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The Ears Have It

Icelever boost careSchools usually buy the plainest black headphones they can, but they don’t have to. With the iClever BoostCare family of headphones, the class can listen to their podcasts, lessons and music with a little extra style. There are Cat-Inspired headphones in pink or blue with small ears, Christmas Reindeer antlers in red and Halloween headphones with bat wings in yellow and black.

They cost $17 (for the bat wing set), $20 (for the reindeer set) or $25 (for the cat set) and have adjustable headbands that are sized for small children with soft ear muffs. The headphones can be twisted and the 47-inch audio cord is not only tangle-proof but you can pull it without damaging the cable or 3.5-mm plug.

BatEach ear muff has a 30mm driver that delivers 20 to 20,000 hertz frequency response, roughly mirroring human hearing. They are excellent for listening to everything from spoken word programming to music to the audio output of edugames. None of them, however, have a volume control, but are electronically limited to deliver no more than 85 decibels of sound to tender ears, so there won’t be any damage.

These headphones sound as good as they look, and are perfect for the first few grades. They may cost a little more than the bargain basement headphones that schools generally buy, but these are different in that they include an 18-month replacement warranty that can be extended to 30-months, or two-and-a-half years, if you register.

Freebee Friday: Safe Schools, Step 1

School safetyThere are safe schools and those that are not so safe, but if you follow the National School Safety and Security Services’ checklist of best practices, chances are you’ll have a safe and secure school. The recommendations range from training and keeping your emergency plan up to date to reaching out to local first responders and having a social media strategy that’s part of a communications plan. Throughout the exercise, you need to be constantly reacting to new threats with a flexible school security plan. While the company can help by filling in the gaps in your school’s safety infrastructure, they have a very detailed outline on how to do it yourself.

4K for the Classroom

Xj-l8300HNWith the ability to run for its life without a bulb change, Casio’s XJ-8300HN projector adds a new level of detail with 4K imaging. With the ability to put 3,840 by 2,160 resolution images onto a classroom or auditorium screen, the projector puts out 5,000 lumens and has a 1.5X zoom lens. It’s based on a single chip DLP system, can shift its image up-and-down or side-to-side for a perfect setup and can fill up to a 12.5-foot screen. Happily, it has all the ports you’re likely to need today and tomorrow.

Touch the Future of Education

BrightLink-697UiIf you’re tired of using (and likely losing) those clunky digital markers for teaching with an interactive projector, Epson’s BrightLink 697Ui is for you. Sure, you can use the included pair of markers to write, draw or annotate on the projected image, but you can also do it all with your fingers like vertical finger-painting.

To start, the BrightLink 697Ui lives up to its first name by combining WUXGA (1,920 by 1,200) resolution with a spec-sheet output of 4,400 lumens, 20-percent more brightness than its competitors provide. It can fill up to a 100-inch (diagonal) screen, show four system screens at once and has been designed for ease of use from start to finish.

The price you pay for this is that the BL 697Ui is large at 5.0- by 18.7- x 17.6-inches – more than twice the size of NEC’s U321Hi-WK. A lot of that extra bulk is because Epson uses three polysilicon imaging targets, but the results speak for themselves with sharp, extremely bright images that are surprisingly rich.

There are five projection modes to choose from, ranging from Presentation (the brightest), Cinema (warmer images) and sRGB (more realistic) to Dicom Sim and Dynamic. You can also easily adjust the brightness, contrast, color saturation and tint to optimize it for each room and use.

On the downside, the dual-action of the BL 697Ui’s interactivity makes for a complex set up. Plan on it taking a couple of hours to complete. The reason is that there’s a lot to do with a separate control box for remotely turning the BL 697Ui on and off as well as switching between Whiteboard mode and connecting to a video source, like a notebook. There’s also a pen holder for stowing the pair of styluses.

Bl697ui cThe Touch Module is what takes the bulk of the extra time to install. It uses lasers to scan the board’s surface to sense where fingers are. It not only needs to be attached to the top of the screen or wall, but it can require reflector strips to be attached around the screen to reduce interference. It takes a sensitive touch to properly calibrate the lasers so they are neither pointed away from or at the screen. Happily, the touch unit has magnets in the back for those lucky enough to have a metallic screen. Others can use the included metal mounting bracket.

The good news is that the BL 697Ui comes with everything you’ll need, including batteries for the pens, all the cables and excellent mounting hardware for putting it on a wall. The mount allows pitch, roll and yaw adjustments; on its own, it’s a bargain at $109 with Epson’s Brighter Futures school discount.

It has every port you’d want for today or tomorrow, including a pair of HDMI, VGA, USB, RS-232 serial, three audio connections and two video-out ports. There’s built-in wired Ethernet and the BL 697Ui comes with Epson’s USB WiFi transmitter for wireless data, an option on many of its competitors. As is the case with other BrightLink projectors, Epson’s thoughtful designers have included a plastic cable cover that can hide a multitude of wiring sins.

