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Go-Anywhere Keyboard

Kb4 aOne of the biggest gripes about teaching and learning in a tablet-centric school is the lack of a physical keyboard with actual keys to type anything longer than a Web- or email address. Small, light and easy to use, Califone’s KB4 Bluetooth Keyboard makes any tablet more finger-friendly.

 Because it uses Bluetooth to connect with a tablet or phone, there’s no software to load and it should work with just about any recent device. The 9.6- by 5.9-inch black keyboard fits nicely in front of a Surface, iPad or 9-inch Android slate. It is only 0.3-inches thick, but lacks feet to give the keys a more comfortable typing angle.

The keyboard is tiny compared to Rapoo’s E9180p and lacks its built-in touchpad. But, if you have a tablet in front of you, chances are that you won’t need one. Just reach out and tap the display to move things around and navigate through the interface. It has a range of about 25-feet, but I expect it to remain much closer to a tablet.

Kb4 vidThere are 77 keys that at 17-millimeters wide are just large enough to make for comfortable and efficient typing. In addition to the expected letters, numbers and symbols, there are specialty ones for iOS, Windows and Android hardware. The keyboard also has keys for making the screen brighter and adjusting volume, although some of these keys may not work on all types of tablets.

It takes less than a minute to connect the KB4 to a computer via Bluetooth. After that, the two recognize each other and automatically link up. Its 110 miliamp-hour battery was good for more than 6-weeks of daily use and can be recharged with a micro-USB cable.

All told, the Califone KB4 puts you in touch with physical keys that can make everything from typing a paper to recording classroom notes a lot easier. 


Kb4 b

Califone KB4


+ Inexpensive

+ Responsive keys

+ Specialty keys for iOS, Android and Windows

+ Built-in battery

+ Bluetooth


- No feet

- Lacks touchpad


Projector Two-For

Boxlight deskboardWho says that a projector has to beam its images horizontally across the room to a screen? Not Boxlight, because its DeskBoard 75M is flexible enough to be set up as an interactive desk 36-inches off of the floor with the projector above or as a traditional vertical projection surface. With a width of 75-inches of projection space, the DeskBoard is the utmost in hands-on learning and lets kids and teachers interact with images, video and Web sites as if they were working with an interactive desk surface. With motorized tilt and height adjustment, it’s easy to get the DeskBoard just right and its screen is magnetic for placing all sorts of Deskboard 75mphysical objects. At over 200-pounds, it might not sound particularly portable, but the DeskBoard is on wheels, can be moved from room to room and set up quickly. While it can work with a variety of ultra-short-throw projectors, the DeskBoard 75M can be ordered with a Boxlight P10 projector, mini PC and lesson planning software for $6,300.

Stand Up for Tablets

ChenSlates are great when you have two hands free to hold and tap the screen, but they’re often second best on the desk. ChenSource’s Ep13212 stand works with any tablet with a screen between 7- and 11-inches and attaches it to any desktop while allowing the pad to be tilted, rotated or swiveled.

Touch or Say

997e6567-99e6-42df-bf5d-9163ef627c62If your school uses Crestron’s control system, the company’s TST-902 control screen should fit right in. The system has an 8.9-inch color screen that is touch sensitive and can control a room full of video gear by either tapping on an icon or just saying what you want. It can be carried around, comes with a table stand and because it can use Crestron’s ER wireless communications protocol, you don’t even need to plug it into your network. It can connect via WiFi.    

Digital Video Made Easier

Replacing analog video lines with a school’s networking cabling can not only cut costs and improve quality, but nobody said that the transition to using a network to distribute video throughout the campus was going to be easy. The latest gear can help with ways to put video in every classroom.

Startech hdmi with appStarTech’s latest HDMI over IP kit can not only distribute video over plain old network cabling, but with the company’s new apps, you can control it from a phone or tablet. The HDMI kit costs $430 and can be used with the company’s free StarTech.com Video Switching and Wall Control apps for iPhones, iPads and Android systems. At the touch of a finger, you can set up, control and choose among multimedia options as long as the tablet or phone is on the same network as the switching gear.

Tripp lite BHDBTKSILR-FRONT-LDistributing digital video often opens a can of worms because the signal needs to be periodically boosted. That’s where Tripp Lite’s family of HDBaseT extenders comes in. They support up to 4K resolutions and a variety of audio effects, like DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD. The devices can transmit uncompressed HDMI audio and video over roughly 2,000-feet of network cabling.  

Freebee Friday: Projector Four-Way

Epson screen322x572Epson’s MultiPC Projection with Moderator software can change the classroom dynamic by letting the teacher select whose tablet gets projected. It works with Epson’s latest networked projectors and is available for iOS and Android systems and allows annotations. The teacher can choose from among up to 50 connected tablets or phones to project and can send the screens of any four systems to the projector to show on the class’s big screen. On the downside, the software can’t handle video and you need to pick the files you want to show, but it can let the teacher share any students’ screens with the class.



Educating the Educators

EduvateWho teaches the teachers? The School Improvement Network’s Edivate has more than 2,500 professional development videos available for an individualized professional development learning program. The topics range from classroom management and data-driven teaching to technology and effectively working with parents. A single copy of Edivate costs $120 per teacher, but schools and districts can reduce the cost with a site license.



