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Light Up the Gym

LTG-HXB-High Bay-061016-027Is your gym’s lighting looking dull and costing a fortune everytime you turn on the lights for a class or event? Older mercury sodium lighting fixtures can be sapping thousands of dollars from your budget while not doing a good job of illuminating the room. The latest HXB Series LED High Bay Luminaire fixtures from Cree have LEDs instead and deliver 35,000 or 70,000 lumens at an unbeatable 140 lumens per watt of power used, 40 percent more than older bulbs. You can get the fixtures in 3,500-, 4,000- or 5,000K light colors, but they need to mounted at least 30 feet above the floor. The best part is that the LED Luminaire family have been designed to last for 100,000 hours of use, which translates into nearly 30 years of use for 10 hours a day – everyday. Needless to say, it means that you won't have to change their bulbs ever.

Good Screen Hygiene

Woosh_-7-1-1024x683Whether you’re a one-to-one school or one that moves computers around for kids to use, the screens – especially touchscreens – can be a reservoir for germs and the source of a flu outbreak. Whosh is a spray-on antiseptic with a synthetic anti-microbial cleaning cloth to wipe away dirt, grime, fingerprints and especially bacteria. It’s good for everything from a phone and tablet to a desktop display, and comes with a screen replacement guarantee if it damages the display. WHOOSH-3.4-Oz-GO-XL-835x1024

Just spray the liquid onto the cloth, wipe the glass clean and flip over the cloth to dry it. Happily, it cuts through accumulated fingerprints and dirt, but doesn’t leave streaks. It does leave behind a microscopic layer that resists fingerprints. The Whosh spray doesn’t have ammonia, chlorine or alcohol so it’s safe for kids. A one-ounce Whosh sprayer with cloth costs $10 and a combo of 3.4- and 0.3-ounce bottles is $20.

Instant Desktop

372 bWhen it comes time to write an essay, learn about sentences or take a test, every classroom tablet needs to be transformed into a mini-desktop that’s as easy to type with as it is to work the screen. Belkin’s family of Wired Keyboards can accommodate just about any tablet with a full keyboard and a stand that can hold the tablet steady.

Belkin sells versions of the wired keyboards that connect with most tablets on the market. To start, there’s one for early iPads that use the old-school 30-pin connection plug. The keyboard works with everything from the original pad to the third-generation one. It costs $60.

For those with newer iPads, there’s also a Wired Keyboard that works with Lightning port equipped tablets. It goes for $70 and is compatible with the iPad Air, Mini, both second generation pads as well as the newest Pro models. 

Finally, those schools that have Androids and small Windows pads, there’s a wired keyboard that connects via a 5-pin Micro-USB plug. In addition to Samsung’s extensive Galaxy line of tablets, it can be used with lots of tablets with a 12-inch or smaller display that has a micro-USB port. Happily, like the Android tablets they’re likely to work with, the $40 keyboard is the bargain of the bunch.

Using these keyboards in the classroom couldn’t be easier. Regardless of which you use, these keyboards connect to their tablets instantly, don’t require external power, batteries or loading any software on the tablet to operate. Just plug them in and start typing. The 26-inch cable won’t get in the way because it can be cleverly wrapped under the keyboard so it’s just long enough to connect.

Cable underneathOn the downside, you can’t charge iPads and most Androids while using the keyboard. Plus, those tablets with small bezels, like the Nexus 9, run the risk of losing a line or two that are covered by the stand’s lip.

The keyboards are not only more reliable than wireless ones, but the screen wakes up when a key is tapped. They have standard key placement with 72 keys, each of which is 18.5 mm with a comfortable 3.0 mm of depth, putting them on a par with larger desktop keyboards. Still, the keyboards take up only 12- by 10-inches of desktop space, are only 0.7-inches thick in the front and have enough of an inclination to make typing less of a chore.

In addition to dedicated multimedia keys for controlling media and adjusting the volume- up and -down, the keyboards have Search buttons and one that locks and unlocks the keys. They all have generous 4-inch space bars, Enter and Shift keys as well as a separate set of arrow keys in the lower right corner that double as Page Up and Down as well as End and Home. There’s a go-back key, Caps Lock LED, but the keyboards lack Function keys.

