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Go-Anywhere Keyboard

Kb4 aOne of the biggest gripes about teaching and learning in a tablet-centric school is the lack of a physical keyboard with actual keys to type anything longer than a Web- or email address. Small, light and easy to use, Califone’s KB4 Bluetooth Keyboard makes any tablet more finger-friendly.

 Because it uses Bluetooth to connect with a tablet or phone, there’s no software to load and it should work with just about any recent device. The 9.6- by 5.9-inch black keyboard fits nicely in front of a Surface, iPad or 9-inch Android slate. It is only 0.3-inches thick, but lacks feet to give the keys a more comfortable typing angle.

The keyboard is tiny compared to Rapoo’s E9180p and lacks its built-in touchpad. But, if you have a tablet in front of you, chances are that you won’t need one. Just reach out and tap the display to move things around and navigate through the interface. It has a range of about 25-feet, but I expect it to remain much closer to a tablet.

Kb4 vidThere are 77 keys that at 17-millimeters wide are just large enough to make for comfortable and efficient typing. In addition to the expected letters, numbers and symbols, there are specialty ones for iOS, Windows and Android hardware. The keyboard also has keys for making the screen brighter and adjusting volume, although some of these keys may not work on all types of tablets.

It takes less than a minute to connect the KB4 to a computer via Bluetooth. After that, the two recognize each other and automatically link up. Its 110 miliamp-hour battery was good for more than 6-weeks of daily use and can be recharged with a micro-USB cable.

All told, the Califone KB4 puts you in touch with physical keys that can make everything from typing a paper to recording classroom notes a lot easier. 


Kb4 b

Califone KB4


+ Inexpensive

+ Responsive keys

+ Specialty keys for iOS, Android and Windows

+ Built-in battery

+ Bluetooth


- No feet

- Lacks touchpad


Stand Up for Tablets

ChenSlates are great when you have two hands free to hold and tap the screen, but they’re often second best on the desk. ChenSource’s Ep13212 stand works with any tablet with a screen between 7- and 11-inches and attaches it to any desktop while allowing the pad to be tilted, rotated or swiveled.

Touch or Say

997e6567-99e6-42df-bf5d-9163ef627c62If your school uses Crestron’s control system, the company’s TST-902 control screen should fit right in. The system has an 8.9-inch color screen that is touch sensitive and can control a room full of video gear by either tapping on an icon or just saying what you want. It can be carried around, comes with a table stand and because it can use Crestron’s ER wireless communications protocol, you don’t even need to plug it into your network. It can connect via WiFi.    

Cool School

SRCOOL7KRM-FRONT-LGot a closet full of server racks that has outgrown its cooling needs, or maybe there isn’t any dedicated cooling at all? Tripp-Lite’s SRCOOL7KRM is here just in time for a new school year with a self-contained server cooler. At $900 it is money well spent that can prevent serious overheating damage to delicate servers. It can sit at the bottom of a standard 8U server rack, cooling an entire tower of systems and drives so that every bit and byte is protected against melt-down.

SRCOOL7KRM-OTHER01-LWhile the SRCOOL 7KRM can pump out 7,000 BTU’s of cooling upwards into the servers above, it evaporates any water it produces, so there’s no need for any special plumbing. The cooler is easy to use, requires a standard AC outlet for power and can be set to automatically restart after a power failure. With the company’s SRCOOLNET2 kit, it can be remotely monitored and controlled, so a district’s IT crew can observe the room’s temperature and adjust the unit’s cooling power.

Power Table

Endure furnitureOFM’s Endure series of tables take school furniture into the 21-st century with power to spare. The table has three AC outlets for running notebooks, projectors and a variety of STEM gear along with a a pair of powered USB ports for charging phones and tablets. The standing table is 38-inches above the floor and built on a steel frame with walnut or whiteboard laminate work surfaces and four solid wood or metal swivel seats. It costs $1,500 and can be combined in a variety of ways.


Twice the Power

TRAVELER3USB-Front-MWhile it was designed as a surge suppressor for travelers, Tripp-Lite’s TRAVELER3USB is nearly perfect for classroom use. With three AC outlets and USB power, the device is rated at a maximum of 15-amps and is protected to 1,050 joules of surge energy so it can handle the worst that a teacher can throw at it.

The beauty of the TRAVELER3USB is its pair of USB power outlets to power up a notebook, tablet or phone while teaching. The key is that unlike many wall-outlet USB chargers, the all-black TRAVELER3USB has its USB outlets on the side where they TRAVELER3USB-OTHER02-Mwon’t get in the way. It has an LED to show you that the power outlets are
protected and the device includes $25,000 of insurance for damaged equipment.

While its 18-inch cord is a little short for use on a cart, with an extension cord, it should be perfect. At $20, it’s the best protection you can give classroom gear. 

Beautiful Streamer

Lenovo Cast 5When you don’t need a full computer, sometimes a media streamer connected to a big screen or projector will do the trick. Lenovo’s Cast will cost $50 and can grab online content or wirelessly stream anything on a tablet or phone. It uses both 802.11n bands and displays its full HD material via an HDMI port to a display. The best part is that the black device is the size of a hockey puck so it can be easily hidden in a shelf or behind a monitor.

Whiteboards, the Next Generation

Prd_hi_kappiq_leftBy combining an Ultra-HD flat display with phone and tablet connections, Smart Technologies has reinvented the whiteboard with kapp iQ. At $4,000 the 55-inch screen features 4K resolution and the ability to work with fingers or the two included pens, which have erasers. The company also has a 65-inch version.

