Today, learning happens wherever there’s room for teachers and students to meet, and the ZestDesk will be able to turn just about any surface into a desk or a lectern. The fold up desktop is available on pre-order for $385 and has a 22.8- by 25.1-inch work surface with an adjustable monitor or notebook stand; a second stand can be added for under $100. ZestDesk’s work surface can move up or down by six inches and it all quickly folds up into an easy-to-carry bag. All told, the aluminum ZestDesk weighs 12 pounds.
If you’ve ever looked out upon a class to see row after row of the back of screens, the Mira Vista Desk can change the computer teaching dynamic. Instead of putting the display on top of the desk it is hidden below, beneath a glass tabletop. That way the student can see the material and the teacher can see the student. Made of 1.2-inch MDF material with a rubber edging and either a wood grain or color laminate, the Mira Vista desk can be had in single and double versions. It has a channel for neatly hiding all the cables, a tray for a small computer and there’s a keyboard and mouse platform below the surface.
Having teachers and students bring their own computers has one big drawback: the smallest of them are nearly impossible to write anything longer than a text message with. Zagg’s Pocket is a fold-open keyboard that despite only taking up 9- by 2.5- by 2.5-inches has a full keyboard inside that’s 85 percent of a desktop device. The $70 keyboard connects via Bluetooth and has a handy ledge for a phone or tablet that turns it into the equivalent of a mini-desktop computer.
While the upcoming Ed-tech shows will no doubt give us more than enough new products for the classroom to think about, most of the technologies start at the Consumer Electronics Show. This week, Las Vegas is overrun with geeks in search of the latest gizmos and gadgets. With everything from displays and tablets to tiny PCs, it’s where the action is. Here’s a preview of what to expect from this year’s crop of announcements, introductions and exhibits, but be careful, many an impressive product has failed to materialize once the show ends.
For 2015, good things will come in small packages with HP’s mighty Mini, which packs a lot of power into a small rounded case. At only 2.1- by 5.7- by 5.7-inches or just over a liter of desktop volume, it’s about the size of a small book and weighs just 1.6-pounds. It can be attached on the underside of a desk, in a drawer or Velcroed to the back of a monitor for an instant all in one system. While the blue Stream model 200-010 Mini relies on a 1.4GHz Celeron, 2GB of RAM and 32GB of solid state storage capacity, the silver Pavilion 300-020 Mini is better equipped with a 1.7GHz Pentium processor, 4GB of RAM, 500GB of hard drive space. Both include 25GB of Dropbox cloud storage, but the Stream Mini adds 200GB of online storage space with Microsoft OneDrive for 2 years. The Minis start at less than $200.
Traditional notebooks are moving up in the educational world with the addition of Intel’s Core M processor. Take Samsung’s Ativ Book 9, for instance. It combines a seductive half-inch profile with lots of performance thanks to its 2GHz Core M-5Y10 processor. The system has a 12.2-inch screen that can show 2,560 by 1,600 resolution, but weighs all of 2.1 pounds.
is a convertible for all sizes. With models that have 11- and 14-inch screens, the Yoga 3 family can be used as a tablet, in tent configuration or as a standard keyboard-based notebook. The hinge rotates nearly 360-degrees, letting you swing the system’s HD touch-screen into the location you want it. While the larger Yoga 3 has a Core i processor, the 11-inch one comes with a battery-friendly Core M processor.
Economy and Simplicity are the watchwords for Toshiba’s Encore 2 Write tablets. There’ll be 8- and 10-inch models that have 1,280 by 800 touch-screen resolution displays. Powered by an Atom processor, the slates sell for $350 or $400, depending on screen size. They come with a Wacom passive TruPen stylus that can sense over 2,000 levels of pressure for precise writing sentences, equations or just doodling. The systems come with lots of note-taking software and a year’s subscription to Office 365.