Once everything is together, the BL 697UI pays dividends in terms of ease and flexibility of interaction that few projectors can match. When you turn it on, the opening screen shows the cornucopia of possibilities, from projecting the image of a PC or Mac and wireless transfer of a tablet or Chromebook’s display to a variety of PC-free operations, including free-form whiteboard mode, screen sharing and video conferencing.

Bl697ui bI used the BL 697Ui to mark up a colonial map of Africa, model a couple of sentences as well as mark-up the proof of the Pythagorean Theorem. It’s responsive with nearly instantaneous action whether you use your fingers or the markers. While you can use up to six fingers for an excellent group dynamic, the projector can handle interacting with two pens at once; they have a handy click button on the stylus’s side that can help navigating a connected computer.

Two things the BL 697Ui lack are the digital protractor and ruler of the U321Hi-WK that can make some classes easier to show rather than explain. The projector package does include a copy of SMART’s Notebook. Anything you mark-up on-screen can be printed or saved for future use. If it’s connected to the school’s network, the BL 697Ui can even email this material to a student home sick. 

The BL 697UI’s output is nothing short of stunning with ultra-sharp images, smooth video and rich saturated colors. It was able to put 4,830 lumens on screen in Presentation mode, more than 10-percent above its spec. This drops by 8-percent in sRGB mode, but it’s more than made up for with more naturalistic flesh tones and color balance. This means that the BL 697Ui can outshine even the brightest day with the shades up.

At its highest output, the BL697Ui used 391-watts, which drops to 2-watts when the projector is idle. Its replacement lamp is a bargain at $63 and an estimated lifetime of 5,000 hours; you can stretch that to 10,000 hours, according to Epson by using the lower-output Eco mode, but at the cost of reduced brightness. Still, if it’s used for 6 hours a day during the school year, you can expect the BL697Ui to cost only $73 a year to operate, assuming that you pay the national average of 12 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity. That’s one-third the cost of using NEC’s U321Hi-WK.

Slaves bLike other BrightLink projectors for schools, the BL 697Ui includes a three-year warranty as well as overnight replacement units should a failure shut it down. At $2,500 with Epson’s Brighter Futures discount, it’s worth every penny because it includes everything you need to teach, ranging from essentials (like the mounting hardware) to the ability to encrypt the data traffic and wirelessly connect 50 projectors together.

Rather than taking a short-throw projector and adding wireless markers piecemeal, the BrightLink 697Ui started from scratch with a new design that bakes in interactivity from the start and it shows. This is, without a doubt, the most versatile classroom projector made to date.


Bl697ui a

Epson BrightLink 697Ui

$2,500 (with Brighter Futures discount)


+ Pen or touch

+ Very bright

+ Includes mounting hardware

+ PC-free operation

+ Wireless activities

- Long set up

- Lacks some digital teaching aids

Open and Shut Case

SlideEvery laptop, tablet and many desktop monitors come with Web cams that you can turn off in the cam’s software, but what if a hacker has taken over the system and turned the camera on. It’s not a remote or theoretical possibility. How do you stop them from peering into your classroom? Most use masking tape, a Band Aid or a Post-It note to cover the camera’s lens, but C-Slide’s Webcam Cover 3.0 actually blocks anyone who has taken over the system from seeing who or what is in front of it. The 1 millimeter thick sliding plastic sleeve fits over any notebook- or display-based camera and can be pushed to cover the lens or leave it open. Available for $6 in black, white or gray, it’s better than taping over the lens.

Be a SongSmith

Screenshot_style_smallOne of the best things to come out of Microsoft Research is the company’s Songsmith program. The app can make anyone a musician by providing a sophisticated digital accompanying band to make any song sound better. It’s as if any tune can be a Karaoke sing-along. Just sing your favorite song, or write a new one, and the software creates a band to play as you sing. You’ll need to pick one of 30 musical styles – from alternapop to reggae to uplifting – and you can customize the tempo, mood and how your back-up band plays. It’s a free download to try out but Songsmith only works with XP, Windows 7, 8 and 10 computers and is good for only 6 hours of unpaid use. That should be more than enough for producing a few hit songs in the music room. After that you’ll need to buy it for $30, but one copy in the music room can go a long way to creating a generation of songwriters.

Freebee Friday: Everything You Always Wanted to Know about AV over IP

Atlona logoAtlona is hosting a series of online seminars that go a long way to explaining the ins and outs of how AV over IP works and how to make the most of this technology. Hosted by Seth Powell, the 20-minute Webinar will focus on identifying where you can use this valuable technique and how to optimize Atlona’s Omnistream devices. It’s followed by a 10-minute question-and-answer session. There are two presentations scheduled on Tuesday, Apr 18 and 23, starting at 1:30PM (Pacific time). Its free, but you’ll need to register.



