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Learn and Test

Aimsweb_benchmark_home_screenTeaching and testing are so inextricably linked today that you can’t teach anything to a class without having an assessment at the end. Pearson’s AIMSweb delivers a wide variety of tests that track student and class development over time with access to data analysis tools. The package is Web-based and provides unlimited use of its tests in reading, literacy, language arts and math that range from letter-naming to fractions.

Up Close and Bright

UM330W-ProjectorViewUpperslantUltra-short throw projectors are great for teaching because they don’t cast as many shadows onto the screen and allow a proper set up in oddly shaped rooms, but few have had the brightness to compete with a sunny day. NEC’s NP-UW330W blasts more than enough light to keep the blinds open and lights on for a multimedia lesson.

At 6.5- by 14.9- by 16.9-inches, the UM330W is a lot of projector. It may be large but it can be attached from underneath with four mounting screws for hanging from a ceiling or set up on a tabletop with a pair of adjustable front legs.

Inside is a single 0.59-inch LCD panel that delivers wide-screen 1,280 by 800 resolution images, making it a step up from XGA projectors, but slightly behind the latest HD devices. Rather than a barrel-shaped lens, the UM330W has an output mirror near the back that points to the screen. The projector’s inner workings are protected by a glass window, which makes cleaning it a lot easier.

UM330W-ProjectorViewBackLookdownIt uses a single lamp that is rated at putting 3,300 lumens onto a screen. While its focus ring is awkwardly placed underneath the projector and, like other short throw models, it lacks an optical zoom, the UM330W does have a 1.4X digital zoom.

Once set up, there’s a huge bonus to the UM330W: the back has a large area for stashing cables. On the downside, one of the Philips screws that hold the cover in place is so recessed that you might have trouble finding a screwdriver for it. In fact, it took me 15 minutes and going through several tool boxes before I found one that worked.

Behind the cable cover is an incredible assortment of connections, making the UM330W one of the most flexible projectors on the market. In addition to a pair of HDMI and VGA-in and -out ports, the projector has the old standbys of S- and composite video connections. There’re USB connections as well as an RS232 for remote control. It has a LAN port for networking and controlling the system over a school’s network. On the downside, to connect it to a WiFi network you’ll need to get NEC’s $80 USB accessory.

UM280W-ProjectorViewTopOn the other hand, you don’t even need a computer to feed the projector with images, because it can grab them from the school’s network or from a USB memory key; the projector comes with built-in player software. You can even lift items off of an iPad with NEC’s Wireless Image Utility

As far as sound goes, it has a single 16-watt speaker as well as audio-in and -out jacks and the bonus of a microphone jack that can turn the projector into a classroom-ready public address system. It has the software for Crestron’s RoomView built-in.

The UM330W has a simple control panel with buttons for keystone correction, volume and getting into the projector’s Menu. There’re also buttons for turning the system on and off, selecting the source and putting it in one of its three power modes: Auto Eco, Normal and full Eco. These power profiles that let you customize how much light the projector delivers, how much electricity it uses and how loud the fan gets. 

All this can be done via the remote control, but it lacks a laser pointer. The remote can let you choose the input, control the mouse on screen and make adjustments. To stop the action, you can either freeze the image with the audio continuing or hit the A-V mute button to blank the screen and sound.

With NEC’s $500 NP02WI eBeam kit, the UM330W can be transformed into an interactive centerpiece of any digital classroom. The infrared pen lets a teacher or student write and annotate directly on the projected image. With the pen kit, the UM330W includes school software.

Np02wiWith the projector against the wall, it can create a vivid 45-inch image and tops out at filling a 9.1-foot screen. It takes 4 seconds for the UM3300W to get started, but at least a minute to get to full brightness. Its 9-second shut-down time is quick and will come in handy for rooms that serve many different purposes over the day. On the downside, there’s a brief loud blast from the system’s pair of fans when it’s turned off.

Overall, it was able to put 3,764 lumens on screen in its High Bright mode, 14-percent higher than its specification. In Presentation mode, that drops to 2,864 lumens. Eco mode reduces it even further to 2,250 lumens. On the downside, at full output the system’s fans become loud and annoying in an effort to dissipate the system’s heat. At its exhaust outlet, it registered 162 degrees.

In addition to being one of the brightest projectors aimed at classroom use, it has an exceptionally uniform focus that makes for pinpoint sharpness across the screen. To help speed its installation, the UM330W includes a useful green grid test pattern.

Np17lp-umWhile its competitors often charge an extortionate $250 or more for a replacement lamp, NEC’s lamp for this projector is a reasonable $80, making it even cheaper than Epson’s lamps. Happily, the lamp also includes the filter you’ll need to change every three or four years. The lamp is rated at 3,000 hours (6,000 hours if you use Eco mode) and comes with a one-year warranty.

