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Collaboration Plus

Faronics c Some classroom management packages are strong on collaboration but weak when it comes to controlling classroom PCs, monitoring student activities or administration. Faronics Insight 7.6 does them all equally well lets a teacher’s computer watch the screen of every student, finish administrative tasks quicker and work with students one-on-one or in groups. The software is available for a free 30-day trial to see if it fits into your classroom routine.




Double Duty Pad

ASUS_EeePad_Transformer_1 What if an inexpensive Android tablet could also be a useful desktop and notebook computer? Well, Asus’s EeePad Transformer does a trifecta that covers just about all conceivable classroom uses, and does it for much less than the typical school computer.

 The way the Transformer works is so simple and obvious that it’s a wonder that nobody ever thought of it before. The slate uses Android 3.2 software, can work on its own or with a snap-on keyboard and touchpad.

Just slide the slate into the keyboard base, and a chrome latch locks it into place. The beauty of the design is that removing or docking the slate doesn’t interrupt what you’re working on. In other words, touch or keyboard—you decide.

All told, it is a huge step forward for tablets, and I expect it to be copied quickly. On its own, the tablet is a gem with a responsive multi-touch screen, volume controls on the side and a pair of Web cams: a 1.2-megapixel device facing the user and a 5-megapixel one facing away.

The snap-on keyboard’s 17.3mm keys are a bit skimpy but they are much more comfortable than using the on-screen keyboard. There are also specialty keys for multimedia, volume and controlling wireless devices. My favorites are the go back and Home keys, which are essential for navigating Android. The only thing it lacks is a wireless mouse, but that can be easily and cheaply added.

Transformer slate On the other hand, the screen feels like it will tip the whole system if you put too much pressure on the display when the keyboard is in place. Plus, the hinge’s design raises and lowers the keyboard as the screen is pivoted forward and back. It’s annoying, but tolerable

With so many possibilities, you’d think that the EeePad Transformer would be a big and heavy behemoth of a machine that wouldn’t fit neatly into a kids backpack. You’d be wrong, because at 1.5-pounds, the slate computer is only slightly heavier than a comparable iPad 2, yet offers a larger screen.

At 10.7- by 6.9-inches, the Transformer slate is longer but narrower than an iPad 2, but its rounded back wobbles when used on a table. Together, the slate and keyboard add up to a 2.9-pound notebook equivalent that’s 1-inch thick, about what you’d expect from a good netbook.

Style mavens take note, the Transformer’s bronze tone metal looks great and is a welcome change from the brushed aluminum look that pervades tablets these days.

It runs rings around the minimalist iPad when it comes to connecting with the classroom. On top of the expected audio connections there’s a microSD card reader for adding storage or transferring files to and from the slate as well as a mini-HDMI connector for transferring what’s on Transformer’s display onto the big screen. It connected on the first try with an Epson projector.

The Transformer also has a full size SD card slot and a pair of USB connectors, but they’re on the keyboard, so are only available for use when the two are docked. This reduces the ability of the slate to fully operate on its own for doing things like using a memory key on the fly.

Transformer keyboard Inside is the latest Android-based hardware including an Nvidia Tegra 2 processor that runs at 1GHz and can perform multitasking. Its 1GB of RAM is disappointing, but is still more than Apple provides with the iPad 2.

 While the version I looked at had an adequate 16GB of storage space, there’s a more spacious 32GB model that costs $100 more. There’s no 64GB Transformer to match the flagship iPad 2, but you can get to 64GB with a microSD card, which is a bargain at about $50.

At 10.1-inches, the system’s screen is not only larger than the iPad 2’s 9.7-inch display, but its 1,280 by 800 resolution beats the iPad’s 1,024 by 768 resolution. The Transformer’s display is also brighter and has a very wide field of view so that several can work around a screen at once.

Its chock full of techno goodies that other tablets leave out, like a light sensor, gyroscope and GPS. Asus offers a cool bonus: for a year you get unlimited online storage with the Transformer pad. After that, up to 2GB continues to be free, but unlimited storage costs between $30 and $50 a year.

The system has 802.11b, g, n WiFi networking, but like other tablets, no wired Ethernet. It does have Bluetooth for connecting a variety of peripherals. At this point, there are no Transformer models that can connect with 3G mobile data networks.

P20110921081116 While it can’t work with PC or iPad software, Android 3.2 is best tablet operating system yet and can teach Apple a thing or two. I really like that the on-screen pointer is a circle, the Flash support and all the apps that come with the system.

The pad includes dozens of apps, including Infraware’s Polaris Office 3.0, which can work with most word processing, spreadsheet, presentation files as well as Acrobat documents. It’s not as good as having access to the full apps, but the price is right.

Unfortunately, like so many tablets on the market, there’s no stylus included. It worked fine with a Wacom Bamboo pen, but tethering it to the system will be difficult.

Saving the best for last, the Transformer has exceptional battery life that is unequaled by any notebook or tablet. It was able to get it to play audio and video for 14 hours and 2 minutes nonstop. That’s the equivalent of several school days of use, so you won’t need to recharge the slate every night.

