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Freebee Friday: Classroom Cornucopia

EducentsWhile most of the items on Educent’s Web site are have price tags, they are discounted teaching resources and there are several freebees for the classroom. Discounts range from a few dollars off a set of workbooks to manipulative items for less than half price. The recent scanning of the site found items like Blue Manor books and a typing course for free. Better head there quickly because each product has a time limit.



Freebee Friday: Supplies

Office max depotThe school is starting and it’s time for teachers to get the supplies they need, regardless of whether there’s a budget for it. Most teachers go out of pocket for items from pencils and paper to tape and rulers, but Office Depot and OfficeMax will give a lucky teacher a $500 school spending spree while six others get $100 in company gift cards. The contest runs through the end of September.


Deskbound Chrome

Acer Chromebox CXI Top Angle ViewForget about the Chrome platform only being available in notebooks because Acer’s Chromebox CXI family plants it firmly on a desk, library kiosk or common room. Powered by an Intel Celeron processor, the CXI comes with 2- or 4GB of RAM and 16GB of storage space. Still the system is tiny, can be attached to the back of a monitor and has a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) built in. It comes with DVI and HDMI monitor ports as well as four USB 3.0 connectors. It should be available before school starts in most places for between $180 and $220 with a keyboard and mouse included.  



Bigger Can be Better

14200892694_c0b2896017_oWho says that tablets must have 8- or 10-inch screens to be useful in the classroom? Not Toshiba, whose Radius P55W convertible notebook makes a big statement for education.

At 0.8- by 15.0- by 9.7-inches and 4.9-pounds, the dull silver  and gold tone Radius is big and proud of it. The system has a 15.6-inch screen and can be a lot to carry around, but its aluminum case is fractions of an inch smaller than Acer’s Aspire R7 and a lot thinner.

More to the point, the Radius weighs 6 ounces less than the R7. The bottom line is that it’s easier to carry and fits better into the typical briefcase or backpack. With its AC adapter, the system weighs a hefty 5.2 pounds, but the Radius has a two-prong plug that will be welcome in older schools that lack up-to-date AC outlets.

Just like Dell’s much smaller and less expensive Inspiron 11 3000, the power of its design is that the Radius can assume five different computing personalities, depending on what work needs to get done. Of course, it starts out as a standard notebook with a touch-screen and a full mechanical keyboard that has backlit keys. The system’s case is wide enough for full-size 19.3 millimeter keys, an embedded numeric keypad and has a huge touchpad. There’s no DVD drive, however.

Flip the screen over and Radius becomes one of the biggest – and heaviest – tablets around. Turn the screen over to produce a tent orientation or presentation mode for small group work. It can even fold flat on a tabletop for artwork like drawing a diagram or finger painting.

14282873642_d5de1812af_oOverall, the system is well made, feels sturdy and its 15.6-inch screen provides a wide view compared to a traditional tablet. Be warned: it can be unwieldy and a lot to carry around if your go from room to room all day. In other words, it works best on a desk with the teacher or student occasionally picking it up to use as a tablet.

Above the keys are the Radius’s Harmon Kardon speakers, which sound sharp and vibrant, although they produce a lot of distortion at full volume. While the speakers are aimed at the user when using the Radius as a notebook, when you flip it into tablet mode, they point downward and the audio loses its vibrancy. The system has a volume control on the edge as well as an on/off key. Under the screen is a handy Windows key.   

The system’s 15.6-inch display shows 1,920 by 1,080 resolution and has rich colors. The screen is flush with the edge of the lid and it responds to 10-independent touches. It worked just as well with fingers as with a generic stylus, but Toshiba doesn’t offer a pressure-sensitive stylus as is the case with the Aspire R7. On the downside, the display tends to wobble a lot when it is poked, swiped or tapped.

Inside, the P55W-B5224 Radius that I looked at is a fully up to date system that has some of the best components around and will likely be seen as a little too good for schools on a tight budget. The test system has a dual-core Core i7 processor runs at between 2.0 and 2.7GHz, 8GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive, making this notebook a screamer. Toshiba also sells a more mainstream $700 version of the Radius that is built around Core i5 version with a 750GB hard drive but nothing in the $500 range.

