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Cut the Classroom Cord

SWP100A-3 Schools attempting to wire older classrooms for projectors or large screen monitors over the summer are faced with one big problem: the cables for video and audio never seem to be where they need to be. Rewiring a classroom can easily dwarf the cost of the projector, but Warpia lets you unwire it by connecting any recent PC with a projector or TV with no fuss, muss or wires.

Warpia’s USB PC to TV Audio/Video Display Adapter SWP100a is a little long-winded but can link a PC to a monitor, TV or projector in a classroom wirelessly. Based on the USB Wireless 1.0 standard, Warpia takes advantage of Wisair’s WSR 601 chip to stream high-quality audio and video over thin air.

Warpia comes with a small USB radio that’s the size of a memory key and transmits whatever is on the host PC’s screen. The larger receiver goes near the projector and its radio can be aimed the received vertically or horizontally. There’s also an AC adapter for the receiver and a CD of software.

The system can handle resolutions up to 1,400 by 1,050 in 32-bit color and CD-quality audio. On the downside, At the moment Warpia is for PCs only and will work on neither Macs nor Linux computers. There is beta software for Macs that can be downloaded.

SWP100A-5 The way it works is that the teacher’s computer uses Warpia to send an audio-video stream over a wireless link in the 3.2- to 4.8GHz range. With 128-bit AES encrypted security, adjacent classrooms won’t interfere with each other. As data moves through the system, a green light blinks on both the sender and receiver.

Set up was surprisingly easy and quick with automatic application loading. After 15 minutes of the software setting itself up, Warpia worked on the first try and transmitted audio and video from a Satellite L555 notebook at 1,280 by 768 resolution to an Epson PowerLite Presenter as well as an LG 47-inch TV-monitor. 

There’s the choice at the receiver end between using a VGA port and separate audio cable or an HDMI port that carries audio and video; Warpia supplies none of the necessary cables, however.

I prefer using HDMI because of its simplicity but there still aren’t that many classroom projectors that have this port on them. Both worked well, with excellent audio synchronization as well as rich and sharp color that looked as good as the original.

Warpia sw Teachers can mirror or extend the host PC’s screen, accelerate the video stream and adjust things like the channel it is broadcast on. Those with big classrooms will be disappointed, however, because Warpia has a range of only about 14-feet, at 1,280 by 768 resolution. That’s less than half the system’s spec. At that distance, the sound drops out first and then the video freezes, but once you’re back in range, the system reconnects automatically.

To extend the range, you can reduce the video’s resolution and color depth, which created a solid 25-foot connection at 800 by 600 resolution and 16-bit audio, which should be just fine for most classroom purposes. On top of that, Warpia’s receiver can be placed anywhere, from screwed into a wall to the space above a drop ceiling, to bring sender and receiver closer together. 

In short, Warpia does digital magic by invisibly linking a PC with a projector or TV for the typical classroom.


A-

Warpia USB PC to TV Audio/Video Display Adapter SWP100a
$170

+ Wireless audio-video connection
+ Inexpensive
+ Good quality
+ Uses 128-bit security
+ VGA or HDMI connection

- Limited range
- Receiving end requires AC outlet
- PCs only

The Key to Kids Typing

Kidskey Forget about bland black or gray keyboards because children are naturally attracted to colors and Califone’s Kids Keyboard is about as colorful as it gets. The keyboard is made of rugged ABS plastic, plugs into a computer’s USB slot and has multimedia controls across the top. While it has a simplified 85-key layout and uses the standard QWERTY format, its keys are arranged in groups that are colored red for the numbers, orange for the vowels, yellow for the consonants and turquoise for those around the periphery. It costs $34 with a one-year warranty that’s good in schools.

Mighty Mini

ER1402-05 There are small PCs but they often betray their netbook roots with low performance potential and dismal video. eMachines is doing things differently with its new ER1402-05 mini. Powered by a 1.7GHz AMD Athlon II Neo processor K125, NVidia’s nForce 9200 graphics and high-defintiion audio, it’s a petite powerhouse that can handle HD movies. It occupies a square that’s 7.1-inches on a side and only 1.2-inches thick, comes with Windows 7 Home Premium and cost $300.

The Power of the Pen

Livescribe Echo college 1 The keyboard may rule in the digital age, but LiveScribe’s Echo can unleash he hidden power of the pen in the classroom. The latest digital pen, Echo can capture whatever is written on special paper with tiny dots printed on it. The key is that it has a tiny camera in the pen’s tip and a microphone that records every pen stroke and what’s said for later playback. But, that’s just the start.

While it looks like a large pen, the Echo is a nanocomputer that can run any of the available 60 applications, like those for teaching trigonometry or about the presidents. The gem for teaching is the ability to record audio while writing and saving not just the Pencast math entire written document but letting it draw itself after the fact on a computer or even iPad.

Called Pencasting, it can capture and replay an entire lesson on anything from penmanship to solving an algebra equation or balancing a chemistry equation. Echo has a full-day battery that charges with a mini-USB cable connected to a PC or AC adapter. Available later in the year, Echo will come with 4- or 8GB of storage for apps and stored pages and cost $170 and $200.  Look for a review in the coming months.

Freebee Friday: Online Sketchpad Lesson

Sketchpad Key Curriculum Press’s Geometer’s Sketchpad is one of my favorite education programs because it is such an amazing way to teach math in general that lets a teacher not just talk about geometric figures, but show and manipulate them. There are Webinars on July 19 (at 4PM, eastern time) and July 20 (at 7PM, eastern time) that will show how to use the program to teach Algebra I and II classes. The online seminar will cover using the newest features, class activities as well as advanced teaching techniques. The online class will be taught by Scott Steketee, an 18-year veteran of the math classroom.

