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Top of the Charts

Quartet-23706-Bluetoothenabled-Digital-Marker-Pen There’s no shortage of teachers of a certain age who don’t feel particularly comfortable with tablets, smart-boards and projectors that seem to have taken over the classroom. Many yearn for the good old days of blackboards and chalk or whiteboards and markers. Quartet Kapture bridges the gap between old habits and new teaching styles by putting digital smarts into a marker that captures what’s written on a big pad of paper and can be transferred to a computer and shared with the class.

When you get down to it, Kapture is very clever and potentially useful for schools, but can cost as much as a budget projector, making it a tough sell these days. It’s great of training sessions, curriculum brainstorming and especially in instruction.

Rather than working with a smart-board or an interactive projector directly, Kapture has an electronic marker holder with a camera in its tip that tracks what’s being drawn or written on large flip charts. The data is transmitted wirelessly to a nearby computer, where it can be saved, emailed, printed and even distributed over a network.

The Kapture Starter kit I looked at sells for $400 and comes with a single marker. There are other kits that have two and three pens for group or more colorful work that sell for $700 and $900. Three pens can be used at once, making it a great platform for collaboration.

S0397705_sc7 Each set comes with at least one 22.5- by 33-inch pad of paper. Look carefully and you’ll see a pattern of tiny dots in the background that help the pen to locate where the pen is on the pad and captures all the written items. The back of each page has glue on it to put the sheets up on a wall in order to review a lesson. Two 30-page pads sell for about $40 each for 30 sheets.

Quartet sells a variety of optional easels for between $20 and $120 to hold the pad of paper in place during a lesson. With the creative use of a binder clip, you can put the pad of paper right on any wall.

The kit came with a USB Bluetooth receiver for a computer. On the downside, the pen has a range of about 25 feet, which might turn out to be tad short for some classroom situations.

Kapture works with recent PCs and Macs and the software loads directly from the USB Bluetooth receiver in about 5 minutes. After synchronizing the pen with the Bluetooth receiver, you select the color ink you want to use and calibrate the pen with the included card; it comes with red, blue, green and black ink cartridges.

Using the pen is a bit odd at first, but soon becomes natural, although the pen’s ink doesn’t always produce a smooth unbroken line. The best bet is to write slowly. A trick I learned early on is that even with one pen, you can fool the software into thinking you have four different colored pens by taping the color calibration card whenever you want to use a different color. It takes some extra concentration because it all looks the same on the pad, but the electronic version shows the different colors.

When I finished, I was able to edit the page as well as apply notes to any set of pages. Finally, I was able to save the sequence of sheets as a .jpg image file or as .pdf Acrobat document.

Triangles Unlike the pages that LiveScribe’s Echo pen delivers that can include audio and animate the action on the page, the output of Kapture is silent and static.

 The pen uses an included AAA battery. If you don’t have fingernails, grab a screwdriver to open the back to insert the battery. While you can’t plug the USB receiver directly into a projector, the host computer can be connected to a projector for instantly putting what’s written on the pad onto the big screen.

When you don’t use it for several minutes, the pen has the annoying habit of going to sleep. It’s easy, though, to wake it up by taping on the pad.

After spending years trying out touch-screen computers, smart-boards and interactive projectors, using the Kapture pad and pen was a remarkably liberating experience. It’s simpler and has a better tactile feel to it. On the downside, it’s expensive and you can’t bring up a Web site on the pad or project a map’s image to mark up. I call it a halfway step towards interactivity.

In the final analysis Kapture misses a big opportunity to appeal to its target audience with an adapter that can use a white board or chalkboard. As it is, using paper and pen is a good way to bring a modicum of interactivity to the classroom.


