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Friday Freebee: Tune In

PBSPBS LearningMedia has expanded its library of online videos with 30,000 titles now available for classroom use. The new shows range from Makers: Women Who Made America to Shakespeare Uncovered.  There’s more than enough teaching material to build a slew of classes around and it’s all free.


With and Without Keyboard

Z10t-T101_Z10t-T102_FRONT_PROGRESSION2_1Often school tablet users suffer from keyboard withdrawal by having to use the awkward on-screen keys. No more, with Toshiba’s Portege Z10T, an 11.6-inch HD slate that weighs just 1.9-pounds, but has a snap on keyboard. Together, the Z10T has all the ports and a unique anti-reflective matte display that just might resist fingerprints. It should be out by summer and will sell for $1,500 with a Core i5 processor, 128GB of solid state storage and 3-year warranty and $1,750 with a Core i7 CPU and 256GB of solid state storage.


Data Stash

Norton zoneWith your notebook’s hard drive about to burst, where will you put all those essays you need to grade? Try Norton Zone’s online file repository. After uploading files the files are scanned for viruses and then can be viewed and shared on just about any device, from an iPad to a Windows RT system. You get 5GB of free space and after that it costs $50 a year for up to 20GB of storage space or 100GB for $120 a year.

All the Classroom’s a Stage

TabletStage-Belkin-hi-resWho says you need an expensive document camera to turn papers and physical objects into a digital stream for a projector? Not with Belkin’s $200 Tablet Stage, an innovative device that can turn just about any tablet into a better visualizer.

Instead of a dedicated document camera costing $500 or more, Tablet Stage can transform an existing tablet into a powerful document camera. It’s a little more involved than using the less expensive Juststand tablet holder, but it is so easy to put Tablet Stage together that you probably won’t even need to read the directions; figure it’ll take 5 minutes to assemble. After that it takes a moment to reattach the tablet to the stand.

There’s a weighted 13- by 15.3-inch base with a stage big enough for a good sized book, a page from an atlas or a calculator for demonstrations. It has rubber feet and can be screwed into place on a tabletop for a permanent installation. There's a vertical aluminum column and adjustable tablet swing arm along with places to stash cables to keep them out of the view of the tablet’s camera.

The key is that the swing arm has an innovative tablet holder with padded adjustable jaws to grip the device. It works with a variety of tablets that have between 7- and 11-inch displays, although it’s too big to hold an iPhone and too small to accommodate Acer’s Iconia W700P.

I used Tablet Stage with a full size iPad as well as a Mini, a Samsung Tab2 and a Lenovo S2110. It can work with many still in their case and hold them securely in place. Unfortunately, the holder’s jaws are able to only loosely hold the iPad Mini in place. I ended up using a rubber band to secure it in palce.

Stage bAt any time you can adjust the arm up or down (to zoom in and out) or rotate it to get to a better view. The camera arm can even be angled from horizontal to vertical orientation to get the right view, say of an art project. This can also replace an articulated tablet holder and allow the slate to be for small group work, video-conferencing or taking pictures.

For use in a darkened room, such as a lights-off lesson with a projector, Tablet Stage comes with a three-element LED light that runs on three AAA batteries that are included. It’s mounted on a gooseneck arm to make it adjustable. It works well, but, like standalone doc cams, you need to adjust its angle carefully so that it doesn’t produce a hot spot.

Because you’re working with a tablet that is horizontal, the screen is free and perfectly positioned for writing, drawing or annotating. This makes augmenting and highlighting the image much easier than is possible with a PC, but Tablet Stage allows the slate to wobble while tapping or using your finger on the screen.

Stage aThe stand really comes into its own with Belkin’s free Stage app. It’s only available for iPads, so Androids can only use the device to hold the slate in place and capture images or video. The app lets you add labels, annotate in several colors and line widths, erase items and point out an area of interest. At any time you can snap a screen shot, but to capture audio and video you need to pay an extra $2 for Belkin’s upgraded software; the add-on makes it easy to upload of videos to YouTube’s EDU section or other sites.

