About this blog Subscribe to this blog

Big Keys

Keysusee_21029_400px_lgIt’s easier to learn how to use a keyboard if the keys are bigger and easier to see. That’s the idea behind the Keys U See keyboard, which was created for people with poor eyesight, but can help kids to type in schools. It takes up the same amount of desktop space (8.75- by 19.75- by 1.5-inches) as a standard keyboard but its 104 keys are huge and yellow to stand out. It costs $40.

Tomorrow’s Innovators, Today

Ted yotuh screenWhat do Hamlet’s soliloquy, the chances of finding life on other planets and how quickly you can turn an idea into a working model have in common? They were all topics at this year’s TEDYouthDay event at New York City’s Times Center. There were creative and imaginative presentations to about 350 high school students on everything from how to land a two-ton vehicle on Mars and incorporating touch into electronics to the way the brain perceives time and the psychology of posture. The videos of the event are short and sweet and many of them can be the basis of a classroom lesson; they are available in English, Spanish and Arabic. Can’t wait until next year.

Putting an iPad Anywhere you Want to

SpiderArm b - CopyOne of the problems that schools have to come to grips with after introducing iPads into the classroom is where to put them and keep hands free for working with the screen. Problem solved: SpiderArm’s innovative hardware can put the pad in your face and leave both hands free to write, scribble or tap the screen.

The key is SpiderArm’s SecureSnap distinctive pad holder, which the pad snaps into. The base holds the tablet firmly in place and it can be removed at a moment’s notice for quick grab and go maneuvers. On the back of the holder is an innovative ball joint assembly that not only can hold the pad upright on its own, but allows it to be angled in a variety of positions with SpiderArm’s included arms.

It comes with a variety of anodized aluminum arms, brackets and hardware that allow it to be set up in several different ways. For instance, its surface mount bracket can be screwed into a wall, table top or from underneath a cabinet in a science lab. You could use the clamp that attaches to the edge of a tabletop for when the mounting needs to be less permanent. There’s even a cylinder that fits snugly into a car’s cup holder.

SpiderArm c - CopyThere’re two straight arms of varying lengths that are included and one with a 45-degree bend to it that should suit mounting an iPad in just about any classroom. You can use all of the arms for a super long rack or just one to keep it close at hand, but changing or rearranging Spiderarm’s parts takes a few minutes thanks to adjustment knobs that can be loosened and tightened by hand.

Mastering the SpiderArm system can be a little daunting at first and takes some time to figure out. The arms hold the pad firmly, but they are easy to move around to get to a new position. Unfortunately, the screen wobbles a bit when hit or after tapping an icon.

SpiderArm dThere are versions of Spiderarm with pad holders for each of the three iPad generations, although you’ll need to separately purchase the holder for the first generation iPad; it costs $10. Unfortunately, there is no hardware for holding any Android tablets and the company is working on hardware for an iPad Mini.

Spiderarm is the rare piece of school equipment that comes with all the hardware you’re likely ever to need and can turn a room full of iPads into a teaching zone, plus the company has several accessories and spare parts. At $50, it’s a classroom steal that can make the iPad more of a teaching tool.


Freebee Friday: Fun by the Numbers

Funbrain moonrocksThere’s a new math game in town for middle school kids. MyMathUniverse now has Funbrain games for reinforcing vital math concepts. The games include Math Soccer, Inkster and Moon Rocks and you can choose the grade level for maximum impact.

Freebee Friday: Classroom creativity

Adobe report coverFostering a creative classroom where every child thinks originally and critically is the highest achievement for any teacher, and Adobe has some info on how best to do it. According to an Adobe survey of 1,000 college-educated people, the majority think that creativity is a vital part of learning and that it should be taught as a class on a par with social studies and math.

Cheap Chrome

Acer AC710 left facing - CopyWith Samsung’s new Chromebook coming out at $250, you’d think it would be tough to beat. You’d be wrong because Acer’s C7 Chromebook starts at $200, making it hard to beat. Like the Samsung product, the C7 comes with a lot of preloaded apps and is a secure machine that automatically updates itself, but it weighs a svelte 3-pounds. The system has an 11.6-inch screen, 1.1GHz Celeron processor, 2GB of RAM, a 320GB HDD and 100GB of free online storage. At this price, it’s a steal.

