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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

Small but Powerful

BenQ_i500BenQ raises the bar for small projectors with the $750 Colorific i500, which not only can wirelessly stream video but can be a Bluetooth speaker as well. Small and weighing just 3.3-pounds, the i500 is powered by LEDs so there’s no expensive lamp to change, although the projector delivers 1,280 by 800 resolution at only 500-lumens so turn the lights off. It can do something few projectors can: directly stream video from YouTube, Netflix, Hulu and other services. 

Remote Therapy

Lightyear ScreenshotIf your district has chosen to do speech, occupational and behavioral therapy via video conferences, PresenceLearning’s Lightyear can help by minimizing its data requirements while adding games and other goodies to the product mix. This can help those in unserved rural and urban areas that high-speed broadband still hasn’t reached. All the online sessions are secure while delivering sharp video of the participants on the left with a large shared work space to the right.

More Gray Matter

COVER -Rubicon (front only)Getting elementary- and middle-school boys to read anything can be a teacher’s biggest headache and chore, but B.C. Tweedt’s series of Greyson Gray books can excite just about any male reader. Rather than mono-dimensional sports stars, astronauts or rap singers, the series shows characters for what they are: human and full of fun and frailties. The fourth in the Greyson Gray series, “Rubicon” is out and ready for reading groups. Available in Kindle, Audible and good old paperback book, it’s essential adolescent reading where the hero tackles everything from intolerance to terrorism.

Freebee Friday: Stop the Copy and Paste Essay

Traffic tools aPlagiarism checking software is de rigueur these days to prevent the copy-and-paste essay from dominating an English or Social Studies class. You can use Traffic Tools’s Plagiarism Checker to look for similarities to popular and obscure texts that are on the Internet by copying anything into its window. It’s good for up to 1,000 words, so the typical school essay should fit. It found four major passages were plagiarized in a 250-word passage I checked out, reporting “0% Unique.”

The good news is that the site has a slew of other tools, like for checking grammar and spelling, but the bad news is that it’s also chock full of banner adds that you’ll have to ignore. Be careful if you use this plagiarism checker because the site also has an Article Rewriter to avoid direct plagiarism. Just paste in the passage and it rewrites it, although the online app delivers gibberish on occasion.

Cloud Sale

Adobe cloud saleAs school starts, Adobe’s Creative Cloud is on sale for $20 per month per student -– a 60-percent reduction -– but there are heavy discounts for school- or district-wide purchases. The Cloud is the right set of image, video and Web tools for both teaching about these subjects and actually retouching photos, editing clips and creating action-packed Web sites. In addition to the expected Photoshop, Premiere and Illustrator, the Cloud now includes several tablet apps, like Spark (storytelling), PremiereClip (video editing) as well Photoshop Sketch and Illustrator Draw, two apps for drawing and painting.



Power in the Classroom

Z240HP’s Z240 workstation is a powerful system that can run basic programs like Word and Excel just as well as high-end ones like Premiere and AutoCAD, yet costs only a little more than a standard desktop does. Starting at under $900 for a small format system, the workstation features Z Turbo high-speed storage and the ability to add extra solid-state storage with an unused M.2 slot. You can get it with up to 64GB of RAM, Windows 7, 10 or Linux and the Z240 can now be ordered with a Core i7 6700K processor. Capable of running at between 4- and 4.2GHz, it’s a screamer and it comes with 8MB of on-board cache to streamline its operations. On the downside, it uses as much power as the typical light bulb and HP engineers needed to tweak the system’s fan to help the Z240 keep its cool.

Hp remote swEvery Z240 workstation comes with a copy of HP’s Remote Graphics Software (RGS), which can let a student remotely run any Z240 in the school’s computer lab from home. RGS has software for PCs and Linux systems right now, but there will be a version for Macs sometime before school starts. On the downside, there’s nothing for Androids and iPads. This software is just as good for allowing a teacher to prepare lesson plans from home as a student trying to finish a project in time.



The New Gym Class

ChairSince physical education was introduced in public schools in the 19th century it has been loved and dreaded equally by students, but dodge ball, jumping jacks and rope climbing are falling by the wayside in an era of computerized learning and testing. That doesn’t have to be so because there are a tremendous number of digital resources to balance a healthy mind with a healthy body at school. These three services can get everyone out of their chairs and running around.


Focussed fitnessFocused Fitness’s Five for Life program is an all-inclusive way to get elementary, middle and high school students up out of their seats and be more active at school. It has everything from a full phys-ed curriculum that’s chock full of activities to nutrition lessons that can make students into more-thoughtful eaters. Five for Life has an extensive video library for teaching about health, fitness and proper exercise technique. There’s curriculum for elementary, middle and high schools that costs between $144 and $675.


Online gym for meIf all you want is online classes that get kids moving, Online Gym 4 Me does the trick. There are 120 different activities available that run for 15- to 30-minutes, perfect for squeezing into a 40-minute period. There’s everything from fat-burning to yoga and pilates and even a tutorial on how to do a handstand. The program will set up a personalized workout routine with a mix of live and recorded classes. The service can be played on just about any connected screen, either individually or ion the big screen for an entire class. Annual memberships cost $4.90 per month and there’s a free two-week trial to see if it gets the sweat up. At the moment schools don’t get a discount, but the company is working on it.


WalkaboutsActiveEd’s Walkabouts is an interactive app that puts the physical in education for Pre-K through second grade students. It runs online so the software works on just about any connected computer and can change the way you think of gym and lessons. It’s all controlled by the Walkabout dashboard where you can create new activities, reuse old ones, look for lessons, print worksheets and manage classes and students. New activities start with picking the age group, subject and standard you want to work with. After all, it’s easier and more fulfilling to play with numbers or vowels and consonants than fill a whiteboard with them.


Custom Quizzes

Assessments-gradebookKids Discover Online has just added an Assessment module that lets teachers create customized multidisciplinary quizzes and tests. All you do is choose categories and the program compiles the assessment from the more than 5,000 questions available in social studies and science. If there’s nothing to your liking, go ahead and write your own. There are the expected multiple choice and true/false questions as well as short answer and ones that are meant to foster wide-ranging discussion. The grading of multiple choice and true/false questions is automatic and teachers can mix science questions into a social studies quiz.

The Myth of Running on Everything

MythwareGetting a classroom management package that runs on every platform used at school can seem like something dreamed up by Sisyphus, but Mythware (formerly Nanjing Universal Networks) can work just as well on Windows and iPads as Macs, Androids and Linux systems. That said, the Windows software is the most extensive with the ability to not only monitor and control individual student systems, but broadcast audio and video or create quiz question. Administrators can also set USB thumb drive policies as well as remotely start any system or close any app that’s running. You can try it out for a month with the ability to connect with up to 5 student systems.



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