Good for displaying everything from a chemistry lab to the details of an antique map, Belkin’s Tablet Stage put learning material front row, center by turning any tablet with a camera into a visualizer.


Belkin Tablet Stage

Price: $200

+ Replaces an expensive document camera with a tablet

+ Easy set up and use

+ LED lighting

+ Works with variety of tablets

+ iPad app

+ Can hold tablet at a variety of angles


- Doesn’t hold some slates securely

- No Android annotation app

- Tablet wobbles




Tablet Two-Fors

Hp slatesAs other tablet-makers concentrate on Android or Windows, HP covers all the bases with both. Looking like nonidentical twiins, HP’s SlateBook x2 (photo, right) uses the latest Android software, while its larger Split x2 sibling (photo, left) relies on Windows so your school won’t have to buy any new software. Based on Android 4.2 (aka JellyBean) the $480 SlateBook x2 performs on its own or with its snap-on keyboard. The secret is that both units have batteries, so that the combined system has a full-day machine. Inside is NVidia’s Tegra 4 processor, a 10.1-inch touch-screen and 64GB of storage. By contrast, the Split x2 uses Windows 8 and a Core i processor, creating a system that is just as convenient as an Ultrabook or as a tablet. It has a 13.3-inch touch-display. It costs $800, but has the distinct advantage of letting schools continue to use the software they have, know how to use and have paid for.

New Way to Pay for School Software

Ccm-explore-creative-cloud-poster-708x510Adobe has led the world in pushing imaging to the cloud and the company takes the big step of phasing out physical disc copies of its Creative Suite software at retail. You’ll still be able to get the discs but through Adobe’s support group, but from now on Adobe will update the apps as they are changed via the company’s Creative Cloud online service. Meanwhile, it could end up being cheaper to get the software into the hands of students because the license agreement will now be based on the number of teachers, not computers in the institution. A school with 50 staff members would pay roughly $5,000 for every student and teacher to use the base Design and Web product for a year.


Freebee Friday: Our Changing Earth

NASA Landsat PhoenixHere’s a cool visual lesson about our impact on our planet. Go to NASA’a Landsat earth-observing satellite page and show some of the images and time-lapse videos that have accumulated over Landsat's 40-year lifetime. The site has everything from high-resolution photos from space of the current fires in California to videos of how urban centers like Las Vegas evolved over time and the earth’s glaciers are receding. Each comes with a nice description of what you’re seeing along with the science involved, perfect for a visual lesson about our changing earth.

Paper Saver

Papercut-dashboardIf paper, toner and ink costs are ripping a hole in your budget, OKI Data’s PaperCut MF software can help figure out where it’s going. The program runs on the company’s products as well as open-platform multi-function printers from other manufacturers. It has the power to not only let iPads print but account for every sheet of paper that comes out of a printer and delvier detailed reports on who’s printing what and where. It’s available for free for 40 days.

High Wire Act

Mitsubishiwd390uest-2If you’re interested in projecting material directly from a tablet without any wires, take a look at Mitsubishi’s WD390U-EST. The short-throw projector can create a large image just inches from the screen and acts like a wireless thin client, although its set-up can be a bit daunting.

Basically, an updated version of the company’s WD380U-EST, the WD390U-EST puts out more light and can be linked with a classroom computer and a tablet or smartphone wirelessly so that teachers to go PC-free, sort of. The set-up is a bit involved, the first few times using it can be an anxiety ridden experience but it all works together well.

To get it all going, you’ll need to load Mitsubishi’s LAN Display server software on the classroom’s computer as well as Awind’s SidePad Receiver on an iPad, iPhone or Android device. Next, with the projector set to LAN Display and the apps running on the PC and iPad, you’re ready to get started. What’s on the PC’s screen is now on the slate and the projected image.