14261742076_7e909ee590_oTo its credit, Radius can connect with just about anything in the classroom. It has three USB 3.0 ports, an SD card slot, audio and an HDMI connector for a projector or monitor. It lacks a VGA port for older monitors and projectors, though.

The system comes with the latest 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 built-in. I was able to connect wirelessly to a projector using its WiDi system and a Belkin ScreenCast receiver.

With all that premium hardware behind it, it’s no wonder that the Radius blew away the competition with a Passmark PerformanceTest 8 score of 1,784. That’s about a quarter faster than the R7, more than twice the performance potential of comparable convertibles and likely one of the most powerful computers at school.

Happily, the power was not at the expense of battery life. The Radius was able to continuously play YouTube videos for 7 hours and 12 minutes, more than enough for a full day of teaching or learning followed by some homework, grading or gaming.

The system comes with Windows 8.1, a 1-year warranty and a year’s subscription to Norton AntiVirus software. Overall, the Radius shows that in a world obsessed with having the smallest notebook or tablet, bigger can be better.




Toshiba Satellite Radius P55W


+ Big HD screen

+ Excellent configuration

+ 5 computing personalities

+ Well-made and sturdy

+ Top performance/battery life


- Expensive

- Screen wobbles

- Can be unwieldy


Never Lose Anything

Zrq425-phone-tag_0bn09t0bn09t000000The Protag Duet tag is so smart that it cannot only alert you that you’ve left your phone behind, but your bag as well. Inside the plastic tag is an RFID chip, speaker and just enough electronics to sound the alarm when it and your phone get separated. Plus, it can find your phone, either by pressing Duet to make the phone ring – even if the phone is set to silent – or by tracking its location. The $29 device works with Android and iPhones.

Collaborative Test Making

Unify logoThe latest version of Performance Matters’ Unify takes measuring student growth and achievement to new levels by enabling collaboratively created, developed and administered assessments that can be shared within a district. It allows educators to pool their knowledge, experience and resources to create the best tests for the subject.

Top Brightness

Res_db7c1923d5f1d564a56aa831351e57e1If 2,500- or 3,000 lumen projectors aren’t cutting it at your school, BenQ’s MW665 projector puts out 3,200 lumens, lighting up even large classrooms and lecture halls.  The projector can put a 1,280 by 800 image on-screen, has a USB slot for use with a lesson-holding memory key and has ports for HDMI, VGA and networking connections. It can use used with the included QPresenter app for wireless teaching with an iPad or Android tablet. The MW665 costs $999.

Freebee Friday: Yea or Nay on the Common Core

Common coreWhether you’re pro or con on the Common Core question, you’ll want to listen to the debate at New York’s Kaufman Center on September 9th. Titled, “Embrace the Common Core,” the program will feature spirited debate and the opportunity to vote either way before and after the presentations. Those lining up in favor of the Common Core curriculum include former assistant Secretary of Education Carmel Martin and Michael Petrilli, President of the Fordham Institute. They’ll be arguing with Carol Burris, Principal at South Side High School in Rockville Center, NY and Frederick Hess, Resident Scholar and Director of Educational Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. ABC reporter John Donvan will moderate the event. It will be part of an NPR show called “Intelligence Squared U.S.” and will be streamed on the Intelligence Squared Web site.

Freebee Friday: Admin on the Cheap

AlmaWith schools spending too much on administration software, Alma comes to the rescue. The free student information system can not only track student grades and attendance, but align the school’s curriculum to state and Common Core standards. It integrates a student dossier, scheduling and lets a school import digital records. There are paid options that include migrating paper records and setting up emergency notifications.

The School Pad

Jamf bThe biggest downside of making teachers and students bring their own computers to school is that logging them onto the school network can be a chore with different software for different platforms. JAMF’s latest Casper Suite puts an end to the BYOD shuffle with a system that relies on iPad and Android users to do most of the work of enrolling and maintaining networking connections.

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