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Freebee Friday: Back to the (Google) Classroom

Google classroomGoogle Classroom has just been heavily revamped for the new school year with things like the ability to recycle posts, integration into Google Calendar and the ability to make due dates optional, which can help with long-term projects. While you’re there, there are more than four dozen tips, tricks and hacks for getting the most out of Google Classroom.

Freebee Friday: Focus on Education

FocusUsing the Focus School Software system, teachers can concentrate on teaching and not the intricacies of several apps. The Focus system has three components (Student Information System, Enterprise Resource Planning and Learning Management System) that fit together like a hand in a glove to make using it second nature. It’s scalable from a small elementary school to an entire district and because it is browser-based, there’s no software to load, update and maintain and it will work with just about any computer.

Classroom Learning Pod

ParagonOld and new ideas for how to set up a classroom environment mix equally with paragon’s student furniture. In addition to traditional desks and chairs, the company’s A & D Activity Pods can not only hold a display but can be arranged in a variety of configurations to suite individual work or a group dynamic. Available in 60- by 60- or 60- by 90-inch sizes, the rectangular tables have rounded ends so that kids can gather around. The tables not only can be adjusted up and down but are available in a variety of colors and finishes.

Flip and Learn

Chrome Flip_White_ (1)If inexpensive notebooks have been dropping like flies at your school, Asus shows you a new way with its $250 Chromebook Flip C100. Well-made and just powerful enough to succeed at school, the Flip gets my vote as the best classroom notebook of the year, even though it’s only August.

The key to the Flip’s longevity is its pressed aluminum case that protects its delicate components better than a plastic case can. Generally reserved for more expensive systems, the dull-gray aluminum skin is gently rounded, looks great and is complemented by sophisticated bright edging. It’s sturdy enough to be grabbed by the screen and should stand up to daily abuse, regardless of whether it stays at school at night or undergoes the rigors of traveling back and forth every day.

Think of the Flip as a jack of all trades in the classroom that can assume four different computing personalities for different tasks. The first convertible Chrome system, it can be a traditional notebook with a mechanical keyboard for student writing assignments and teacher assessments but flip the 360-degree hinge all the way over and it’s a thick tablet with a 10.1-inch screen and the keyboard is disabled. In between the Flip can be a presentation machine for small group work or set up in tent mode.

At 0.6- by 10.3- by 7.1-inches, the Flip is halfway between the size of a small notebook and a 10-inch Windows tablet. Its 1.9-pound weight might seem a bit heavy for a tablet, but is spot on when you factor in the keyboard. It’s powered by a micro-USB cable and comes with a tiny power adapter that gives it a travel weight of 2.1-pounds.

Happily, the 10.1-inch screen is nearly flush with the surface, which makes for easy tapping, swiping and scribbling, although its wide 0.8-inch bezels around the screen are a bit large. It responds to 10 independent touch inputs for everything from marking up an assignment to an art class in finger painting. There’s no active digitizer, although it worked well with an off-the-shelf stylus, but its 1,280 by 800 resolution is second best compared to tablets, like the Surface 3’s full HD imaging.

Chrome Flip_White_ (10)It has an integrated graphics accelerator that has its own quad-core processor. Its screen is bright at 278 candelas per meter squared, rich and sharp. Unfortunately, its screen tends to wobble too much when tapped or swiped.

Inside is a mid-range computer that’s powered by a 1.8GHz quad-core Rock Chip 3288, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage space. Asus adds 100GB of online storage with GoogleDrive for two years; after that it runs about $2 a month.

Around its edge, the Flip has a power switch with a volume control as well as LEDs. There’s a micro-HDMI port for driving a projector or display along with a pair of USB connectors. On the downside, they are the older and slower USB 2.0 spec, not the newer one, but it’s a small price to pay. The system worked with everything from a memory key and LAN adapter to keyboard, mouse and Bluetooth speaker.