You can not only teach to a class with this set up while moving around the classroom, but control the host computer with your finger on the iPad’s screen. It all works surprisingly well and linked up on the first try with 10 minutes of set-up work. The system worked with video, Office files, .PDFs as well as Windows 8. Using an iPad Mini, the slate’s response was instantaneous with hardly any lag.

Think of the iPad as an elaborate remote control for the host PC and you get an idea of the potential of the set up. Because all the display computing takes place on the host computer, it can run flash animation and Web sites, something iPads can’t do.

LAN DisplayThe good news is that if you use the same projector and server combo day in and day out, there’s a simple reconnect icon that gets the gear set up quickly. All in all, the WD390U-EST presents a great way to teach while roaming around the classroom. As long as you have a link to the host PC, the iPad controls the show. It had a range of 75-feet, plenty for an auditorium, large classroom or lecture hall.

The projector itself is a winner in the classroom with Texas Instruments’ 0.65-inch DLP imaging engine that projects a 1,280 by 800 resolution stream and can work with 3-D imaging. Like other short-throw projectors, it lacks an optical zoom lens but the WD390U-EST can put a 52-inch image on-screen from only a foot and a half away and tops out at a 15-foot image.

As a bonus to those who don’t want to teach from either a notebook or tablet, the projector can work with items on a network or memory key, cutting the host PC out of the equation. The material needs to be converted to PowerPoint slide shows or .jpg image files, however, but these additions make the WD390U-EST one of the most flexible projectors on the market.

There’s a pair of adjustable legs up front as well as three mounting screws underneath for securely putting it on a ceiling or wall and Mitsubishi sells an innovative $119 mounting arm. The projector works with Crestron’s RoomView and comes with a small infrared remote control that has keys for muting and blanking the screen, picking the source and adjusting the 10-watt speaker’s volume. If remotes disappear at your school, the WD390U-EST can link with PXE DCM+ wall mounted controls.

Mitsubishiwd390uest-3It has inputs for HDMI, S- and Composite video as well as a pair of VGA ports. The projector can stream video to a second display with a VGA-out connection and it has a wired LAN connection. It lacks built-in WiFi, but Mitsubishi sells a $49 WiFi adapter

The projector took 41 seconds to get started and put an image on the screen. Rated at 3,000 lumens, it delivered a little over 3,100 lumens in Presentation mode. The projector also has modes for Standard Black Board, White Board, Theater and a user defined mode that allows most items – including Brightness, Gain and Contrast – to be adjusted. On the downside, the W390U-EST’s colors were slightly subdued and flat, with muddy yellows and light greens.

The projector uses 303 watts at full power and 1 watt while in standby mode. Along with the WD390U-EST’s $199 lamp, which is rated to last 3,000 hours (6,000 hours in Eco mode), the projector has estimated annual expenses of about $171 if it’s used for 8 hours a day during the school year. Its exhaust is on the warm side at 133-degrees Fahrenheit.

Like its predecessor, the WD390U-EST includes a 3-year warranty with the lamp covered for 1 year or 500 hours of use. With the power to turn an iPad into a teaching tool that the whole class can see, Mitsubishi’s WD390U-EST can change the teaching dynamic in schools.


Mitsubishi WD390U-EST

Price: $1,299


+ Thin client connection

+ Ability to work with iPad or Android slate wirelessly

+ Good brightness

+ Wall control module

+ Brighter than predecessor


- Complicated set up


Little Light Machine

TW610STi+_Right_300dpiIt may be smaller than traditional classroom projectors, but Optoma’s TW610STi+ pumps out 3,200 lumens of light for a lesson with the room’s blinds up. The $1,000 projector creates a 1,280 by 800 image, can deliver a 6-foot image from 36-inches away from the screen and includes an interactive pen is included. The projector has a pair of VGA-in ports as well as HDMI, composite video and a variety of audio connectors. It comes with a three-year warranty.

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