Quartet Kapture Starter



+ Great way for technophobes to teach digitally

+ Easy set up

+ Wireless pen

+ PC and Macs

+ Works on white boards


- No chalk or whiteboard adapter

- Short pen range

- Expensive




Story Time

Mzl_ackyiklt_480x480-75 Most eBooks miss out on the possible digital synergies that come with tablet computers. Not so with Grid’s Interactive iPad book: The Truly Great Noodle. It’s all about a never-ending noodle that takes Nate throughout his home town as he tries to finish his dinner. It’s meant for three-year olds and older, it contains 9 songs and can read the story to the child. There are several interactive elements, like the ability of the child to have his or her reading of the book recorded for the teacher to listen to and evaluate. You can get it on iTunes for $4.



iPad on a Roll

Vernier video physics a Vernier’s Video Physics app for the iPad is a great way to not only show students how a physical phenomenon occurs, but help them graph it as well. All you do is use the iPad 2’s video camera to record the motion you want to analyze and the program marks the object’s position frame by frame and graphs its motion. It’s great for a rolling ball, a football field goal, a car’s acceleration and riding a roller coaster.



Rent a Text

Txtbk-rentals-fd-400x274._V158268573_Tired of musty old textbooks that always seem out of date and incredibly expensive? Students and schools can now rent them in eBook form from Amazon. The online company has just started distributing eBooks where you choose how long you want it – from a month to a year -- at discounts of up to 80 percent. The texts can be viewed on the Kindle application that works on all major platforms, from PC and Mac to iPad and Android.Check out the search page to see if your textboohs are available.



Close to the Wall

Mitsubishi_EST_projector First, there were projectors, then short throw and then ultra short throw projectors. Welcome to the era of extreme short throw projectors with Mitsubishi’s D380U-EST and XD360U-EST. Both use Texas Instruments’ DLP technology and final output lenses, rather than mirrors as is the case with Optoma and Hitachi. They can be set up close to the screen, yet provide a large image that lets the teacher work with the projected material close without casting large shadows. While the WD380U-EST delivers 2,800 lumens in wide-screen WXGA format, the XD360U-EST can put 2,500 lumens of light on screen in old school XGA resolution.




Freebee Friday: Chrome Calculator

Calc_4 The apps that run within Google’s Chrome Web Browser are becoming more numerous and varied, with some aimed right at the classroom. The latest is a cool graphing calculator that’s absolutely free. Rather than spending a hundred dollars for a calculator or even $10 or $15 for a Windows program, Desmos has a freebee calculator that should fit into every math and science classroom. On top of regular calculations, it can graph any function on an X-Y Cartesian plane as well as polar coordinates.

Calc_2 I used it for a few weeks and the calculator loads in a flash and runs on even minimalist netbooks. That’s because most of the heavy processing takes place at Google’s servers. Desmos lets a group of kids work together, making the program perfect for a collaborative math project or physics lab. The best part is that there are many sample calculations that can be used in the calssroom and it’ll work on any computer that has a Chrome browser available for it, including PCs, Macs and Linux computers.



From One, Many

Virtuacore3 Who needs a PC for every kid these days when you can virtualize the experience and save piles of money on hardware and upkeep? For instance, Black Box’s VirtuaCore lets a single PC service up to four workstations without compromising performance. It shares the output of a variety of processors, up to quad core chips and sets up independent clients.  All you need is a keyboard, monitor and mouse for each.

Multiclient2 On the other hand, Viewsonic is thinking big with the combination of the MultiClient VMH700 Host PC and DisplayLink VMA10 MultiClient adapter, which can service up to 10 users per PC. The software includes ways for the clients to collaborate, do research and have the teacher take control of the screens or lock the class’s keyboards. The kit will be ready next month and will sell for $1,300 plus $175 per adapter. The best is yet to come because they are working on a completely networked version that will cut out the need for a PC altogether.




Pen-Tastic Projector

Optoma projector a As the third generation of interactive projectors starts, manufacturers have added many options, refinements and abilities, confusing buyers to the point of distraction. Optoma helps simplify the situation by offering the TW675uTi-3D projector as a complete kit with everything needed to transform a classroom in a single box.  

The good news is that this is the rare projector that comes with everything: the projector, its ceiling mounting hardware and excellent classroom software included, making it a must-have for schools. Together, they can potentially save several hundred dollars per projector.

