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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.

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Switchmate White toggle and rocker together

SwitchMate

$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.

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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

Sounds of Silence

01_Bose QuietComfort 35_SILVERTrying to listen to an educational game, podcast or music track with headphones can be impossible in the typical classroom because of all the ambient noise. That’s where the Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones come in. They not only cancel out the typical noisy classroom environment but connect with a computer or tablet via Bluetooth and have a near field communications touch-spot for instant hook-ups. At $350, they’re beyond the means of most schools, but they can turn a cacophony into a quiet zone. 

More Macbook

Tardisk pear bApple Macbook Air and Pro systems are popular school computers, but they often suffer from not having enough storage space for teachers and students to stash all their assignments, notes and videos. Tardisk Pear can double the internal storage in a sneaky way. It works with 11-, 13- and 15-inch models and uses the system’s SD card port to hold a tiny card with either 128- or 256B of space. The extra storage sits in a solid aluminum case below the surface and software integrates the extra space. The modules cost $150 and $400.

 

Crash Cases

Surface-Pro-4-Case-with-KeyboardHave you broken a Surface Pro because it just couldn’t stand up to the constant use, dropping and spills at school? MobileDemand has the answer – its X Cases for Surface 3 and Surface Pro 4 can protect them from even the clumsiest students and teachers. They cost $75 for the S3 and $90 for the SP4 for the basic case that protects the all-too delicate tablets and provides a place to stash the stylus. At $125 (SP4) and $110 (S3), the premium cases add a pull out stand, hand straps and VESA mounting screws. You can buy the cases on their own or with the tablets.

 

 

Have a Ball

Kensington trackball aLooking for a better way to control a computer’s cursor than the typical mouse for things like digital artwork, video editing and Web browsing? Kensington’s $100 Expert Mouse Wireless Trackball can easily put clicks and scrolls exactly where they need to be.

The 5- by 5-inch black trackball base sits firmly on a desk and has a two-inch bright red ball, although if you turn the base over, you run the risk of the ball falling out and rolling onto the floor. It has a snap-on wrist rest and the trackball can be a good choice on a desk or kiosk so small there’s no desktop room to maneuver a traditional mouse.

The best part of using the Expert Mouse Trackball is its middle name: Wireless, so there's not a cable to be seen. To get started, put a pair of AA batteries into the back of the device and either plug the included Nano USB dongle into your computer or connect it through the system’s Bluetooth page. If you use the Nano receiver everything is automatic and the trackball worked on the first try.

Trackball sw aTo set up the system’s Bluetooth link, you need to press all four of the trackball’s actuation to make the device discoverable and then click on the Expert Mouse Wireless Trackball in the computer’s Bluetooth screen. It also worked on the first try.

I used the trackball for everything from basic classroom uses (like Web browsing, playing educational games and working with spreadsheets) as well as more specialized roles (such as using Photoshop or math simulations). It not only was more precise than the optical mouse I had been using, but you can roll your hand over the ball to move between places quickly.

In addition to using the trackball’s individual four actuation buttons independently and assigning individual tasks to them, you can add two more actions by pressing the top two or bottom two buttons at once. There’s a central scroll wheel that lets you zip through a long Web page, which you can customize as to which way it is spun to go up and down.

The good news is that the trackball is ambidextrous, and unlike symmetrical mice, works well for righties and lefties. Under the skin is Kensington’s DiamondEye optical tracking system that smoothly and accurately registers where the ball is. You can make a slew of adjustments with the downloadable Trackball Works software, like changing the pointer speed and adding acceleration as well as changing the scrolling speed.

Kensington trackball bUnfortunately, you can’t adjust the trackball’s resolution, but the Wireless Trackball can be set to change its button settings based on the program that’s being used. There are versions of the Trackball Works software for Mac OS X (version 10.8 to 10.11), PCs (Windows 7, 8.x and 10) and the trackball works natively in Chrome systems.

To save power, the trackball goes to sleep when it’s not being used. That’s good in giving the batteries a longer life, and the set I used had no problem lasting for the 6 weeks that I used for several hours a day. On the other hand, it also means that if you use the host system’s Bluetooth to connect to the trackball, be prepared for the trackball to lag by a few seconds as it wakes up.

Kensington backs the Wireless Trackball with a three-year warranty, but if it’s like earlier Kensington trackballs, it will last a lot longer than that. At $100, it costs the same as Kensington's Expert Mouse Wired Trackball, making it a bargain in the classroom. There are much cheaper mice and trackballs available, but none that better put the cursor in its place.  

 

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Kensington trackball c

Kensington Expert Mouse Wireless Trackball

$100

+ Accurate

+ Customizable buttons

+ Bluetooth-based

+ Three-year warranty

+ Includes USB receiver

+ Wrist rest

 

- Can take a few seconds to wake up

- Ball can fall out

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