Meanwhile, WiFi can speed up with Amped Wireless’s RTA 1200 router. By using both the 2.4- and 5-GHz bands, it can push up to 1.2Gbps of data to the classroom with longer range. Inside are eight 800milliwatt amplifiers that can boost the signal to fill those pesky nooks and crannies that are now not covered. It can block objectionable sites and set up a guest network for visitors. Price: $160.
A school of new routers might be overkill, when all you need is a set of high-gain antennas from Linksys that can boost WiFi range and throughput, filling in dead spots without a major investment. The WRTANT7 omnidirectional antennas work in both the 2.4- and 5GHz bands and have a RP-SMA connector that will work with most routers that have removable antennas; you might need to get an adapter for some equipment. By raising its sensitivity to 7dBi for 5GHz transmissions and 3dBi for 2.4GHz work, the antennas can broaden the reach of any network by about 30 percent. A set of four antennas costs $100.
Up close, Acer’s H7550ST short-throw projector has the power to change the way children are taught because it is the first projector with Goolge’s Chromecast built in. Just connect your tablet or notebook via Chromecast and the image is on-screen. Based on the latest DLP imaging chip, the projector uses a six-segment color wheel to create HD images. The projector can deliver a 9-foot image from less than 5-feet away and puts 3,000 lumens on-screen. It has 20-watt DTS audio, and will sell for $1,000.
When color counts, BenQ’s HC 1200 delivers. The digital light processing projector not only puts a sharp HD image on screen, but can reproduce more than a billion colors and show the full sRGB spectrum with twice the contrast of the typical projector. The HC1200 has all the needed input ports and can create up to a 25-foot image.
HD screens are now officially passé with the introduction of HP’s Envy 34c curved display. The $1,000 monitor has a 34-inch screen that is curved with a radius of about 10-feet so that everyone gets a good view and you don’t have to refocus your eyes by moving from edge to edge. Capable of showing 99 percent of the color gamut, it has 3,440 by 1,440 resolution, or more than twice what HD imaging has to offer. The screen has a pair of 6-watt speakers and the stand can tilt and swivel so that everyone in the class can see and hear.
If detail is your thing, Dell’s UltraSharp 27 monitor can put a startling 14.8 million pixels on screen – more than seven-times that of HD displays. Perfect for an art class or for teaching image editing, the 27-inch UltraSharp screen can be calibrated with Dell’s optional xRite iDisplay Pro colorimeter so the color is always perfect. The stand is a gem because it not only lets you adjust it up and down for different users, but the screen can rotate, delivering the traditional horizontal or long narrow vertical view that’s great for looking at Web pages or long documents a page at a time. It sells for $2,500 with a three-year warranty.
Best known for making rugged tablet and phone cases, Trident’s Electra charging cart can juice up and sanitize with UV light 30 tablets at a time so they’re ready for class. The cart has sturdy wheels, handles and an acrylic window to look inside. There’re also lights to show you want’s going on: the red light means that the tablets are still charging while green means their ready. At 36- by 15- by 22-inches, it is space-efficient and the tablets sit on pull-out plastic trays. Available in three colors, the Electra cart costs $1,700, but the required charging cables are not included.
Forget about rows and columns of desks with chairs neatly set up in a grid pattern because the classroom of tomorrow (and today, hopefully) is less formal and allows for ad hoc groups to form to work on problems, complete a project or just quietly read. Nowhere is this notion of change in the classroom more evident than in the latest thinking in school furniture. Whether it’s a padded reading stool or a self-contained desk on wheels, students are the winners.
The best classroom organizational ideas often show up where we least expect them, such as Paragon’s Blender seating. The upholstered Blender measures 18- by 18- by 36-inches and sells for $350. Several can be combined in a variety of shapes, including a hexagon and an undulating snake-like shape. Made of hardwood, plywood and foam padding, the seat is covered in a stain resistant vinyl fabric that’s available in 17 colors.