One-on-One Testing

ChartsWe usually think about classes taking online tests all at once, but what about for the smallest students who can’t yet read or understand what an assessment is? ESGI has a guided approach for teachers and assistants to gather information on how well a student is doing with structured one-on-one sessions. It comes with more than 700 guided assessment outlines, including preschool, Kindergarten and several state tests. It’s easy to create your own tests that’re tuned to your school or range of students based on what you want to examine. After the test ESGI shows its worth by compiling reports for the school and parents, but its real worth is that it can create a set of individualized practice cards (in both Spanish and English) for the areas that the kids need to work on. There’s a 60-day trial, but after that a teacher’s license for up to 35 students costs $199 and the company offers discounts at the school and district level.


Round and Round

IF YOUR SCHOOL IS EXPERIMENTING WITH WRAP-AROUND VIRTUAL REALITY FOR CREATING home-grown apps, teaching story telling or just making a tag-along virtual field trip video, there’s nothing better than getting a 360-degree camera to catch the action. The latest – like Ricoh’s Theta and Samsung Gear 360 –  are small, light and easy to maneuver while delivering exceptional 3-D views of the world.


Ricoh_910740_theta_sc_spherical_digital_1288503With lenses in the front and back, each of Theta’s cameras grab full HD video that are stitched together to create a 360-degree spherical view of the world. Theta SC is surprisingly simple to use: aim, press the shutter button and do your thing. Once shot, you can edit the video as you would for standard frame clips. Then, Theta SC allows you to share the final product with students and parents. While you can accomplish most tasks on the phone (iOS or Android), there’re also similar Mac and PC apps for doing things like live streaming the Theta’s output.

In addition to video, Theta SC can create striking still images that at 14MB are incredibly detailed. The camera lets you adjust everything from shutter speed to the sensor’s sensitivity to light to get anything from a rich sunrise sequence to a point of view shot of skateboarding. It can save its video streams locally on its 8GB storage or transfer the Theta sc bridgedata via WiFi or a USB cable, but lacks a micro-SD card slot for expanding its storage potential. On the downside, the Theta SC has a limit of about 5-minutes of recorded VR material.

As is the case with other small cameras, there’s a slew of accessories that can make Theta SC that much more flexible. There’s a polycarbonate cover that looks like a small bell jar for extreme shoots where the camera might get hit or wet as well as a stand and extension bar for more static setups. You can also get a remote shutter switch that lets you stay out of the frame. The SC is available in five pastel colors and costs $300.


Gear 360 bLike the original Gear 360 camera, the latest version starts with a white golfball-like device with a camera lens at each end. Happily, the new Gear 360 has a sculpted handle making it easier to hold and harder to drop. In fact, it looks a lot like a car’s gear shift knob.

At 4.6-ounces, it’s heavier than the 3-ounce Theta SC, but smaller and easier to hold. The pair of cameras are capable of capturing spherical video streams of up to 4,096 by 2,048 resolution or wrap-around still shots of 5,472 by 2,736 resolution for startling 15MB images. If you want a conventional single lens image, it can easily shoot 3-megapixel photos.

Screenshot_20170405-072649On the bottom, the Gear 360 has a threaded mount so it can be screwed into a tripod or hardware to attach it to a bike or helmet for everything from a physics lesson to a VR look at graduation day from the podium’s perspective. Inside, the Gear 360 has a 1,160 milliamp-hour battery that can power the camera for more than two hours and store its data on a micro-SD card; it can work with cards of up to 256GB.

The Gear 360 is just as simple to use, with a power button as well as ones for starting the recording and making selections. All you do is turn it on, wait a moment and when everybody’s ready, press the record button. It makes an annoying beep when it starts and stops, but unlike the Theta SC, the Gear 360 has a small monochrome screen that shows its status, how much storage space is left, its battery status and the recording mode.

Like the Theta SC, the Gear 360 has apps for Android (Version 5.0 or newer) and PCs, but no editing software is available for Mac computers. In addition to editing stored VR videos, the software can stream the camera’s output live for events like basketball games. On the other hand, streaming video is limited to 2K video quality. The Gear 360 is only available in white and comes with a soft bag, USB cable and ring base; no word on pricing.

Adieu Vista

Vista XCreated a decade ago and old before its time, Microsoft announced that its support for Windows Vista is at an end. After April 11, there will no more patches or security updates to make using it safe and secure. While your Vista-based systems will continue to operate, they will be increasingly vulnerable and more and more new hardware devices won’t work due to the lack of enabling software. Next up on the No Support parade: Windows 7 in early 2020.

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