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Freebee Friday: State of the Art Teachers

Logo - Default ColorFront Row Education’s annual survey of 2,500 teachers and technology is in and it’s very instructive. While iPads still lead in school use, they’re declining by 5 percent. By contrast, the use of Chromebooks are up 15 percent, with three in five reporting access to the systems. Of the group, three-quarters of teachers reported using technology in their daily lessons and 60-percent want to increase it.


Freebee Friday: Easy as A, B, USB-C

Kensington usb cAnyone who’s lucky enough to have gotten a new computer lately is likely to encounter the USB-C port and the realization that it won’t connect to much of anything in the school. That’s where Kensington’s white paper on the new standard fits in. It not only explains the reason for the shift in technology and what it’s good for, but also the need for a dock to help it connect. The report wades in on security and mobility aspects of the new standard and the current generation of docks available. It’s a must-read.



A Home for your Pencil

Belkin case+stand aWhat do you do with Apple’s Pencil stylus when it’s not being used to draw or tap on an iPad Pro’s screen? If I don’t tuck it behind my ear, chances are I put it on the desk and sooner or later it rolls onto the floor. That is until now, with Belkin’s Case + Stand. The black and white case’s weighted base does a great job holding the Pencil straight up and available for use and making it impossible to drop or roll away. In other words, it’s always ready for work.

Belkin case+stand bIt looks great next to a pad and has a similar industrial design as the Logitech K-780 keyboard and tablet stand.The case’s black cover is magnetically held in place and opens to reveal a slot for storing the Pencil when you’re on the go. There’s also a hidden place for an extra tip, the charging adapter and the stylus’s charging cover. On the other hand, there’s no electron cis inside and the Case + Stand lacks a way to charge the stylus. At $30, it’s an inexpensive way to put the Pencil in its place.

All-in-One STEM Lab

Labdisc gensciFor most science teachers, using STEM in the classroom revolves around a box or drawer filled with a tangle of sensor cables and connection boxes. Often, the first 10 minutes of a class is spent disentangling these devices and getting them plugged in and working. With LabDisc, it’s all – or at least mostly – inside a small disk.

With a diameter of 5.2-inches and a thickness of 1.5-inches, the disc is like a large hockey puck. It’s easy for small hands to carry and use, is rugged and has a pull out stand in the back. At 11-ounces, a classroom’s worth of sensors can be carried on a tray or cart between rooms.

There are four versions of LabDisc that are each suited to a different lesson or discipline.

  • Physio is for physical science labs that require measurement of acceleration, motion, voltage and other parameters.
  • Biochem is for biochemistry work with colorimeter, heart rate, dissolved oxygen and other gauges.
  • The Gensci disc that I looked at has 13 sensors, including ones for barometric pressure, current and voltage, GPS, light and sound, motion, distance, humidity and temperature.

Labdisc gensci bAll four devices give you the flexibility to not only tap into their built-in sensors but also into sensors on the host computer, like the iPad’s accelerometer. There’s another way: you can plug in a variety of external sensors, including many older Veriner and Fourier devices via a mini-USB port.

With seven buttons for connecting with the individual sensors and a simple three-key control panel, the disc’s 2.4-inch backlit monochrome screen is the center of attention. I prefer the larger, more colorful and touch-sensitive display on the Vernier LabQuest 2 handheld, but the Gensci scheme works well.

Using any of the discs is remarkably easy, once you get the hang of its input system, so plan on spending some time introducing how they work to the class. Then, the sky’s the limit as far as using the LabDisc goes.

Around the circumference of each LabDisc is a series of input connectors and its power input. The disc’s outer ring rotates to provide access to them. On the downside, some get covered, so you can’t do things like charge the disc and use the external temperature sensor at once.

Sensor selectionHappily, the disc has a rechargeable lithium polymer battery that is rated to run for 150 hours. In actual use logging data from the disc’s ambient and external temperature probes, the system actual ran for more than double that. This means that you’ll probably need to charge the systems once a week at best.

