About this blog Subscribe to this blog

The Ears Have It

Icelever boost careSchools usually buy the plainest black headphones they can, but they don’t have to. With the iClever BoostCare family of headphones, the class can listen to their podcasts, lessons and music with a little extra style. There are Cat-Inspired headphones in pink or blue with small ears, Christmas Reindeer antlers in red and Halloween headphones with bat wings in yellow and black.

They cost $17 (for the bat wing set), $20 (for the reindeer set) or $25 (for the cat set) and have adjustable headbands that are sized for small children with soft ear muffs. The headphones can be twisted and the 47-inch audio cord is not only tangle-proof but you can pull it without damaging the cable or 3.5-mm plug.

BatEach ear muff has a 30mm driver that delivers 20 to 20,000 hertz frequency response, roughly mirroring human hearing. They are excellent for listening to everything from spoken word programming to music to the audio output of edugames. None of them, however, have a volume control, but are electronically limited to deliver no more than 85 decibels of sound to tender ears, so there won’t be any damage.

These headphones sound as good as they look, and are perfect for the first few grades. They may cost a little more than the bargain basement headphones that schools generally buy, but these are different in that they include an 18-month replacement warranty that can be extended to 30-months, or two-and-a-half years, if you register.

Touch the World

Orboot_04Plain old globes are now obsolete with Play Shifu’s Orboot augmented reality globe. The 10-inch orb has hot spots for monuments, cultures, cuisines, inventions and animals to show students the origin of many common elements of our lives. It’s available as a KickStarter preorder for $29 and includes a free phone/tablet app.

Dock Your Mac

Henge 11 bLots of schools continue to use early Macbook 11- and 13-inch Air models because despite being small and light, they have been durable. One problem is that there aren’t a lot of accessories for them still on the market. That is, except for a very nice docking station from Henge Docks that is not only inexpensive but charges the system while connecting to a monitor, speakers and USB accessories.

The white plastic Vertical Docking Station measures 8.8- by 5.5- by 4.3-inches and is solidly built. Because the system sits vertically, it takes up less desk space than the notebook on its own. It matches the Apple industrial design with a smooth finish and heavily rounded corners, but its white plastic shell looks odd next to the Air’s aluminum skin.

There are docks that work with just about any 11- or 13-inch Macbook Air systems, made from mid-2010 to today as well as ones for MacBook Pro models. The devices come fully assembled, have a rubberized interior and there’s no software to load. On the downside, there are no cables included in the box, but more on that later.

The dock’s top opening matches the profile of the Air system so you can’t put the notebook in backwards. While you’ll need to remove any protective plastic cover, the Air system slides right into the dock and only requires slight pressure for the ports to make contact, seat and connect. You need to be careful that the system is inserted straight down or the ports won’t line up. The system can be released with a slight tug.

The dock’s base has nonslip feet so it stays put on a desk and the notebook is securely held in place on the desk, but there are no tie-down screws for permanent installations in computer labs. Plus, unlike traditional horizontal docks, you can’t open the lid and use the system’s keyboard while its docked.

At the base, the dock has pass-through connections for the system's USB and mini-Displayport connectors. The vertical dock, however, doesn’t work with newer Thunderbolt-based displays, although other vertical Henge products work with Macbook Pro and Macbook Pro Retina models.   

Henge 11 aOn the top is where you plug in your power cord and there’s a handy power-cable guide on the side. Next over are audio and the system’s other USB port, which is out in the open and perfect for use with a wireless keyboard receiver or a thumb drive.

It’s the fault of the Macbook design, but there’s no way to easily connect the Vertical Docking Station to an Ethernet wired network for use in a computer lab. My solution is to use an inexpensive generic USB-to-LAN adapter, which worked fine.

Because the dock and Macbook Air rely on mini-Displayport for video, there’s a good chance you’ll need to get a video adapter cable for the display or projector The good news is that Henge sells ones for HDMI and DVI devices for $25 each, but if you shop around, you can get ones for half that.

There’s a trick you’ll need to use to get the Vertical Docking Station to work with a display or projector. Because Macs go to sleep when the lid is closed you’ll need to get the InsomniaX, NoSleep or Caffeine app which keeps the system from nodding off. Or, if you’re fast enough, plug the Macbook into the monitor you’ll be using and make sure it is sending the image to the screen. The, quickly unplug the mini-Displayport cable from the Macbook and plug it into the dock while inserting the system into the dock. It’s awkward but effective.

The dock connects in a matter of seconds, turning a 2011 vintage Air into a desktop system that’s connected to a 27-inch in full 1080P HD resolution. That’s a step up from the system’s native 1,366 by 768 resolution display.

At $65, the Henge Docks Vertical Docking Station is a true bargain, but only includes a 90-day warranty. This is not nearly enough to stand up to the rigors of school use.

The bottom line is that Henge Docks’s Vertical Docking Station can inexpensively turn any Macbook Air into a desktop computer with all the expected accoutrements. Just as fast, it can be released and resume its life as a notebook computer.


Henge 11

Henge Vertical Docking Station


+ Inexpensive

+ Doesn’t take up much space

+ USB and video connections

+ Rubberized interior

- Need cable adapter for video

- 90-day warranty

Charging Two-For

PVC-Cable-5Those teachers who need to live and work in both the iOS (iPhone and iPad) and Android worlds, never seem to have the charging cable at hand. It’s not a problem anymore with Yatra’s 2in1 Super Cable. The USB cable has a micro-USB plug for Androids but a tethered snap-on Lightning plug for charging an iPhone or iPad. The braided cable has been designed to last and has a three-year warranty. It’s available with plastic or aluminum plugs, cost $20 and could be the last cable you need to get. 