Assuming the projector is used for 8 hours a day during the school year and the national average of 12 cents per kilowatt-hour of power, it can cost an estimated $110 a year to operate the UM330W in the classroom. That’s because it uses 348 watts of electricity in full mode, 267-watts in Eco mode and 6.6 watts in sleep.

The projector comes with a 2-year warranty, but if you register it, the coverage is automatically extended to 4-years, equaling the industry’s best protection. At $1,300, the UM330W may prove to be too expensive for most schools to afford, but the company has a package that includes wall mounting hardware and the pen kit for $2,200, making it competitive with similar devices from NEC’s competitors.

In other words, the UM330W puts a lot of light onto the screen and does a lot of things well, but can be had at a reasonable price.



Price: $1,300


+ Very bright

+ Sharp focus

+ 4-year warranty

+ Optional interactivity kit

+ Port assortment

+ Cable cover


- Loud fans

- Cable cover hard to open


Teaching without the PC

TC191_sideThe digital classroom requires a computer and monitor, right? Not anymore with a bunch of new thin or zero clients. The latest from Samsung and ViewSonic are so simple, powerful and secure that you might not miss having a PC around.

Samsung’s newest thin- and zero-clients are built right in the company’s displays, the TC191W, TC241W, NC191 and NC241, which rely on VDI and desktop virtualization technology to make them more than just screens. Both systems are available with traditional 4:3 aspect ratio 19- and wide-screen 24-inch LCD displays.

The TC series is a thin client built around a 1GHz AMD Ontario processor, 2GB of RAM and Radeon HD6290 graphics. It uses the familiar Windows interface so it’ll be easy to figure out and the system can be run as a Citrix or VMware system or to log onto the school’s network via the built-in Web browser. The more minimalist NC series is a zero-client display that uses a Teradici Tera 2321 processor and relies on PC-over-IP technology that grabs everything that’s needed from a server.

A big bonus is that either can client display save lots of money on acquisition, maintenance and electricity because they use only about 30 watts of power. Pricing starts at $477 

Sc-t45_right_hiresBy contrast, ViewSonic’s lineup of thin and zero clients place the emphasis on value by not including a screen. This is usually the least expensive part of the equation and most schools have several monitors sitting around just waiting to be reused. With pricing that starts at a hard to beat $200, these devices have the ability to fit into any school’s infrastructure.

The SC-T35 thin client use TI’s ARM-based DM8148 processor and Linux software to work with Citrix ICA/HDX, VMware and MS RemoteFX protocols in a school setting. The SC-T45 setup is based on an Atom N2800 processor for a Windows interface that everyone will be familiar with. Both have Ethernet and WiFi networking built-in and can drive an HD monitor while using less than 36 watts.

If a minimalist client infrastructure is in the future of your school, ViewSonic’s SC-Z55 could help out with a zero client that provides accelerated VMware PCoIP operations. Inside is the Teradici Tera 2321 processor and the system gets all its software from a server.

HP’s Android

HP-Slate-7-Front-SideFinally, HP gets on track with its tablets. The company has focused on Windows slates and its own WebOS products, before canceling the latter. Now, the company has an inexpensive Android slate. As its name implies, the Slate 7 will have a 7-inch screen and it will use the latest Android software and have Beats audio built-in. It’ll weigh in at 13-ounces and should be available for $170 in April.

Meet the New Library

Banner-l2-env11Libraries are about much more than just books these days, and Bretford’s Library 2.0 furniture family can make it not only a place to read, but also to do research or work on a collaborative project. Sure, you can have an old-school library with uncomfortable oak chairs and tables, but Library 2.0 emphasizes comfort and the ability to plug in a computer or tablet just about anywhere. For instance, the Explore Teaming Table is perfect for a small group putting together a joint project with enough room for five kids, a monitor and power outlets for their computers. The company has a new library specification guide to help outfit a library for today and tomorrow.

Freebee Friday: Broadband Bargains

Chart1When it comes to your broadband provider, the grass is always greener on the other side, but according to the FCC, ISPs deliver 96 percent of their advertised bandwidth last fall. The 2013 Measuring Broadband America report looks at the top 15 ISPs and compares their speed during last September with respect to what they promise they’ll provide. The results show that five providers delivered at least double what they said they would and others, well, didn’t measure up to their claims.

Freebee Friday: Wonder Women

Civil-Rights-Image-1-300x221Need an expert to build a Civil War lesson round? The Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies is hosting the webinar: A Will of Their Own: Judith Murray and Women of Achievement in the Early Republic. It’s set up for March 13, at 4 p.m., eastern time and the online presentation will examine seven remarkable women and their achievements from the 19th century to today.