Each of the discs connect either via a USB cable or Bluetooth and they generally link up on the first try. An AC adapter and carrying bag top off the package. While the actual details depend on the sensor and what is being measured, they can capture between 1 data point per minute and 24,000 data points per second. The device can hold up to 128,000 data points.

The key to the LabDiscs’s versatility is the GlobiLab software. There are versions for everything from PCs and Macs to iOS, Android and even Chromebooks and Linux computers, making it one of the most versatile devices at school. That means that you can use it with whatever computers are available.

I tried out the GenSci general science disc with an iPad Pro and Surface Pro 3 and found the software to be similar, although each version is a little different. While the software is collecting data you can see the numbers come in and graph themselves or watch analog meter needles swing up and down.

Graph with regressionInside, the program has a slew of premade labs for things like examining acid rain and analyzing the temperature for a week. There’s more online, although no place for teachers to share their favorite home-grown lessons.

It takes a minute or two to set up the disc and start gathering data, a big plus when trying to squeeze a lot into a 45-minute period. I set the disc to monitor the temperature, light level and humidity to catch the setting sun and then used the external pH sensor to monitor the acidity of water as I added salt to it. The data plot showed the variables in different colors and all the raw data and graphs were exportable for analysis inclusion in the lab write-up.

The best part is that the software has enough smarts to do things like show the minimum, maximum, average of a data set and even calculate a summation of the area under the graph. It can show the data’s standard deviation and perform linear and quadratic regression for any two tagged two points on the plot.

At $600, the GenSci disc is pricey and about twice what the Vernier LabQuest device goes for, although the disk has many more sensors built-in. In addition to getting them one at a time, Globisens sells a class pack that includes 16 discs, a cart with central charging station for roughly $10,500. That way, there’ll be enough STEM to go around.


Gensci c

Globisens LabDisc GenSci



+ Excellent PC, iPad, Android, Chromebook and Linux software

+ 13 built-in sensors

+ Can use some Fourier sensors

+ Lessons and labs

+ Long battery life

+ Sophisticated graphs and analysis


- Expensive

- Disc’s ring blocks some ports

Expanding a School’s WiFi

Aerohive_AP550_Hero_Front_ShadowBy using the latest WiFi protocols and software management, Aerohive’s AP550 access point can be a cure for sick overburdened networks. The small white box uses 4X4 MIMO 802.11ac WiFi technology to push more data farther with the right level of security. The AP550 has a dozen antennas inside, costs $1,399 and it can be remotely controlled. Aerohive has a variety of mounting hardware available for the AP550.


It’s in the Cards

Scholarchip carA plain old school ID card can identify students and teachers, but not much more. With the digitally-aware ScholarChip card, every student is not only identified but can provide access to a variety of school services. In addition to automatically doing attendance and accounting, the ScholarChip can be set up for field trips, school supplies and even school lunch payments, It can even anonymously identify those whose meal is subsidized.


Freebee Friday: Give Tech a Chance

Boxlight posterBoxlight has put together a poster and guide that can help make your school’s tech program more complete and successful. Able to be printed at any size, the Acrobat file has the top 5 challenges of incorporating new tech as well as info on everything from getting input on buying decisions to creating a tech committee. 




Jack of all Video Switches

AT-UHD-CLSO-840s_3x4The latest network video switch from Atlona can not only deliver smooth streams of ultra-HD video but adds a bunch of new abilities. The two-piece AT-UHD-CLSO-840 matrix switcher has eight inputs (three of which use HDBaseT) and four outputs (two of which are HDBaseT).  This variety and the ability to go between any input and output adds up to allowing high quality video conferences and split-screen set ups just about anywhere. It can be powered by the school’s CAT-6 cabling, has a range of 330 feet and can be controlled over the network with the company’s AMS software. It’ll be out early next year at $5,000.

Connecting the Classroom

Screen beam 960The dream of inexpensively enabling students and teachers to take over the classroom’s big screen has arrived with ActionTec’s ScreenBeam 960. At $300, it undersells the competition but it isn’t as inclusive as it should be.

