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Freebee Friday: Swivl Goes Home

Swivl-Cloud-Live3The Swivl automated camera stand is a great way to record classroom visits and even create movies without the need for a camera-person. By adding the ability to perform face-to-face video conferences over the company’s Swivl Cloud Live service, the robot camera holder is just as effective for allowing a child who is sick at home to remotely attend class as it is for having a chat with a parent without them having to travel to the school. In addition to voice and video, the system can share PowerPoint slides. The software is still under development and is free to use in its Beta form, but when it goes commercial, you’ll need to have a Basic or Pro plan with Swivl.



Freebee Friday: Foreign Language Nirvana

DuolingoIt can’t replace a creative language teacher, but DuoLingo can help kids get a better grasp of ten languages, including German, French and Spanish. It has lots of short lessons that are easy to digest along with tons of practice exercises to drill students where they earn points towards mastering their language. It runs on Android or iPad tablets.

DIY All-in-One

Hide it mac miniIt’s an open secret that you can build your own all-in-one computers by strapping a small computer, like Mac’s Mini, to the back of a monitor. More often than not, people use Velcro tape to attach the two, but there is a better way. Hideit’s $40 mounting bracket lets you screw a Mini in to the back of a display. The Mac Mini hardware is made of sturdy 16-gauge cold-rolled steel, has holes that line up with the screen’s 100 millimeter VESA mounting hardware and the Mini slides right in.



CS16USB-OTHER01-LEvery time I see a shelf or table stacked with charging tablets surrounded by a tangle of extension cords and power strips, I want to scream. That’s because there’s a more organized and safer way to charge school slates that doesn’t involve using every outlet in the classroom. 

While I really like Griffin’s PowerDock 5 that can charge and store five tablets or small notebooks, it’s just the first step. Tripp-Lite’s Charging Station takes this idea to a new level with the ability to safely store and charge anywhere from 16 to 48 devices so they’re always ready for class.

Rather than the open shelving concept of the PowerDock5, the 16-portt Charging Station is built around a sturdy steel box that measures 14.5- by 23.6- by 17.5-inches and weighs a hefty 30 pounds. It’s available in black and white and there are taller versions that can accommodate up to 32- and 48-systems.

Whichever one you get, the Charging Station can be mounted onto a wall, shelf or floor. It can be ordered with casters and a handle for wheeling from room to room. The side panels are removable and the system has a hinged front door that can be locked at night or between classes; it comes with two keys.

I CS32USB-OTHER01-Lnside, the base model that I looked at has room for 16 tablets or small notebooks, like HP’s 11-inch Chromebook. The shelf height and dividers are adjustable to accommodate a variety of gear, including external batteries, mobile hot spots and powered speakers. An unexpected bonus is that the shelves are Teflon coated to reduce scratches from clumsy kids.

In fact, it can work with anything that requires USB charging. Built around Tripp-Lite’s 16-port USB Charger, it is UL listed and can dole out up to 2.4 amps of current at 5-volts for a peak output of 12 watts. This allows just about any small USB-based system to charge quickly.

The power is delivered from a strip of 16 USB power outlets. You’ll need a USB cable for each system being charged and the extra length can be coiled up. On the other hand, it’ll be neater if you get Tripp-Lite’s 10-inch cables for iPads and 12-inch ones for Android systems.

The system has a single grounded electrical power cord that can be fed through access holes in the back of the case, but it lacks a surge suppressor. On the downside, it will not work with a device that doesn’t use USB power. In other words, notebooks with AC adapters are off limits, but Tripp-Lite sells laptop charging gear. Unfortunately, there’s nothing that has both AC and USB power for mixing and matching.

Cs16usb cablesIt does more than charge tablets, though. The system has a USB 2.0 plug as well for connecting the Charging Station to a computer. This allows you to synchronize the tablets and get the latest software downloads. It also has a mini USB port for updating the Charging Station’s firmware.

In daily use, the Charging Station did exactly what it was supposed to: charge up tablets and small notebooks overnight or between classes. I used it with everything from a couple of iPads, Android and Windows tablets to video cameras and rechargeable TI calculators.

