Short throw projectors are good for reducing teacher shadows on the screen but haven’t always been the brightest bulbs in the school. That is, until NEC’s UM 351W and 361X projectors. While the UM 351W ($1,369) displays wide-XGA resolution and puts 3,600 lumens on screen, the XGA-based UM361X ($1,149) puts out 3,500 lumens. Either way, it’s enough to light up just about any classroom. Both have HDMI ports that use the MHL spec for projecting the contetns of a phone or tablet and a 20-watt speaker that can be used with a microphone so that everyone can hear. With NEC’s NP03Wi interactive whiteboard kit, they can use pens for board work.
Forget about rows and columns of desks with chairs neatly set up in a grid pattern because the classroom of tomorrow (and today, hopefully) is less formal and allows for ad hoc groups to form to work on problems, complete a project or just quietly read. Nowhere is this notion of change in the classroom more evident than in the latest thinking in school furniture. Whether it’s a padded reading stool or a self-contained desk on wheels, students are the winners.
The best classroom organizational ideas often show up where we least expect them, such as Paragon’s Blender seating. The upholstered Blender measures 18- by 18- by 36-inches and sells for $350. Several can be combined in a variety of shapes, including a hexagon and an undulating snake-like shape. Made of hardwood, plywood and foam padding, the seat is covered in a stain resistant vinyl fabric that’s available in 17 colors.
In a new take on a classic, Steelcase’s Node chair-desk can go both ways: it can live in a regimented classroom gird or be wheeled around for small group work. The molded seat is not only height adjustable but it swivels so that kids can interact with each other and the 7.25- by 15.0-inche work surface can pivot to make it easier to get in and out. Underneath, Node has a circular storage space that’s perfect for backpacks and stray books. You can even order it with a cup holder that makes a great place to stow pencils.
SmithSystem’s UXL Crescent Table takes this idea to the limit with a semicircular design that can accommodate two or more students on its own or be combined with others to deliver large work spaces. Measuring 29.5- by 72- by 36-inches, the Crescent system can be arranged in a variety of shapes, from a triangle to an undulating snake. It even has a connection center for kids and teachers to plug in.
Even the library can do with some updating these days. Openingthebook’s Reading Nook is both a padded comfy chair and a set of four shelves on the other side that can hold up to 140 books. It can comfortably seat a pair of small children for reading time. Made in Birmingham, England, there’s also a circular wrap-around version.
Sometimes the best way to deal with an over-active student is to let him burn off some energy, like with Virco’s Analogy Rocking Chair. An offshoot of the company’s Analogy 4-Leg design, the rocker has a contoured plastic seat that provides back support. The seat fits to the body and it has a plastic nub in the back to keep over-exuberant kids from tipping over. The chair is available in three sizes.
iRobot is justifiable known for its autonomous vacuum cleaners, but iRobot Create 2 takes it into the realm of the classroom to teach programming. Based on the company’s Roomba hardware, the $200 Create 2 looks like the flat disc that scurries around on the floor sucking up dust bunnies, comes already assembled and is ready for teaching. Using the Create Open Interface, kids can program it to make basic moves. In addition to instructions and lessons to make two projects, iRobot supplies 3-D files for those schools with a 3-D printer to make extra parts and options for the robot.
After you’ve unwired your school with WiFi, the next step is keeping a tight grip on all those access points with a remote management controller. D-Link’s $2,700 DWC-2000 can track up to 256 APs on its own or over a thousand in a controller peer group, creating a self-organizing and self-perpetuating network by regularly scanning the devices and optimizing their performance. It can use Radius, LDAP, POP3 or Windows Active Directory techniques to authenticate clients, comes with a lifetime warranty and works with D-Link unified wireless products, like the DWL-2600, -3600, -6600, -8600 and -8610.
There’re versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint on the iTunes site for the iPad that are free to get and use, we all know that, but what about Android tablets? There’s an Office download but it’s only for some Android systems. Microsoft is working on a new version of Office that should cover more mobile bases and you can try the current Beta version out.
