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Audio All Around

VG1-white-angle-lanyardWith SoundCast’s latest speakers, you can take digital audio everywhere the class goes, including outdoors and field trips. That’s because the VG1 handheld speaker not only delivers high-quality sound, but is waterproof and ruggedly built to stand up to abuse. The 1-pound package connects to phones, tablets and PCs via Bluetooth and has its own battery that can last for more than a full school day. It costs $149.99.

Freebee Friday: Google Gets a Sharper Focus

PhotoscanAs if the Google apps for editing and compiling photos and videos weren’t strong enough, the company has revamped the lineup and added some cool new ideas to digital photography. The new apps reveal a new photographic landscape for phones.

To start, there’s PhotoScan, a new app that is aimed at turning old analog photos into sharp digital ones for editing and manipulation. It’s as if your iPhone or Android phone now has a flatbed scanner built-in, but oddly, the software doesn’t work with tablets or Chromebooks.

Photoscan bJust put the photo onto a flat tabletop or pin it to a vertical corkboard and aim the phone at it. After positioning the photo in PhotoScan’s interface, press the capture button. Don't worry abouit trying to get rid of glare, we'll take care of that later.

Then the screen will will have four large dots on it that you need to aim for. They individually turn blue when PhotoScan is done optimizing the image’s sharpness, color balance and removing any glare. Last task is to frame the image and rotate it if necessary.

Photos editThe technique uses sophisticated artificial intelligence to simulate how we look at images to optimize them for our eye. The results speak for themselves with excellent sharpness and color. More to the point, it's a glare-free image. On the downside, it can’t help a ripped or severely curled picture.

Still, PhotoScan is perfect for everything from maps and cartoons to photos for a family tree. All told, it took about half a minute per shot to turn old photos into new digital images.

The revamped Photos app still can archive and share pictures for free if you agree to have them compressed, but now it has better editing tools and a more flexible automatic fix button. There’s the choice of a dozen preset enhancements for the image’s overall look as well as a technique for turning the sky bluer or warming up skin tones. If you want to, you can manually change the sharpness, light and color with a slew of individual slider controls.

The two apps work like hand in glove for getting the best shots out of a phone or turning old photos into new photos. Best of all, they're both absolutely free.

Freebee Friday: Apple Polishers

Apple teacherWhether it’s the informal help from a mentor or specific classes aimed at broadening an educator’s horizons, professional development is key to a satisfied and successful teacher. The Apple Teacher program starts with free help in integrating Macs and iPads into the classroom with curriculum, tips and tricks and stories about other teachers integrating technology into their classrooms. It all starts with an iPad app that takes you from the basics through how to see what each student has on his or her screen to doing things like creating time lapse sequences.  Those who want it can complete the training course and earn an Apple Teacher logo.  

Video without WiFi

Arlo_Gen4_LTE_Version-Viewset iso R top.2281There’s a new Arlo in town and it is a big step forward from the other second-generation surveillance cameras from Netgear. The latest Arlo Go Mobile Camera doesn’t need WiFi to move its video clips to Netgear’s cloud storage network because it relies on a high-speed LTE-based mobile data network, completely untethering the camera from a school’s network. Perfect for everything from covering the football field, parking lot or anyplace that the WiFi network doesn’t reach, the Arlo Go Mobile is weather-proof and can capture audio as well as video. It costs $450, uses AT&T for its data provider and will be out early next year.


Keeping a Mac’s Cool

Svalt composite bIt’s no secret that many MacBook Air and Pro models have trouble keeping their cool with fans that run full blast when you need lots of computing power for video editing or computationally heavy tasks. SVALT’s D2 Cooling dock can calm it down by blowing air into the notebook’s vents to keep it from overheating. Inside the flattened anodized aluminum pyramid is a huge heat sink along with an oversized cooling fan in the back that directs its stream of air right at the hottest part of the notebook. It works just as well with the notebook tilted at a comfortable typing angle or with the lid closed and connected to an external display. The D2 isn’t an on-or-off type of cooler, because its self-adjusting circuitry changes the fan’s speed between 900 and 3,600 rpm based on the computer’s temperature. The D2 Cooling dock costs $295.

LiftThere’s another way but you’ll need to be patient. That’s because Zenlet is currently seeking funds on KickStarter to manufacture its Lift handle-stand. The aluminum Lift weighs a little over a pound and its frame adds less than a tenth of an inch to a MacBook’s profile. it provides a sturdy handle for the system and extra protection in case you drop your precious MacBook. The top of the handle can raise the keyboard to three different angles, allowing extra cooling air to flow in. Current pre-sale pricing ranges from $119 for a 13-inch system to $209 for a 15-inch MacBook.