It’s role in today’s classroom is to wirelessly receive audio and video from a notebook, tablet or phone so everyone participates and has a good view of the action. Able to tap into dual-band 802.11ac WiFi networks, it’s essential for the high bandwidth data flow in today’s classrooms. The best part is that because it uses WiFi Direct’s peer-to-peer connections, the Screen Beam doesn’t add any overhead to the network. 

At 1.0- by 6.5- by 6.5-inches, the black domed ScreenBeam looks like a conference call phone. It lacks a microphone and speakers.

Around its edge, the ScreenBeam base station has an HDMI port for connecting with the room’s large monitor or projector as well as connections for power and the school’s wired LAN for making adjustments to the ScreenBeam 960.

In addition to an audio jack for speakers, ScreenBeam has a USB connector for linking the device to an interactive whiteboard, but unfortunately, not a thumb drive containing images or videos. The device has VGA-in and -out ports for working with older computers and projectors. There’s a power connection and a recessed reset button.

Screen beam 960 aAlthough it is well designed and easy to use, the ScreenBeam 960 is basic with no controls on the unit or a remote control. Setting it up takes about five minutes and starts with positioning it near the projector or large screen. It lacks VESA mounting hardware or an optional bracket, but is light and small enough to use Velcro tape to secure it in place.

Setting the system up starts with plugging in its power and video cables. Using the Connect wireless display selection in Windows 8.1 or 10 or the Miracast abilities of an Android phone or tablet, all you need to do is type in the ScreenBeam’s security code and 15 seconds later you’re connected.

On the downside, the system ignores Windows 7 systems that are so prevalent in education today. There is a work-around by using the product’s $40 USB Transmitter on an older computer. Unfortunately, there’s no way to connect a Windows XP PC, Chromebook, iPad or Mac to the ScreenBeam.

Using a Samsung Galaxy S2 Tab, Asus Zen 8 and a Toshiba Radius notebook, ScreenBeam worked reliably and delivered clear and smooth video. It has the annoying tendency to refuse a connection but always worked on the second try. Aside from the occasional artifact or hiccup, the video looked great at 1,920 by 1,080 resolution and 30 frames per second.

Because it uses WiFi and not Bluetooth, the range of the ScreenBeam was close to 100-feet. This makes it appropriate in a standard classroom as well as an auditorium, lecture hall or repurposed cafeteria after lunch.

SBWD100TX01It’s not in its element as a quick-change artist. To move to a different source, you need to manually disconnect and then let the next user connect, at least a 30-second process. Plus, unlike other similar, though more expensive, systems such as Barco’s ClickShare, ScreenBeam can’t put two, four or more screens up at once for comparison.

The device’s Central Management System (CMS) makes updates and configuration changes easy, regardless of whether you have a dozen or a hundred ScreenBeam systems. You need to use the system’s Ethernet port.

Actiontec’s ScreenBeam 960 is not nearly as slick as ClickShare, but at $300 you can outfit five classrooms for the cost of one $1,750 ClickShare set up. Plus, you don’t need to pass around the USB clickers to those who want to connect. On the other hand, ClickShare covers the bases better with PC, Mac, Android and iPad compatibility.

Late in 2014, Mesa (Arizona) Public Schools equipped 3,600 of its classrooms with ScreenBeam receivers connected to Hitachi projectors, while revamping its WiFi infrastructure with Cisco 802.11n access points. It’s in use every day for teachers to project lessons to the class.

In any event, Actiontec’s ScreenBeam 960 can turn a projector or large display into a device that the whole class can use and share without busting the budget.


Sb960 b

Actiontec ScreenBeam 960


+ Quick connections

+ Long range

+ PC and Android

+ Ethernet connection

+ Central configuration and update software


- No XP, Chromebook, iPhone or Mac software

- Can’t display two or four inputs at once

Power in its Place

Block headGot an Apple computer whose AC power adapter doesn’t seem to fit anywhere? You’re not alone but Blockhead has an alternative that only takes up 1.8-inches, half that of the stock adapter. The difference is the snap-on plug module that lets you sneak the adapter into places the standard one can’t. It works with all MacBooks as well as most iPads (although not the older 5-watt models) and costs $20 or two for $35.

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