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Chromebook that Swings

2_built in samsung penThe latest Chromebook from Samsung not only has a screen that swings over to convert it from a keyboard centric notebook to a tablet but has two versions. While the base Chromebook Plus uses a six-core OP1 processor and costs $449 while the Pro version has an Intel M3 6Y30 that runs at between 900MHz and 2.2GHz. Both systems weigh 2.4-pounds, have 4GB of RAM, 32GB of solid state storage as well as a pair of USB-C ports. Regardless of which model you get, the system’s 12.3-inch ultra HD screen is capable of 2,400 by 1,600 resolution and it comes with a stylus.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Ixl reccommendationsThe latest update from IXL Learning is a new page of personalized recommendations for each student that covers areas that could stand some extra work or practice. It’s available for all IXL K-12 adaptive learning programs and presents students with problems in areas where earlier work wasn’t up to grade or for the student to try out a new task. The program’s personalization works with each skill that IXL’s software covers.

Tablets on the Cheap

Tablet compositeMaybe you don’t need to get and expensive tablet to fill your school with digital education. The truth of the matter is that there are now inexpensive alternatives that are just as rugged and powerful, but cost much less. A case in point is the latest two-in-one systems from Asus, E Fun and Insignia, which all deliver Windows 10 for less. They also include the snap-on keyboard that can turn the tablet into a fully-functioning notebook.   

Which of the three you get depends as much on your school’s need for long-lasting systems, how big a screen is right for your classrooms and how much – or little – they cost.

                                EFun Nextbook Flexx 9

NextbookThe NextBook Flexx 9 is the value choice among tablets, which lets districts deploy more for less or specify that this is what parents should buy for their children. The Windows 10-based system starts with an 8.9-inch wide-XGA screen and includes a quad-core Atom processor and a scant 1GB of system memory that will likely prove to be too little. You get 32GB of solid state storage and the ability to add up to a 64GB SD card if that’s not enough.

The system should be able to run for a full school day in light of its 4,900 milli-amp hour battery pack. It provides the minimum as far as connections goes with a full-size and micro-USB ports. The system has a micro-HDMI connection for plugging into a monitor or projector and you can get online via its WiFi and Bluetooth systems. All told, at $98, it is the bargain of the school year, particularly in light of its inclusion of Office Mobile. 

Insignia Flex 11.6" 

4421400_saIt may not include a stylus but Insignia’s Flex 11.6” tablet does a lot for $200. Based on a quad-core processor, the Flex comes with Windows 10 preloaded and 32GB of solid state storage capacity, which can be augmented with an SD card. It has USB 3.0 and HDMI ports for connecting with the world.

With the largest display of the three tablets here, the Flex’s HD display can present material in full 1,920 by 1,080 resolution, something the others can’t. The system comes with 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth for online work. It lacks the pull out stand of the T102HA but the Flex has a snap-on keyboard that just might be the most comfortable of the three to use, is 0.4-inches thick and weighs 1.8-pounds.

              Asus Transformer Mini T102HA C4 GR

T102haAt $279, it might be more expensive, but the Asus Mini T102HA takes the idea of spending a little more to get a lot more to the extreme. It also uses a quad-core Atom processor, but its wide-XGA display is 10.1 inches, in between the larger Insignia and smaller EFun systems.

It allows you the luxury of 4GB of RAM as well as 64GB of solid state storage. Like the other two tablets you can add more with an SD card. The system can connect with 802.11AC WiFi and the latest Bluetooth 4.1 accessories and it has a thoughtful loop for holding the stylus while it’s not being used. The T102HA’s pull-out back leg allows the system to sit up on its own, something most tablets can’t do. For those who like the personal touch, the T102HA’s keyboard not only snaps into place, but can be had in four colors.

The system’s metal case is strong and rugged and the whole thing weighs in at about 1.8-pounds. It comes with a full-size USB 3.0 port, the T102HA has a micro USB port and a micro-HDMI connection for a projector or display. A big step forward is the systems fingerprint scanner, which can be used to log into a network, online storage facility or Web site. 

Teacher Collab

Waggle. Growth MapWhile the emphasis lately has been on getting students to work together to complete tasks, teachers need to collaborate as well and Waggle can help get them on the same page. The Interactive Growth Map and new Dashboard can help teachers work together to monitor a student’s progress. Users can slice and dice the data on demand to show who’s succeeding and who’s lagging in any class so that a school’s resources can be best deployed. The key is that rather than just test data, Waggle provides teachers with access to their and other classes practice problems for a more holistic view of each student.

Gotta Charge ‘Em All

Udoq_zpsimqvnjuqKeeping up with charging every phone and tablet at school is a daunting task, but one taken up by udoq. The charging docks come in a variety of sizes that can accommodate up to eight devices. For instance, the $129 tray is 10-inches long, while the $230 flagship is 27.6-inches long, although both come with four plugs to charge devices. The key is that the udoq’s charging rail has Lightning (for iPhones or iPads) or micro-USB (for Android systems) plugs that can be swapped and moved around to accommodate a variety of different designs. This gives uduq an incredible degree of flexibility.


Freebee Friday: Help from Grammar Girl

Grammar girlLearning the syntax and grammar of English is never an easy thing for small children, but there’s online help from Grammar Girl, aka Mignon Fogarty. Her site on Quick and Dirty Tips has everything from the difference between Farther and Further to how to correctly pronounce etcetera. There’s even a section on the pesky problem of pluralizing words that end in an s. Everything is light-hearted and many of the lessons have videos.

