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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.

Desk of Distinction

Smoth arcAll classroom desks are alike, right? Well, actually some, like Smith Systems’s ADA Arc do more. Available in a wide variety of color combinations, the Arc not only allows students to work on their own, but you can create a variety of collborative workspaces by putting them together. My favorite is the open-centered octagonal circle created out of eight individual desks. Because of Smith’s unique “Y” shaped legs, you can move the Arc up and down by 8-inches with only two adjustments. It costs about $250.

Sounds Good to Me

Scraft_SiImpactAngleYour school’s next assembly or fall musical can sound as good as if it were at a professional theater with Harman’s Si Impact digital mixing console. With 40-inputs and built-in digital signal processing, the Si Impact has motorized faders. You’d think that with all that power at your fingertips,  it would be too hard for kids and drama teachers to use this audio mixer. But, the Si Impact is as simple to use as an old school analog mixer. It sells for $2,800.

Gen 2 Loudspeaker

Pa419-02_views_400Califone’s portable loudspeaker just got better because it is not only 20-percent lighter, but can be connected to three microphones at once, has Bluetooth and near field communications built in. Perfect for everything from the daily school bus line up to making sure that everyone in class can hear the lesson, the PA419-02 has a 30 watt amp and built in speakers. It can connect via USB, SD card or a variety of connection jacks. The basic model costs $1,275, but if you want a pair of wireless microphones it costs $1,653.


CS16USB-OTHER01-LEvery time I see a shelf or table stacked with charging tablets surrounded by a tangle of extension cords and power strips, I want to scream. That’s because there’s a more organized and safer way to charge school slates that doesn’t involve using every outlet in the classroom. 

While I really like Griffin’s PowerDock 5 that can charge and store five tablets or small notebooks, it’s just the first step. Tripp-Lite’s Charging Station takes this idea to a new level with the ability to safely store and charge anywhere from 16 to 48 devices so they’re always ready for class.

Rather than the open shelving concept of the PowerDock5, the 16-portt Charging Station is built around a sturdy steel box that measures 14.5- by 23.6- by 17.5-inches and weighs a hefty 30 pounds. It’s available in black and white and there are taller versions that can accommodate up to 32- and 48-systems.

Whichever one you get, the Charging Station can be mounted onto a wall, shelf or floor. It can be ordered with casters and a handle for wheeling from room to room. The side panels are removable and the system has a hinged front door that can be locked at night or between classes; it comes with two keys.

I CS32USB-OTHER01-Lnside, the base model that I looked at has room for 16 tablets or small notebooks, like HP’s 11-inch Chromebook. The shelf height and dividers are adjustable to accommodate a variety of gear, including external batteries, mobile hot spots and powered speakers. An unexpected bonus is that the shelves are Teflon coated to reduce scratches from clumsy kids.

In fact, it can work with anything that requires USB charging. Built around Tripp-Lite’s 16-port USB Charger, it is UL listed and can dole out up to 2.4 amps of current at 5-volts for a peak output of 12 watts. This allows just about any small USB-based system to charge quickly.

The power is delivered from a strip of 16 USB power outlets. You’ll need a USB cable for each system being charged and the extra length can be coiled up. On the other hand, it’ll be neater if you get Tripp-Lite’s 10-inch cables for iPads and 12-inch ones for Android systems.

The system has a single grounded electrical power cord that can be fed through access holes in the back of the case, but it lacks a surge suppressor. On the downside, it will not work with a device that doesn’t use USB power. In other words, notebooks with AC adapters are off limits, but Tripp-Lite sells laptop charging gear. Unfortunately, there’s nothing that has both AC and USB power for mixing and matching.

Cs16usb cablesIt does more than charge tablets, though. The system has a USB 2.0 plug as well for connecting the Charging Station to a computer. This allows you to synchronize the tablets and get the latest software downloads. It also has a mini USB port for updating the Charging Station’s firmware.

In daily use, the Charging Station did exactly what it was supposed to: charge up tablets and small notebooks overnight or between classes. I used it with everything from a couple of iPads, Android and Windows tablets to video cameras and rechargeable TI calculators.

While the system only sends power when it’s needed, the Charging Station’s fan runs continuously, even if nothing is connected. It comes with a two-year warranty for $650, money well spent if it saves one tablet from being stolen or broken while charging.



16-Port USB Tablet Charging Station


+ Holds, charges and synchronizes up to 16 devices

+ Works with tablets, small notebooks and accessories

+ Sturdy and lockable

+ Optional casters and handle

+ Adjustable shelving

+ Two-year warranty

+ Up to 48-unit versions


- No surge suppressor

- Lacks AC outlets

- Loud fan




Power Mad

Thread carpetIf there’s one thing that today’s classrooms lack it is sufficient outlets to charge a class’s worth of tablets and notebooks while powering a projector. Steelcase’s Thread can put juice where it belongs with some innovative technology. Thread uses a thin modular track that is only 3/16-inch thick to convey AC power safely and inconspicuously under carpeting. This can not only reduce the cost of adding outlets by simplifying installation, but there are a variety of outlets available, including pedestals, in-floor and tabletop plugs.

Cable Central

130091USB 3.1 is here to stay and some of the latest notebooks (like the Chrome Pixel and new Macbook) have connectors you may not be familiar with or able to easily or cheaply get the cables you need. Monoprice has a good selection of the latest cables with quad shielding and reinforced zinc-alloy connectors at reasonable prices. The selection includes everything from a USB-C to USB-C cable ($24.99) and a USB-C to USB-A cable ($9.99) to a USB-C Male to USB 3.0 Female ($11.99), USB-C to DisplayPort Cable ($34.99) and USB-C to HDMI Adapter ($34.99)

Ear-Friendly Headphones

Kidz Gear Deluxe Stereo Headset Headphones with Boom Microphone - PinkDesigned for small children, Kidz Gear Wired Headphones are a bargain that could help kids save their hearing. The $30 headsets have an adjustable boom microphone and its 30-milimeter speakers can reproduce between 20- and 20,000 hertz, roughly the range of human hearing. The big bonus is that the volume control limits the output to about 86dBA, 20 percent of its peak output to protect their sensitive hearing. The headsets come in gray, red and buy and come with a lifetime warranty.



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