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Freebee Friday: A Big Boost for Schools

Learnboost reportingWhile every school needs a digital infrastructure for enrolling students, holding grades and even organizing curriculum standards, many can’t afford a commercial service. That’s where LearnBoost comes in. It is a freebee that uses Google Apps and other software to create as close to a comprehensive approach to school management as is possible. There’s software for everything from student lists, attendance and grades to lesson plans and parental inclusion. There’s even a nice section that can graph student progress for reporting purposes. It’s free and provides a nice counterpoint to commercial school software.

The Display Does a Wheelie

Displays2go standLarge displays don’t do a school any good if they’re not where the kids are, and Displays2Go’s TV stand lets teachers wheel them into and out of classrooms. Capable of holding up to a 180-pound screen that measures 70-inches, the display is held in place at up to 5 foot 7.5 inches by 600- by 400- millimeter VESA mounting hardware that can accommodate a variety of displays in portrait or landscape orientation. It has a 15.8- x 11.8-inch shelf for a DVD player or computer as well as four casters that can be locked, making it hard for it to roll away when not in use. A single stand costs $210.21, but if you get 17 or more that drops to $176.14.

Tomorrow’s Science Education, Today

Planet 3There’s no shortage of online science curriculum, but the upcoming Planet3 looks very promising. It’s a nature and physical sciences site aimed at middle school science classrooms that is led by Tim Kelly, the former president of National Geographic and it uses the planet as a way to teach not only the expected STEM subjects, but the arts as well. Everything will be NGSS-based and will use games and interactivity to lure students into its content while having them use data and observations to build their own knowledge base. Look for it later this year, but you can see a preview of it right now.

Azio’s Gaming Mouse Teaches Schools a Thing or Two

Gm2400 bCheap generic mice have met their match with Azio’s GM2400 optical mouse because it doesn’t skimp on features but costs $12 and comes with one of the best warranties in the business.

At 3.9-ounces, the 1.8- by 2.8- by 4.6-inch device is larger than most generic blob-shaped mice, so it might work better for middle- and high school students than for younger elementary ones. It feels good in the hand, slides easily on a variety of surfaces and comes with a 5-foot braided fabric USB cable that will outlast competitors. Its surface has an inviting soft rubberized coating, but is only available as a right-handed mouse, rather than an ambidextrous model.

Don’t let its name fool you. While it is sold as a gaming mouse, it has a place on the desktop because the GM2400 is well-made, easy to learn and is much more accurate than standard optical mice. There are prominent right and left actuation buttons and a striated scroll wheel that does the equivalent of a left click when you press it. I really like the buttons for going ahead and back on the side and the comfy place to put your thumb.

Gm 2400 cThe GM2400 has lighted blue cut-outs and sets itself apart from the crowd by allowing users to adjust its resolution. It’s good for general use, digital art or CAD instruction by being able to be set to 800- 1200-, 1,600- or 2400 dot per inch at the touch of a button. On the downside, the mouse doesn’t show which it’s set to.

To get started, just plug the optical mouse’s USB connector into a computer and allow it to load its software. There’s nothing extra to download or install and the device works with PCs (from Windows 2000 to Windows 10) and any Mac that runs OSX version 10.2 or newer software.

Azio covers the GM2400 for three years, something that cheap mice makers can’t match. At $12, it’s a device that gamers will like and teachers will love.


Gm2400 a


Azio GM2400 USB Gaming Mouse 

+ Inexpensive

+ Adjustable resolution

+ Soft rubberized coating

+ PC/Mac operation

+ 3-year warranty


- Right handed



Big Screens on Campus

All in onesTablets are great for when you need to move around, but there’s nothing like the comfort of a big screen computer, keyboard and mouse on a desk. That’s exactly what an all-in-one desktop PC can do for a classroom, library or study hall. Rather than specialty items, all-in-ones are now mainstream with a variety of new ideas and designs. They all come with Windows 10 and show the latest thinking in putting it all on the desktop.

HP ProOne 400 G2 AiO_Multiple FormsTo start, economy is the watchword when it comes to HP’s ProOne 400 G2 AIO. It starts with a 20-inch screen that delivers 1,600 by 900 resolution and can be ordered with or without touch. Inside is a fourth generation Intel Pentium or Core i processor, which should make it one of the most powerful PCs at school. A big security improvement is the inclusion of HP’s BioSphere that can protect the system’s BIOS from break-ins. It comes with the choice of a small easel stand (at right) for when space is of the essence or one that lets you adjust the height and viewing angle of the screen from nearly vertical to nearly horizontal. It will be out in October for $680 for a non-touch version.

