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Pocketful of Keys

Z34APLPOC-BK0Having teachers and students bring their own computers has one big drawback: the smallest of them are nearly impossible to write anything longer than a text message with. Zagg’s Pocket is a fold-open keyboard that despite only taking up 9- by 2.5- by 2.5-inches has a full keyboard inside that’s 85 percent of a desktop device. The $70 keyboard connects via Bluetooth and has a handy ledge for a phone or tablet that turns it into the equivalent of a mini-desktop computer.


Freebee Friday: Be Bilingual

Screen322x572 (1)One of the best ways to teach a foreign language is to pair a kid with an app and let them learn. That’s the idea behind DuoLingo, which uses an iPad, Android or online service to teach any of nine European languages. It’s free-flowing and interactive with lots of activities and quizzes.





Latest Sneaky Book

9781449445201_frontcoverLearning that doesn’t seem like education is the best way to teach, or so says Cy Tymony in his “Sneaky Math” book. The latest in Tymony’s Sneaky books, the math text covers everything from counting to calculus, but in a way that examines the world around us. Rather than a blackboard and chalk, he uses things like Frisbees and radio-controlled cars to demonstrate and explore math concepts. The book costs $13.

CES Goes to School

CES-SIGN-2014While the upcoming Ed-tech shows will no doubt give us more than enough new products for the classroom to think about, most of the technologies start at the Consumer Electronics Show. This week, Las Vegas is overrun with geeks in search of the latest gizmos and gadgets. With everything from displays and tablets to tiny PCs, it’s where the action is. Here’s a preview of what to expect from this year’s crop of announcements, introductions and exhibits, but be careful, many an impressive product has failed to materialize once the show ends.

HP miniFor 2015, good things will come in small packages with HP’s mighty Mini, which packs a lot of power into a small rounded case. At only 2.1- by 5.7- by 5.7-inches or just over a liter of desktop volume, it’s about the size of a small book and weighs just 1.6-pounds. It can be attached on the underside of a desk, in a drawer or Velcroed to the back of a monitor for an instant all in one system. While the blue Stream model 200-010 Mini relies on a 1.4GHz Celeron, 2GB of RAM and 32GB of solid state storage capacity, the silver Pavilion 300-020 Mini is better equipped with a 1.7GHz Pentium processor, 4GB of RAM, 500GB of hard drive space. Both include 25GB of Dropbox cloud storage, but the Stream Mini adds 200GB of online storage space with Microsoft OneDrive for 2 years. The Minis start at less than $200.

Samsung-series-9-2015-edition-ultrabook-laptopTraditional notebooks are moving up in the educational world with the addition of Intel’s Core M processor. Take Samsung’s Ativ Book 9, for instance. It combines a seductive half-inch profile with lots of performance thanks to its 2GHz Core M-5Y10 processor. The system has a 12.2-inch screen that can show 2,560 by 1,600 resolution, but weighs all of 2.1 pounds.

YOGA 3 14_3 is a convertible for all sizes. With models that have 11- and 14-inch screens, the Yoga 3 family can be used as a tablet, in tent configuration or as a standard keyboard-based notebook. The hinge rotates nearly 360-degrees, letting you swing the system’s HD touch-screen into the location you want it. While the larger Yoga 3 has a Core i processor, the 11-inch one comes with a battery-friendly Core M processor.

Toshiba Encore 2 Write 10 #4Economy and Simplicity are the watchwords for Toshiba’s Encore 2 Write tablets. There’ll be 8- and 10-inch models that have 1,280 by 800 touch-screen resolution displays. Powered by an Atom processor, the slates sell for $350 or $400, depending on screen size. They come with a Wacom passive TruPen stylus that can sense over 2,000 levels of pressure for precise writing sentences, equations or just doodling. The systems come with lots of note-taking software and a year’s subscription to Office 365.

Rta 1750Meanwhile, WiFi can speed up with Amped Wireless’s RTA 1200 router. By using both the 2.4- and 5-GHz bands, it can push up to 1.2Gbps of data to the classroom with longer range. Inside are eight 800milliwatt amplifiers that can boost the signal to fill those pesky nooks and crannies that are now not covered. It can block objectionable sites and set up a guest network for visitors. Price: $160.

Kinksys antennasA school of new routers might be overkill, when all you need is a set of high-gain antennas from Linksys that can boost WiFi range and throughput, filling in dead spots without a major investment. The WRTANT7 omnidirectional antennas work in both the 2.4- and 5GHz bands and have a RP-SMA connector that will work with most routers that have removable antennas; you might need to get an adapter for some equipment. By raising its sensitivity to 7dBi for 5GHz transmissions and 3dBi for 2.4GHz work, the antennas can broaden the reach of any network by about 30 percent. A set of four antennas costs $100.

