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Freebee Friday: The Future of Education

Fee-logoOver the weekend, several visions of the future of education will be discussed at the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s “Excellence in Action National Summit on Education Reform.” It all takes place in Washington, D.C. and is hosted by former governor Jeb Bush, the foundation’s chairman. Look for speeches from a variety of pundits, including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, former NYC School’s Chancellor Joel Klein and David Coleman, President and CEO of the College Board. It’s all streamed live and is much more interesting than the scheduled football games.

Freebee Friday: Going Green

FF-ShadedThanks to Funding Factory, going green can put some green back into schools. That’s because the online fundraising company, which specializes in recycling, is running a contest that with Scholastic (the corporate parent of Tech Tools), will award $5,000 to schools that have eco-friendly programs and practices. Everything from recycling to eliminating e-waste to cutting energy bills count, but you’ll need to enter by March 1, 2013.

Make a Stand for Tablets

Belkin educationEvery good tablet deserves a good stand so kids don’t have to use their hands to hold it. Belkin has a pair of new stands that can fit into any classroom. The $25 Tablet Stand is minimalist and securely holds the slate horizontally or vertically. By contrast, the $40 Tablet Stand with Storage has a place to stash everything from the AC adapter to a stylus.

Elegant Printer

Photo-hp-envy-120HP’s Envy 120 all-in-one printer does it all but unlike other printers, it does it quietly so that it can be used during a lesson. The Envy 120 has a pull-out 4.3-inch preview screen, a place to charge a phone and can print on both sides of a page. It’s mesmerizing to watch the motorized arm catch the pages after they have been printed and then disappears. Pages being scanned sit face up and you can watch the action take place. It costs $250.


Cheap to Keep

Acer-b113-3 (4)There’s a lot to be said for always having the fastest and most up-to-date notebook, but most schools are still using Windows XP and can’t afford Windows 8, the latest Intel processors and solid state storage. That’s where Acer’s TravelMate B113 comes in. At roughly $550, it may not have the fastest and latest hardware and software, but it is an excellent value.

That’s because the system avoids the newest and most expensive hardware and instead uses reliable components. For instance, instead of a third-generation processor, the system has a second-generation Intel Core i3 processor that runs at 1.5GHz. It has two processing cores and 3MB of processor cache but doesn’t have turbo boost technology that allows news chips to run faster for brief instances.

Plus, the system has neither a touch-screen nor Windows 8, instead relying on Windows 7 and a traditional 11.6-inch display that can show 1,366 by 768 resolution. It uses Intel’s older 3000HD graphics engine with 128MB of dedicated video memory, which can be boosted to 1.7GB by using extra system RAM. The B113 comes with 4GB of RAM and can hold up to 8GB.

Acer-b113-3 (2)Instead of expensive solid state storage, the B113 relies on a traditional hard drive that can hold 320GB. It might be confining for some, but should do just fine in schools as a general purpose system that live on carts or are issued to students at the start of the year.

The black plastic system is as small and light as a netbook, but will prove to be more reliable and powerful. At 11.1 by 7.9-inches it doesn’t take up too much desktop space and is size just right for smaller hands. At between 0.9- and 1.1-inches thick, it’ll fit into any bag.

I really like the fold down screen hinge that can keep the display from providing a place for kids to hide behind. Plus it has a simple monolithic touchpad and full-size keys.

It weighs in at 2.9-pounds and with its AC adapter can go from room to room at just 3.3-pounds. The best part is that the adapter plugs right into a wall outlet and its two-prong plug can rotate so that it doesn’t cover the other outlets.

Acer-b113-3 (1)It has all the ports that any school could want, including wired LAN, VGA, audio and HDMI. The system offers the bonus of a USB 3.0 port as well as connections for a pair of USB 2.0 devices. It has a Webcam, built-in microphone and an SD card reader.

The system comes with Bluetooth and Intel’s Centrino 802.11n WiFi wireless networking. I’m disappointed, though, that there’s no way to connect wirelessly to a projector via WiDi, a technique that makes projecting simple, quick and easy.

I gave it a heavy workout doing simulated lessons and general work, and the system kept its cool and never locked up or crashed, including when I ran the University of Colorado’s PHET simulation of vibration modes, watched HD videos from YouTube and connected on the first try with an Epson projector.

While its 863 score on Pasmark’s Performance 7.0 benchmark suite of software tests won’t set any records, it is right in the middle of the pack for school notebooks with roughly double the performance potential of a netbook.

Acer-b113-3 (3)Its small 2,500 milli-amp hour battery pack can run for 4 hours and 10 minutes on a charge while playing back YouTube videos continuously. Unlike many of the latest small notebooks, you can change the battery with a fully-charged spare. Plus, rather than having a latch that’s out in the open for kids to play with, the B113 has a tiny recessed latch that you need to flick with a screwdriver or pencil to release the battery. This should mean that fewer batteries will be dropping out of notebooks during class.

