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Power Field Trip

Pv400usbMake your next class field trip a power trip with Tripp-Lite’s PowerVerter PV400USB. Just plug its cord into the bus’s cigarette lighter and the device puts out up to 400 watts, more than enough to power a few phones and notebooks.  It has a pair of 120-volt AC outlets as well as two USB connectors and shuts itself off if it’s overloaded or the bus’s battery can’t take the stress. It costs less than $50 and is available in a version that fits into a cup holder, but it can deliver half as much power.

 

Blast-Off

ME6798_330_163399Put away your homemade physics-class projectile launching gear because PASCO has a better alternative. The Mini Projectile Launcher and Smart Gate kit has everything you'll need to let kids test a variety of projectiles and measure their aerodynamic qualities. In addition to a pair of photo gates for accurate velocity readings, the kit lets students adjust the angle of launch. It all clamps to a tabletop and costs $289.

The Focused Gym Class

Polar bRather than huffing and puffing, Polar’s GoFit H7 sensor and App lets the gym teacher monitor every student’s heart rate for safety and maximum physical results. The software can define a target zone for each student while keeping the whole class in the safe zone. Afterwards, teachers can view an individual’s or a whole class’s data.

The Heat is ON

Flir_Phone6_front_camera_WithThermal_V1[1]If you thought the STEM world couldn’t support two small infrared sensors that snap onto a phone or tablet, you (and I) would be dead wrong. That’s because FLIR, the leading designer and manufacturer of infrared products, has a slightly different take on visualizing thermal energy. The $250 FLIR One is a little more expensive than the Seek Thermal camera and has a more limited temperature range, but can show students what heat looks like.

 At 1.2- by 2.5- by 0.7-inches, it is twice as big and heavy as the Seek Thermal. That’s because in addition to the company’s sensitive Lepton IR sensor, the FLIR One camera has its own built-in 350 milliamp-hour battery. On the downside, it isn’t charged when it’s connected to a phone or tablet. You’ll need to plug it into a computer’s USB port or a micro-USB adapter.

Unlike the Seek thermal device, the One has a digital camera alongside its thermal camera. This allows it to precisely overlay images onto its thermal maps. The Seek uses the phone’s native camera for this, which can end up distorting the image. As is the case with Seek, there are versions for an iPhone or iPad (with a Lightning plug) or an Android phone or tablet (with a micro-USB plug).

There’s a big gotcha with Android tablets or phones, though. Because there’s no agreement on which way the micro-USB plug is oriented, for some devices – like a Nexus 5 (which I use) – you’ll need an adapter that changes the plug’s orientation. It works fine with a Samsung Galaxy S6 Active phone. There’s software for iOS and Android, but, as is the case with the Seek device, there’re no apps for PCs, Macs and Chromebooks.

Flir_20150824T141516Once everything is connected and the device’s free app has been loaded, you’ll get a spectacular view of infrared energy. It’s ready for lessons and requires little or no set up. FLIR’s software makes the One shine with the ability to overlay visual images over the thermal ones with nine different of backgrounds at 640- by 480 resolution, although the color coding doesn’t correspond to temperature.

In addition to recording thermal videos and saving them as .mp4 files, FLIR provides software for doing panoramas, time-lapse and close-ups. It can show the hotspot in Fahrenheit or Centigrade units. On the other hand, its temperature range is much more limited with the ability to show anything between -20 to 120-degrees Centigrade versus -40 to 330-degrees C. It can detect differences as small as 0.1-degree C. For most teaching work, it won’t matter, but might be a constraint for recording things like reaction temperatures in a chemistry lab.

A big step forward for thermal imaging is that the One has an automatic thermal shutter that is whisper quiet. By contrast, the Seek’s shutter requires periodic recalibration that makes an annoying clicking noise. Unlike Seek, FLIR has gotten third parties to write software for the device. For instance, Owens Corning has an app that lets you check a house, office or school for heat leaks and energy efficiency, making for a very nice energy conservation lab or classroom activity.