Freebee Friday: Making the Most of a 3-D Printer

ThingverseThose casting about for 3-D printer projects, Thingverse’s Quick Projects page has several that make the most of lessons and the gear. In addition to lesson plans for making book report projects and key chains, the Thingverse site has ones that allow students to create model buildings or 3-D objects from drawings. My favorite is the decoder ring that can teach not only about 3-D printing, but letter frequency and breaking codes.


Online School’s in Session

Vhs computer sciEven though it’s one of the most important skills for the present and future, many schools struggle to provide computer literacy beyond using the basic Office apps and mostly ignore computer technology and programming instruction. That’s where the Virtual High School fits in with a new curriculum and certificate aimed at computer science. The courses include Visual Basic and Java programming classes as well as VHS’s year-long AP Computer Science Principles course.


Power in the Palm

Shuttle bThe era of the bulky and power-hungry desktop computer has long since passed, but it has taken a few years for a replacement to appear. Pint-sized PCs, like Shuttle’s NC02U can match its predecessors task for task, but take up less space and uses a lot less power. It may not be the best performing PC around, but at $150, the Shuttle’s price can’t be beat for a variety of classroom uses.

At 1.7- by 5.6- by 5.6-inches, the Shuttle PC is among the smallest full computers around and occupies roughly 0.8-liters of space. It weighs in at 1.5-pounds, meaning that you can Velcro it in place or use the included VESA mounting hardware to put it on the back of a monitor turning any display into a DIY all-in-one PC. It has rubber feet and includes a two-legged stand for stand-alone use.

In addition to a power button and SD card slot, the Shuttle has USB-C and USB 3.0 ports up-front for quick access. The back has connections for video with HDMI and Displayport plugs, but the system’s power input requires the included AC adapter. There’re connections for a pair of USB 2.0 devices and an audio jack as well as a gigabit wired LAN port and 802.11n WiFi.

Oddly, it does without Bluetooth wireless capabilities. In other words, you might have trouble using a wireless keyboard, mouse or speakers with the Shuttle, but I used a USB Bluetooth adapter without any problems with it.

If you use older STEM hardware, you’ll like the inclusion of an RS-232 serial port. On the downside, if you want to use the stand, you’ll need to get a right-angle adapter or run the risk that the serial port plug won’t fit.

Basic in the extreme, the Shuttle is powered by a 1.6GHz Celeron 3855U processor that is far from state of the art. In addition to not having things like Turbo Boost speed control and Hyperthreading, the processor does without Intel’s vPro manageability extensions.

Shuttle aThe system I looked at is a bare bones unit that doesn't include RAM or storage. Happily, despite its diminutive dimensions, there’s room inside the Shuttle’s case to fit an extra 2.5-inch hard drive if you need more storage space.

Under the skin, it uses Intel’s HD Graphics 510 with 128MB of dedicated video memory that is augmented by the system RAM that raises the amount of usable video memory to 2.1GB. For a budget computer, it does surprisingly well with the ability to put 3,840 by 2,160 resolution video onto a screen and can drive two displays at once. On the downside, when it’s working hard, the Shuttle blows hot air upwards if you use the stand.

A jack of all trades, the Shuttle comes as a bare bones unit without an operating system, but can work anything from Windows 7 through the current Windows 10 as well as Linux software. My test system used Windows 10 Pro. With 4GB of RAM and 32GB of SSD storage space, the system mustered a passable 1,254.1 on the Passmark 8 benchmark suite of performance tests, which puts it on a par with many current mid-range tablets or notebooks available. It can’t touch a high-performance PC but that’s not the point of the Shuttle, which can go where more powerful desktops can only dream of.

Along these lines, the Shuttle systems is a power miser that uses only 15.4 watts of power while working full blast. That drops to 0.4-watts when it’s in sleep mode. If it’s used for 10 hours every school day, expect that the Shuttle will cost only $4 per year to operate if electricity costs 12 cents per kilowatt hour, the national average.

Shuttle dIt has two more power tricks up its sleeve that can cut energy bills further. It can be set up to wake up on a network command so it can be dormant until needed. The Shuttle can also be set to turn itself off at the end of the school day and then start itself up before anyone arrives in the morning.

Unlike so many of its peers, Shuttle stands by the NC02U with a three-year warranty that makes the standard one year of coverage seem second rate by comparison. It promises lifetime support as well.

In other words, the Shuttle NC02U is not only one of the smallest and lightest desktop PCs around, but it’s one of the most economical to get and use.


Shuttle c

Shuttle NC02U



+ Inexpensive

+ Windows 7 through 10 and Linux

+ 3-year warranty

+ Includes mounting hardware

+ Tiny and economical


- Mediocre performance

- No Bluetooth

Project for Less

Touchjet pondIt’s not for everyone, but if 80 lumens of light is enough to light up your small-group lesson, the Touchjet Pond projector should do just fine. At $600, it is a mighty mite that can create an interactive 80-inch image on a wall or whiteboard, just keep the lights off and the shades down. It has a full Android computer built-in, includes WiFi networking and can react to four touch inputs at once. It comes with a pair of interactive pens and a remote control.

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