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Digital Video Made Easier

Replacing analog video lines with a school’s networking cabling can not only cut costs and improve quality, but nobody said that the transition to using a network to distribute video throughout the campus was going to be easy. The latest gear can help with ways to put video in every classroom.

Startech hdmi with appStarTech’s latest HDMI over IP kit can not only distribute video over plain old network cabling, but with the company’s new apps, you can control it from a phone or tablet. The HDMI kit costs $430 and can be used with the company’s free StarTech.com Video Switching and Wall Control apps for iPhones, iPads and Android systems. At the touch of a finger, you can set up, control and choose among multimedia options as long as the tablet or phone is on the same network as the switching gear.

Tripp lite BHDBTKSILR-FRONT-LDistributing digital video often opens a can of worms because the signal needs to be periodically boosted. That’s where Tripp Lite’s family of HDBaseT extenders comes in. They support up to 4K resolutions and a variety of audio effects, like DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD. The devices can transmit uncompressed HDMI audio and video over roughly 2,000-feet of network cabling.  

Freebee Friday: Projector Four-Way

Epson screen322x572Epson’s MultiPC Projection with Moderator software can change the classroom dynamic by letting the teacher select whose tablet gets projected. It works with Epson’s latest networked projectors and is available for iOS and Android systems and allows annotations. The teacher can choose from among up to 50 connected tablets or phones to project and can send the screens of any four systems to the projector to show on the class’s big screen. On the downside, the software can’t handle video and you need to pick the files you want to show, but it can let the teacher share any students’ screens with the class.

 

 

Educating the Educators

EduvateWho teaches the teachers? The School Improvement Network’s Edivate has more than 2,500 professional development videos available for an individualized professional development learning program. The topics range from classroom management and data-driven teaching to technology and effectively working with parents. A single copy of Edivate costs $120 per teacher, but schools and districts can reduce the cost with a site license.

 

 

Print and Digital Together

Total motivation aWhy choose between print or digital content for students when Mentoring Minds provides both. Its Total Motivation K-through-12 curriculum is browser based and includes printed workbooks for a single license fee. Its curriculum covers reading and math, is aligned with the latest standards and the package includes a progress monitoring screen so that teachers can keep track of every student’s work.

Start to Finish STEM

Element aPasco’s Spark Element is for those who have suffered through supposedly compatible sensors, hardware and software only to find that you end up spending more time getting a classroom of gear to work than on experiments and labs with kids. That’s because the Element kit is specially designed just for school STEM projects and all the parts play nicely with each other.

Element is built around Pasco’s $200 Spark Element PS-3100, an Android tablet that essentially replaces Pasco’s more expensive and proprietary Spark Science Learning System handheld. The Element has a 7-inch screen and has been designed with school science classrooms use in mind. It’s not only tougher than an off-the-shelf tablet but is water resistant. It runs the latest Android 5.0 software and is not only thinner Fourier’s einstein Tablet+, but at 0.4- by 4.6- by 7.8-inches and 12.6-ounces, it weighs much less.

The Element slate easily fits into the palm of a fifth grader and comes with a soft cover that does a cool origami trick by folding into a stand that holds the screen at either 125- or 30-degrees. Inside, Element is typical Android slate fare with a 1.2GHz quad-core Atom processor, 1GB of RAM and 8GB of solid state storage, of which about 3GB is available for use. Its 7-inch touch-display can show 1,024 by 600 resolution, a big step up from the Spark’s 640 by 480 screen.

Element cThere’re Web cams front and back and the system has 802.11n WiFi networking as well as Bluetooth 4.0, which comes in handy when connecting to Pasco’s sensors. The tablet has a micro-USB, a micro-SD card reader and an audio connection.

Rather than using Android’s stock interface, the Element has its own look and feel. It is more tightly focused on science and data and gives children less of an opportunity to stray from the lesson. It comes with the company’s SparkVue and Spectrometry software, a nice file browser, a stop watch and a calculator, but the latter doesn’t graph functions. The biggest software shortcoming is that there’s no Web browser included. In fact, the only way to add apps is via Pasco’s online store, which is sparsely stocked at the moment.

At $200, Element it is a nice bargain for districts looking to set up a STEM classroom. It has built-in sensors for acceleration and sound, but lacks the Einstein Tablet+’s eight built in sensors that can measure anything from temperature and humidity to ultraviolet light.