Aspire Z3-710_frontAcer’s Z3-710 has a 23.8-inch touch screen that can be tilted to accommodate a variety of users, from the smallest third-grade to a hulking high-schooler. Powered by a Core i5-4170T processor, the all-in-one comes with 6GB of memory, a 1TB hard drive and a DVD drive. The $750 system looks like a winner with an aluminum stand, sleek profile and Intel’s RealSense stereo cameras.

Zen AiO S_The art of performance in stunning detailIn the meantime, Asus has been busy with all-in-ones as well, and its Zen AiO S Z240IC is a head-turner. The system is built around an aluminum skin and has a touch-sensitive 23.8-inch ultra- HD display at a stunning 4K resolution that shows the entire sRGB gamut. It can be stocked with a variety of sixth generation core processors and a high-performance graphics board for heavy-duty work, like video editing. With six speakers at its disposal the Zen AiO will sound much better than other desktop PCs and comes with WiFi and Bluetooth built-in.

Aio 700Easily the biggest of the four, Lenovo’s Ideacentre AIO 700 has an impressive 27-inch ultra-HD resolution touch screen that can make everything look great. It has both HDMI-in and -out ports so that it can send images to a projector or be used as a stand-along monitor. It won’t be out until the fall and there will be AIO 700 models with AMD and Intel processors. The system has an HD Web cam, dual microphone array and Intel’s RealSense 3-D camera for digitizing real-world objects. Pricing will start at $900.


Breaking the Parlez Vous Barrier

Breaking barriersThe latest in digital foreign language instruction is Breaking the French Barrier, a series of iPad-based digital texts that make the most of this new medium. In addition to audio from native French speakers, Breaking Barriers has a virtual blackboard for highlighting key grammatical points as well as vocabulary pointers like photos, audio and text. It costs $15.


Meet the New Classroom Projectors

Epson VS240_Left AngleIt’s abundantly clear that the V in the model numbers for most classroom projectors stands for value, but the latest devices go a step further than the ones they replace. For example, priced at $359, the basic Epson VS240 takes up where the VS230 leaves off with 3,000 lumens of SVGA imaging versus the VS230’s 2,800. The $429 VS340 ups the resolution to XGA while offering 2,800 lumens of brightness, up 100 lumens from the VS330. Finally, the top of the VS range is the 345 model, which delivers 3,000 lumens in WXGA resolution, while the VS335W tops out at 2,700 lumens. These projectors use LCD panels and don’t skimp on nice extras, like horizontal keystone correction, a slide-up lens cover and Epson’s $99 replacement lamps, but are warrantied for only a year. 

Np-v332w_upperslantltMeanwhile, NEC’s V332X and V332W projectors up the brightness to the 3,300-lumen level, making them usable on the brightest day with the blinds up and the lights on. The V332X puts out XGA resolution and sells for $579 while the V332W creates a WXGA image and sells for $649. Both use Digital Light Processing imaging engines, have dual HDMI inputs, horizontal keystone correction and don’t require periodic dust filter changes. Happily, they both come with a 2-year warranty. 

Dh1012Optoma shows that HD belongs in the classroom with a pair of high resolution projectors. They may look alike but the EH341 and DH1012 put out 3,500- and 3,200-lumens, are easy to carry from room to room and have a pair of HDMI ports. If you hate seeing cables in the classroom, the projectors work with Chromecast adapters as well as Optoma’s WHD200 Wireless HDMI system. While the $600 DH1012 has a one year warranty, the $900 EH341 is covered for three years.

Medium_Vivitek_DH758UST_Left_HeroFinally, Vivitek makes the best of current technology with its DH758UST ultra-short throw projector. Not only can it create a 9-foot image just 36-inches away from the screen, bit the projector delivers 3,500 lumens in stunning HD resolution. Thanks to a new color wheel design, the DLP-based projector produces vibrant and realistic tones across the spectrum and its lamp can go for as long as 7,000 hours in Dyanmic Eco Mode. The DH758USTir version adds interactivity that lets you use pens or your fingers to navigate, write or draw digital images on the screen.


Freebee Friday: Google Doc Doctor

Google docs researchThe new school year has brought not just a pack of eager students, but big changes with Google Docs, which lots of schools not just because it’s free, but because it is an excellent way to get kids to collaborate and the online apps make it easy for kids to turn in digital assignments. The latest version has a research tool for helping to fill in the blanks on a project, like a paper or presentation. Just type Control + Alternate + Shift + I and click Research on the bar that appears. There you can type a query, like “where was George Washington born.” You can limit the search based on things like the expected images, but also only look for quotes, dictionary definitions or tables of information. When you see what you’re looking for, just drop it into your project.

