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The Do-it-All Router

Linksys WRT1900AC Router_FinalIt’s ironic that many of the schools that have wireless data networks are still using the antediluvian 802.11b standard that’s potentially older than many of its students. For them, as well as those who have kept up with the technology, there has never been a better time to upgrade to the 802.11ac protocol, which offers increased speed and reliability while maintaining compatibility with the older protocols. The Linksys WRT1900AC router is a great place to start because it not only brings out the best in the current WiFi set up but has lots of unexpected extras.

The 802.11ac protocol has matured quickly and offers top speed, reliability and compatibility with older equipment. The blue and black WRT router is big and looks like a larger version of the company’s WRT 54G router of a decade ago. The big difference is that the new WRT is a fully up to date dual-band 802.11ac router that’s powered by a 1.2GHz dual core processor, which is slightly faster than the Netgear Nighthawk’s processor; both have 256MB of RAM and 128MB of flash storage on hand.

In fact, it’s so powerful that it is the only router I’ve seen that has a cooling fan. It’s in the middle of the case’s top, so don’t put anything on top that would block its air flow.

It uses the latest beam-forming technology that matches the router’s transmitted signal to the client’s needs. Rather than three antennas – as is the case with the Netgear Nighthawk and other AC routers – the WRT system has four small antennas that serve an important purpose. The router connects via the three antennas with the strongest signals. Not only can you rotate them into the best orientation, but they are replaceable. Unfortunately, at the moment, there are no accessories, like optional higher gain antennas or a matching USB client radio, for the WRT.

While the system will likely be set up on a shelf horizontally, there are mounting holes underneath for vertical orientation, such as in a small closet. The manual includes a thoughtful template for mounting the unit on a wall.

Despite being able to connect at top speed with the latest hardware, it can communicate with clients as old as the original 802.11b standard. It can also work with anything from an iPad or Android slate to a Chromebook, Mac or PC, can connect via IP version 4 or 6 and you can assign static IP addresses or let the router do it automatically using DHCP. A big step forward is the ability to reserve a DHCP address for any client.

WRT1900AC_Main03With one of the easiest setups around, you start by plugging everything in and then access the router via the Linksys’s Smart WiFi Web site instead of a software CD. The system’s default connection details are printed underneath as well as on included stickers. It took me all of 5-minutes to connect, set up and start using the WRT router. It worked just as well in router as in repeater mode and connected to a variety of access points, clients and accessories, like networked hard drives and printers generally on the first try.

 The WRT system connects via the latest security protocols and can create a helpful network map with all the connected devices detailed, although its identification is sometimes off. It labels some as a generic Network Device, categorized a network storage system as a computer and ignored connected access points. Still, it’s a great way to define and document your LAN without a pencil and paper. You can even set up a guest network for visitors who need Internet but not allow access to network storage drives.

At any time you can connect to the router via its IP address, although it doesn’t work with iPad or Android slates; Linksys does have iOS and Android apps for doing everything from adjusting its settings to providing real time network status, content filtering and sharing content. With built-in software that measures the network’s Web connection, it can be the first stop when the Web disconnects. It uses Ookla’s reliable site, but its visual speedometer tops out at 20Mbps, although the WRT can record speeds much higher. It can also track Internet usage by device, but can’t be set to periodically poll the Internet and keep a log of results.

Wrt1900ac aLike just about any other wireless router, the WRT’s back has RJ-45 LAN ports for input and four wired gigabit outward-bound connections, but adds USB 3.0 and an eSATA connection that doubles as a USB 2.0 port. This lets you easily connect hard drives and printers to the network.

The unit’s front has LEDs that cover the router’s abilities, but they are all cool blue rather than the expected garish yellow and red ones on the competition. There are lights for power, Web connection, wired LAN connections, USB, eSATA, WiFi Protected operation and whether the 2.4- and 5GHz bands are active. If your server closet looks like a Christmas tree, you can leave just the power light of the WRT illuminated.

One of the most advanced networking devices available, the WRT has sophisticated Web site filters and can operate as a file transfer protocol server for transmitting large files. Its software can prioritize which devices get first dibs on the data flow that is so much simpler than typical quality of service software that it might actually get used.