Surface Pro 2 Power Trip

1536 adapter frayed cordIf the electrical cables on your school’s Surface Pro 2 power adapters have started fraying, you’re not alone. It’s a common fault with the systems and for safety’s sake, it makes sense to get rid of them right away. After all, the shorted circuits can cause them to overheat or worse.

Since all SP2 systems are long off warranty, you’ll need to get a replacement power supply. Happily, there are a multitude of choices when it comes to solving your Surface Pro power problems.

Eb9378d6-2583-46fb-8e22-109c4f83e953_1.50875b4ba77af87db6b1a77f2958cc8fFor most, the first stop will be the online Microsoft Store to get a direct replacement adapter. If you like, you can get the exact replacement adapter (model 1536) from Microsoft for $80. It puts out the same 48-watts that the Surface Pro 2 needs to recharge and has a USB port for charging a phone or tablet at the same time. It should fit right in with a magnetic power port that snaps right into the SP2. That said, you can do better on price.

Delta surface Pro 2To start, you can get the exact same adapter from Delta, the OEM manufacturer that makes the original for Microsoft. It costs $38 – half as much and not only puts out a steady 12-volt stream at up to 48-watts it looks the same and comes with the needed magnetic power cord. Like the original, it has the Surface Pro 2’s oddball magnetic power port and you can plug it right into an AC outlet or use the included cord. A bonus is that the power brick has a USB power port.

Runpower sp2Runpower has a clone of the Surface Pro 2’s original AC adapter that sells for less than $25 – one-third that of the Microsoft adapter -- yet matches the original 48-watt adapter spec for spec. It not only has the SP2’s unique magnetic plug, but the same bulky AC plug. Like the original, it also has the handy USB power outlet for charging a phone or tablet and is thermally protected against overloads.

24W-200x200A good stand-in for the Microsoft original is Laptop Charger Factory’s $23 replacement AC adapter. Although its 45-watt output is a little below-spec and might require slightly more time to get a full charge, you probably won’t notice the difference. It has the Surface Pro 2’s magnetic power plug and has a big bonus: you can plug the Laptop Charger Factory's AC adapter right into an AC outlet rather than using a traditional power cord.

Bolweo sp2At about $16, Bolweo’s Surface Pro 2 power adapter is a bargain basement power supply and one-fifth the cost of the Microsoft replacement device. On the downside, it puts out only 43- versus 48-watts for the original device, so you might need to spend some extra time charging the system’s battery pack. The Bolweo adapter may be larger and not look like the original, but it has the SP2 unique magnetic connector, is UL certified, supplies the right voltage and protects against overheating or overcharging.

Listen to them Charge

Easy-Doks CR25With Dok Talk’s CR25, you can charge and power up to 5 USB-based devices. The power strip has an output of up to 10-watts per device, making the CR25 about as powerful as it gets for energizing phones and tablets; each has surge protection against current spikes. Regardless of what’s going on in the classroom, the CR25 continues to listen for Alexa commands and contains a wireless surround sound speaker system. It costs $189.


Toolbox in a drawer

DSCN34542-HighIt’s hard to believe that you can squeeze a whole toolbox into one of Kelvin’s handheld toolkits. The Kelvin.23 and Kelvin.36 tool kits are like Swiss Army knives on steroids that fold open to reveal a surprising variety of tools. While the Kelvin.23 has everything from a level and screwdriver to a corkscrew and bottle opener for after-school teacher “conferences.” The Kelvin.36 adds an LED headlight, hammer and other useful tools. Both are rugged enough to be run over and can help to tighten the leg on a desk or hang banners. They cost $30 and $50, are available in several colors and one should be in the desk drawer of every teacher.

Big Sound, Small Mixer

QscIf you think your auditorium needs a full-size audio mixer, look at QSC’s TouchMix-30 Pro. The mixer is just 7.5- by 18.1- by 16.9-inches and weighs 18-pounds, but has a prominent 10-inch color touch screen. Inside is a 32-channel mixer with 16 outputs, making it one of the most powerful small sound boards you can get. It features anti-feedback and room tuning set ups and the system has a 1/3 octave graphic equalizer for its outputs. Best of all, the whole thing can be controlled with an iOS or Android app so the room’s sound can be fine-tuned while walking around or sitting in the back row. It costs $1,900 and is light enough to be moved from room to room or school to school as needed.

Gotta Charge ‘Em All

Udoq_zpsimqvnjuqKeeping up with charging every phone and tablet at school is a daunting task, but one taken up by udoq. The charging docks come in a variety of sizes that can accommodate up to eight devices. For instance, the $129 tray is 10-inches long, while the $230 flagship is 27.6-inches long, although both come with four plugs to charge devices. The key is that the udoq’s charging rail has Lightning (for iPhones or iPads) or micro-USB (for Android systems) plugs that can be swapped and moved around to accommodate a variety of different designs. This gives uduq an incredible degree of flexibility.


Power Center

Powramid_Air_Black_Side_grandeEvery classroom needs at least a couple of power strips these days to keep everything from tablets to STEM gear fully charged up and ready for teaching. Accell’s $36 Powramid Air Power Center and USB Charging Station delivers 120-volt AC as well as more recent USB power in a single unit. Its six AC outlets are widely spaced around the circumference of the Powramid Air, leaving more than enough room so that none of those pesky AC adapters take up two outlets. There is also a pair of USB power outlets for phones and tablets on the edge. The whole thing is protected against a 1,080 Joule energy surge and the circular power strip has a 15-amp circuit breaker for extra protection.

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