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Paper Plus

Wacom babooSeeking to bridge the gap between actual ink on paper and digital bits stored in the cloud, Wacom’s Bamboo Slate and Folio (photo, left) pads not only let you scribble and draw with a real pen on actual paper, but the system saves what’s written for transfer to a computer. It all starts with Wacom’s Bamboo Slate (notepad) and Folio (letter-size) pads on which you can write anything from class notes and maps to geometry figures. The Bamboo pen saves it all and lets you send it to the company’s iOS or Android Inkspace app for editing and sharing. It all works with Evernote and One Note with Wacom’s free Basic subscription provides 5GB of online storage. The $3 a month Plus service adds workflow and 50GB of online storage. The pen and pad sets cost between $130 and $200.


Find that Chromebook

Aristotle locateChromebooks may be an inexpensive alternative for schools but they lag behind Macs and PCs when it comes to monitoring them and finding lost or stolen systems. In addition to filtering out inappropriate Web destinations, AristotleInsight K12 software can gather detailed usage stats and show on a map where every running Chromebook is. It’s not detailed enough to find the system left in a classroom closet at the end of the school year, but can show those that are home with kids or ones that have been stolen or lost. 


Freebee Friday: Collaborate with iWork

Iwork cloudThe latest version of Apple’s iWork lets kids, teachers and even parents work on a single document at the same time. It’s a big step towards catching up with Microsoft and Google software that makes it easy to invite people to work with you. For example, one student can insert a lab’s data chart, while a fellow student pops in images from the experiment and a third kid types the procedures and analysis sections. Everything is live and multiple students can edit anything they want to on the fly. It works with iWork software on iPads and Macs as well as those who use iWork for iCloud. Best of all, the new capabilities are free and should be available as an upgrade soon.


Chromecast goes 4K

CC Ultra_Bend2Along with the new phones, wireless speakers and routers that Google introduced, there was a goodie for those classrooms fortunate enough to have 4K displays. Google can make the most of their abilities with the Chromecast Ultra device. The Ultra model retains the previous generation’s hockey puck appearance and can wirelessly connect to a tablet, phone or notebook for everything from the latest videos to a podcast or ebook. The big addition is the inclusion of an Ethernet connector on the AC adapter that can speed the flow of data when WiFi isn’t reliable. It’ll be out next month and cost $69.


Teaching is Trending

EdthenaWhile statistics is a popular math class in most high schools, teachers and admins often ignore the lessons taught by numbers. Edthena’s Comment Stats tool builds on the company’s classroom observation video platform to turn comments by observers and coaches into statistically significant items aimed at fine tuning the teaching process. Comments by others as questions, suggestions, strengths and notes, all of which can now be reported on and graphed.

Printing a 3-D Future

Dremel-3D-Idea-Builder-roomIf you think of digital design and 3-D printing as the place where art and STEM curriculum intercept, it can lead to a new level of student creativity. Basically, any small object they can create on-screen can be made for the real world with the right software and a 3-D printer.

At $1,599, Dremel’s Idea Builder 3D40-EDU has everything you need to create a 3-D design and printing program at school. It’s perfect for group use and comes with a copy of Autodesk’s Print Studio software for PCs and Macs as well as apps for iOS and Android tablets. It also works with Microsoft’s 3D Builder, 123D Sculpt and Tinker CAD. On the downside, the 3D40 printer doesn’t work with directly Chromebooks.

The Dremel printer works by melting a Polylactic Acid (PLA) filament in a hot nozzle and layering it inside the printer. In addition to replaceable tape for the stage that the items are created on, the kit includes four spools of different colored filament and tools for cleaning the printer’s nozzle.

For something so complicated, the 3D40 was a breeze to get going. It took about an hour to set up the device, connect a PC to it, update the software and get the first model started. Unfortunately, the printer and software are sometimes balky, refusing to accept commands. This can make using the printer an exercise in frustration – at least at first.

Dremel buildingThe 20.3- by 16.0- by 15.9-inch printer fits comfortably on a countertop or extra desk, but make sure it is set up on a sturdy base because the printer’s head moves back and forth vigorously and can cause the device to wobble. The printer’s interior lights up brightly so kids can watch their creations come into being and the system can make objects up to 10- by 6- by 6.7-inches.

Inside, the 3D40 has a 2GHz dual-core processor, 2GB of RAM and 4GB of internal storage for designs. You can put designs on a thumb drive of up to 32GB of capacity; an earlier 3D40 model allows the use of SD cards. Happily, the files are lightweight and are generally less than a few megabytes each.