All told, the EeePad Transformer is the rare combination of a visionary design and excellent engineering. At $550, the Transformer pair is on a par with similar systems from other vendors but includes the option of using a keyboard, but if you shop around, you can find the duo for closer to $500.

Either way, Transformer is an appropriately named tablet. It genuinely has the power to change the way children are taught.


Asus EeePad Transformer

Slate: $400

Keyboard: $150


+ Tablet with snap on keyboard

+ Has latest Android 3.2 software

+ Excellent battery life

+ Inexpensive

+ Dual cameras

+ HDMI port


- Only has 1GB of RAM

- Wobbles on tabletop

- USB only in keyboard


Parlez-vous anglais?

Feedback_(2) Pearson’s WriteToLearn 7.0 program goes international with support for students who speak languages other than English. The software has the same automated scoring and feedback engine for student writing as previous versions of the software, but it now can help students who are fluent in Spanish or Chinese.




Virtual Worlds

Ibm virtual Interested in creating a virtual environment for school computing, but are afraid of the cost and complexity? You’re not alone, and IBM’s Virtual Desktop for Smart Business has a better way. VDSB gives you the choice of using a Windows 7 or Linux interface on the client screens, and all the setup material can be saved onto a memory key for quick installation. The best part is that everyone can have their own individual computing experience with a customized desktop and mix of apps and connections.


Big Notebook, Big Bag

CBP751BK_9 Have briefcases and backpacks failed to keep up with bigger and bigger notebooks at schools? Cocoon’s Central Park Professional Backpack can comfortably hold up to a 17-inch laptop and protect it from shock and water damage. The $80 bag is made of ballistic nylon and has the company’s GRID-IT organizer so that there won’t any excuse that students can’t find a pencil. Available in comes in gray, red, brown and black, there’s even a place for a phone or iPod.




Freebee Friday: The Little Fourth Estate

Press corp Scholastic News Kids Press Corp is looking for a few good kids to ask hard questions and write the news as they see it. The program is recruiting 50 kid reporters from age 10 through 14 who are interested in journalism to report and write the news of the day for Scholastic News and Junior Scholastic magazines. The deadline to apply is October 11, 2011.



From iPad to Screen

MegaPlexTopHeroiPad-prv Ever have something on your iPad or iPhone that you wanted to share it with the class with a projector but were frustrated by its limitations? Epson’s Megaplex MG850HD and MG50 projectors can be directly connected to an iPad, iPhone or iPod and project whatever is on its screen while charging the tablet. Both projectors use Epson’s 3 LCD technology, but the $800 MG 850H model puts out 2,800 lumens while the $700 MG 50 puts 2,200 lumens on screen.




Boogie Board Gets Better

Boogie-board-rip-angled-front When I wrote about Improv’s Boogie Board as the modern-day chalk slate, it had one overriding flaw: you couldn’t save or transfer material written on its LCD surface. Now, the company’s upcoming Boogie Board Rip can do just that, making it an even better way to learn, teach and share. On top of advances in electronics, the Rip board has a micro USB connector for moving material from the board to a computer. Look for it in the coming weeks.

PS: RIP stands for Record Image, Preserve.




Sign of the Times

HP DSD Height Often the best way to get the word out to student, faculty and staff is to use a central digital sign for everything from what day it is and what’s on the menu at the cafeteria to the next football game and emergency evacuation instructions. HP’s LD4220tm’s displays are available in 42- and 47-inch models, can be mounted horizontally or vertically and are touch sensitive so that they can become interactive kiosks. They both can show full 1080p high definition programming and have simple but powerful media player software for displaying the information.

HP mp8200_angle Every good sign needs a PC to feed it with audio and video. HP’s mp8200 does the trick with the enviable combination of small size, lower power use and the ability to doll out smooth video as well as work with interactive software. Both the displays and the player hardware will be available later this month.




Robot Parade

There’s a hidden danger to the way we educate our children by only teaching our children how to use Office. Sure, it’s a good idea to get them familiar with writing, counting and presenting ideas with Office, but these are skills of the 1990s, not what’s need in the 21-st century. As odd as it sounds, using robots is a great way to engage the young mind and give them practical programming projects they can learn and grow with. 

111209_createpic They may be planning to take our planet when we’re not watching, but robots are a great way to teach programming to kids, and iRobot’s Create kit is an inexpensive way for a school to try it out. The $220 package includes the robot with battery, charger and programming guide. It looks like one of those vacuum cleaning robots because it is adapted from that technology. iRobot takes the genre a step or two further. It comes with 10 built in demo programs, but the robot can be programmed for a fight to the death, playing laser tag, drawing designs on the floor or whatever catches a child’s fancy.

Contentimage By contrast, Lego’s MindStorm lets you snap together your own special robot and then program him (or her) to do your bidding. People have used the MindStorm equipment to create sundae makers, cars and even automated lab equipment. There’re sections of the site with software, online how-to lessons, reference guides and full lesson plans. All that’s missing is a little creativity, and the kids can supply that. MindStorm kits start at $200.




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