In a new take on a classic, Steelcase’s Node chair-desk can go both ways: it can live in a regimented classroom gird or be wheeled around for small group work. The molded seat is not only height adjustable but it swivels so that kids can interact with each other and the 7.25- by 15.0-inche work surface can pivot to make it easier to get in and out. Underneath, Node has a circular storage space that’s perfect for backpacks and stray books. You can even order it with a cup holder that makes a great place to stow pencils.
SmithSystem’s UXL Crescent Table takes this idea to the limit with a semicircular design that can accommodate two or more students on its own or be combined with others to deliver large work spaces. Measuring 29.5- by 72- by 36-inches, the Crescent system can be arranged in a variety of shapes, from a triangle to an undulating snake. It even has a connection center for kids and teachers to plug in.
Even the library can do with some updating these days. Openingthebook’s Reading Nook is both a padded comfy chair and a set of four shelves on the other side that can hold up to 140 books. It can comfortably seat a pair of small children for reading time. Made in Birmingham, England, there’s also a circular wrap-around version.
Sometimes the best way to deal with an over-active student is to let him burn off some energy, like with Virco’s Analogy Rocking Chair. An offshoot of the company’s Analogy 4-Leg design, the rocker has a contoured plastic seat that provides back support. The seat fits to the body and it has a plastic nub in the back to keep over-exuberant kids from tipping over. The chair is available in three sizes.
The ability of notebooks, desktops and tablets to wirelessly send images, video and sound to a Chromecast receiver and on to a projector can simplify delivering a lesson. Well, it just got a lot easier because you don’t even need a computer anymore. Toshiba’s Canvio AeroCast Wireless HDD not only holds a terabyte of data, lessons, videos and presentations, but can act as a WiFi access point for six clients. It can also connect with a Chromecast device for streaming all sorts of classroom content. The $220 drive has an SD card slot for adding storage and needs Toshiba’s Google Cast Ready app to cast to a projector or large display.
Epson’s WorkForce Pro 8590 printer not only works with the expected 8.5- by 11-inch sheets, but can handle up to 13- by 19-inch paper and fill them less expensively than the typical laser printer can. The device not only has a scanner, fax and network connections, but the WF Pro 8590 has optional secondary paper trays. Its 75,000-page duty cycle means that it can cover a school office, department or floor, replacing dozens of smaller printers. Based on the company’s PrecisionCore technology, it uses Epson’s DuraBright inks and can pump out 24-pages per minute.
Always wanted to teach from a standing desk but need the option to sit and work? Varidesk has the answer with a 30- by 23-inch work surface that can be set up at different heights to suit your mood or the work at hand. The cantilevered mechanism is spring loaded so that it can easily go from being 5-inches off of the desk to being elevated by as much as 15.5-inches. Varidesk’s Single model, which is good for one monitor or notebook, costs $275, while the $300 Pro version can accommodate two big items.
Tired of having to buy new cables to charge and connect phones, tablets and small notebooks because they just can’t stand up to the daily use at school? Rather than plain old plastic, MOS has a better idea: cables with strong anodized aluminum plugs, woven covers and protective electroplated spring covered ends, making them just about impossible to tear, rip or break. In addition to an audio jumper cable, there are USB cables with micro-USB or Lightning plugs for charging an Android, Windows or Apple iOS device.
On the downside, there aren’t USB extension cables, those for first-generation iPads or anything for USB 3.0 although the latter is in the works. Plus, the MOS cables don’t have anything like Trip-Lite’s reversible USB plugs that can make plugging-in a less frustrating event. The cables are a little pricey at $19 and $30 for the 3-foot micro-USB and Lightning models and $25 for the 6-foot micro-USB version. They work with the company’s ingenious $20 magnetic Kick base that holds the plugs in place until needed. It includes a three-pack of magnetic cable ties that can retrofit older cables for use with the base; extras are available in five colors at three for $5.
It’s fitting that these cables come with a lifetime warranty, so think of them as a one-time investment that will likely outlast anything you plug them into.