What it can do is use one of Pasco’s connection hubs that provide access to the company’s more than 70 sensors. I looked at the $300 PS-3102 package that pairs the Element tablet with a Bluetooth AirLink 2 sensor hub. The Bluetooth connection box has its own battery so you’re not tied down to an AC outlet. It was able to run for over six hours on a charge.  

PS2011_330_135574As you might expect, the list of available sensors is deep and runs the gamut from an Alpha Beta Gamma Radiation Sensor to an XYZ Accelerometer/Altimeter. The company also has PASPort multi-sensor packs that can lower the cost and simplify installation by packaging several sensors into a snap-on package. For instance, the PASPort Weather/Anemometer sensor pack has meteorological items like wind speed, temperature and humidity, but it isn’t weatherproof.

The key to Element is that it uses the latest version of Pasco’s SparkVue software. It not only lets you select the presentation format and which of the available sensors to draw data from, but graphs the data on the fly in a variety of formats. It creates rich and vibrant plots that are ripe for analysis.

Able to lock the measurement settings, SparkVue can snap screen shots and save Journal entries for lab reports. The software can perform some moderately sophisticated analysis on the data or students can export it locally or to an online storage server for further work.

It’s surprisingly easy to get started. Just pick the type of graph you want, the sensors and the collection interval. Then, press the play button and the data starts flowing with every data point plotted on the graph. It can be automatically stopped after a set duration or when any of the sensors reach a certain value.

Sparkvue screenOverall, the tablet’s performance is adequate for its purposes, but often lags for a second or more to when moving between its apps or calling up a new experiment. It’s particularly slow when saving a graph as a Journal entry, so it requires a bit of patience.

Everything works well together, making for a quick set up and data acquisition, but Pasco doesn’t sell a case to store the gear (or better yet a classroom’s worth) when it’s not in use. The company provides a good assortment of labs that can augment any chemistry, physics or general science classroom as well as selling $49 lab manuals with between 25 and 38 activities as well as a CD of student material. To help teacher and student get started, there are thousands of lab documents preloaded on the system and dozens of online videos for general and specific tasks to help you get started.

All told, Element is one of the easiest, fastest and most satisfying ways to start up a STEM lab for teaching the next generation of scientists. 

A

Element b

Pasco Element PS-3100

$200

+ Complete hardware and software package

+ Good variety of sensors

+ Excellent graphing and analysis software

+ Curriculum and labs

+ Unique cover/stand

 

- Requires wired or wireless connection hub

- No storage case

Progress at a Glance

Open ed masterySure, Open Ed has a huge library of assignments, assessments and lesson plans, but the group’s Mastery Chart approach brings it all together. In a simple, easy to read format, it can not only show how each student is doing at a glance but it displays who’re leading and who’re lagging. With the requirements listed on the left and the class list along the top, it sets up a matrix of results that can be compared to the class average for each task.

Notebook to Projector

372Belkin’s Universal HDMI to VGA Adaptor with Audio can make quick work of connecting a newer notebook that only has an HDMI port with an older projector that only has a VGA connector. The adapter costs $40, a small price to pay to extend the projector’s useful life by several years. In addition to providing video in the right format, it can extract the audio layer from the HDMI stream so that it can be played via the projector’s audio jack. It comes with a cool adapter so that you can use it with a Chromecast device or one of the latest micro PCs.

Freebee Friday: Programing Lessons for Free

Cs firstThe future of technology rests on a new generation of programmers and Google is trying to train an army of creative coders for free. The company’s Computer Science First program uses the free Scratch programming language to get kids to start exploring how to program by writing their own apps. All you need to create a CSF club or class is to have enough computers available as well as an adult to supervise. It can be done as an after-school activity, during lunchtime recess or as a class during the school day and all the resources you’ll need, including projects, code samples and videos, are on the CS First site. 

Cool School

SRCOOL7KRM-FRONT-LGot a closet full of server racks that has outgrown its cooling needs, or maybe there isn’t any dedicated cooling at all? Tripp-Lite’s SRCOOL7KRM is here just in time for a new school year with a self-contained server cooler. At $900 it is money well spent that can prevent serious overheating damage to delicate servers. It can sit at the bottom of a standard 8U server rack, cooling an entire tower of systems and drives so that every bit and byte is protected against melt-down.