Projecting a Green Image

M311W_slant_eOne of the most intractable problems facing a school is its power bill that can run into the 5 figures per month in some large institutions. Sure you can put timers on light switches and put compact fluorescent bulbs in fixtures, but a new breed of projectors can cut electrical waste without sacrificing brightness. NEC’s NP-M311x projector not only can put 3,100 lumens of light on the screen but uses 12 percent less power in Eco Mode but their bulbs are rated to run for 10,000 hours or something like 8 or 9 years of typical school use. It has XGA resolution, Crestron’s Roomview Connect hardware built in and can play itesm off of a USB memory key. It costs $829 and its two year warranty can be doubled if you register with NEC’s Star Student discount program.  

Android Wars

Android_vectorIt is a happy outcome that there are dozens of Android tablets for schools to choose from, rather than a pair of basic iPadn slate designs. Unfortunately, it’s been my experience that no two Android Tablets are alike, producing an embarrassment of riches.

 Choosing the right one is more than a bit complicated. Take Lenovo’s IdeaPad S2110 and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10.1. Both are prime 10.1-inch tablet contenders for the classroom that share the same basic layout. Under the skin, they couldn’t be more different.

Based on the same version of Android software, they both have 10.1-inch screens, but the Galaxy Note is a high-performance screamer that has some slick school-centric software. It might prove to be too expensive for schools, though. Meanwhile, the S2110 may not be as fast, but it has a snap-on keyboard that can also extend its battery life to several days of typical schoolwork. Together, the slate and keyboard cost roughly what the Galaxy Note does on its own.

Decisions, decisions. Both are A students that will add to any teacher’s abilities in the classroom, from Web research or an English grammar seminar to a chemistry lab. Which you get depends as much on your budget as much as what you plan to use these slates for.

Lenovo IdeaPad S2110

Ideapad s2110 cLike so many of the latest Android tablets, Lenovo’s IdeaPad S2110 is two (or more) devices in one. On its own it is a competent slate for classroom use, but snap on its keyboard and it becomes the equivalent of a netbook for typing, Web journeys and general schoolwork.

At 1.3 pounds and 0.4- by 10.2- by 6.8-inches, the S2110 is among the thinnest and lightest 10.1-inch tablets around and undercuts the Galaxy Note 10.1 by 3 ounces and a tenth of an inch here and there. Plus, I prefer the textured back of the S2110 over the smooth Galaxy Note 10.1’s back.

It has a flush screen that can display 1,280 by 800 resolution images, respond to up to 10 finger inputs and work with gestures, like pinching the screen to zoom. On the downside, it lacks a stylus, like the one on the Galaxy Note. It worked fine with a Wacom Bamboo pen.

The S2110 is in a class by itself with micro-USB and HDMI ports, compared to the no-port approach that Samsung took with the Galaxy Note. This means that it’s easy to plug it into a PC or use with a projector.

Ideapad s2110 cWhile it is fine on its own and sits flat on a desktop without a hint of wobble, the S2110 really comes into its own with the snap-on keyboard. As the slate is inserted into the keyboard base it reassuringly locks into place; there’s a mechanical button to release it.

The screen is hinged and can go from being closed to sitting at up to a 45-degree angle, but as you rotate the display, it raises the front of the keyboard and like other similar systems, the S2110 tends to tip over if you start using your fingers to move tiles, draw or tap on things.

Together, the pair have everything you’d expect, from 17mm keys to a touchpad for maneuvering the pointer. It really is the equivalent of a small notebook with 2 extra USB 2.0 ports. The whole thing weighs a svelte 2.6-pounds.

Based on Android 4.0 software, the S2110 has a pair of cameras: a 1.3-megapixel cam for doing video chats and a 5-megapixel in the back for taking snapshots or recording HD video. Along with a 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-core processor, the system comes with 1GB of RAM and 16GB of flash storage space. It has a 32GB microSD card slot for increasing storage by up to 32GB.

That’s a couple steps down from the Galaxy Note’s 2GB of RAM and quad-core processor, although the S2110 runs 100MHz faster. Its on-screen keyboard is easy to get used to and has audio feedback for when keys are touched.

Ideapad s2110 bIt all adds up to a reliable system that won’t set any performance records, but will satisfy just about any in-class need. It scored a 6,939 overall on the Antutu Benchmark tests, well off the blistering pace set by the Galaxy Note. To no surprise, the biggest difference between the two was that the S2110’s dual core processor was less than half as capable as the Galaxy Note’s.