Acer H7550ST_topUp close, Acer’s H7550ST short-throw projector has the power to change the way children are taught because it is the first projector with Goolge’s Chromecast built in. Just connect your tablet or notebook via Chromecast and the image is on-screen. Based on the latest DLP imaging chip, the projector uses a six-segment color wheel to create HD images. The projector can deliver a 9-foot image from less than 5-feet away and puts 3,000 lumens on-screen. It has 20-watt DTS audio, and will sell for $1,000.

BenQ_HC1200When color counts, BenQ’s HC 1200 delivers. The digital light processing projector not only puts a sharp HD image on screen, but can reproduce more than a billion colors and show the full sRGB spectrum with twice the contrast of the typical projector. The HC1200 has all the needed input ports and can create up to a 25-foot image.

HP Z34c, Right Facing 2HD screens are now officially passé with the introduction of HP’s Envy 34c curved display. The $1,000 monitor has a 34-inch screen that is curved with a radius of about 10-feet so that everyone gets a good view and you don’t have to refocus your eyes by moving from edge to edge. Capable of showing 99 percent of the color gamut, it has 3,440 by 1,440 resolution, or more than twice what HD imaging has to offer. The screen has a pair of 6-watt speakers and the stand can tilt and swivel so that everyone in the class can see and hear.

Dell UltraSharp 27 Ultra HD 5K bIf detail is your thing, Dell’s UltraSharp 27 monitor can put a startling 14.8 million pixels on screen – more than seven-times that of HD displays. Perfect for an art class or for teaching image editing, the 27-inch UltraSharp screen can be calibrated with Dell’s optional xRite iDisplay Pro colorimeter so the color is always perfect. The stand is a gem because it not only lets you adjust it up and down for different users, but the screen can rotate, delivering the traditional horizontal or long narrow vertical view that’s great for looking at Web pages or long documents a page at a time. It sells for $2,500 with a three-year warranty.


Charge ‘N’ Clean

Trident electraBest known for making rugged tablet and phone cases, Trident’s Electra charging cart can juice up and sanitize with UV light 30 tablets at a time so they’re ready for class. The cart has sturdy wheels, handles and an acrylic window to look inside. There’re also lights to show you want’s going on: the red light means that the tablets are still charging while green means their ready. At 36- by 15- by 22-inches, it is space-efficient and the tablets sit on pull-out plastic trays. Available in three colors, the Electra cart costs $1,700, but the required charging cables are not included.

Parents Now Welcome

Regular PSPKickboard’s classroom management system is a great way to consolidate everything needed to educate kids, but one thing was missing: parental oversight and involvement. That changes with the company’s Parent Student Portal, which delivers easy to read behavior and progress reports as well as assignments that have not been completed. 


Freebee Friday: All in One

Attendance2LearnBoost may not have all the bells and whistles of other school software packages, but the price it right. The program is free and can handle everything from attendance and grades to sharing lesson plans and letting parents see grades as they are posted. There’s even an analytical section for making comparisons.




A Tale of Two Tablets

Ipad nexus compositeAs the inevitable tablets sneak into schools, the battle between iPads and Androids continues to heat up with new school slates from each side. The latest iPad 2 Air and Google Nexus 9 show how far tablets have come in the nearly five years since the first iPad appeared on the scene. The ultimate winners are schools and students with smaller, more powerful tablets that can be a cheaper alternative to a full PC or Mac.

While the $829 iPad Air 2 is more powerful and can hold up to 128GB of apps, data and lesson plans, the $400 Google Nexus 9 can be had for much less. To start, both slates are as thin as it gets these days and allow just enough room for a headphone jack. While the HTC-made Nexus 9 is 0.3-inches thick, the Foxconn-made iPad has a slightly thinner 0.25-inch profile.

The Nexus is the smaller of the two at 6.0- by 8.9-inches versus 6.6- by 9.4-inches for the iPad, which has a slightly larger 9.7-inch screen. In fact, it’s hard to tell it apart from the Nexus’s 8.9-inch display. Both can show 2,560 by 1,536 resolution and respond to 10 individual touch inputs, but the iPad’s screen has a laminated design that eliminates the air gap between its layers and an anti-glare coating. Despite IPadAir2-3up-PRINTits oleophobic coating, it still picks up just as many fingerprints and both should get a daily cleaning. The Nexus has super-tough third-generation Corning Gorilla Glass and its display does a better job on displaying color and the background white on ebook pages, while the iPad’s display has a slight blue cast to it.