The ability of notebooks, desktops and tablets to wirelessly send images, video and sound to a Chromecast receiver and on to a projector can simplify delivering a lesson. Well, it just got a lot easier because you don’t even need a computer anymore. Toshiba’s Canvio AeroCast Wireless HDD not only holds a terabyte of data, lessons, videos and presentations, but can act as a WiFi access point for six clients. It can also connect with a Chromecast device for streaming all sorts of classroom content. The $220 drive has an SD card slot for adding storage and needs Toshiba’s Google Cast Ready app to cast to a projector or large display.
With Amped Wireless’s RTA1750 router, you don’t need to pack the school with access points because each device has six 800-milliwatt amplifiers and low noise filters so that it can reach farther than the competition. Based on 802.11ac technology, the $180 router can connect on both the 2.4- and 5GHz bands, has gigabit wired ports and a USB port.
There’s nothing like a period or two with an infrared camera to show students that heat is nothing more than electromagnetic radiation that’s out of the range of our eye’s ability to see. The problem is that these cameras have been out of the reach of all but the best funded schools, but Seek’s Thermal Camera is an attempt to level the science educational playing field with an inexpensive infrared camera that snaps onto a phone or tablet.
The tiny camera can be ordered in versions for an iPhone or iPad (with a Lightning plug) or an Android phone or tablet (with a micro-USB plug). It weighs half an ounce and once you install it on a phone or tablet you hardly know it’s there. Virtually identical, except in how they connect, the two cameras have a resolution of 206 by 156 pixels with a 36-degree field of view that senses infrared radiation with wavelengths from 7.2 to 13 microns.
Regardless of which version you get, they have two things in common: you can’t charge the phone or tablet while using the thermal camera and some larger cases will keep Seek’s plug from being inserted into the device. The camera itself is rugged with a magnesium shell and comes with a padded case. Just plug it into the phone or tablet and load the free app and you can show the class what heat looks like.
The device works with fourth or fifth generation iOS devices and phones and slates that use Android 4.3 or newer software. On the downside, it won’t work with Android 5.0 software and leaves PCs, Macs, Chromebooks and older devices out in the cold.
There’s one more quirk to Seek’s Android design. Because the micro-USB plugs used on Android systems go in only one way, phones such as the Nexus 5 or many Sony Xperia models will point the camera at the user. Great for a thermal selfie, this makes using it awkward to point the camera at objects of interest unless you get a $5 adapter cable that lets you aim the camera while looking at the screen.
Everything shows up on the device’s screen, although its resolution pales in comparison to the phone or tablet’s camera. You can see and record temperatures that range from -40- to 330-degrees Centigrade and the camera has a Chalcogenide lens that could be a science lesson in and of itself. One annoying feature is that the camera needs to periodically recalibrate itself and makes a clicking noise.
The software really brings out the best in the hardware with a simple interface that visually shows the thermal image and displays the high and low temperatures. Using a Nexus 7 slate, I spent two weeks exploring the world of heat. Happily, the software offers the choice of Fahrenheit and Centigrade units and at any point you can zoom in or out of the thermal image.
You can set a threshold temperature and easily record the scene with a screen shot. To compare what we see and what we can feel, you can drag a dividing line between the system’s built-in camera and Seek’s thermal one, making for a great split screen image of a flame, ice cube or even record the progress of an exothermic chemical reaction without using a thermometer.
A great science classroom resource for schools on a budget, the Seek Thermal Camera can show what’s hot and what’s not.
+ Inexpensive infrared camera
+ Small and easy to use
+ iOS and Android versions
+ Good software
+ Centigrade or Fahrenheit units
- Some Android devices aim camera in wrong direction
- No PC or Mac apps
By hiding a smart chip inside a traditional ID card, you can automatically keep attendance for every classroom at school. The Scholarchip cards have passive Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) circuits that can be programmed to not only open those doors that are appropriate, be used to pay for lunch in the cafeteria and the school can issue temporary guest cards.