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Eye on the Classroom

IZON aPutting a Web cam in the classroom is a great way to let the principal look in on novice teachers, let parents participate in education and even allow home-bound kids to not miss out on an important lesson. Stem’s iZon does a good job of opening the classroom and is about as small, inexpensive and easy to set up as it gets, but it requires an iPad to set up and view the video.

iZon is a small white cylinder with a diameter of 1.3-inches and 3.3-inches tall. There’s a lens on one side and it comes with a magnetic base that lets you aim the camera anywhere in the room. It can be mounted on a wall or ceiling, hidden in a book case or just left out in the open on a desk. The camera is powered by an included USB electrical adapter with a 9-foot cord.

Based on WiFi, the system wants to use of WPA2 security settings on your school’s network. Setting it up requires no special knowledge and can be accomplished without trepidation by a technophobic teacher. You will need an iPad, iPhone or iPod to do it, however.

Izon set upAfter downloading the Stem:Connect software from Apple’s App Store, installing and starting it up, click on the “+” icon to add the camera’s video stream. You’ll need to sign up for a free account, but this takes just a couple of minutes.

All told, it took me 10 minutes to go from opening the box to viewing video. It can get complicated, but a software wizard walks you through the steps. I set up iZon to watch a class pet: Slowy the Golden Greek Tortoise.

The camera’s video shows up as a thumbnail on the software’s main screen. Click on it and the stream starts flowing with well synchronized audio, but is subject to a 24 second delay. The company plans to release an app that uses Real-Time Transfer Protocol (RTP) technmology that can reduce this latency. The camera gets warm while it’s being used.

Its QVGA resolution is adequate, but underwhelming and several steps behind the latest Web cams. Its feed doesn’t fill the iPad’s display, but the company is planning on upgrading resolution to the VGA level.

Izon slowyThere’s a prominent volume control under the video and the camera’s set up software lets you customize the video stream with the ability to turn on or off a light on the camera, set motion and audio alarms or flip the image. Any video can be uploaded to easily YouTube.

It can handle up to 8 viewers watching on the local WiFi network, but only one remote viewer. A dot in the upper right hand corner of the preview shows your connection status. A red dot means the camera is not connected, while yellow means remote and green means that you’re connected and ready to watch. Be careful, if you’re not on the same WiFi network as the camera – like a parent looking in on a class – you’re limited to 5 minutes of video at a time.

IZON-bookshelf-2000x1333The emphasis on the iPad for configuring the iZon camera and playing its video is a double-edged sword. It simplifies set up and makes troubleshooting easy, but it limits the audience. A similar Android app would help, but what iZon really needs is a Web hosting system so that any computer -- PC, Mac or Linux -- would be able to watch the video.

iZon’s $130 price tag makes it a bargain, but where you can view its video is too constrained. At some point next year, the company is working on other ways to watch iZon’s video stream, making it picture perfect.


Stem iZon


+ Small, unobtrusive video camera

+ Streams video to iPads

+ Audio

+ Adjustable base

+ Inexpensive


- Requires iPad, iPhone or iPod

- Video delay

- Remote video limited to 5 minutes at a time



Big Touch

Samsung touch screen LCDThe classroom’s interactive whiteboard has met its match with Samsung’s 65-inch Touch Screen LCD Display. Not only can teachers write directly on the high definition screen, but the monitor can be mounted on a wall. Just 5-inches thick, the touch-screen monitor works with composite video or HDMI inputs.



Android Defense

Norton Mobile Security_SMS Control 2Just because you have a classroom of Android tablets doesn’t mean they’re safe from theft or virus attack. With Norton’s $30 Tablet Security, every system in the school can be protected from spyware, phishing and search engine attacks. Plus, if the tablet is lost or stolen it can be remotely locked and located on a map.



Keyboard for Small Fingers

AVS GEAR_BT-500Need a mini-keyboard for small hands? AVS’s Zippy BT-500 can connect with as many as six different devices, from an Android or iPad to a PC or Mac computer via its built-in Bluetooth radio. Like other Bluetooth devices, it has a range of about 30-feet, but unlike other keyboards, this one comes with a 3-year warranty.



Locked Up Tight

T zoneThe first thing to break in high traffic areas is quite often the door lock, making the school a less secure place for teachers and students. Sargent’s 11-line of locks and hardware can secure the school. Made with the company’s T-Zone technology, the key is that every piece of the lock works together to create a rigid structure. The lock set has a ten year warranty, but in testing has survived 34-million cycles, the equivalent of 130 years of use in the typical school. Available in 11 finishes with four different levers, it can be covered with an anti-microbial coating to reduce the spread of disease.



