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What’s in a Name?

Win 8Because a new version of Windows is on the way, 2012 is shaping up as a year that most school IT people are simultaneously looking forward to and dreading. First and foremost, look for a simplified interface that uses Microsoft’s Metro interface and is based on manipulating large icons called tiles that can show information themselves. The lineup, at least at first, will be simplified from the current five versions to three:

  • Plain old Windows 8 will be on a par with Win 7 Home Premium that is included with most computers. It’ll be more than enough for most student and teacher use, but lacks the ability to perform some computing tasks;
  • Windows 8 Pro will be on a par with current Win 7 Pro or Ultimate and have things like encryption included;
  • Windows RT will easily be the most innovative of the three and come on ARM-powered notebooks and tablets. It will likely only work with new Win 8 apps and early reports show that it may have trouble connecting with an Active Directory Server. It will come with a version of Office.

The good news is that these changes to the computing status quo will occur sometime in the fall. The bad news is that there won’t be an automatic upgrade route from XP or Vista systems, which many schools continue to use.


Press Protection

BubcapsWe all know that early and disabled learners love using their fingers on iPads and other touch tablets, but all too often accidentally touch the Home button, requiring the teacher to restart the app. No more, with Paperclip Robot’s BubCap, a button cover that prevents inadvertent actions. It’s a simple idea that is very effective at helping streamline a classroom’s activities. The cap is latex free and the Home button can still be activated with the firm press of an adult finger. There are three different sizes, depending on what sort of student will use it. BubCaps cost about $1.50 each.


Let the Sun Shine In

Solarkindle bWith eBook readers proliferating in schools like blossoms in the spring, these devices not only require light for their screens to work but need to be charged so they have full batteries when the class is ready to read. SolarFocus’s SolarKindle case does both while protecting the device from damage.

The name says it all. SolarKindle has an unobtrusive solar cell on its black leatherette cover that can power the least expensive Kindle eBook reader. It has a gray-and-black solid plastic case that isn’t padded, but can protect the Kindle from accidental damage.

 It weighs 8.9-ounces on its own. Together the case and the 6-inch Kindle device weigh in at 14.7-ounces, which should be fine for everyone from the smallest first-grader to the largest high-school senior. The company also sells cases that work with the Kindle Touch model, but not for the color Fire model.

FrontOne reason for its bulk is that the case has its own 1,500milli-amp hour battery along with a crude battery gauge. Green translates to between 80- and 100 percent charge, while yellow and red mean it’s getting to be time to charge it.

 Open the lid and you’ll see that all the ports and controls are available and accessible. The case has the bonus of the SolarKindle’s fold-out reading light that pops up after pressing a mechanical button. It is essential equipment for using the Kindle’s e-ink screen, which lacks built-in lighting, in the dark.

Rated at capable of putting 800-lux of light on the screen, the actual light level is closer to 250 lux, but is plenty for anything from a darkened room to one that is pitch black. It can mean the difference between reading and squinting at the display in the dark.

The light it delivers is on the blue side, but can be quite effective at illuminating the reflective screen. There’s no way to adjust the light’s brightness level, though.

SolarKindle Lifestyle Photo - Keep ReadingAlthough the solar cell can augment the Kindle’s battery, it isn’t quite self-sufficient. It can use a variety of sources to charge its battery. Better yet, the case’s battery can be charged while it’s being used. It works best if it isn’t stacked, which covers the solar cell, and used for several hours a day and left to charge for the rest. 

Over the course of several months, I used a Kindle to read several books, while leaving the case in a well-lit room for 8 to 10 hours a day when not in use. On the downside, when it’s time to remove the Kindle from the case for repairs or cleaning, you’ll find that the two don’t want to part. To prevent scratching the case, it takes a plastic stick to pry them apart.

Its price is the SolarKindle’s biggest obstacle to being used in the classroom. At $80, it just about doubles the price of the Kindle eBook reader. There are versions without the solar panel that cost $50, but you need to charge them more often.


SolarFocus SolarKindle

Price: $80

+ Fold out light

+ Unobtrusive solar panel

+ Built-in battery

+ Sturdy


- Doubles the cost of Kindle 

- Hard to remove Kindle from case


High Res All the Way

Recording2What’s the use in having high resolution tablets if the software can’t take advantage of all those pixels. The latest Art Rage from Ambient Design not only can use every bit of the new iPad Retina display and adds a bunch of new features, but costs less. At $5 a copy, the drawing app can work with a 2,048 by 2,048 digital canvas and now can import images from cameras, has an improved color picker and can save images as .PTG files.


Thin is In

Excite 10 le bThe latest Android tablet is Toshiba’s Excite 10LE, a 10-inch slate that puts an emphasis on being thin and light. At just 0.3-inches thick, the Excite weighs just 1.2 pounds, making it thinner and lighter than an iPad yet with a larger screen. It is a full-powered slate with Android 3.2; an upgrade to version 4.0 is on the way. At $530 and $600 for the 16- and 32GB models, the system boasts 1,280 by 800 resolution screens, a pair of cameras and an assortment of USB and HDMI ports.



Roll a Screen

CEP_FrontClassroomWhat’s better than an interactive white board to teach worth? How about if it could be rolled around the room or from classroom to classroom, which is exactly what Copernicus’s Royal iRover iS600. It can securely hold a Smart Board 640 or 660 and either a Hitachi or Epson projector for an interactive lesson on the go. The cart has stable 3-inch casters as well as bins that can hold a lesson plan’s worth of gear. The iRover cart sells for $892, comes with a five-year warranty and is just one of several teaching easels that the company makes.   


Brightness on the Cheap

PL_X15_RightEpson’s PowerLite X15 just might be the best balance between cost and performance in a classroom projector today. The X15 uses three LCD panels to put 3,000 lumens on the screen in XGA resolution and has all the ports and connections you’d expect. At $600 it costs less to get and is a power miser as well, using just 0.4 watts in sleep mode and its lamp lasts for 4,000 or 5,000 hours of use in normal or Eco mode.



Freebee Friday: Software for Special Students (and Teachers)

Sen teacherAll too often, the special software that disabled students need to work with computers and learn with the rest of us is too expensive for schools to afford. The SEN Teacher site takes the opposite approach with a slew of free programs for helping kids learn. There’s everything from applications for communicating with images and an interactive program that identifies a skeleton’s parts to mouse software that filters out the jitters from hand tremors. It’s all free and ready for the download.



Monitor Flip-Out

EA223WM_HO_Pivot_RGB_300Unlike tablets, monitors usually only show a horizontal view of the world, NEC’s EA223W is a 22-inch flat-screen monitor display that can go both ways. It can not only show a long Web site vertically but a mathematical graphing calculator horizontally. It costs $260, can automatically adjust its screen brightness level and uses less power than a light bulb, saving on electric bills.


Control Freak

Front row screenGetting a classroom projector on and running involves more than turning it on, and FrontRow’s EZRoom CB6000 puts it all at your fingertips. The touchscreen control panel can be mounted anywhere in the room, connects with the school’s network and can even show the school’s logo. The key is that the screen changes its icons to suit what you’re doing with it and administrators can take over the machines from afar to do things like shut every projector down at the end of the day. While the kit costs $645, FrontRow will let a school try it for free for 45 days.



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