It comes with a hard case and charging cord, but no AC adapter and includes a one-year warranty. Even with its limitations, the FLIR ONE is the ticket for showing what’s hot and what’s not.

A

FLIR-ONE-Dongle

FLIR One

$250

+ Inexpensive infrared sensor

+ Excellent visualization software

+ iOS and Android versions

+ Easy to set up and use

+ 640-by 480-resolution

- Some phones or tablets require an adapter

- Limited temperature range

School in a Slate

MobyAs Android invade schools with low priced teaching tablets they are morphing into a variety of sizes, shapes and prices. Take MobyMax. It’s a 7-inch slate that’s aimed at K-through-8th grade curriculum with math, science and language arts components. It uses older Android 4.2 software, but sells for an unbeatable (at least for now) price of $69. Inside is a dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM and 4GB of storage space. You can try out a Moby pad for two weeks for $10.

Z580_kvAt the other end of the slate spectrum is Asus’s ZenPad S 8.0 Z580C, which sets a new standard for school slates by combining an Android 5.0 software, Intel Atom Z3580 quad-core processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage and a PowerVR graphics engine. Its 7.9-inch screen is protected by Gorilla Glass and not only responds to up to 10 inputs but has the ability to show 1,536 by 2,048 resolution. In other words,  it leaves HD and lesser screens in the dust. In addition to WiFi and Bluetooth, it has the latest USB Type C connector for top speed connections. At $300, it's in a different league than Moby but packs a lot of technology into a 0.3- by 5.3- by 8.0-inch case that weighs 10.5 ounces. Asus sells an optional pressure sensitive stylus for an extra $30. 

 

Freebee Friday: Back to the (Google) Classroom

Google classroomGoogle Classroom has just been heavily revamped for the new school year with things like the ability to recycle posts, integration into Google Calendar and the ability to make due dates optional, which can help with long-term projects. While you’re there, there are more than four dozen tips, tricks and hacks for getting the most out of Google Classroom.

Freebee Friday: Focus on Education

FocusUsing the Focus School Software system, teachers can concentrate on teaching and not the intricacies of several apps. The Focus system has three components (Student Information System, Enterprise Resource Planning and Learning Management System) that fit together like a hand in a glove to make using it second nature. It’s scalable from a small elementary school to an entire district and because it is browser-based, there’s no software to load, update and maintain and it will work with just about any computer.

Classroom Learning Pod

ParagonOld and new ideas for how to set up a classroom environment mix equally with paragon’s student furniture. In addition to traditional desks and chairs, the company’s A & D Activity Pods can not only hold a display but can be arranged in a variety of configurations to suite individual work or a group dynamic. Available in 60- by 60- or 60- by 90-inch sizes, the rectangular tables have rounded ends so that kids can gather around. The tables not only can be adjusted up and down but are available in a variety of colors and finishes.

Flip and Learn

Chrome Flip_White_ (1)If inexpensive notebooks have been dropping like flies at your school, Asus shows you a new way with its $250 Chromebook Flip C100. Well-made and just powerful enough to succeed at school, the Flip gets my vote as the best classroom notebook of the year, even though it’s only August.

The key to the Flip’s longevity is its pressed aluminum case that protects its delicate components better than a plastic case can. Generally reserved for more expensive systems, the dull-gray aluminum skin is gently rounded, looks great and is complemented by sophisticated bright edging. It’s sturdy enough to be grabbed by the screen and should stand up to daily abuse, regardless of whether it stays at school at night or undergoes the rigors of traveling back and forth every day.

Think of the Flip as a jack of all trades in the classroom that can assume four different computing personalities for different tasks. The first convertible Chrome system, it can be a traditional notebook with a mechanical keyboard for student writing assignments and teacher assessments but flip the 360-degree hinge all the way over and it’s a thick tablet with a 10.1-inch screen and the keyboard is disabled. In between the Flip can be a presentation machine for small group work or set up in tent mode.