The keyboards are PARCC and SBAC approved for school use and have rubber feet to keep them from marring a tabletop or moving under intense typing. Each weighs 1-pound and 3 ounces and each member of the keyboard family have the bonus of a stand to hold the tablet securely either in portrait or landscape orientation regardless of how hard students type.

The micro-USB version I looked at is the most versatile of the three. It not only holds the screen at a tilt of about 40-degrees, but with the right adapter, it can work with a PC-based tablet that has full sized USB ports, although Belkin hasn’t tested them for this purpose.


It worked well with an HTC Nexus 9, Toshiba Encore as well as a Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 and Surface Pro 3, In fact, the only tablet or phone it didn’t work with was the USB C-based TabPro S. Best of all, when the keyboards aren’t being used, they can be stacked and can put away in a cabinet, drawer or the shelf of a cart.


30-pin keybaord

Wired Tablet Keyboard w/ Stand

30-pin plug for older iPads: $60

Lighting plug for newer iPads: $70

Micro-USB for Android tablets: $40


+ Inexpensive

+ Instant start up

+ Versions for iPads and Android tablets

+ No software or external power needed

+ PARCC and SBAC approved

+ Stand for tablet


- No touchpad or mouse connection

- Can’t charge tablet and use keyboard

Be a Notebook Cannibal

Satechi enclosure aEvery school has broken notebooks and rather than looking at them with scorn, disdain and guilt, look at them as a resource for future use. A boneyard for use in repairs, there are batteries, RAM modules and the system’s hard drive available for resurrecting other systems. 

I recently raided a dead notebook with a broken screen that yielded a working battery, 4GB of RAM and – the mother lode – a 500GB SSD storage system. The Crucial M500 2.5-inch drive will be the basis of an external hard drive that can store whatever doesn’t fit on my notebook.

The first step is to get an enclosure that will not only house the drive but has an interface for communicating with the host computer. Here, I selected Satechi’s $35 Type-C Aluminum HDD/SSD Enclosure. You can get it for $30 from Amazon.

Available in four colors, the drive box is made of pressed aluminum and despite being thin and light it’s rugged enough to take daily abuse. At 6.3-ounces with the drive in place, the drive can go anywhere during the school day and fits into a jacket pocket. The drive case has a single blue LED to show it’s on.

The kit comes with a screwdriver to loosen the two screws that hold it together and a 12-inch USB-C to USB-C cable. Unless you use a hub or adapter to convert the signal for USB 2 or USB 3 systems, it’s only usable with the newer USB-C based systems. This is balanced by the fact that you neither need to load any software to connect nor use an AC adapter to power the drive.

Satechi enclosure composite-2Inside is a Via Labs interface chip that can move up to 10Gbps of data back and forth and works with 1- or 2.5-inch hard drives and SSD modules, but not the newer M.2 cards. After plugging the drive in and putting it together, it worked on the first try with a Samsung TabPro S system, although it took up the tablet’s only USB port. That means that you can’t charge and use the system at the same time. It was able to play two 4K video streams at once and topped out at a throughput of 1.8Gbps, not bad for a salvaged part.

I now have a reliable and speedy external drive to catch the overflow from my notebook, holding everything from videos and images to lesson plans and presentations.


Satechi enclosure a

Satechi Type-C Aluminum HDD/SSD Enclosure


+ Inexpensive

+ Easy to install

+ Thin and lightweight

+ No software or external power needed

+ Good speed

- Doesn’t work with M.2 modules

Like a Breath of Fresh Air

Wynd_at_cafeRoom size air filters are too much for most schools to afford, but for the sensitive student or teacher, Wynd’s $139 air purifier can help and teach the class a thing or two about air quality. That’s because in addition to a physical filter, the Wynd system continuously monitors the air quality for particulates. This data shows up on an LED light that glows green if the air is OK, but the data is also sent to Wynd for incorporation into a world map of air quality. It can show air pollution trends and send out alerts. It’s currently an Indiegogo program that has raised more money than it needs to get started making Wynd units.