Unlike most projectors, the TW675uTi-3D’s beam of light goes through a final curved mirror before getting to the screen. This means that the device is big and bulky. All told, it measures 8- by 16.5- by 16-inches and weighs 17 pounds, making set up somewhat awkward.   

Optoma projector b Able to create an 8.3-foot image from just over 2 feet away from the wall, it is an excellent short throw projector. On the downside, there’s no way to protect the delicate optics from damage or dust and the focus adjustment bar is hard to get to, making for some contortions during set up. Happily, most will only have to use it once.

The projector has an optional dust filter that's meant for dusty environments. It should be changed every 300-to 500-hours of use, which can be every few months for projectors that are used daily. It can be washed clean and reused.

Inside the white and gray case is a 0.65-inch Texas Instruments Digital Light Processing engine that creates a WXGA image; it can handle all sorts of HD programming. It is very bright, has excellent color balance and projects smooth video. In addition to six preset projection modes, the device is able to work with 3-D content; all you’ll need is the glasses.

Optoma pen The projector’s PointBlank interactive wand itself is a gem. At 2.6 ounces, it’s light enough for the smallest child in the class. It relies on two AAA batteries rather than a rechargeable battery pack that other interactive projectors use.

 On top of being able to smoothly write directly on the projected image in a variety of colors and highlight items, the pen can also control the cursor from a distance by pointing it and click on items. It comes with a remote control that can control the cursor as well.

Unfortunately, like so many other short throw projectors, the TW675uTi-3D doesn’t have an optical zoom, so the only way to frame the image on the screen is by moving it back and forth. It still suffers from the problem that when the pen’s point is in shadow, it loses contact with the computer.

There’re more than enough ports to connect the projector for every conceivable classroom use, with HDMI, two VGA in and one VGA out as well as S- and composite video. There are audio jacks as well as a mini-USB slot for connecting the projector with a computer.

I’m impressed that the Ethernet jack can be used to monitor the projector’s use as well as grab items from the network for displaying. There’s an optional wireless adapter that lets up to four computers project what’s on their screens.

Thumb-wizteach-pod A huge bonus that I wish others would copy is the projector’s hidden panel on the side for stashing cables. Finally, the TW675uTi-3D can play images saved on a memory key.

It all comes together quite well, although the projector’s fan is annoyingly loud. Still, its exhaust is 171 degrees Fahrenheit, which shouldn’t be a problem if it is ceiling-mounted. It projected a beautifully sharp image at 3,241 lumens, slightly above its specification, but uses 352 watts of power. Along with its $300 replacement lamp, this adds up to an estimated annual maintenance cost of $230 for 6 hours of use every school day, higher than its competitors.

Software is the TW675uTi-3d’s strong suit. The projector comes with a full version of Qwizdom Wiz Teach interactive program that can be loaded on up to 4 computers and help teaching math, science, English, geography and more.

For schools contemplating outfitting a bunch of classrooms, Optoma’s TW675uTi-3D is the closest thing to an all-inclusive kit that has everything from software to mounting hardware. At $1,800 with a three-year warranty, this projector has the power to transform a classroom.


Optoma TW675uTi-3D


+ Excellent brightness and color

+ Wizteach software

+ Includes ceiling mounting hardware

+ Close to wall set up


- Huge

- Loud fan

- Runs hot

- Dust filter maintenance


Cheap Pad

Leappad Tired of spending $500 and more for tablets that are general purpose systems rather than built for childhood education? LeapFrog’s LeapPad  has a different idea that consists of a 5-inch slate, 2GB of memory and a slew of early education apps that call upon the tablet’s built-in motion sensor. On top of a stylus, the tablet has a camera, video recorder, microphone and stylus, It’ll cost $100 when it goes on sale in the middle of August.



Back in Black

5854786722_7e956af6c5_b It’s been too long since Toshiba has sold a desktop PC in the U.S., but they’re back with the DX1215 all-in-one computer. Built around a 21.5 touch screen, the DX1215 has a Core i5 or i7 processor, a 1TB hard drive and a Super Multi DVD burner. It can connect with the best, with 4 USB ports, two of which use the newer and faster USB 3.0 spec. At $929, the DX1215 includes a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse.


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