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Flip the School

FlipgirdFlipgrid makes a classroom discussion as easy as ask a question (or five) and wait for the videoed responses to flow in. The software works on iOS and Android systems and lets the teacher (or a student) start the discussion with a provocative typed question or just a video. The key is that rather than a one-to-one relationship, everyone in the group can see everyone’s video and comment on them, opening a face-to-face-to-face discussion. It costs $65 per teacher and nothing for students.



See and Hear

MaxresdefaultSecurity cameras are a must in schools today to prevent vandalism, theft and occasionally record discipline problems. Netgear’s $220 Arlo Wire-Free and $180 Arlo Q Web cams are state of the art with the ability to capture HD video and audio, while storing it online for instant playback. There’s also a $250 Q Plus model that includes a wired Ethernet adapter that can be powered by the Cat-6 data cable.

The Arlo Q cam has an ultra-wide 130-degree field of view while the Wire-Free cam takes in 110-degrees. Either way, it’s a lot of real estate and both cameras render colors surprisingly accurately and work well in the dark. Ultimately, they work better if you put a little distance between the cameras and the intended subject because any items that are too close to the lens may appear curved at the edges.

Everything is stored on Arlo’s password-protected Web site. Each camera automatically archives a rolling week of videos for remote viewing for free. For $10 a month you can extend that to a month’s worth of recordings for up to 10 cameras and for $15 a month you get to store up to 100GB of video or 60-days of clips from 15 cameras, whichever is lower. At any time, you can download any video clip you want or need to keep.

Both come with mounting hardware so the cameras can reside on a wall or a shelf and are easy to hide, but there’s nothing like the Wilife surveillance camera that’s housed in a clock radio to mask its intensions. While the Wire-Free version is waterproof and can be set up outside, the Q model needs to stay indoors. The cameras work well shooting through a window and even an insect screen.

VMC3040_White_3-4Rt_A_LowRes_highresRegardless, each of the cameras deliver sharp and rich full HD video that gets compressed using the H.264 protocol. You’ll need to set up and configure each camera either with the iOS or Android app or via Arlo’s Web portal.

Setting up the Arlo Q was a snap. All you do is plug it in, press the Sync button and then start watching the video flow. For the Arlo Wire-Free camera, it’s a little more involved. You’ll need to start by inserting the four included C123 camera batteries into the Wire-Free camera’s bottom; Netgear says they’ll last for up to six months, depending on how often the camera is activated. Then, plug the included Base station into an AC outlet and a wired network, followed by registering it on the Arlo Web site. Finally, you’ll need to press the Sync button to activate the camera.

Once everything is set up, you can watch the output of up to five cameras at once. They can be independently set up to awaken when there’s motion or sounds; the Q NS q Plus only respond to sounds. This allows the cameras to left idle at night and will snap on to record an intruder (or the janitor). A word of warning, it’s very sensitive so don’t point it at the gerbil cage.

The cameras worked just as well at picking up intruders during daylight as at night. On the downside, the nighttime footage is monochrome and lacks the definition of daytime shots.

After it’s recorded the action, Arlo sends an email and app notification with a time-stamped screen shot of the scene. You can grant viewing rights to just about anyone with an email address. Arlo’s software sends them an invite to look at the camera’s output. They’ll need to create an account as well.

IMG_0026The Wire-Free cam records up to 2-minute clips at a time, while the Q aqnd Q Plus can do up to 5-minute streams. With an extra cost plan, they can run 24/7. Unfortunately, it’s not inappropriate for sending live or recorded video to a sick child to watch at home or for an administrator to check in on a teacher’s dynamic or classroom techniques.  

Because all the clips are stored online, there’s no need for a central video recorder and you can quickly find the clips you want. It all comes together in Arlo’s Library, which shows all the recorded videos. The interface shows how long each clip is, whether there’s audio as well as the time and date it was recorded. Any can be deleted or downloaded to a PC or Macfor future use.

At about $200 per camera and the ability to incorporate a variety of cameras, the Arlo family can provide evidence of a break-in or vandalism for a fraction the cost of a dedicated security system.



Netgear Arlo Wire-Free ($180) and Arlo Q ($220)

+ HD resolution

+ Motion- and sound sensitive

+ iOS and Android apps and Web viewing

+ Includes mounting hardware

+ Week of free online playback


- Clips are short

- Videos are deleted after a week with free plan

The Four-in-One Notebook

740U5LE_001_Front_SilverTired of plain old notebooks for your class? Samsung’s latest convertible, the Notebook 7 Spin can be everything from a traditional keyboard-based notebook or a tablet to one that looks like a tent or is a self-standing presentation system. The key is its 360-degree hinge that gives it tremendous freedom of motion for a variety of activities.