As far as battery life goes, the S2110 ran for 6 hours and 48 minutes playing online videos on a charge by itself, just enough to get it through a full day of use, but two hours short of the Galaxy Note’s run time. With the keyboard in place, that rises to 13 hours a 10 minutes, making it the long distance champ and capable of being used for a few days at a time without a recharge.

While the S2110 comes with a good mix of software, it lacks the Galaxy Note’s ability to run split screen and turn scribbles into math formulas. Still, the S2110 with its keyboard dock has a list price of around $500. If you shop around, it can be had for closer to $430, making it the IdeaPad S2110 is the best buy among Android tablets today.


Ideapad s2110 a
Lenovo IdeaPad S2110

Price, slate and keyboard, $430

+ Inexpensive

+ Snap-on keyboard has own battery

+ Battery life

+ Thin and light


- Lacks stylus



 Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 bThe Galaxy Note 10.1 is a curious device in that for every step forward is takes, there’s a half step backwards. Yes, it has a great pressure sensitive stylus and great software, but it’s a little clunky, like other Samsung tablets, it lacks any ports and requires getting the dock. More to the point, its price can put it out of reach of many districts.

To start, it is bigger and heavier than the S2110, but only by a little at 0.4- by 10.3- by 7.3-inches and 1.4-pounds. It has a similar 10.1-inch display that can respond to 10 individual finger inputs, handle gesutres and can show 1,280 by 800 resolution. Along the bottom of the device is Samsung’s slide out S-Pen stylus that has a square profile, is pressure sensitive and can simulate a variety of brushes and pen points so that artwork takes on new creativity. It comes with a copy of Photoshop Touch and Kno’s excellent digital textbooks.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 aThe slate is powered by Samsung’s 1.4GHz Exynos quad-core processor that while slightly slower than the S2110’s dual-core chip, is much more powerful overall. It came with 2GB of RAM and 16 GB of flash capacity for storing material. There’s a slightly higher resolution 1.9-megapixel face cam as well as a 5-megapixel camera in the back of the device.

As is the case with the S2110, the Galaxy Note comes with Android 4.0 software, but adds a slew of Samsung apps. My favorite is the one that lets you divide the screen into two halves and go between them. It is so useful that it is sure to be copied by others. The slate also has innovative software for taking notes and writing math formulas.

Galaxy Note 10.1 mathI really like that the on-screen keyboard has audio feedback that makes it quick and easy to get the hang of. It, however, lacks the S2110’s snap-on mechanical keyboard that can speed up typing.

Like the S2110, it can sit flat on a tabletop, but doesn’t come with a keyboard dock. While the Galaxy Note has a micro-SD card reader for boosting its storage by 32GB, it has no other connections available. There’s an $80 keyboard dock that includes connections for audio as well as a smaller $35 Multi-Media dock that offers audio and HDMI to drive a projector. 

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 cAs far as performance goes, the Galaxy Note blew the doors off of the S2110, with a score of 12,454 on Antutu’s benchmark suite of tests. That’s nearly double the performance potential of the Lenovo tablet and opens new vistas for school slates. It was able to run for 8 hours and 50 minutes while playing online videos continuously, two hours longer than the S2110 on its own, but lacks a self-powered dock that could have added extra run time.

All told, the Galaxy Note 10.1 is a slate that doesn’t compromise on performance, battery life or creativity, but at $500 – more than the S2110 with its keyboard – it’s a tough sell for cash-strapped schools these days.


Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 b

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1

Price: $500

+ High performance

+ Excellent software

+ Stylus

+ Good battery life


- Expensive

- No ports

- Requires dock for projector use

Play Me a Story

45100_env_17For early writers, there’s nothing like play to get the creative juices flowing, and Lego’s StoryStarter can turn idea into essay. The kit is for second-through-fifth graders and comes with five Lego bases upon which the kids build a model of their story; it includes more than 45,000 individual Lego pieces, from trees to people. The company’s Story Vizualizer software is a big bonus, which gives kids the ability not only to put their ideas on screen efficiently, but they can use it to create a comic book or newspaper version of their writing. The StoryStarter kit will be available early next year.

Freebee Friday: Free Protection

SafeGuard_10.19.2012 (1)With a new operating system come new dangers and security problems, but Trend Micro has you covered with three free trial apps. While SafeGuard can protect a tablet during Web journeys, the Go Everywhere app can locate a lost or stolen system. Later this year, a new version of DirectPass will join them with the ability to consolidate passwords and management.

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