Print and Digital Together

Total motivation aWhy choose between print or digital content for students when Mentoring Minds provides both. Its Total Motivation K-through-12 curriculum is browser based and includes printed workbooks for a single license fee. Its curriculum covers reading and math, is aligned with the latest standards and the package includes a progress monitoring screen so that teachers can keep track of every student’s work.

Start to Finish STEM

Element aPasco’s Spark Element is for those who have suffered through supposedly compatible sensors, hardware and software only to find that you end up spending more time getting a classroom of gear to work than on experiments and labs with kids. That’s because the Element kit is specially designed just for school STEM projects and all the parts play nicely with each other.

Element is built around Pasco’s $200 Spark Element PS-3100, an Android tablet that essentially replaces Pasco’s more expensive and proprietary Spark Science Learning System handheld. The Element has a 7-inch screen and has been designed with school science classrooms use in mind. It’s not only tougher than an off-the-shelf tablet but is water resistant. It runs the latest Android 5.0 software and is not only thinner Fourier’s einstein Tablet+, but at 0.4- by 4.6- by 7.8-inches and 12.6-ounces, it weighs much less.

The Element slate easily fits into the palm of a fifth grader and comes with a soft cover that does a cool origami trick by folding into a stand that holds the screen at either 125- or 30-degrees. Inside, Element is typical Android slate fare with a 1.2GHz quad-core Atom processor, 1GB of RAM and 8GB of solid state storage, of which about 3GB is available for use. Its 7-inch touch-display can show 1,024 by 600 resolution, a big step up from the Spark’s 640 by 480 screen.

Element cThere’re Web cams front and back and the system has 802.11n WiFi networking as well as Bluetooth 4.0, which comes in handy when connecting to Pasco’s sensors. The tablet has a micro-USB, a micro-SD card reader and an audio connection.

Rather than using Android’s stock interface, the Element has its own look and feel. It is more tightly focused on science and data and gives children less of an opportunity to stray from the lesson. It comes with the company’s SparkVue and Spectrometry software, a nice file browser, a stop watch and a calculator, but the latter doesn’t graph functions. The biggest software shortcoming is that there’s no Web browser included. In fact, the only way to add apps is via Pasco’s online store, which is sparsely stocked at the moment.

At $200, Element it is a nice bargain for districts looking to set up a STEM classroom. It has built-in sensors for acceleration and sound, but lacks the Einstein Tablet+’s eight built in sensors that can measure anything from temperature and humidity to ultraviolet light.

What it can do is use one of Pasco’s connection hubs that provide access to the company’s more than 70 sensors. I looked at the $300 PS-3102 package that pairs the Element tablet with a Bluetooth AirLink 2 sensor hub. The Bluetooth connection box has its own battery so you’re not tied down to an AC outlet. It was able to run for over six hours on a charge.  

PS2011_330_135574As you might expect, the list of available sensors is deep and runs the gamut from an Alpha Beta Gamma Radiation Sensor to an XYZ Accelerometer/Altimeter. The company also has PASPort multi-sensor packs that can lower the cost and simplify installation by packaging several sensors into a snap-on package. For instance, the PASPort Weather/Anemometer sensor pack has meteorological items like wind speed, temperature and humidity, but it isn’t weatherproof.

The key to Element is that it uses the latest version of Pasco’s SparkVue software. It not only lets you select the presentation format and which of the available sensors to draw data from, but graphs the data on the fly in a variety of formats. It creates rich and vibrant plots that are ripe for analysis.

Able to lock the measurement settings, SparkVue can snap screen shots and save Journal entries for lab reports. The software can perform some moderately sophisticated analysis on the data or students can export it locally or to an online storage server for further work.

It’s surprisingly easy to get started. Just pick the type of graph you want, the sensors and the collection interval. Then, press the play button and the data starts flowing with every data point plotted on the graph. It can be automatically stopped after a set duration or when any of the sensors reach a certain value.

Sparkvue screenOverall, the tablet’s performance is adequate for its purposes, but often lags for a second or more to when moving between its apps or calling up a new experiment. It’s particularly slow when saving a graph as a Journal entry, so it requires a bit of patience.

Everything works well together, making for a quick set up and data acquisition, but Pasco doesn’t sell a case to store the gear (or better yet a classroom’s worth) when it’s not in use. The company provides a good assortment of labs that can augment any chemistry, physics or general science classroom as well as selling $49 lab manuals with between 25 and 38 activities as well as a CD of student material. To help teacher and student get started, there are thousands of lab documents preloaded on the system and dozens of online videos for general and specific tasks to help you get started.

All told, Element is one of the easiest, fastest and most satisfying ways to start up a STEM lab for teaching the next generation of scientists. 


Element b

Pasco Element PS-3100


+ Complete hardware and software package

+ Good variety of sensors

+ Excellent graphing and analysis software

+ Curriculum and labs

+ Unique cover/stand


- Requires wired or wireless connection hub

- No storage case

Progress at a Glance

Open ed masterySure, Open Ed has a huge library of assignments, assessments and lesson plans, but the group’s Mastery Chart approach brings it all together. In a simple, easy to read format, it can not only show how each student is doing at a glance but it displays who’re leading and who’re lagging. With the requirements listed on the left and the class list along the top, it sets up a matrix of results that can be compared to the class average for each task.



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