Like a networking Swiss Army knife, the WRT can be used as a router, a wireless bridge, a repeater or an access point. On the downside, the WRT router can’t work with LDAP directory servers for authenticating clients; the company is working on an upgrade. In fact, the WRT router has open source software that will undergo continual revision and refinement by programmers.

As is the case with most new equipment, there are oddities to the WRT’s operation, like the inability to use a space in the network name when it is set up in bridge mode. Linksys is working on fixing this bug.

Wrt1900acIt had a range of 145-feet –10-feet farther than the Nighthawk’s range – in an older building with a combination of brick and plaster construction. Using TotuSoft’s LAN Speed tests, the WRT router was able to consistently deliver 884Mbps of bandwidth over the 2.4- and 5GHz channels. With 16 computers of various age and platform as well as several printers, hard drives and projectors connected, the router didn’t bog down or slow.

 The WRT router comes with all you need to get started and a 1 year warranty for $250. That’s $50 more than Netgear’s similar Nighthawk AC router, but the WRT does more, with an extra antenna and the ability to define and fine-tune a network makes it second to none.

 A

WRT1900AC_Main02

Linksys WRT 1900AC Smart WiFi Router

$250

+ Excellent performance

+ Prioritization of clients

+ 2.4- and 5GHz operation

+ Can attach printer and hard drive

+ 4 antennas

+ Online monitoring

 

- Requires cooling fan

- Lacks directory server access

- No matching USB client radio

The Table PC

Qmo-qit2032-kz-q-01_lifestyleQomo turns the teaching world on its side with the Padded Multi-Touch Table, a flat-screen monitor built into a cabinet on wheels. Think of it as the largest tbalet in schools becuase the 32-inch screen can respond to 6 independent touches from students or teachers. Its display shows up to 1,920 by 1,080 HD resolution and the table has a padded frame around the display. While the Multi-Touch Table doesn’t come with the computer, it will work with a PC or Mac and has a ventilated drawer to keep it out of the way. Available in red or blue, the $3,995 system comes with a 2-year warranty. 

Make a Stand for Education

Is (1)The best school furniture is the kind that can adapt to different students and teachers, not vice versa. The Steelcase Airtouch Adjustable Height Desk has an air-powered adjustment that lets it be a seated table at as low as 27-inches or a standing platform that is as high as 43-inches above the ground. The 22.25- by 52-inch tabletop is plenty for a notebook and a bunch of papers. It costs $1,439.

Freebee Friday: Learning by the Cards

Turn and learnI understand a teacher’s initial instinct to confiscate a deck of cards during school, but there’s a better way. SchoolExpress.com’s Turn and Learn game has kids electronically flipping cards on a screen to teach a variety of subjects. My favorite is the numerical sequences game that can help young learners to master the first 10 numbers. It’s mildly addictive, there are four levels and the games work with Windows or Mac computers. On the downside, like many other free games, the active part of the screen is a tiny window. The game site has others to choose from for things like addition, subtraction, identifying vowels and short words. It’s free, but there are ads on the site.

Instant Presentation

KnovioSometimes teaching an AV lesson is too much for one person to handle, but Knovio for iPad lets you combine a PowerPoint presentation with a voice-over narration. This lets you roam about the room seeing if everyone is getting it. The final product can be viewed on just about any device and shared in a variety of ways.

Math Central

Hooda aBy now, it should be obvious to just about every teacher and school administrator that the best technique for teaching and learning is to make class time seem like fun and games with as little blackboard work as possible. That’s exactly the idea behind Hooda Math, an online math center that has a slew of HTML-based games that can take a class from counting and identifying numbers to basic algebra, graphing and even some physics. The best part is that it’s all free, although the site does have ads.

The main interface of Hooda Math is simple, straight-forward and functional with a grid of games arranged by type. Think of it as a sampler of the site’s larger library of more than 500 games. The software is organized by grade, math concept dealt with and type of game. At any time you can search for the right game or just nose around and try a few out.

Because they are based on HTML coding, the games will work on just about any computer with a Web connection, from an elderly desktop or Mac to the latest iPad or Chromebook. That is, only if it has an updated browser.

Hooda bSome of the newer games can be downloaded and used locally on either an iPad or Android device. While the site-based online games are free, sometimes these downloadable games cost a dollar or two.

