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Seeing is Believing

Rather than telling the class about something or maybe drawing a diagram on the board, there’s nothing like showing them something real with a document camera. From watching a chemistry reaction to showing a map of Napoleon’s march to Moscow, visuals can be the difference between an attentive interactive lesson and boredom. These four document cameras can turn anything into a visual lesson.

TT-12-main-2With Elmo’s TT-12 doc cam, the class can see everything in full 1,920 by 1,080 HD resolution. The camera head can rotate 300 degrees to get a good view of just about any small object, including insects and small sculpture. It has a sharp 7X optical zoom, its own LED lighting and there’s a wireless remote control. The document camera costs $720.

Qpc30-book-smallBy contrast, Qomo’s QMO-QPC30 costs $525 and is portable enough to be able to move from classroom to classroom as needed, but it tops out at 720p resolution. Its 2 megapixel camera is mounted on an articulated arm, there’s an LED lighting bar and a 7X lens to zoom in on any subject.

Ipevo Ziggi HDIf you’ve never heard of Ipevo document cameras you probably will, because the company’s Ziggi-HD USB Document Camera costs just $94 yet offers high-end features and abilities like a 5-megapixel camera. There’s a built-in microphone, the system can work with Evernote or Skype for lesson sharing and it comes with the company’s Presenter program.

JustandMaybe you don’t really need an expensive dedicated document camera, after all. You can use an iPad and the Justand. The red stand securely holds an iPad and swings out, allowing its camera to capture what you want to put on the classroom’s big screen. The bonus is that you can see and adjust what’s being projected on the iPad’s display. It’s a bargain at $89.


Cheap to Keep

Lat 3330Dell lowers the entry point for school notebooks with its Latitude 3330 series, which has been designed from the start for the classroom. Its pricing may start at $419, but it doesn’t skimp on hardware with a current Core i3 or i5 processor, 13.3-inch screen and the choice of 2-, 4- or 8GB of RAM. It comes with USB 3.0 and WiFi as well as the ability to order it with anything from 64GB or SSD flash storage to a 500GB hard drive. If you choose Ubuntu Linux over Windows 7 or 8, you can get an even lower price. The best part is that it weighs in at 3.4-pounds, perfect for small kids.


The Cloud’s Desktop

SkyDesktop_by_InfoStreet_-_3Online resources like Google Drive or Dropbox can reduce how much is stored locally, but all have different interfaces to master and separate log ins, but SkyDesktop can turn it into a more cohesive and streamlined experience. With software for connecting with 66 popular online services and a variety of cloud platforms, SkyDesktop is a free service that can make the cloud a little more personal and local. Just log in once and it’s all there on your desktop.

Streamlining Digital Art

On-screen help and tutorialsToo many illustration and image editing programs are too complicated for teachers and students to use without hours of training. Enter Serif’s DrawPlus X6, which simplifies tasks without sacrificing artistic control and creativity. From turning drawings into animation sequences to painting over stencils to creating interactive Web graphics, DrawPlus X6 can do it without the hassles and teachers can use Serif’s online resources. It won’t work with Macs but the $99 program can be had for $21 a student with the company’s educational discount.


Teacher’s Discount

SheeridEvery teacher who buys Crayons, tissues or printer paper knows that money doesn’t go very far. SheerID can help with a verification program that allows teachers to buy at a discount. Think of it as an online warehouse club for education and you get an idea as to its potential. Norton is one of the vendors that provide a discount to educators as verified by SheerID.

Freebee Friday: The Sound of Money

Califone fundingfactoryAny school with old or extra gear can trade it in for hard cash that can be used for any school purpose. Califone and FundingFactory have teamed up to let any school recycle old sound equipment. The list of items includes headphones as well as old toner cartridges and cell phones.  They’ll even send you a prepaid shipping box to send the stuff in.

Mixing the Pad

DL806_Top-SlideThe latest in sound mixers for an auditorium are Mackie’s DL 806 and 1608. They both use the electronics of any iPad to control either 8 or 16 amplified inputs. Just slide the pad in and it shows levels allowing pinpoint control. The mixers cost $800 and $1,000.

Small, Cheap and Powerful

Lenovo all in oneIf you’re looking for small but powerful all-in-one computers for outfitting a lab, classroom or public space, Lenovo’s ThinkCentre Edge 62Z fits the bill with an 18.5-inch display, Core i3 processors and a slew of USB 3.0 ports. The best part is that the system starts at $550, is a power miser when in use but consumes almost no power when it’s asleep.

A Tale of Two Tablets

Vinci groupAndroid tablets come in all shapes and sizes these days, but none are quite like Vinci’s Tab line. With 5- and 7- models, there’s a slate for every early-education classroom and subject, but with the difference that only well-thought out hardware and software can make.