A Switch for The Better

Switchmate White ToggleNothing wastes electricity (and precious budget money) more than teachers and students leaving the lights on after the room has emptied, but rewiring with motion-sensing, timer- or network-controlled switches is expensive, complicated and require an electrician to install them. Enter Acer’s SwitchMate switch covers, which can turn the lights on and off when needed, and can quickly pay for themselves.

The switch covers are nothing short of ingenious and take 10 seconds to install. Rather than having to rewire a switch with new hardware, SwitchMate fits right over an existing toggle and rocker switch plate and is held tightly in place with magnets.

Inside, there’s a small motor that moves an arm to push the underlying switch on or off. It requires a pair of AA batteries (included) and you can hear the motor whirring while it’s working. While it’s a nice way to retrofit a light switch to be remotely controlled, the device raises the switch plate by about an inch and includes a small adapter you might need for some rocker switches.

Screenshot_2016-06-08-17-08-35SwitchMate’s Web site has a compatibility guide that will let you know ahead of time if the plate will work with your switches. At the moment, SwitchMate only comes in white and there’s nothing to remotely control an outlet, dimmers, half-size or press-button switches.

Once it’s in place, you can turn the light on and off by pressing the SwitchMate plate’s center. Switchmate comes into its own after you download and install the app for Android or iOS phones or tablets. Unfortunately, there’s no software for PCs or Macs. The app is very powerful, visually-oriented and easier to setup and use than WiFi-based automation gear. That’s because SwitchMates connect via Bluetooth. On the downside, the phone needs to be within range for it to control the switch.

Once your phone or tablet has made contact with the SwitchMate, you can name each switch (based on its location or the fixture it controls) and give it an identifying icon. At this point SwitchMate is ready for more important tasks, like turning the lights on or off at any time by tapping the phone or tablet’s icon. This alone would make it useful in the classroom after a projector-based lesson is about to start or has ended.

Screenshot_2016-06-08-17-08-28That’s just the start, though, because you can turn all your connected SwitchMates on or off at once. You can even program them to flick the switches on or off at any time on a set routine.

The switch can also be set to turn on when you get near enough for SwitchMate to sense your phone’s Bluetooth signature. Ironically, the reverse isn’t possible. It can’t turn lights off after a period when your phone isn’t detected.

The app can warn you when the switch cover’s batteries are about to die and the interface can control up to a dozen separate switches, plenty for a day of room-to-room migration. Each switch can be controlled by separate phones or tablets, which can allow different users to turn the lights on and off at a variety of rooms.

On the other hand, you’ll find that occasionally, the software can’t control the individual SwitchMates. After a little head-scratching, all you do is restart your phone’s Bluetooth radio and everything works fine afterward.

Unfortunately, SwitchMate is an island of technology that can’t be integrated into other automation schemes, but the company is working on getting it to work with Alexa’s voice activated home automation system. You can’t program SwitchMate to turn on at sunrise and off at sunset for outdoor security lighting or connect over the Internet to control the lights when you’re not nearby.

The switch covers worked on nearly every toggle and rocker switch that I could find, but even with the included adapter balked at one rocker. The way it works is uncanny and seems like magic, particularly when it turns on as you enter a room. At $40, SwitchMate can pay for itself in about a school year if a classroom’s fluorescent lights are turned off for an extra few hours a day.


Switchmate White toggle and rocker together


$40 per switch


+ Works with standard toggle and rocker light switches

+ 10 second installation with magnets holding it in place

+ Phone and tablet interface

+ Can turn on when phone is nearby

+ All on/off setting


- Won’t work with dimmers or dual switches

- Slight delay

- No PC or Mac software

The Lectern’s Ups and Downs

Amplivox ADA lecternAny lectern can be a scary place for new teachers or students, but to someone in a wheelchair it could be an insurmountable barrier. That is, until AmpliVox’s ADA Lectern with Power Lift, which can be raised or lowered from 31- to 41-inches with the flick of a switch. This corresponds to the difference between a seated or standing speaker. The oak-veneered lectern has a 43.5- by 23.5-inch work surface, 3-inch lockable casters and costs $5,900.