Touch Here to Calculate

Ti nspire ipadTI takes its calculator technology to the iPad with the TI-Nspire and CAS apps. The software emulates the layout and button sequences of the TI-Nspire and CAS calculators but uses the iPad’s entire display and touch keyboard to do everything from simple addition to graphing quadratics and solving higher order equations. It’s aimed at 7-th through 12-th graders, comes with several built in lessons and costs $30 per app. It works only with second and third generation iPads and like all iPads the TI app can’t be used during most standardized tests.

Ti nspire dummies bookTeachers get a free 1-year license of TI’s education software with the purchase of the iPad app, but it can be a tough system to teach and use without some training. Enter Wiley’s TI-Nspire App for the iPad for Dummies booklet, which is a downloadable freebee. Just get the Acrobat file and you’ll be ready for letting your fingers do the calculating. For things more involved and specialized you can watch how-to videos on Atomic Learning or use the online version of the Dummies book for the old-school calculator.



Ultra in More Ways than One

15z aUltrabooks are all the rage these days but their price tags often push them out of reach for students, parents and schools. No more, Dell’s Inspiron 15z starts at $700, and shows how far a little extra care and thought can go when it comes to creating a notebook.

At 4.8-pounds, the Inspiron 15z has a large 12-ounce AC adapter that adds up to a reasonable travel weight of 5.6-pounds. The dimensions of the demure gray and silver system of 1.0- by 14.9- by 9.8-inches stretch the definition of an Ultrabook, but with a 15.6-inch screen, it is about as compact and light as a notebook with this size display gets these days; there's also a red model. It has rounded corners and is a pound lighter than standard notebooks with similar screens so that it fits into a student’s backpack as easily as it fits into any school’s décor.

Its 18.9-mm keys are comfortable and thoughtfully backlit with white LEDs, making it a hit for those who have to teach and learn by the light of a projector; there are two brightness settings for the keys. Inside the Inspiron 15z is a high-powered notebook with the choice of Core i3, i5 and i7 processor, between 6- and 8GB of RAM, 500GB hard drive and the luxury of an optical drive that can read and write DVD discs. The premium system I looked at was set up with a 1.9GHz Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive and sells for $1,000.

15Z cThe system uses Intel’s HD Graphics 4000 imaging engine and a 15.6-inch display that is bright, vivid and can show 1,366 by 768 resolution. The display is made out of super-strong Corning Gorilla Glass and should be able to stand up to daily classroom abuse.

While it has a responsive touchpad that can work with Windows 8 and simple gestures, if you want to get the most out of the new operating system, get the touch-screen option. It adds about $200 to most models.

On the outside of the Inspiron 15z is a good assortment of ports for classroom use, including a trio of up to date USB 3.0 connectors, HDMI and audio. It sounds good for educational games, spoken word and music material, thanks to Skull Candy speakers, but can be short on bass tones because the speakers are under the notebook. In addition to a 1 megapixel Web cam, the system has a dual microphone array, making for excellent videoconferencing potential.

On the downside, like several other newer notebooks, it leaves the old world behind. The Inspiron 15z lacks a VGA connector for using an older monitor or projector. It comes with an SD card slot, WiFi and wired networking.

Mobility centerAs far as performance goes, the Inspiron 15z is at the head of the class with a Performance 8.0 score of 1,480.4, putting it far ahead of typical school computers. While the system kept its cool, even when it was stressed with tough tasks, the Inspiron 15z’s fan can get annoyingly loud.

The performance advantage is not at the expense of battery life with the 15z running for 4 hours and 12 minutes of continuously playing YouTube videos on a charge of its 4,400-milli-amp hour battery pack. That should be more than enough to get through the typical school day of stop and go computing on a charge. Be warned, though, that like other Ultrabooks, you can’t swap the 15z’s battery.

In addition to Windows 8, the Inspiron 15z comes with the expected mix of software, including McAfee’s Security Center and a trial version of Office. Dell’s customized Windows Mobility Center is a true gem, consolidating every key configuration item – from screen brightness and external displays to keyboard brightness – into one screen.

The system comes with a one-year warranty and upping that to a more realistic three-years of coverage adds $150. At $1,000, the high-performance model I looked is out of reach for most schools, but the $700 entry level Inspiron 15z is a great way to outfit a classroom with notebooks without having kids lug around too much gear.


Dell Inspiron 15z

Price: base, $700; as tested, $1,000

+ Surprisingly thin and light notebook

+ Top performance

+ Optional touch screen

+ Three USB 3.0 ports

+ Optical drive built-in


- Expensive

- No VGA



Listen Up

Mp-amp40There’s nothing like classroom amplification to make any teacher sound better and louder. Crestron’s MP-AMP40 amplifier is small, lightweight and can save on electricity. The Class D design and doesn’t require a fan, so its whisper quiet. It puts out 40-watts of power and has RCA and mini jack inputs as well as terminal block outputs. It has bass, treble and volume controls and because the MP-AMP40 meets the UL 2043 standard it can be installed behind a wall, in the ceiling or just about anywhere. 

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