While the $200 Tab II has a 7-inch display, the smaller $170 Tab III M has a 5-inch screen. VINCI has a newer 5-inch Tab MV that sells for $200.

They all have touch-sensitive screens that are accurate, but are curiously a step backwards as far as technology goes. While the Tab II has an 800 by 600 resolution display the Tab III M’s resolution tops out at 800 by 480. Either way, this pales in comparison to more modern designs like the Google Nexus 7, which has a 1,280 by 800 display.

The on-screen keyboard is fine for kids, but feels cramped and is error prone for an adult. While the small Tab III M has cameras front and back, the Tab II only has one in the back.

Vinci Tab II aOverall, the slates feel chunky and are heavier than the competition at 8.7-ounces and 1.5-pounds for the Tab III M and Tab II, respectively. That’s at least 5-ounces heavier than the best that’s out there and the result of VINCI’s excellent silicone bumpers that are sturdier than those on the KD Interactive Kurio 7.

Despite having the handles, unlike the Archos tablets, the VINCI hardware lacks a built-in stand. The company sells a $15 stand that holds it upright.

The slates’ red bumpers don’t block the buttons, make them easier to grip and protects them if they’re dropped. Both have the basic Android on/off, volume, Home, go back and details buttons. On the downside, plugging the larger Tab slate in can be a little tricky because the arm gets in the way. They both come with a small AC power adapter and USB cables.

Despite their differing sizes, these slates are surprisingly similar under the skin with a 1.2GHz Cortex A8 processor, 8GB of flash memory storage and WiFi for getting online. Both have a micro-SD card slot to add up to 32GB of storage space. Oddly, the Tab II doesn’t have a headphone jack.

Vinci tab iiiMThey differ significantly in terms of software, though, with the larger Tab II having the older Android 2.3.5 software and the Tab III M getting the up-to-date version 4.04 software. Both come with the basics: a Web browser, Skype, Quick Office, PDF reader and email client. I especially like the inclusion of the Astro File Manager and you can load a wide variety of educational apps, from MathLab’s graphing calculator to the JogNog quiz game.

They both provide access to VINCI’s library of early-education software that’s been screened for violence, ads and inappropriate material. There are hundreds of games and stories as well as learning music videos. The lessons are broken down into Science, Knowledge, Math, Language and Thinking Social and are an especially good adjunct to a pre-school program that can stimulate and teach kids from pre-schoolers to those of age 8 or 9. On the downside, there’s nothing for middle- and high-school classes.

The curriculum entries are numbered, which can help get the sequence right, many have a pedagogical explanation at the beginning and integrated assessments. The devices include software for tracking individual progress. My favorite is Block Design, which shows two patterns and gives children the chance to manipulate them to match them up.

Vinci Tab II bThere are early-learner toys as well as additional curriculum packs that cost between $90 to $180. Everything can be password protected so that the kids can get to only what the teachers or administrators let them. On the other hand, only the Tab III M allows you to change the password.

My favorite is the unique VINCI Diary, which needs to be downloaded after you register the slate. It works with the built-in Web cam to allow teachers to take photos or videos of a student and attach notes to them, effectively providing a single place to track their development.

Despite having similar hardware and software, the smaller Tab III M slightly outperforms the Tab II with a 3,557 on Antutu’s Benchmark software, which measures all the major parts of the slate’s performance; the larger Tab II scored 3,332. Either way, this is well off the 10,629 pace set by the Nexus 7, but better than the Kurio 7 and Lenovo IdeaPad A-107.

Vinci_tab_side_image As far as battery life goes, the larger Tab II has a 6,400 milli-amp hour battery that has more capacity than most notebooks and ran the system for 8 hours and 45 minutes of continuously playing YouTube videos. That should be plenty for two or three days of on-and-off school use. The Tab III M is less capable with a 1,800-mah battery pack that goes for 3 hours and 36 minutes on a charge.

 Both VINCI slates come with a one-year warranty and are reasonably priced, particularly considering the software. I only wish that Vinci’s competitors would spend as much time developing school software to use on its slates.




Price: $200




Price: $170


+ Inexpensive

+ Excellent early-education software

+ Includes protective bumper

+ Handles

+ Great battery life for Tab II


- No middle- or high-school software

- Some slates use older Android software

- Low-resolution screen

- Heavy




Optoma’s No-Change Projector Lamp

ZW212ST_Left_300dpiLED projectors are popular because they use mush less electricity and never need to have their lamps changed, but they have all been short on brightness. That is until now, with the advent of Optoma’s latest EcoBright short-throw models, which create their beam of light with LEDs and lasers not traditional high-pressure lamps. Rated to last for at least 20,000 hours of use, the ZW212ST and the ZX212ST put out 2,500- and 2,300-lumens of light and cost $1,600 and $1,500.

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