Unlike any other whiteboard, kapp IQ starts up as you approach it and connects with a phone or tablet via Bluetooth. Everything written on the screen can be transferred to and from a phone or tablet and shared with others, regardless of whether they’re on Smart kappthe other side of the room or at home sick. Because everything is connected and shared in the cloud with Smart’s free online service kapp iQ’s set up is easy; there will be a Premium service that costs $2 a month that allows up to 250 people to collaborate online, which could be a great way to do a day of professional development without travel expenses. At the end of the lesson, everything can be saved in a variety of formats, including Acrobat and Evernote.

Calculations for Less

Fx-991EX_FTired of spending as much as a tablet on each Texas Instruments 84 Plus calculator? Casio’s answer is the Classwiz fx-991EX, a calculator that exudes power and abilities, but does so on a tight budget. It’s not only smaller and lighter, but at $20 is a genuine bargain. It may lack the 84 Plus’s color screen, but the fx991EX calculator has a better idea on how to inexpensively graph functions.

At 0.5- by 3.0- by 6.4-inches the white and black calculator weighs 3.2-ounces, less than half as much as the super-sized TI Nspire CX, and squeezes a lot of calculator into a small package. It comes with a slide-on cover and has a nice textured finish, but has plastic feet instead of soft rubber ones. Its keys are thoughtfully color-coded with chromed on-off, Menu and shift buttons as well as arrow keys.

The 2.4-inch screen shows a lot more detail than other calculators, but is limited to black and white characters. It uses Casio’s Natural Textbook Display that can show six lines of calculations and looks like printed material, although sometimes the characters are oddly out of proportion with each other. It can display up to 15 digits for basic calculations or 10 base numbers and 2 for scientific notation. My favorite is the dedicated scientific notation key in the bottom row of keys that can help make quick work of physics and chemistry calculations.

You can either use its Calculation Mode that has icons for 12 different math activities or dive right in. The calculator has nine levels of memory, the ability to work with 160 statistical data entries and a random number generator. Made a mistake? There’s an undo key.

Fx991ex dEither way, the fx991EX has more than 500 mathematical abilities at its disposal that range from the expected trigonometric functions to directly inputting fractions. It comes into its own by solving 4x4 matrices, heavy-duty statistical problems and simultaneous as well as differential equations. It can perform numerical integration and even solve hyperbolic curves.

The calculator can work with large spreadsheets that have up to 5 rows by 45 columns of data and deal with 70 data points at a time. In other words, it’s a great tool for completing STEM work and labs. The fx991EX contains 47 important physical constants and can convert major English and metric units.

It may not be able to directly graph equations, but the fx991EX adds a new idea that can change the calculator dynamic in schools. Rather than drawing graphs on its screen, the calculator can create a QR code that links to an equation’s graph online. All you do is press the QR key and the screen creates and shows the distinctive square code. Then, click a shot of it with a phone or tablet using the QR scanning software. The system is taken to an online place that displays the graph in color, perfect for showing the class with a projector or cutting and pasting into homework.

Casio online graphRather than disposable or rechargeable batteries, the fx991EX can be self-powered with a two-way solar panel above its display. When it’s charging the system’s batteries, a small sun-like dot appears in the screen’s upper right corner. This panel powers it just as well in natural daylight or by classroom fluorescent lighting. In fact, unlike its competitors, it doesn’t have a charging port or come with an AC adapter or cable.

The only downside of it being self-powered is that after 10 minutes of inactivity, the screen goes blanks and the calculator goes to sleep. It will eventually need to have its LR44 watch battery replaced, but that’s a couple of years in the future.

While TI has a plethora of printed and online help, lesson plans and an army of teachers who can explain how to do the simplest or most complex operations, Casio includes only a skimpy 44-page User’s Guide. Online, Casio has lesson plans and other educational resources for algebra, statistics, geometry and calculus, but nothing specifically for the recetnly added fx991EX.

While it’s not available yet, the calculator will soon have a software emulator. This should allow a teacher to show the entire class how to do complicated key sequences on a notebook connected to a projector.

The bottom line is clear: rather than spending roughly $3,000 per class for high-end graphing calculators, Casio can equip it for something closer to $600. And, that’s the best math lesson any school can learn. 



Casio Classwiz fx-991EX


+ Inexpensive

+ Solar powered

+ Small and light

+ Can use QR codes for creating online graphs

+ Comfortable keypad

+ Lots of calculations and functions


- No on-screen graphing

- Light on curriculum

The Desks Go Up, The Desks Go Down

DeskStandThere’s nothing worse than trying to squeeze into a desk that’s too small or try to pay attention when you can barely reach the tabletop. Those days are history with Marvel’s Focus Desk, which can do up or down to accommodate a variety of ages and body types from the scrawniest fourth grader to the biggest high school senior. The desk has a 28- by 20-inch desktop and can be adjusted from 26- to 36-inches high by pulling on the handle that releases the desk’s pneumatic cylinder. It works jsut as well as a traditional sitting desk as a standing desk or podium. The desk has a list price of $480.

  Standing deskIf you don’t mind waiting until September, you might be able to save a few bucks. The latest Kickstarter crowdsourcing program is the Autonomous desk. It’s now fully funded and the project should go into production soon for the steel and wood desk. It has motors that respond to spoken commands to silently move the tabletop up and down, changing it from a traditional seated desk to a standing desk and back again. It is built around a sturdy steel frame that can be had in white, gray or black and the table top can be ordered in oak, walnut or bamboo veneer as well as painted white or black. Pricing ranges from the basic $300 model to the $700, which includes voice activation, USB charger, speakers and wireless charging.



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