Forget about taking up every outlet in the room to charge iPads and other tablets one at a time because Tripp-Lite’s 16-Port USB Tablet Charging Station can do them 16 units at a time with a single plug; Tripp-Lite also makes units for 32- and 48-systems. Each charging system can draw up to 2.4-amps of 5-volt USB juice so every slate is ready for school. The sturdy black steel can be screwed into a wall, floor or shelf and has adjustable dividers or can be mounted in optional casters for taking it from class to class. The vault-like steel door can be locked at the end of the day or between calsses. It comes with a 10-foot power cord has a powerful cooling fan and costs $675 with a two-year warranty.
We all know that critical classroom visits can mean the difference between a static teacher and a growing one, but what’s the best way to do these observational visits? ASCD’s “17,000 Classroom visits can’t be wrong: Strategies that engage students, promote active learning, and boost achievement” may be a mouthful, but it’s a thorough how-to manual for classroom scrutiny with practical suggestions on creating engaging activities, using feedback and shifting the emphasis from teaching to learning. John Antonetti and James Garver show how to create valuable educational insight from classroom walkthroughs. The 190-page book costs $28.95, $21.95 for ASCD members.
In an OverDrive-based digital library, ebooks are just like physical volumes, only better. The software lets students browse the catalog and check-out ebooks that can be read on free versions of OverDrive for PCs, Macs, Androids, iPads and Chromebooks. Everything has a due date when the ebook is automatically returned to the collection for another reader. Along the way, OverDrive can not only display the material in several fonts and sizes, but adds definitions, bookmarks and the ability to search the entire book. You can even use the software for audiobooks, which can be played at a variety of speeds.
Often, hearing a book read by a good narrator or group can be as good as having the class read it to each other, but audio books can be expensive for a library to get. Enter Librivox, which collects and offers for download a good assortment of public domain books. From over 100 books by Charles Dickens and Rupert Brooke’s poetry to Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” and a variety of Shakespeare’s plays, the site has an eclectic mix that can augment many classes with spoken audio. Each comes with a description, rundown of chapters and often a link to online text downloads. While most of the roughly 20,000 volumes are in English, there are many in French, German and a smattering in Arabic and Urdu. If you like what you hear, you can either donate to help this non-profit or – better yet – set up a class project to record a book for others to enjoy.
Lenovo’s innovative Yoga Tablet 2 can do one big thing that other slates can’t: in addition to its expected four modes of viewing and interacting, you can easily hang the tablet on a wall. This might not seem like a big breakthrough and before seeing it in use, I didn’t think that it was all that important. However, after using and hanging it, I’m convinced that this little change can have a big impact on teaching.
Yoga 2’s step forward is surprisingly simple and is based on its fold-out leg. The leg can hold the tablet up at angles from nearly vertical to 30-degrees, but can be a bit of a chore getting it out. With it, the Yoga 2 can be used flat on a desk, as a presentation machine, as a stand-alone tablet or with its included keyboard as a small notebook.
The key is that its sheet-metal leg has a small oval cut-out that can be used to hang it from a nail, hook or screw like a picture on any wall. It took me less than a minute to securely hang it on a plaster wall. This not only allows teachers to set up small group classes in odd places that lack traditional school furniture but allows schools set up the tablet on a wall without expensive mounting hardware.
It results in the ability to turn any vertical surface into an interactive teaching zone, whether it’s a repurposed corner or library catalog station. The best part is that when you’re done, the tablet can be lifted from its hook and off you go.
The rest of the Yoga 2 is no slouch either. It weighs 1.4-pounds and measures 0.3- by 10- by 7.2-inches. On the whole it’s a little bigger and heavier than an iPad Air 2, but the Yoga 2 has a slightly larger 10.1-inch screen (verus 9.7-inches). Its most prominent feature is the large cylindrical bulge for its battery that widens the case to 0.8-inches at the bottom.
This makes it more stable when used on a tabletop by putting most of the weight low. It also means that the battery can actually help by forming a handle when you’re holding the tablet vertically – righty or lefty, it doesn’t matter.
The display can show 1,920 by 1,200 resolution, responds to 10 touch inputs and is flush with the case, which eases writing on the screen. Unlike many of its competitors, the Yoga 2 doesn’t include a stylus, but worked well with a generic stylus.
Below the screen is a pair of speakers at the bottom corners that unlike many tablets, like the iPad, point directly at the viewer. The sound is remarkably rich and crisp thanks to Lenovo’s use of the Wolfson’s WM8753 24-bit Master Hi-Fi audio chip, which is made by Cirrus Logic; it uses Dolby audio.
Inside is Intel’s Atom Z3745 quad-core processor that runs at 1.3GHz, 2GB of RAM and 32GB of solid-state storage space. In addition to a pair of cameras and the expected WiFi and Bluetooth wireless, the system has the bare minimum of ports, including a micro-USB, micro-HDMI and an audio jack. Under the fold-out stand is a cleverly-hidden micro-SD card slot.