Freebee Friday: School Sounds

MainscreenForget about a mechanical bell to start and end the school day as well as every class because Lark Software’s Scheduled Audio Player can deliver all the sounds a school needs when it needs them. The PC software can automatically play audio for everything from bells for class changing to the national anthem during homeroom. All you need to do is select the audio file and when it will be played, and Scheduled Audio Player will do the rest. The software can play a file instantly, such as for an emergency, and it can be set not to play anything on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. You’ll need to plug the school’s public address system into the computer’s audio jack so that everyone can hear.


Turkey Teach In

TurkeyHappy Thanksgiving! Forget about what they ate and everything about Squanto because the holiday can be a good teaching tool. From themed math sheets and reading assignments to innovative ways to teach science, there’s something for every class. Oh, don’t forget the pumpkin pie. If none of those catch your class’s fancy, Scholastic – the parent of Tech Tools – has a slew of Thanksgiving related material, including what it was alike to be on the Mayflower, the daily life of the Pilgrims and a slew of printable assignment sheets. 



Pocketful of Pictures

Digital-kingFor school projects that require high-quality or creative photos, the answer just might be in your students’ pockets. That’s because a smart-phone and a set of snap-on specialty lenses can outshoot most digital cameras while costing less. 

Digital King’s iPhone lenses can do the optical trick with two products that extend a smart-phone’s camera into new areas. Both use high-quality glass optical elements that are held in place magnetically around the phone’s lens. While they’ve been designed for the iPhone 4 and don’t work with the iPhone 3 series, the lenses work well on other smart-phones, like HTC’s Incredible 2. 

300-digitalking-iphone4To install them, carefully place the included adhesive magnetic ring around the camera’s lens so that it’s centered. The ring doesn’t obstruct the camera’s use and you won’t even notice the black band unless you have the white iPhone. 

Just put the lens’s base near the magnetic ring, it snaps into place and allows quick lens changes. The lenses are securely mounted and work with still photos or videos. Unfortunately, because the camera is at the end of the iPhone, the whole thing is a bit ungainly and awkward. 

Wide angleIn other words, it’ll take a little time to get the feel for where the lens is and what you’re shooting. The good news is that the entire phone’s screen is the camera’s viewfinder, making it easy to frame any subject. 

There are two products to choose from, but one of them does double duty. The Wide & Macro lens is actually two lenses in one. Together, they are a wide angle lens that has a 90-degree field of view and a 0.45X magnification. That translates to a little more than doubling the camera’s field of view. 

Unscrew them and there’s a small macro lens that lets you get to within about an inch of an object and stay in focus. It increases the magnification four-fold and worked beautifully on a close-up photo of a keyboard key.

Fish eyeThe other lens, a 180° Fish-Eye lens, is optically simpler and all about distortion. It has a 0.2X magnification factor, pulls in an astounding 180° field of view and makes close up items seem bulbous. 

All three lenses produce sharp and vivid shots that have accurate colors and lack the annoying rainbow artifacts that cheap lenses produce. On the downside, images taken with the wide angle lens are fuzzy on the edges and you’ll need to turn off the flash when using the macro lens to avoid overwhelming the image.

While the lenses come with extra adhesive rings, a bag and a lens cap, there’s one thing they can’t do. Unlike Photojojo’s 8X zoom lens, neither of these lenses can zoom in on an object, limiting the lenses usefulness.

Still, these lenses let you see – and shoot – like a pro.


Wide and Macro lens, $50

180° Fish-Eye lens, $60


+ Expands the usefulness of a smart-phone’s camera

+ Works with iPhone 4 and other phones

+ Inexpensive

+ Magnetic mount and bag

+ Surprisingly sharp photos


- Makes phone feel awkward

- No optical zoom





Online Geometry Help

MatchingGot kids struggling to understand the concepts of geometry? It is a different way of looking at math, but Revolution K12 has an online geometry course that can figure out what isn’t clicking in the student’s brain and remedy the situation with specific online tutorials. The course has 28 sections on subjects ranging from polygons to ratios, each of which has pre- and post-lesson tests and are followed up with Mentor Sessions where the student is asked key questions about the material. 



Required Reading: Educaching

Educaching-coverYou’ve heard of geocaching, where enthusiasts conceal trinkets in a hidden place, located only by a set of GPS instructions, Once found, the participants take the item and leave a different one. Apisphere has opened a new Web page that can help turn geocaching into educaching with help integrating it into a geography curriculum. In addition to the company’s expected handheld Geomate Jr receivers, the site has classroom starter kits and a book with lots of geocaching ideas. It’s called “Educaching,” has 20 lesson plans, classroom materials and even help getting grant money to pay for it all; it costs $32.  


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