Small but Powerful

F210WN_LCasio’s XJ F210WN projector starts with a solid-state illumination engine that instead of a measly 1,000 lumens of light, pumps out 3,500 lumens of brightness for lights-on, shades-up lessons. Its combination of LEDs and lasers means that you’ll never have to change a bulb again. The DLP-based projector features a wide 1.5X optical zoom lens and the XJ F210 can fill a 25-foot screen with wide-XGA 1,280 by 800 resolution images. It has a pair of HDMI inputs as well as 2GB of internal storage that should be good for a semester’s worth of teaching material. There's a wired LAN connection, but you’ll need to get the projector’s $100 802.11b/g adapter to use WiFi. The best part is that the XJ F210 is not only easy on electricity, using a maximum of about 200-watts, about half that of comparable traditional projectors, but is small and weighs just over 8-pounds. It costs $1,000.

Take a Bite out of Science and Math

NewbyteNewbyte’s series of science and math programs set the standard for digital education. There are versions for everything from biology and physics to chemistry and math. Everything is interactive with lots of activities and the curriculum is thorough enough to pitch the printed textbook. On the downside, it only goes as far as Windows 7 and is expensive at over $1,000 per student, but there are school-wide discounts and a free one-week trial to see how it works.


The Big Read

116042bSchools need to emphasize not just reading for content, but reading for pleasure, and that’s what Literacy Unleashed does. Bonnie D. Houck and Sandi Novak team up to show how teaching reading remains one of the most challlenging and vital tasks a teacher can perform. By using the Literacy Classroom Visit (LCV) approach Houck and Novak can help administrators and district supervisors to evaluate and hopefully improve classroom instruction. The book has everything needed to set up a LCV program, from creating evaluation teams to maintaining common practices. The book costs $30, $22 for ASCD members.

Freebee Friday: The Encrypted School

Opera VPN aAll your grades and reports are encrypted on the school’s server, so why is most of your Web work out in the open for the wide world of hackers to view? The simple fact of the matter is that using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) can not only allow your Web journeys to be anonymous but everything you type and every place you go is secret and secure.

That’s because a VPN is built around a technique called tunneling that uses a Web browser’s Secure Socket Layer (SSL) security. Everything is encrypted using the powerful 256-bit AES cypher so it stays secret. The problem is that using a VPN requires special hardware at the host, can slow down a connection and cost a lot to operate.

That is until now because the latest version 40 of the Opera browser has a VPN built in. Rather than charging upwards of $60 a year or imposing data limits, it’s free to use as long or often as you like. The back-end of Opera’s VPN is provided by SurfEasy, which has connection infrastructure throughout the world and at any time you can turn it off.

The VPN add-on works with Macs, PCs, Androids and iOS systems, but you need to most recent version of Opera. To use it, all you do is type Control-Shift and N to get to a private Opera online session. The VPN logo shows up next to the address bar. Click on it and then Enable to get things started.

The interface not only shows your current IP address but shows how much data you’ve used. For most VPN’s this is because you need to pay per megabyte or month, but here’s it’s strictly informational. At this point, everything you click on or download is encrypted and is only rendered readable on your computer. Think of it as your own private Web and you get an idea of its potential for schools.

Opera vpn bThe performance is surprisingly good for all the encryption and decryption that takes place behind the scenes. Over the course of several weeks, I used Opera’s VPN for a variety of curriculum, email and online video sites with no discernable slow-down.

For my online connection, that translates into an increase in latency from an average of 15.6- to 19-milliseconds. My online connection downloaded data at 56.8Mbps, down from an unimpeded 61.4Mbps. Uploading data with and without the VPN turned on was unchanged at 26.6Mbps. All of this likely to not even be noticed.

There is one glitch, though: you’ll need to affirmatively click to accept the use of Adobe Flash every time you hit a Web site that uses it. It’s a small price to pay for adding such security for free.


Freebee Friday: Toward the Enlightened Classroom

Classdojo empathyThe ClassDojo app is more than a way for teachers and students to effectively communicate by sending out text, photos and videos. The Android and iOS apps can also be a tool for tolerance and emotional growth at school. The Empathy and Perseverance sections have cool animated videos as well as activities. The section were created with help from Stanford and Harvard Universities and can make the classroom a more equitable place.

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