In addition to a USB port upfront for connecting a thumb drive, the 3D40 has an on/off switch and Ethernet port as well as WiFi for networking the printer. If you plan to network the printer, you might need to set up a proxy server, depending on how the school’s LAN is set up.

There’s a 3.5-inch color touch screen to make selections, display what the printer is working on and show the nozzle’s temperature while it warms up. The printer has hinged clear plastic doors on top and in the front with sensors that warn they’re open. The fact that you can’t lock the doors is short-sighted because the print head gets as hot as nearly 400-degrees Fahrenheit when in use, more than enough to cause serious burns on an inquisitive child’s fingers.

The printer uses the fused filament fabrication technique where a long spool of PLA string is pulled into a hot extruder head that melts it as it moves around the stage selectively laying down 100 micron (4 mil) thick layers of plastic. Unfortunately, the PLA has an acrid smell when it melts, so you might want to have a fan nearby. The PLA filament is 1.75 milimeters thick and is easy to get online or at Home Depot and hobby stores. It costs about $30 a spool that’s good for about 15 to 20 items.

Dremel screenAs the system extrudes layers of PLA plastic, it quickly consolidates, cools and hardens and you can see the shape of the item emerge. On the downside, the 3D40 lacks the internal video camera that the latest Makerbot Replicator+ has for monitoring progress.

Be warned, the process is extremely slow and only slightly faster than watching paint dry. While small things like key chains can take 20 or 30 minutes, a large and complex item can take as long as 9 hours to complete.

Happily, it has a printer queue so that kids can digitally draw their objects and send them to the printer to be executed. I found that putting the printer file onto a thumb drive and having the 3D40 do them one at a time works just as well. On the downside, the printer can only work directly with its own .gsdrem file format, which can be exported from the included Dremel or Printer Studio software.

There’s a whole world of potential objects out there from personalized name tags and tablet holders to molecular models and instructional aids, like a set of numbers and letters and a one-cylinder engine. At any time, you can let imagination and creativity take the lead by having kids start from scratch and design something original.

Alien thumb driveWith the 3D40-EDU product you also get 10 well thought-out lesson plans that range from a simple Pythagorean proof to how plasmids can transfer DNA into new cells. They include directions and all the 3-D building files needed, although some benefit from creating some parts in different colors, not an easy task. More are available at mystemkits.com.

For those teachers who are new to this sort of thing, Dremel includes an online professional development course that can get anyone up to speed on in the ins and outs of 3-D design and printing. It’s a four-hour self-paced class that can keep you a step or two ahead of your students.

At $1,599, the educational 3D40 kit is well worth the extra four hundred dollars over the basic printer. It not only breathes life into STEM subjects but its output is only constrained by the imaginations of your students.


Dremel 3d40 kit

Dremel Idea Builder 3D40-EDU


+ Complete kit

+ 100-micron resolution

+ Works with PCs, Macs and tablets

+ Replacement filament is easy to get

+ Included lesson plans and professional development course

+ Wide variety of projects available


- Slow

- Acrid smell of melted plastic

- No Chromebook apps

Stand and Deliver

Kensington tablet standIt’s now inexpensive and easy to turn just about any school tablet into an interactive device for the whole class. Kensington’s $130 Tablet Projection Stand not only turns the slate into a document camera but lets you annotate anything on its screen. The aluminum stand has padded jaws that can securely hold tablets with up to 11-inch screens while allowing it to be pointed and precisely aimed.

Paint Your Ideas

ThinkpaintWith ThinkPaint, any wall can be a place to do everything from drawing shapes, writing the alphabet and dissecting sentences to having math races. At $300 for covering 75-square feet of wall space, the paint-on whiteboard surface is cheaper than a standalone board and a single coating will last for years. Available in white, cream or a custom paint, you can get a free sample to try it out.

Freebee Friday: X Marks the NetSpot

NetspotThe hardest part of covering a school with WiFi often involves filling in dead spots after the access points have been installed. NetSpot can help with software that eases creating a site survey of a network’s strong and weak points. There are free apps for Macs and Windows systems as well as a $149 Pro version for Macs that adds the ability to use 15 different ways of looking at the data and can tap into hidden networks.

LAN in Hand

Netsctou g2Figuring out what’s wrong with a network can take hours of nosing around, but Netsscout’s AirCheck G2 can likely figure it out in seconds. The handheld network scanner can connect with a Wired Ethernet LAN or a 802.11ac WiFi connection and its 5-inch color touchscreen can present everything from checking Connectivity and mismatched wiring to looking for channel interference. It can not only help troubleshoot DHCP and Power over Ethernet problems but Cisco Discovery issues as well. All results can be saved to a cloud account for later comparison. It costs $2,193.53 with a case, AC adapter and cords.


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