Its keyboard has 17.6 millimeter keys that are comfortable to type with, particularly when compared to the on-screen keyboard. The system’s speakers are under the wrist rest and pointed down. To my surprise they sound quite good and get loud enough for small groups. Beyond that you’ll want to use a pair of external speakers that are either connected via the system’s audio jack or Bluetooth

In addition to a micro-SD card slot that can accommodate up to 64GB modules, the Flip has Bluetooth 4.1 and 802.11ac WiFi for top wireless connectivity. For those who stay up nights worrying about remote connectivity, the Flip has a Trusted Platform Module (TPM).

While it won’t set any performance records, that misses the point of the Flip system. It should satisfy with the ability to perform most teaching-related tasks. Sure, it can’t run Windows or any of its software, but it was the ticket for browser-based services and the variety of Chrome software is increasing just about every day.

Chrome Flip_White_ (16)It started up in 8.2-seconds, two seconds faster than Acer’s Chromebook 13 CB-311. The Flip recorded 1,428 and 175 milliseconds on the PeaceKeeper and Sun Spider benchmarks, which puts it slightly ahead of the CB-311, but with about half the performance potential of LG’s desktop Chromebase all in one system. Still it’s more than enough for most classroom use.

There’s no cooling fan to make extra noise and cut into battery life. In fact, the system ran for 9 hours and 20 minutes on a charge. For some it will be more than enough for a full school day of use, but for others it will mean that the Flip won’t need to be charged every day. It was reliable and its video was remarkably strong with smooth streaming and good sound synchronization.

While it has a list price of $250 with a 1-year warranty, the DB01 Flip system that I looked at can be had for as low as $230 if you shop around. There’s also a $279 model with a generous 4GB of RAM. Either way, the Flip is a genuine steal and seems like it was designed from the start for school use. 

A

Chrome Flip_White_ (22)

Asus Chromebook Flip C100PA
$230

+ Great price
+ Four computing profiles
+ Full school day plus battery life
+ Bright, rich screen
+ 100GB of online storage
+ Size and weight

- USB 2.0
- Display wobbles when tapped

 

 

 

One-on-One Reading

Myon 3The latest release of myON pushes individualized reading instruction to the limit with new content, games, interactive elements and easy to find Lexile reading levels. Students get a reading journal, dictionary and graphic organizers, while the teacher’s dashboard has been improved with a bar graph that shows how many reading assignments each student has completed this month versus last month as well as the last one. Version 3 of myON is a free upgrade for current users of the program. All schools and district currently using myON will gain access to these new tools at no cost.

 

Wrap-Around Sights and Sounds

Benq xr3501It may have been made with gamers in mind, but BenQ’s Curved XR3501 monitor is about as good as it gets for doing detailed work like image and video editing as well as CAD and digital art at school. At $1,000, the XR3501 joins curved screens from Dell, LG, Samsung and HP, but the BenQ one has a very fast 144-hertz refresh rate as well as a curvature with a radius of a little over six and one half feet. It’s enough so that the 35-inch display feels like an immersive wrap-around display that sucks you into the material. Plus, you can keep four windows open at once without it feeling crowded.

Curved-Sound-Bar_1While a curved screen can look great, it can also mean flat sound. LG’s Music Flow HS8 Wireless Curved Sound Bar has a curvature that matches that of LG’s 34UC97 curved display and can radiate audio to a group of students. Inside the semicircular case are five speakers that can fill just about any room with 360 watts of audio. It has WiFi and Bluetooth built-in, works with Google Cast and is compatible with many popular universal remote controls. On the downside, it’s only available at Europe at the moment.

 

Freebee Friday: Count on Games

MatificOne of the best ways to teach math that sticks is to trick kids into playing games that stress counting, adding, and other arithmetic skills. Matific is a new site that starts with numbers and works up to more difficult skills and concepts. The site has thousands of activities so that teachers can concentrate on actual teaching first through sixth graders. There’s a nice dashboard for showing student progress, teachers can try it out for 30-days for free and between now and September 30th, the company is giving away everything from Chromebooks to gift cards to get school supplies.

Freebee Friday: LGBTQ Sports

TransIf you haven’t had to figure out which sports a trans-gender student can participate in, there’s a really good chance that you will have to sometime soon. Chris Mosier’s Trans Athlete Web site is a good start with everything from suggested policies and a state-by-state rundown on which areas are TG friendly to a good glossary of terms so everyone involved is on the same page. The best part is the documents page, which contains eight reports and guidelines.