The beauty of Hooda is that some of the games themselves are often thinly disguised knock-offs of popular games, making it easy to entice students to use them. For instance, Happy Birds becomes Flappy Factors where kids control the birds while working on multiplication factors.  Either way, they are meant to be attractive to children and an interactive way to learn and practice math skills.

Unfortunately, the site lacks a consistent look and feel and each game needs to be learned from scratch. Be prepared for kids to require three or four tries before they get the hang of how many of the games work. More detailed instructions or instructional videos would have helped but might have been a turn off to some students.

Each game is aligned with the Common Core Math standards with its CC category and specific skill reference noted at the top of the game’s page. This can streamline preparing class lesson plans but an overall Common Core list or outline with the games that address each area noted would have been a big help in attempting to see where Hooda Math can fit into an entire curriculum.

While just about every game has different levels to strive for, the reporting part of the site is minimalist compared to other math sites, for some activities, like the Math Timed Test applet, Hooda Math does send out an email to teachers when a certain skill level has been achieved. It, however, can neither automatically take the child to the next game in the progression nor drop scores or progress into a school’s gradebook software.

Hooda cOn the downside, some of the games just don’t work well or were inconsistent. When I clicked on the answers on Skater Math, the game didn’t respond, condemning the animated skateboarder to continue to fall on each pass. Others worked fine every time I used them, but I occasionally encountered server errors, which can be frustrating, particularly for a teacher roaming around the classroom trying to give help to struggling students.

Even at their best, the games are displayed in small windows at the center of the screen, which dilutes the impact on the viewer. Full-screen representation would have been a big help.

The site has links to a good variety of tutorial videos that are aligned to the game at hand as well as a bunch that don’t seem to align with the online content. For instance there are some very interesting videos that explain how to solve word problems with linear graphs. Some of the best (at least for small children) have characters dressed in silly costumes in front of a whiteboard to explain the math involved. A hidden bonus is a series of six videos that show the basics of programming.

Ultimately, Hooda Math is a work in progress with the site adding games on a weekly basis. It is aimed more at early education than middle- or high-school math classes, but it presents a great variety of visual problem-solving activities, something that other curriculum services fall short on.

What Hooda Math does, it does well with the ability to teach a class without students ever suspecting they’re learning something important.

B+

Hooda a

Hooda Math

Free with site ads

www.hoodamath.com

 

+ Free access to over 500 math-based games

+ Excellent variety of activities

+ Organized by grade, subject and type of game

+ Good video tutorials

+ Downloadable versions of some games

 

- No way to consolidate scores and report progress

- Lacks automatic progression

- Ad sponsored

 

Economical Alternative

UST_L02If the cost of power and lamps have you shying away from new projectors, Casio has an alternative that uses less power and will never need a lamp change. The XJ-UT310WN ultra-short throw projector uses a red LED, a blue laser and a green phosphor to produce its light instead of an expensive lamp. It uses a DLP imaging target that produces 1,280 by 800 resolution, puts 3,100 lumens on screen and is rated at 20,000 hours of use. Capable of creating up to a 110-inch image without fading, the XJ-UT310WN costs $1,799 (including a WiFi adapter) and can work with Casio’s iPad and Android apps.

Label Everything

QL-720nw-leftsampleWith Brother’s $170 QL-720NW label maker, everything can have a name (and a place in the classroom). The printer is small, connects over a USB cable, WiFi or a wired LAN and you can even print directly from a phone or tablet. Capable of making up to 93 labels per minute, the printer uses thermal technology and creates sharp 300- by 600-dot per inch labels that are precisely cut. It uses 2.4-inches wide label stock and can make banners that are up to 3-feet long. The printer has a school-friendly two-year warranty package and includes a collection of pre-made label templates.

Freebee Friday: Summer Starts Now

SC-LOGOTeachers can start signing up their classes for Scholastic’s Summer Reading Challenge. The online program rewards kids aged 4 through 14 who read over the summer and is trying to set a new record for the number of books read this summer. The school that logs the most minutes of student reading before school starts will be visited by an author: either David Shannon – for elementary schools – or Gordon Korman – for middle schools.

Freebee Friday: Classroom Makeover

NEC_300If your classroom’s technology is looking a bit ratty, NEC has the answer. The projector and display company is sponsoring a contest where a K-through-12 school will win $25,000. Just enter before May 6 and submit a 1-to-2 minute video explaining why they need new A-V gear. It sounds like a great class project.

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