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Ready for Lift-Off

GoSmart Stylus 300 SeriesIf tablet styluses look too much like pens, GoSmart’s Stylus 300 Series looks more like a rocket ship from a 50s sci-fi movie that’s ready for blast-off. It works with iPads and Android slates and rather than a soft rubber or fabric tip, the Stylus 300 has a strong and flexible metal circle to write and draw with. The writing tip is made of rare earth metals that use capacitive coupling technology for greater precision with multi-touch capacitive screens. It’s been coated with Teflon so the screen will never get scratched. It should be available in August for $25.




A Classroom’s Worth of Sound

64289_Contour_100iWith so many informative and educational podcasts available out there, the problem isn’t what to play for the class, but how to make sure they can all hear it. Pure’s Contour 100i is a dock for an iPhone, iPod or iPad that not only charges the system’s battery but its 20-watt amplifier boosts the volume and plays its contents through high-quality speakers. It comes with an app for tapping into the world’s 18,000 Internet radio stations and has an FM tuner for local broadcasts. It costs $189.




Freebee Friday: Linux for All

Ubuntu_logo_orangeWhy pay cash money for a notebook or desktop operating system and basic apps when you can get it all for free from Ubuntu? In the Bantu languages of Africa, the word Ubuntu encompasses a philosophy of worldview and relationships among people. For the computer it is nothing short of an economic miracle for schools, because it is a freebee that is every bit as powerful as Windows or the Mac OS.

Precise-features-office-mainTo start, Ubuntu can be run from a memory key or loaded onto a computer, and because its hardware requirements are minimal compared to PCs and Macs, you can use old machines that were thought to be worthy only of the junk heap. The typical system requires at least a 700 MHz Intel Celeron or newer processor, 512MB of RAM, VGA graphics and 5GB of hard drive space to store the code. In other words, it can be the ultimate in recycling old equipment that will do perfectly well for computer labs, libraries and even public Web access locations throughout the district.

Precise-features-photos-mainUbuntu 12.04 is the current latest version and it takes free software to a new level with a polished look and feel. It comes with Firefox’s Web browser and you can also load it with Google’s Chrome browser, Blender for graphics, Empathy for staying in touch and Libre Office for working with a variety of reports, homework assignments and writing projects. Plus, you can set up 5GB of personal storage per user for free, making it the best bargain in school software.

From Senior to Freshman with Win 8

Win 8 metroGraduation is rapidly becoming a distant memory, but one thing is certain for the recently graduated class of 2012: they will need to learn a new data infrastructure at college. It’s even more complicated this year with the advent of Windows 8 coming in October, but New Jersey’s Seton Hall University students will be ready. The college is outfitting incoming freshmen and returning juniors with a Samsung Series 5 Ultrabook or a Series 7 tablet with Windows 8 loaded on it. They will get the Preview version of the software, which will be replaced by the final release software when it’s ready. It may be a bit jarring at first, but it’ll be worth the effort to stay up to date on software.


Power Printer

Samsung CLX 9201 na printerGenerally speaking, the bigger a printer, the lower the price it costs to operate and more features it provides. Schools don’t have to skimp when it comes to putting it on paper with Samsung’s CLX-9201NA. It has a 1GHz processor and can pump out full color prints at up to 20 pages per minute. The printer’s 7-inch touch screen interface makes it a snap to anything from selecting the number of copies to setting up the scanner. It comes with 40 popular shortcuts built in. The best part is that it takes only 20 minutes to install and set up. It sells for $6,310.



Phone-in a Lesson

Mhl aMost schools restrict the use of smartphones on school grounds to keep the student body’s limited attention span on the lesson at hand and reduce the temptation to cheat on exams. But, what about embracing the phone as the next step in teaching? It could end up that smartphones, which many students and teachers already have, are the ultimate in Bring Your Own Device technology.

But, how do you go about getting a lesson out of a phone and onto the big screen for the whole class to see? While some phones have an HDMI port built-in, it can make for a thick and heavy device. That’s where the Mobile High Definition Link (MHL) comes in. It’s a small adapter that can turn many smart phones into lean screen machines by sending an HD audio-video signal to a projector, large screen monitor or TV.

At the moment MHL works with about 30 phones, and the current version of the spec can be used with just about any TV or projector that has an HDMI port. The good news is that it doesn’t require any special software at either end and can put everything from a Web site to a YouTube video to an Acrobat file on the big screen. 