 

 

Photo Dino

Bio petFrom earth science to biology, learning about photosynthesis is a mainstay of education, but what if you could show how it works. That’s the idea behind BioPop’s Dino Pet. Basically, a hollow see-through six-inch-long play dinosaur, Dino Pet is filled with bioluminescent plankton that turns sunlight into energy, but in the dark it glows a blue color. It costs $60 and has a slew of downloadable lessons, activities and classroom ideas.

 

Big Desk, Low Price

CHROMEBASE aWe all know that small, rugged and easy to maintain Chromebooks are taking the classroom by storm with a variety of inexpensive models, but if you think big (really big), Chrome works on the school desktop as well. LG’s Chromebase 22CV241-W packs a lot of classroom computer into a small price tag.

Because it’s a self-contained all-in-one system with a built-in screen and speakers, the white and silver Chromebase requires about 5 minutes of set up time. You’ll likely find that it takes longer to get it out of the box than to get it plugged in and working. You will need to screw the base into the screen, though, which requires a small Philips screwdriver. Unfortunately, the stand wobbles.

It takes up 20.9- by 7.5 inches of desk space and is 15.6-inches tall. The gorgeous 21.5-inch screen will be a big step up for most computer labs, library kiosks and study halls. It shows full HD resolution and can be customized to suit just about any room with adjustments for gamma, brightness and contrast.

The screen can also be set to Reader Mode, which reduces its blue cast to decrease eye strain when working with black characters on a white background. The only thing it lacks is a touch option as is the case with Acer’s more expensive Chrome-based desktop.

CHROMEBASE bInside, the LG Chromebase is a dual-core Celeron processor that runs at 1.4GHz and has 2GB of RAM. Unlike many other Chrome-based systems you can get inside and add or replace things like its memory modules. It comes with 16GB of built-in flash storage and includes 100GB of online GoogleDrive space for two years; after that it costs about $2 a month.

Rather than minimal ports, the LG Chromebase is equipped like a desktop with wired Ethernet, 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth built-in. There’s also an HDMI connector for using the system as a monitor, three USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0 ports and an audio jack. The screen has a handy clip in the back to neatly route cables into and out of the system.

On the downside, you can’t use the system with a projector or an external display, so it might not be so good for instruction to a large group. You also can’t read the contents of an SD card. I was able to use a generic SD card reader, though. Its USB ports worked fine with an external hard drive, memory key and for charging a tablet or phone.

There’s a Web cam and microphone up front for video conferencing and Web logs as well as a pair of 5-watt speakers that sound rich and full but don’t quite get loud enough to fill a good sized classroom. It has both a volume control on the monitor’s frame as well as one on the included wired keyboard; the Chromebase comes with a matching mouse.

It all adds up to a mid-range system that was able to start in 6 seconds, compared to roughly 10 seconds for most Chromebooks. It scored a 2,616 on FutureMark’s PeaceKeeper benchmark and 368.3 miliseconds on the Sunspider set of tests, which is roughly twice as powerful compared to Dell’s Chromebook 11 Touch and slightly behind Acer’s Chromebook 11 C740.

CHROMEBASE eWhen it’s running the system uses 41 watts of power, which drops to zero after an hour of being idle. If the system is used for 10 hours every school day during the year and idle the rest of the time, it should cost roughly $8.10 a year to run, assuming that power costs the national average of 12 cents per kilowatt hour.

With a 1-year warranty, the LG Chromebase is priced right for schools at $350, but if you shop around you’ll see it for under $300. One of the least expensive desktops around, LG’s Chromebase combines the power of a desktop with an excellent screen at the right price for schools.

 A

CHROMEBASE_1

LG Chromebase 22CV241-W

$350

+ Inexpensive desktop system

+ Includes wired keyboard and mouse

+ HD display

+ 100GB of online storage

+ Good assortment of ports

 

- Unsteady stand

- No touch screen option

 

 

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