While the system only sends power when it’s needed, the Charging Station’s fan runs continuously, even if nothing is connected. It comes with a two-year warranty for $650, money well spent if it saves one tablet from being stolen or broken while charging.



16-Port USB Tablet Charging Station


+ Holds, charges and synchronizes up to 16 devices

+ Works with tablets, small notebooks and accessories

+ Sturdy and lockable

+ Optional casters and handle

+ Adjustable shelving

+ Two-year warranty

+ Up to 48-unit versions


- No surge suppressor

- Lacks AC outlets

- Loud fan




News to Me

Text setsTeachers who ignore the daily newspapers, sites and feeds are missing out on a great resource to help kids master reading and critical thinking. Newsela’s Text Sets can help organize and distribute articles of interest by bringing them together into a collection, ready for kids to consume. There are prepackaged sets on everything from the upcoming presidential campaign to 3-D printing, but teachers can now compile their own sets. Just register for the free version or upgrade to the Pro service, which adds the ability to annotate and add notes or encouragement.

Classroom Instant Replay

OBSERVATION_Teacher Video ViewMost recorded classroom visits produce a view of what goes on in the class and not much more. Insight Advance Feedback takes the idea a step further with the ability to annotate the video and provide insight into a teacher’s personal and professional development. In addition to adding notes directly on the video stream about various techniques or student interactions, the software can identify goals. Insight Advance is delivered over the Web, works on a variety of platforms and doesn’t require any special software. After a $3,500 setup and training fee, the service costs $95 per user per year (unlimited observations/videos); there’s a free 30-day trial.

Teaching Machine

RL85_White_gallery_02What’s small, white and able to turn a projector into a teaching machine? Acer’s Revo One RL85 is called an entertainment PC, but don’t let the name fool you, it is a computer that puts the emphasis on interactivity and value. At just 6.1- by 4.2- by 4.2-inches, it’s hard to believe that the RL85 has a full Windows 8.1 PC inside. There’s a good assortment of ports as well as an SD card reader on top and an LED light below.

RL85_White_gallery_05 It can turn any lesson into a multimedia extravaganza with surround sound, 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth built in.  With Acer software, any phone or tablet can be a remote control for the computer, allowing teachers to roam around the room. It’s only available in a white, but the best part is price. There're several models, from a $250 version that includes a Celeron processor, 2GB of RAM and 60GB of solid state storage all the way up to the top of the line configuration with 8GB of RAM, a 1TB hard drive and a 2.2GHz Core i5 processor for $580.


Freebee Friday: Write on PDFs

Notable pdfPDFs are static pages that you can only view or print, right? Wrong, with Notable PDF can not only open Adobe Acrobat files, but highlight items, type notes and do things like crossing out and underlining text. You can do all this in a variety of colors so several kids can mark up or annotate a document. In addition to making changes, Notable lets you print the document. It’s free but if you pay $2 a month for the premium plan you can save items to your GoogleDrive, work offline and add drawings when the software is finished.

The Chromebook That Stays Put

Acer Chromebase DC221HQThink Chromebook and you think of small notebooks that excel in size and price, but Acer has an excellent alternative for those applications that don’t require mobility. How about a Chrome-based all-in-one desktop with a 21.5-inch HD display that can respond to 10 individual touch inputs? Based on Nvidia’s Tegra K1 quad core processor, the Chromebase system can work with all online and offline Chrome apps and comes with two-year’s worth of 100GB of online storage. It has a great assortment of ports, including HDMI-out, USB as well as 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth. In other words, it can fit in just as well as a library research system, an email kiosk or even in a computer lab.



Power Mad

Thread carpetIf there’s one thing that today’s classrooms lack it is sufficient outlets to charge a class’s worth of tablets and notebooks while powering a projector. Steelcase’s Thread can put juice where it belongs with some innovative technology. Thread uses a thin modular track that is only 3/16-inch thick to convey AC power safely and inconspicuously under carpeting. This can not only reduce the cost of adding outlets by simplifying installation, but there are a variety of outlets available, including pedestals, in-floor and tabletop plugs.



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