English for the Real World

Paths to college and careerThe latest from John Wiley and Sons is PCG “Paths to College and Career English Language Arts Curriculum,” which can help get them ready for college-level English. Aimed at grades for grades 6-through-12, Paths is a mixture of paper and digital instruction that is based on Common Core standards and focuses on close reading, analytic dissection of passages and writing cogent essays. Each grade level comes with a curriculum map that should save lots of time integrating it into your school.


Little Big Phone

6787AAs phones bulk up and tablets slim down, they are meeting in the middle with devices that have a little bit of each in them. Called Phablets, these monster phones might make your current handset look puny but are just big enough to cut it in the classroom. Samsung’s Galaxy S6 Active can make presenting a digital lesson and moving to a new room for the next period much easier than lugging a notebook.

That’s because the S6 Active weighs just 6-ounces and won’t slow you down.  Its 5.1-inch screen uses the latest AMOLED technology for incredible brightness and richness of color. Plus, at 2,560 by 1440 resolution, it is likely a lot sharper than your notebook is.

Its screen responds to 10 independent inputs, but can’t compare with the Galaxy Note 5’s slightly larger screen and its included pressure-sensitive pen or the older Galaxy Tab Active, which has an 8-inch screen and a capacitive stylus. It worked well with a generic stylus.

Below the screen is something that phone traditionalists have missed in the current generation of phones and tablets: actual buttons for navigating within the phone. There are keys for going to the home screen, going back and showing the open apps, but their orientation is opposite most Android-based gear with the go-back on the right and the open apps on the left.

6787A-3There’re also buttons for turning the phone on and off as well as raising or lowering the volume. The controls are augmented with a unique button that opens Samsung’s Activity Zone software. This shows everything from the current weather and Air pressure to a digital compass, stopwatch and a flashlight, all of which can come in handy on a field trip. There are links for lots of physical activities.

If you think that this is a fragile phone that is best put in a protective case, think again. It is not only dustproof and water-resistant, but carries an IP68 rating that means it can survive for 30 minutes underwater. It has a Gorilla Glass screen and even has passed 21 of the military’s stringent MIL-STD 810G specifications, including tests for humidity, rain, vibration, solar radiation, salt, dust, transport and thermal shocks. In fact, the phone has a camouflage pattern on the back.

Its 0.4- by 5.8- by 2.9 dimensions are a little deceptive because the Active feels smaller because it has rubber bumpers and rather than rounded corners are cut off at an angle. Plus, because it is rugged from the start, you won’t need a case for the Active.

Inside, the Active is the equivalent of a full tablet inside with Samsung’s Exynos 7420 processor that’s actually three CPUs in one. There’re 2.1- and 1.5GHz quad-core Cortex processors along with a Mali T760 graphics engine. All in all, it’s one of the most powerful devices that you can put in your pocket.

It uses Android 5.0 software and comes with a pair of cameras point forward and back. It can capture sharp stills or record ultra HD quality videos at up to 2,560 by 1440 resolution.

6787A-2The S6 Active comes with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of on-board storage. Unfortunately, there’s no micro-SD card slot for augmenting that with a flash card. Still, it should be plenty with judicious use of online storage. The phone comes with 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.1 and Near Field Communications for exchanging data or quick printing.

While it does without an HDMI connector or the ability to use an MHL converter with the micro-USB port, the Active can connect with a monitor or projector. You’ll need to use the wireless Samsung Link, Miracast or a Google Chrome Cast, but you’ll have to pair it with an appropriate receiver at the other end. It was able to project the latest PBS and YouTube videos as well as Ted Talks over a Chrome Cast connection.

The phone was a top performer with scores of 350.2ms and 1,340 on the Sunspider and Peace Keeper tests. That puts it about 50 percent more powerful than an iPhone 5.

Still, it has a 3,500 milli-amp hour battery – roughly what a tablet or notebook has – that powers the S6 Active for an astounding 10 hours and 30 minutes on a charge of continuously playing online videos. That’s more than any other phone I’ve seen and should be plenty for a full day of school with some left over at the end of the day. If you’re tired of fumbling with a micro-USB plug for charging, the S6 Active can be charged using a Qi inductive pad.

Available as an exclusive on AT&T’s 4G LTE network, the S6 Active sells for $595 as an unlocked phone. You can get it for $130 with a two-year contract or $20 a month for 2 years using AT&T Next 24 plan. This makes the S6 Active a luxury that most teachers and schools can afford.




Samsung Galaxy S6 Active

$130 with two year AT&T contract

+ Shock, dust and waterproof

+ Big ultra-HD screen

+ Activity Zone

+ Physical Android keys

+ High performance

+ Battery life


- Thick and clunky

- Lacks S-Note stylus



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