With Office Starter, Evernote and Windows 7 Professional, the system comes with a nice assortment of software.  The system includes a 1-year warranty.

While the system I looked at goes for about $550, you can get one for as little as $400. All told, the TravelMate B113 may not be exciting, but it is a good, reliable notebook that will instantly fit into any school’s infrastructure and can be purchased at a reasonable price. And, that’s exactly what schools are looking for these days.


Acer TravelMate B113-M-6460

Price: $550 

+ Inexpensive

+ Good performance and battery life

+ Small and light

+ Flexible AC adapter

+ USB 3.0


- No WiDi



Touch Me

Hi_lightraise60wi_students smallInteractive projectors are a great way to work with digital material without the hassle of having an interactive whiteboard, but having to use the wand can be awkward and intrusive. Smart’s innovative LightRaise 60wi can also work with finger input with up to two users working at once with the included pen or with fingers. The ultra-short throw projector can create an image as big as 8.3-feet and costs $2,000. 

The Non-Clicker Clicker

Netop student responseCan’t afford a classroom of clickers for kids to take tests? Netop Response lets students use their phones or tablets to respond to teacher questions. Based on Qwizdom’s QVR technology, the system operates in a Web browser so it will work ion any hardware platform, from a smartphone to an iPad. Once everyone has made their response, the software collates the answers for the teacher in a form that can be printed. The system costs $500 for a 30-student class and the company offers a free trial.


Head’s Up

HS-100_9-2Where do you put headphones when they’re not being used and how do you keep the cord from getting tangled? Anywhere you want to with Just Mobile’s HS-100 HeadStand. Made of aluminum, the stand can sit on a desk, a shelf or an A-V cart. The headphones can be hung from the top and the cord wrapped around the bottom, making them tidy and ready for use without turning the cable into a tangle of spaghetti. It costs $50.

Game on

IPieces_Group_ShotWhile checkers and knock hockey still rule recess during bad weather, there’s a new game in town. iPieces can turn an iPad into a game machine that will keep most children occupied until it's time for class. Aimed at four-year olds and older, iPieces comes in five varieties, including Fishing, Hockey, Goose, Snakes and Ladders and Pool.

Each game comes with game pieces that have a soft felt bottom that interact with an iPad’s screen as Photowell as extra stick-on felt for when it wears out. To get going, all you do is install the free game from the iTunes site and get your game on. The apps work with all iPads from the iconic first one to the latest Mini. There’s unfortunately no software for Android tablets.

The games are absorbing and fun, even for older kids. Kids can hit slapshots across the ice, aim at fish below the surface and shoot a quick game of 8-ball before the bell rings.

The main problem, however, is that the pieces are too easy to lose, although they come in handy storage boxes that can be stacked on top of each other. The games cost less than $10 each.

Kicking You Know What

KB6000_previewWhether it’s for listening to multimedia lessons or the teacher, no classroom today can be without a set of good speakers. Kicker’s KB-6000 can not only fill a room with quality sound, but are inexpensive and come ready to be mounted on a  wall or ceiling.

 Inside each KB-6000’s durable plastic case is a 6.5-inch tuned polypropylene cone woofer that’s surrounded by Santoprene along with a 2- by 5-inch compression midrange-tweeter assembly. Together they are rated to be able to handle up to 150-watts.

The speaker set comes in black or white and are capable of reproducing audio from 55Hz to 21KHz, which mirrors the range of human hearing. They sound surprisingly good with an emphasis on bright high notes. They can be used for everything from playing back a classroom pod cast or used in an auditorium with microphones for a play or musical recital.

Kb6000 backA big bonus compared to the competition is that the KB-6000 comes with mounting brackets that allow the speakers to be rotated 180-degrees right or left and all the hardware needed to put them on a wall or celing It takes about 15 minutes to install them, but hiding the wires might take a little longer.

Because they are bookshelf-type speakers, the KB-6000 don’t require separate power to operate, they only need speaker wire to connect. On the other hand, they will require either an amplifier, public address system or a stereo receiver to use. They worked just as well with a Logitech speaker set, a Sherwood amplifier or a public address system. The speakers are water resistant but should be used indoors.

Price is the best part because a set of KB-6000 speakers has a list price of $180, but if you shop carefully, you can get them for as little as $118. That’s half as much as JBL’s comparable NS-AW570 speakers, which don’t include mounting brackets. Sounds good to me.


Kicker KB-6000 Speakers

Price: $118


+ Inexpensive

+ Good range of audio reproduction

+ Includes mounting brackets

+ Waterproof

+ Doesn’t need power


- Requires amplifier




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