SRCOOL7KRM-OTHER01-LWhile the SRCOOL 7KRM can pump out 7,000 BTU’s of cooling upwards into the servers above, it evaporates any water it produces, so there’s no need for any special plumbing. The cooler is easy to use, requires a standard AC outlet for power and can be set to automatically restart after a power failure. With the company’s SRCOOLNET2 kit, it can be remotely monitored and controlled, so a district’s IT crew can observe the room’s temperature and adjust the unit’s cooling power.

Desktop Mighty Mite

Revo one aAs notebooks, tablets and phones become more prevalent in schools, look for desktop computers to start learning some of their tricks and better fit into the educational landscape. For instance, Acer’s Revo One makes a virtue of being small, powerful and – above all – stationary.

Unlike other desktop PCs, the Revo One is tiny compared to the typical desktop or tower case. While Apple’s Mac Mini and HP’s Pavilion Mini are a little smaller, the Revo One’s 6.1- by 4.2- by 4.2-inches dimensions mean that it will fit where other computers can’t. It can be set up on a shelf or even in a desk drawer.

There’s a power switch in the back as well as lights on top to show that it’s turned on and its drives are active. Still, the flagship Revo One RL85 model that I looked at packs the power of a full-size system with a dual-core Core i5 processor that runs at between 2.2- and 2.7GHz. The processor has 3MB of its own cache and my test machine included a generous 8GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive for $580. There are models more appropriate to schools that start at $250 for a Celeron-powered system with 2GB of RAM and 60GB of solid state storage, which can give Chrome machines a run for the money.

A bonus is that as small as the Revo One is, there’s room for two more 2.5-inch hard drives inside. Pull the cover off of the chassis and the drives snap right in. I added 500- and 750GB hard drives, which I set up as a RAID 5 array that can recover lost data from a drive failure. Alternatively, the system can also be configured to run as a simple set of disks for maximum capacity or RAID 1 mirroring for storing data that can’t be lost.

Revo one cIt may be small, but the Revo One has a Trusted Platform Module inside as well as an excellent assortment of ports that make it a good PC to build a computer lab around. In addition to a pair of USB 2.0 ports, there are two connections for faster USB 3.0 accessories. It can connect via its wired LAN, 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0.

The system’s video is handled by Intel’s HD Graphics 5500 graphics accelerator but without any dedicated video memory; it borrows up to 3.6GB of RAM from the system, which makes having 8GB of RAM a good idea. It has both an HDMI and a mini Displayport output for connecting to a projector or display, so it can even be used to support a pair of monitors at once. It has an audio jack and an SD card slot.

Because of its limited size, the Revo One does without two things. There’s no DVD drive, but you’ll hardly miss it. Plus, you can’t add a graphics or other specialty card to the system. It’s a small price to pay for such a small system.

While the system comes with matching a wireless mini-keyboard and mouse, the Revo One does a cool trick that roaming teachers will appreciate. With the free Revo Suite software for Androids, the system can be controlled from a phone or tablet, even if you’re on the other side of the room. It needs to be on the same network and have Bluetooth turned on to connect. The software is a little clunky and doesn’t show what’s on the system’s screen, but if the teacher’s screen is projected for the class, she can control what it shows from anywhere in the room.

Unlike the latest ultra-mobile devices, the Revo One has a cooling fan. It is quiet and the unit never got more than warm in over a month of daily use ina  variety of tasks from server duties to running math and science simulations. When it is being used the system consumes 22.5-watts of power, less than the power draw of a light bulb. In sleep mode, it uses 10.5-watts, but can quickly wake up after hitting the keyboard. This leads to an estimated annual cost of operation of just $2.50, assuming it’s used for 10 hours a day during the school year and off the rest of the time; I used the national average of 12 cents per kilowatt-hour in my calculations.

Revo one bDespite this lower power use, the Revo One has the power for a variety of tasks from video editing to teaching with an interactive whiteboard. It scored a 1,689.2 on PassMark’s PerformanceTest 8 benchmark tests that stress every part of a computer. That puts it at roughly three-times the output of most school computers.

Acer proves that good things really do come in small packages. In fact, the Revo One makes most desktop computers obsolete with its mix of size, price and performance.

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Revo one d

Acer Revo One

$580

+ Small, easy to hide desktop PC

+ Good performance

+ Can hold three hard drives

+ RAID, 0, 1, 5 set ups

+ Phone and tablet app remote control

+ Includes matching wireless keyboard and mouse

 

- No DVD drive

 

 

 

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