using physical connectors, the keyboard is held in place with strong magnets. You can tilt the screen to a comfortable angle or stow the keyboard underneath when you don’t need it. A nice design touch allows the keyboard to be inductively charged when the two are mated.

It all adds up to what could be the most advanced tablet ever created, and one that should fit right into the classroom. It won’t be available for several months, but when it comes out, pricing will start at $500 for the Pixel C tablet and $150 for the keyboard. Together, that's less than the upcoming iPad Pro on its own.





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