At under four-pounds, the Spin 7 carries a 13.3-inch touchscreen that can show full HD resolution as well as a high-performance Core i5 processor and 8GB of integrated RAM. Rather than locking you into a world dominated by USB C, the system also has USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports. It’s security conscious with a TPM chip for remotely connecting. The best part is that the Notebook 7 Spin sells for $800, although Samsung also has a high-end 15.6-inch version with a Core i7 processor for $1,200 that weighs 5 pounds. Both should be out by the end of July, plenty of time before school starts.

STEM Without All the Wires

5424cad3-b81e-4085-b569-28db0be53ccbNeed a set of STEM data sensors that work across the board with Androids and iPads as well as PCs, Macs and Chromebooks? Pasco’s latest wireless sensors can stream data for everything from pressure, temperature and pH to acceleration, light level and electrical current and voltage. They don’t require a wireless connection box, have year-long batteries and they cost between $39 and $99 each.


Freebee Friday: Video Memo to Myself

Swivl reflectionReflecting on a day, week, month or even an entire school year in the classroom is an excellent technique for personal and professional growth. One easy way to do it is to aim the Swivel tablet carrier at yourself and let it all out. The company has a few suggestions in its “Learning from Yourself and the Power of Self-Reflection” on how to make it work with tips on how far to go and suggested questions to ask yourself. Ready for your close-up?

Freebee Friday: Math by the Bits and Bytes

Nea stemThe National Education Association is more than a union and lobby group for teachers. It’s a source of top-level curriculum, like its top 10 STEM resources. With everything from the Exploratorium Museum and Kinetic City to Master Tools (one of my favs) and Engineer for Life, there’s something for every age group and proficiency level. The bonus is that on top of seven classroom sites, there’re four sites dedicated to professional development. Any and all are just plain fun to use and teach with.


Let it Grow

Click n growForget about trying to grow an avocado pit or potato on toothpicks because Click & Grow’s Smart Herb Garden kit has a free iOS app for iPhones and iPads to monitor growth, create a watering schedule and teach about plants. The kit has LED lighting, sensors that keep an eye on soil conditions and comes with soil already set up and for those with brown thumbs who can only grow weeds, the company guarantees that plants will germinate. It all costs between $100 and $160, depending on which wood the base is made out of. There are also refills for growing new plants every year.


LimelensIt’s time to face the fact that while digital cameras are a great way to capture moments, add visual elements to lessons and teach photography, they’re just another device that needs to be charged, learned how to use and repaired or replaced. They might offer sharper pictures and the ability to change many photographic parameters, but they’ve expensive, fragile and obviously haven’t kept up with the convenience and ease of using a smartphone or tablet to shoot pictures.

Limelens fills in the gap with two snap-on lenses that push the smartphone’s camera into the creative realm and give digital cameras a run for the money. At the moment, the company has a two lens kit that can turn many recent smartphones into full-fledged cameras, ready to bring out the inner Ansel Adams in all of us.

Limelens photosThe lenses work just as well for still as for video shooting and easy to attach over the lens of a wide variety of phones. Limelens’s kit includes:

  • Captain is a 190-degree fisheye lens that excels at taking in an extra-wide field of view. It’s just as good for getting a large group into a class selfie or a wide landscape scene into a photo. Its scope is comparable to panorama images and the fisheye can also be used for creative distortions close-up.
  • Thinker is a combo 10X macro lens for extreme close-ups like taking the photo of the crenulations of a tree’s bark and doubles as a 0.67X wide angle lens for a wide field of view. Think of it as a two-position zoom lens for framing the exact shot you want to get.

Limelens bEach lens slides into a plastic carrier that’s attached to the back of the phone or tablet and won’t block the phone’s flash. Either of the Limelens optics can be used with any of 40 phones or tablets, including iPads and iPhones (model 4 and newer) and just about any recent Samsung Galaxy out there. It’ll even work with a bunch of phone or tablet cases.

How good are the pictures taken with either of the Limelens optics? The company curates an Instagram page of images taken with them, some of which are quite creative and startlingly beautiful. At $99, the two lenses come with a padded case with all the attachment hardware you’ll need as well as a synthetic cleaning cloth. These lenses are just the start with more Limelens accessories on the way.





Deep Data Dive

EdsbyBy looking deeply at test results, Edsby Analytics can not only create grades but it can reveal the big picture and many smaller ones based on who’s learning, who’s at risk and why. It goes beyond producing informative graphs by giving alerts to identify at-risk students and pointing to areas where incremental improvements can be made. It works for everything from a single class to an entire district.

The New Board of Education

ClarusIn the beginning, there was the chalkboard, then the whiteboard and now the Glassboard. Made with high-quality quarter-inch thick glass, the Clarus Glassboards are good for anything from writing math equations to modeling sentences to drawing maps. They’re available in a variety of colors, are more durable than other glass or melamine boards and Glassboards come with a shelf to stow the markers. They can be set up as a single unit on a wall or with casters or as hinged individual screens that combine for a wall-wide writing surface.

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