Mhl cAccell’s MHL to HDMI Audio/Video Adapter is tiny and uses the current version 1.1 of the MHL protocol as well as the high-speed HDMI specification. About the size of a memory key, it’s a marvel of miniaturization. In fact, at times it’s so small that it’s too easy to lose or leave on a desk after class.

The adapter relies on the phone’s microUSB connector and works with many Android smartphones on the market. It won’t work with an iPhone, which lacks the needed USB port, or a Samsung Galaxy S III, which uses its own plug and requires a specialized cable, but is classroom-ready for many tablets. A word of advice: MHL technology is so new that you should do your homework and make sure it’ll work with your gear before you buy.

To get it the Accell MHL adapter to work, plug it into the phone and the classroom projector and then power it on. The chances are that you can use the AC adapter that came with your phone or a generic USB adapter. Finally, set the projector , TV or monitor that you’re using to display the HDMI input. In a second or two what’s on the phone’s screen is projected for the class to see.

Mhl bAlong with an LG Nitro Android phone, I used the adapter with Dell’s S500wi, Epson’s X15 projectors as well as an LG LV4400 47-inch TV. The adapter produced surprisingly strong video and audio from such a small device. It delivered perfect sound synchronization and images that were free of static. The video is shown both on the phone and on the projector, making navigation a snap.

With a two-year warranty and a 6-foot HDMI cable, Accell’s MHL to HDMI $30 adapter is a bargain that can turn a phone into a teaching tool. The best part is that rather than packing up a notebook or tablet for the move to the next classroom, all teachers have to do is unplug their phone, put it in their pocket and leave.


Accell’s MHL to HDMI Audio/Video Adapter with HDMI Cable

 Price: $30


+ Sends audio and video to projector or monitor

+ Small and light

+ Inexpensive

+ Excellent image and audio

+ Includes HDMI cable


- Requires AC power

- Too easy to lose


Steady Shot

SmoothieR Rear View_72One of the secrets for amateurs making professional-looking videos is to use a Steadicam camera mount so the final product is always silky smooth. A scaled down version of the ones that the pros use, the Steadicam Smoothee works with most iPhones, Flip Minio and GoPro Hero cameras, and has a weighted handle that can smooth out most shakes and jitters. It costs $150, but could be difference between watching the next Oscars ceremony on TV and being invited.




Word Games

Noodle wordsLooking for a way to teach the power of words without a single handout word list? Noodle Words can do the trick with an iOS-based app that works just as well with iPads as iPhones or iPod Touch models. Aimed at 4-to-6 year olds, there are 18 action words that are animated in a way to to reinforce retention. For instance, the word Spin actually spins and rotates. There are tips that can help teachers and parents to get the most out of the program. It costs $3 at the online App store.

Freebee Friday: From Slate to Screen

Iprojection aWhat’s worse than teaching with a tablet computer only to be tethered to the projector by a short video cable? Not much, but it could be a thing of the past with Epson’s iProjection app. The software works with iPads at the moment, but an Android version is on the way.

With iProjection, you can not only project photos, most popular document formats or Web pages but the set up transfers the video via a WiFi connection to the projector so there’re no cables to tie you down. It’s very much like Splashtop’s WhiteBoard app, but restricts the output to WiFi-enabled Epson projectors.

Iprojection bThe free iProjection app is a real cost-saver because it can be used by connected teachers and students to mark-up screens so the app, an iPad and a projector can replace a more expensive touch-board or interactive projector. The included annotation tools include the ability to change the color and weight of the line as well as the ability to mimic a highlighting marker. At any time you can erase an entry or wipe the whole screen clear of all the mark-ups and start a new lesson. It’s one of the best freebees around and available at the iTunes App Store, but I can’t wait for the Android version.



Text Me @ School

ConnectTxt_Screenshot_-_Conversation_HistoryMost schools scorn texting during school hours and often restrict this mode of communication between teachers and students, but Blackboard has a new idea. Why not text simple notes back and forth for the more mundane aspects of schooling? Nothing can compete with face-to-face teacher-student meetings, although the company’s ConnectTxt two-way communications engine lets staff members send SMS text messages to students, parents or other school employees. It fits into its Blackboard Connect school-wide software platform.



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