At $370, the Yoga 2 might appear to be kind of expensive compared to 10-inch Windows slates like Toshiba’s $250 Encore 2. But, the Yoga 2 comes with its add-on keyboard, something other charge as much as $100 for, which levels the buying field. Rather than physical contacts, the keyboard connects with the tablet via a Bluetooth link, so it needs its own battery. Its small battery uses a micro-USB port for charging and should be good for weeks – if not months – on end.
While the keyboard doesn’t have a USB port or a mechanical latch, it delivers 17.4 millimeter keys, a textured touchpad and useful shortcut buttons for multimedia and volume, including a handy mute key. It’s held is place magnetically and works well with the pull-out leg, but is better for working on a desk than a lap.
Happily the two fold up to a small package that weighs just over 2 pounds and can be stashed in a backpack or small book bag. On the downside, it’s all too easy to hit the on-off button when trying to adjust the volume because the three buttons are too close together.
If you don’t want the keyboard, you can get virtually the same system with Android software and half as much storage space for $250. Be warned, though, you’d be missing out on one of the best mobile keyboards around.
Based on its Atom-based hardware, the Yoga 2 performed admirably, but is no screamer. It scored a 543.5 on Passmark’s PerformanceTest 8.0, about one-third the potential of a Core i5 system. Having an extra gigabyte or two of RAM would probably have helped here, but it’s not an option with the Yoga 2. Over two weeks of daily use, it acquitted itself well and didn’t let me down, although some of the keys were a little sticky.
The pay-off for the Yoga 2 using a low-power processor is that its 9,600-milli-amp-hour battery can run for 9 hours and 15 minutes on a charge for playing videos continuously over a WiFi connection. That’s nearly three-and-a-half hours longer than the Encore 2 is capable of and should be plenty for even the busiest school day.
The system I looked at is available only in black, has a one-year warranty and includes Windows 8.1 with Bing software as well as a year’s subscription to Office 365. It’s got Lenovo’s SHAREit app preloaded for wirelessly distributing documents and classroom materials. For the polyglot classroom, the software also works with Android tablets and iPads.
All told, the Yoga 2 seems like it has been designed for the classroom from the start with adequate power, long battery life, an included keyboard and one of the best stands available. But, the best part is that at $379, it is not only several hundreds of dollars less than an iPad (without a keyboard), but a small fraction of what the Toshiba Portege Z10t goes for. This makes the Yoga 2 a superior tablet that schools can afford.
$370 with keyboard base
+ Innovative hanging stand
+ Includes keyboard
+ Battery life
+ Small and light
+ Office 365 included
- Adequate performance
Regardless of all the conspiracy theories about vaccines causing autism, they do one thing extraordinarily well: protect students from a variety of once-fatal diseases, like measles and whooping cough. But, only if everyone – or nearly so – are vaccinated. That’s where CareDox fits in. The health database stores all pertinent health records in an encrypted form online and puts an end to parents filling out the same forms year after year. The data ranges from vaccination records and allergies to vision and dietary restrictions. CareDox is smart enough to track visits to the nurse’s office to look for health trends and the service allows school administrators to retrieve the vaccination and other records in an instant instead of digging through the nurse’s file cabinet.
The latest in desktop scanners is Epson’s Perfection V19, which combines 4,800 by 4,800 dot per inch images. It has a seductive $70 price tag and lots of new features, like the ability to create images in as little as 10 seconds. It doesn’t need an electrical cord because the scanner is powered by its USB connection to a computer. The device can directly scan to online cloud resources, like DropBox and Evernote, as well as directly create .jpgs, .pdfs or email the image.
The cure for sedentary students (and teachers) is Ergotron’s $475 LearnFit Adjustable Standing Desk. It not only gives the class the flexibility to work sitting or standing at whatever height is most comfortable, but can improve posture, circulation and alertness throughout the school day. Just press the small lever under the 23- by 24-inch desktop to adjust its height from 31.8- to 51.4-inches, allowing the LearnFit desk to accommodate everything from a skinny fourth grader to a hulking high-school senior. The all-black desk can be rolled into place, has a rugged phenolic laminate surface and comes with a five-year warranty.
MimioClassroom has a series of online seminars coming that can push classroom interactivity – and education – to a new level. The three half-hour presentations can be scheduled for your choice of day and time, but you’ll have to act quickly because the time slots are filling up. All you have to do is register and schedule the online seminar.
The schedule includes:
- Getting More from Your Lesson with Mimio, which details techniques that can encourage teachers and kids to interact with new and existing lessons.
- Classroom Collaboration with Mimio can help to get kids and teachers to work together and develop collaboration skills.
- MimioConnect’s PLN: Join Our Flagship Community is all about participating in Mimio’s online community and detailing what it has to offer.
As classes get bigger, the danger is that the teacher won’t be heard by all, but Califone’s VoiceSaver PA283 can make sure everyone can listen in. The $150 kit is all you need to get the word out with a 3-watt amplifier and built-in speaker that can be clipped on a belt and connects to a headset via a Bluetooth link. It has a lithium ion battery pack that should last the whole school day.