Hide a Plug

HAP_Outlet_Frontal_300 With the need to plug so many things into a classroom’s outlet, it’s no wonder that the furniture has to sit several inches away from the wall, cutting into valuable teaching space. No more, with the Hug-A-Plug which turns the orientation of a power plug sideways and provides two outlets. It’s all safe, grounded and capable of handling 15 amps of current, but sits only a little over 1 inch from the wall. Hug-A-Plug is available in white, brown or black for $5 each or a six-pack for $27.

A Wall Full of Learning


Eurographics dinosaur There’s nothing like a good poster to focus on a subject and visually tell a story, and the latest posters from Eurographics can turn a wall into an educational experience. Whether it’s the workings of an atom, the presidents or a history of Charles Darwin’s life, the company’s posters are informative and beautifully printed. Most are available in a variety of sizes, some come as intricate jigsaw puzzles as well and pricing starts at less than $20.

Itsy Bitsy Spyder Calibrates your Projector

The last time I looked, the majority of projectors in a school I was visiting were so poorly adjusted that type was hard to read on some, while others made people look like Shrek with green faces. I’d best that your school has a similar problem. With test patterns, like Displaymate, you can eyeball a projector’s output to improve its settings, but only so far.

It’s actually a myth that tweaking a projector’s brightness, contrast, color and other parameters is more art than science. That’s because with the right equipment, any projector can be tweaked to peak performance.

Spyder3tv DataColor’s Spyder3TV goes against the grain with an inexpensive calibration instrument that relies on a computer for making sure that you get the most out of every projector. The $100 kit comes with the Spyder colorimeter sensor, software, stand and a cleaning cloth. It’s tiny and replaces an instrument that can sell for thousands of dollars and take an advanced degree in engineering to use.

The first step is to load the software on a notebook and plug in Spyder’s USB cable. Make sure you have a USB extension cord handy because the included 6-foot cable isn’t long enough. The Spyder sensor can be pointed with its window facing the projector’s beam or the screen. There’s a recessed hole in the back for hanging it on a nail or using the included suction cup.

On top of a computer to interpret the sensor’s readings, you’ll need to connect the projector to a DVD player or another computer to play the included DVD. The disc has a variety of test patterns that area projected and interpreted by the sensor and software.

Regardless of the projector and room, it’s important that the projector is allowed to fully warm up before starting the sequence. Plus, the adjustments need to be made in a darkened room, so plan on working late.

Spyder3tv a Once you and the projector are ready, start the software and follow the instructions. After identifying the projector and room, you’ll need to create a baseline of the projector’s current settings. Then you’ll go through the calibration sequence for brightness, contrast, color temperature and color balance.

The software will instruct you to make changes to the projector’s settings and change the screen it’s displaying. I find that the need for a separate input for the test patterns to be cumbersome and wish there was a way to use the computer’s DVD drive to display the test patterns.

It’s all a bit complicated and you’ll need to work two remote controls at once to get the right test pattern on screen and then adjust the projector’s parameters. All told, it takes about 15 minutes to adjust a projector, but it takes some practice and patience.

The company’s Web site has a couple videos to help new users get the hang of it. This is something that with a little training a motivated student or intern can easily accomplish.

I used the Spyder to calibrate an Epson PowerLite Presenter projector. The calibration routine not only got a little extra brightness and much more contrast out of the projector. When done, text was more readable and flesh tones were much more realistic.

When you’re done, the software records and shows you the changes made. This lets you see changes over time as a projector and its lamp age and degrade. It’s also a good way to get a handle on when the lamp will either fail or become too dim to be useful.

Photo_cfp75_1_500 One big shortcoming of the Spyder3TV kit is that the software can’t show the projector’s actual brightness level, an essential first step in seeing if the projector meets the manufacturer spec. DataColor’s ColorFacts software can do this, along with a variety of other measures of a projector’s specs. With a sensor it costs $3,500, and is an excellent district-wide resource for calibrating projectors, monitors and TVs.

With similar equipment selling for thousands of dollars, Spyder3TV is essential equipment for any institution with a bunch of projectors. With it, you can get the most out of each projector and classroom.

A-

Data Color Spyder3TV
$100

+ Excellent way to calibrate projectors or large TVs
+ Inexpensive
+ Improves image and text quality
+ Helpful videos

- Complicated set up procedure
- Need PC and DVD player
- Will likely need USB extension cord

 


 

Reviving the Dead (PC, That Is)

Rescue kit 10 Every IT pro at schools has a toolkit of software for diagnosing and fixing broken PCs, and Paragon’s $100 Rescue Kit 10 is a great start. On top of the ability to retrieve a system’s data after a crash, the kit can pull data off of a bad drive and put it on a DVD or another hard drive, change a Windows password or restore deleted drive partitions. The best part is that the software can create a bootable CD to revive a dead computer. It includes a Technician’s license for one year, which allows you to use the program on an unlimited number of systems and up to 10 servers for ten years. A demo is available as a download.

A Must Read

Classroom management From the rawest rookie to a 20-year veteran, all teachers can be aided by reading “Successful Classroom Management,” a how-to manual on controlling the classroom. Inside are a multitude of tips, tricks and straight-forward advice on how to stay in charge, even when it seems that the world is ganging up on your authority. For those wary of the class trouble maker, there are sections that deal with inspiring students, enforcing discipline and creating an engaging classroom. Written by Richard Eyster and Christine Martin, the book should available during the summer, costs $22.99 and be in every school’s library or teacher’s lounge.

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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.