Best of ISTE: Go-Anywhere Tablets

TEC1000-InsideWith the TechTub 1000, you can carry around 10 tablets at a time so the right classroom has the right teaching equipment. The black and green boxes measure 12.5- by 16- by 14-inches and can charge and synchronize each tablet while they are plugged in. The case itself is covered for life, while the charging electronics have a 1-year warranty. You can see them at Booth 930.


Light Up the School

LTG-CPY-Canopy-042315-003Administrators who think they can’t do any better than fluorescent lighting need to bone up on Cree’s latest self-contained canopy or soffit fixtures that use LEDs to save on electricity. The Cree CPY20L can be ceiling mounted puts out up to 20,000 lumens of light and is a great way to light up a gym or outdoor area. the fixture's light is a pleasing 4,000 or 5,700-Kelvin that is less harsh compared to fluorescent lights. The big bonus is that because it uses long-lived LEDs, it will likely still be working after everyone working at the school has retired. 

The USB-C Survival Kit

Aukey usb C kitJust gotten one of those cool new notebooks, tablets or phones that only has a USB-C connector and you’re not sure how to connect it to projectors, thumb drives or even a mouse? You’re not alone, most people confronted with one of these next-gen systems are at a loss.

To help ease the transition, I’ve created a USB-C survival kit with what you’ll need to use, charge and connect your new computer to the rest of the school and world around you. The items come from Aukey and include a USB-C to USB 3.0 cable, an HDMI converter and hub as well as a USB-C to USB 3.0 converter for use with everything from an external drive to a printer. About the only thing Aukey doesn’t sell is a USB-C to Ethernet adapter for plugging into a school’s wired network, but there are plenty of them available.

I tried the cables out and lived with each of them daily with an HP EliteBook Folio G1 and Asus ZenPad S8. All the cables and adapters were well made, sturdy and came through with flying colors, although the ZenPad S8 doesn’t output USB-C Alt mode video, so it can’t work with the HDMI adapter; it worked fine for charging and moving data into and out of the tablet.

CB-c26The kit starts with Aukey’s CB-C26 USB-C hub, and for some it will be all they’ll need. It’s small, light and has five USB slots, one of which is a USB-C connection. The HDMI output can drive a projector or display at up to 3,840 by 2,160 resolution along with supplying it with high-performance audio. The black hub has a green LED to show that it’s connected, doesn’t need an AC adapter, unless you want to use it to charge a system’s battery. I used it with a bunch of thumb drives, an external hard drive, mouse and Epson PowerLite W29 projector.

Cb-c40If all you need is a way to send images and video to a display or projector, Aukey’s $20 CB-C40 HDMI adapter should do the trick. It can send images and sound from everything from a MacBook, Chromebook Pixel or just about any USB-C-based notebook to a display’s HDMI port. It worked just as well with an Epson PowerLite W29, an LG PH-550 projector and an AOC 27-inch screen. While the others are jet black, the HDMI converter is bright white and has a 6.5-inch soft plastic cord.

CB-CD5Aukey’s CB-CD5 USB-C to USB-C cable is perfect for connecting two systems together so they can share data and a charger. The cable has a nicely textured braided black 40-inch cable with high-quality USB-C connectors at each end. There’s also the $10 CB-CMD1 has a USB 3.0 plug at the other end and can be used with a conventional AC adapter to charge your USB-C system.

Cb-a1Finally, the most useful of the bunch is also the smallest, lightest and least expensive. It’s Aukey’s $7 CB-A1 USB-C to USB 3.0 adapter. Plug it into a USB-C port and it converts it into a USB 3.0 port ready for anything from a thumb drive to a printer.

While Aukey doesn’t sell these cables together as a kit, you can easily assemble them on your own, as I did. After you have them in hand, I suggest getting some Velcro cable ties so they don’t turn into a tangle. I went a step farther by putting them into an old zipper case that I now keep close at hand and take it with me when I travel.

While each item comes with either an 18- or 24-month warranty, if you register them with Aukey, they’ll add another six months to the coverage. If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably lose them before three years goes by.


Aukey usb c kit b

Aukey USB-C cables and adapters



+ Good variety of USB-C connection cables and adapters

+ Well-made, sturdy

+ Many have braided cloth cables

+ Good compatibility

+ Warranty extension


- Need to buy items separately

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