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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.  



Kensington trackball c

Kensington Expert Mouse Wireless Trackball


+ 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

Up, Up and Away

Drone edWe see drones everywhere but these flying robots can help with STEM Education. The first step should be getting several copies of “Drones in Education: Let Your Students’ Imaginations Soar.” Written by Chris Carnahan, Kimberly Crowley and Laura Zieger, the book will be published this summer by ISTE press and is a complete look at how drones fly, how you can control them and where they fit into the modern school. More to the point, the book details the current legal structure surrounding drones as well as which type to get for indoor or outdoor use. The authors will present a program on the book and their curriculum at this summer’s Denver ISTE show. It costs $21.95 (for nonmembers) and $19.76 (for ISTE members).



Share and Share Alike Chromebooks

NComputing Chromebook 3The latest Chromebook from NComputing, the CX110, not only provides cost effective student computing at $200, but allows a school-day’s worth of different kids to share machines. By using the company’s vSpace client software, a single system can service several students throughout the school day. The system combines an 11.6-inch screen with 8.5-hours of battery life, according to NComputing. If you like, the system can be ordered with 6,000 video lessons from brainstorm.com in English, science and math as well as ACT and Advanced Placement test prep for $179.


Let the Sun Shine

SolarInvestigating Solar Energy” is Vernier’s latest printed lab activity book. As the name implies, its 11 experiments are all about using the sun to power our world. Aimed at K-through eighth graders, the $25 book looks at everything from solar energy and its variables to series and parallel circuits and require Vernier’s KidWind Solar Energy Exploration Kit, Vernier Energy Sensor and Surface Temperature Sensor


Freebee Friday: Meaningful Minutes

Science in 60The Science in 60 series from the Los Alamos National Lab is an excellent way to introduce complex ideas to a class in a short period. There are episodes on mini satellites, explosives, influenza and arctic meteorites. All are told from the perspective of the scientists involved and give students a rare look into what a career as a scientist might be like while giving them valuable information and concepts. They are all just over a minute long and live on Youtube.


VR, Here We Come

Predator G1_G1-710_02It may look like an overpriced gaming system with a particularly aggressive look, but Acer’s Predator G1 just might be the best way for schools to learn about and teach virtual reality. Thought to be the next step in storytelling, VR could be the next hit class at high school, but you need a high-end system to deal with the data flow and ultra-high-performance video. In fact, the typical VR segment requires 7-times faster data flow than the typical HD clip. The G1 succeeds with 6th generation Intel Core i processors, up to 64GB of RAM and top-performance Nvidia GeForce GTX graphics.

A Home for your iPad

Canvas-ipad-pro-creatorIt’s a fact of life at schools that iPads can require three hands sometimes to hold, tap and have papers handy. ISkelter’s Canvas Creator can help with a sturdy wooden base for an iPad that holds it, a stylus and provides a trough for holding a phone, a thin book or the pad.

Made of bamboo and machined to fit the 9.7- or 12.9-inch iPad Pro models, the Canvas Creator is about as natural as it gets. At 0.75- by 12.2- by 9.4- and 0.75- by 14- by 11.5-inches, respectively, the two models fit well on school desks. There are also models that provide some room on the side for a book or pile of papers, but these extend a few more inches.

It has been well sanded and has rounded corners, but the Canvas Creator base’s bamboo wood is unfinished and could stand to be oiled or protected with a polyurethane coating for longevity. On the other hand, if you spill something on it or it gets too dirty to clean, you can always just lightly sand the surface.

The pad fits perfectly into the Canvas Creator base with the screen nearly surface flush with the base. On the downside, the iPad’s side buttons and the rear-facing camera become inaccessible once it’s in place. It has a soft felt lining so that the iPad’s back doesn’t get scratched. If you like, the Canvas Creator base can easily be screwed into place on desks or a lab bench so that kids come into the class or lab and put their iPads into place.

To the right is a slot for Apple’s iPad Pencil stylus. It’s easy to drop in and remove, but the Canvas Creator base lacks a tether to keep it from getting dropped or lost. It’s not a surprise because the Pencil doesn’t have a place to attach a chain or string.

There’s also a handy trough for holding a phone, short book or a clipboard with papers – my favorite. If you want to work with the iPad upright or share something with a small group, you can put it into the slot. It sits at a comfortable 150-degree angle and is just as good with the slate sitting horizontally or vertically.

Canvas-ipad-pro-apple-pencil-accessory-17To the left is a cut out for slipping your thumb under the iPad to remove it from the wooden Canvas Creator. Unfortunately, the round indentation can’t accommodate the slate’s Lightning power cord without awkwardly lifting the left side of the iPad out of the base. In other words, the Canvas Creator’s key shortcoming is that you can’t charge and use the iPad for school work at the same time.

The Canvas Creator base comes in sizes for the 9.7- or 12.9-inch iPad Pro that cost $50 or $70. It’s a small price to pay for such a simple, yet powerful, base that can change the way you work and learn with an iPad.



iSkelter Canvas Creator for iPad Pro and Pencil


+ Made of sturdy bamboo

+ Holds pad and stylus

+ Trough for phone, book or clipboard

+ Screen sits flush

+ Stand for iPad


- Power cord doesn’t fit

- Unfinished surface

Bottomless Ink Cartridges

Mfc985dwxlTired of paying for ink cartridges for your classroom printer? Brother’s latest MFC-J985DWXL printer will not need new ink for two years, assuming you print 200 pages a month. That’s because the it uses Brother’s INKvestment system and comes with three sets of ink tanks. That should be enough for more than 7,000 black and 3,600 color pages, by Brother's estimates, or two years of typical use. The printer itself is no slouch with not only a built-in scanner that can put images onto a variety online storage systems, but a 2.7-inch touch screen. The printer has free apps for phones and tablets, can print with near field communications and create documents on both sides of a sheet. 

Let ‘Em Roll

Smart cart in useWhen it comes to recording and analyzing motion for a STEM project, there’s nothing like using automated sensors that are much faster and more accurate than human eyes and fingers. Pasco’s Smart Cart does this and more by providing a plastic cart with low-friction wheels that can take collisions of up to 100-Newtons. Able to carry a variety of objects, the cart’s sensors transmit its speed, acceleration and force data wirelessly. Its internal battery can be charged with a microUSB cord and the cart communicated via Bluetooth so you don’t need any special equipment on the receiving end. The $159 cart can be used to teach everything from the force of gravity and the conservation of energy to the difference between elastic and inelastic collisions.


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