At 0.6- by 10.3- by 7.1-inches, the Flip is halfway between the size of a small notebook and a 10-inch Windows tablet. Its 1.9-pound weight might seem a bit heavy for a tablet, but is spot on when you factor in the keyboard. It’s powered by a micro-USB cable and comes with a tiny power adapter that gives it a travel weight of 2.1-pounds.

Happily, the 10.1-inch screen is nearly flush with the surface, which makes for easy tapping, swiping and scribbling, although its wide 0.8-inch bezels around the screen are a bit large. It responds to 10 independent touch inputs for everything from marking up an assignment to an art class in finger painting. There’s no active digitizer, although it worked well with an off-the-shelf stylus, but its 1,280 by 800 resolution is second best compared to tablets, like the Surface 3’s full HD imaging.

Chrome Flip_White_ (10)It has an integrated graphics accelerator that has its own quad-core processor. Its screen is bright at 278 candelas per meter squared, rich and sharp. Unfortunately, its screen tends to wobble too much when tapped or swiped.

Inside is a mid-range computer that’s powered by a 1.8GHz quad-core Rock Chip 3288, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage space. Asus adds 100GB of online storage with GoogleDrive for two years; after that it runs about $2 a month.

Around its edge, the Flip has a power switch with a volume control as well as LEDs. There’s a micro-HDMI port for driving a projector or display along with a pair of USB connectors. On the downside, they are the older and slower USB 2.0 spec, not the newer one, but it’s a small price to pay. The system worked with everything from a memory key and LAN adapter to keyboard, mouse and Bluetooth speaker.

Its keyboard has 17.6 millimeter keys that are comfortable to type with, particularly when compared to the on-screen keyboard. The system’s speakers are under the wrist rest and pointed down. To my surprise they sound quite good and get loud enough for small groups. Beyond that you’ll want to use a pair of external speakers that are either connected via the system’s audio jack or Bluetooth

In addition to a micro-SD card slot that can accommodate up to 64GB modules, the Flip has Bluetooth 4.1 and 802.11ac WiFi for top wireless connectivity. For those who stay up nights worrying about remote connectivity, the Flip has a Trusted Platform Module (TPM).

While it won’t set any performance records, that misses the point of the Flip system. It should satisfy with the ability to perform most teaching-related tasks. Sure, it can’t run Windows or any of its software, but it was the ticket for browser-based services and the variety of Chrome software is increasing just about every day.

Chrome Flip_White_ (16)It started up in 8.2-seconds, two seconds faster than Acer’s Chromebook 13 CB-311. The Flip recorded 1,428 and 175 milliseconds on the PeaceKeeper and Sun Spider benchmarks, which puts it slightly ahead of the CB-311, but with about half the performance potential of LG’s desktop Chromebase all in one system. Still it’s more than enough for most classroom use.

There’s no cooling fan to make extra noise and cut into battery life. In fact, the system ran for 9 hours and 20 minutes on a charge. For some it will be more than enough for a full school day of use, but for others it will mean that the Flip won’t need to be charged every day. It was reliable and its video was remarkably strong with smooth streaming and good sound synchronization.

While it has a list price of $250 with a 1-year warranty, the DB01 Flip system that I looked at can be had for as low as $230 if you shop around. There’s also a $279 model with a generous 4GB of RAM. Either way, the Flip is a genuine steal and seems like it was designed from the start for school use. 

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Chrome Flip_White_ (22)

Asus Chromebook Flip C100PA
$230

+ Great price
+ Four computing profiles
+ Full school day plus battery life
+ Bright, rich screen
+ 100GB of online storage
+ Size and weight

- USB 2.0
- Display wobbles when tapped

 

 

 

One-on-One Reading

Myon 3The latest release of myON pushes individualized reading instruction to the limit with new content, games, interactive elements and easy to find Lexile reading levels. Students get a reading journal, dictionary and graphic organizers, while the teacher’s dashboard has been improved with a bar graph that shows how many reading assignments each student has completed this month versus last month as well as the last one. Version 3 of myON is a free upgrade for current users of the program. All schools and district currently using myON will gain access to these new tools at no cost.

 

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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.