Both are lightweights, with the Air 2 weighing just a hair under 1-pound and the Nexus 9 tipping the scales at 15-ounces. They also each have a tiny two-prong AC adapter and with the included USB cables can be charged by a computer.

As far as holding them goes, both of the slates are well balanced, but I prefer the grippy rubberized coating on the Nexus 9 to the iPad’s cold aluminum skin. Both are available in a variety of colors, from the iPad’s white, gray and gold to the white, gray and black for the Nexus 9. The Nexus 9 has a more solid and rugged feel to it while the iPad has the advantage of adding custom engraving on the back with something like a serial number or school name.

N9-grid3They are noticeably light in terms of ports, but both have 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth and an audio jack built in. Nexus 9 has a micro-USB for charging and computer connections and a Near Field Communications (NFC) zone on the back of the device for instantly moving snippets of data between systems or wirelessly printing. Unlike the Nexus 5 phone, though, it lacks the ability to use a Qi wireless inductive charging system.

By contrast, the iPad has a Lightning plug for power and connecting to a computer. It is light years ahead of the micro-USB plug on the Nexus 9 because it goes in either way, preventing a lot of plugging-in frustration.

Both slates have on-off switches as well as volume-up and -down buttons. The iPad is in the lead with a Home button that doubles as a fingerprint scanner, potentially streamlining starting the system and entering passwords.

Ipad boxEquipped with the latest 64-bit processors, the iPad Air 2’s runs on a 1.45GHz A8X chip, a bit slower than the Nexus’s Nvidia Tegra K1 that speeds along at 2.3GHz. Both have advanced graphics engines with 192-cores for quick video and have 2GB of RAM.

The iPad leads with models that come with 16-, 64- and 128-GB of storage space as well as 5GB of iCloud online storage, while the Nexus 9 that I looked at tops out at an adequate 32GB; there’s a slightly less expensive 16GB model as well. It is augmented with 15GB of online storage for two years that’s perfect for stashing photos, videos and the like. On the downside, neither the iPad nor the Nexus have a micro-SD card slot for expanding their storage potential.

One area where they markedly differ is in audio quality. While the iPad’s speakers point down and sound hollow, the Nexus 9’s speakers are pointed at the viewer and sound richer and fuller.

Their operating systems –iOS 8 and Android 5 – are comparable. The variety of Android- and iOS based educational software is increasing everyday with lots of free stuff available for download. The bonus is that the iPad comes with Pages, Keynote and Numbers and there are free downloads of Microsoft’s Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The Nexus 9 has neither, but comes with Polaris Office and has built-in links to Google’s online Docs.

Nexus 9 boxYou don’t buy a tablet for peak performance, but these systems do a lot with a little, and over the course of a month of daily use, neither let me down. I led classes, read ebooks, did science simulations, ran video conferences and used them to nose around the Web for teaching materials. The iPad led the way with a GeekBench 3 score of 4,001, well ahead of the Nexus 9’s 3,227. Both handled the rigors of classroom work without a problem and while playing continuous YouTube videos over a WiFi link, the two were well matched with the Nexus barely outlasting the iPad with 6 hours and 10 minutes of battery life against the iPad’s 6 hours and 8 minutes. In other words, either will deliver more than enough power for a full school day.

With two so equally matched competitors, it all comes down to price. The iPad Air 2 that I looked at was the top of the line $829 model with 128GB of storage and can get data over an LTE mobile network. It’s clearly matched for the $479 Nexus 9, which comes with 32GB of storage space and no LTE mobile connection. There’s an LTE option that adds $80, but also a $400 16GB version. In other words, there’s a roughly $250 chasm that the iPad has to bridge.

 That’s where the other four iPad models come in. You can get the previous generation Air system for roughly what a Nexus 9 costs or either the original Mini model or the newer Mini 2, which are smaller and lighter than the Nexus 9. In the final analysis, any of these mighty mites will excel at letting teachers teach and students learn, which you get depends on your school’s budget as much as how thin you want to go.

Lunch Time

MenuIt’s time for the cafeteria to go high tech with software that not only can post the day’s menu on the school’s Web site, but handle payments and even make sure the kids are getting the proper nutrition. It can’t make sure they’ll clean their plates, but MealsPlus covers everything from menu planning and inventory management to collecting digital payments and working with reduced or free lunch programs. You can try it out for a month to see if it fits in with your school’s meal plan.


Teach Anywhere

Screen480x480These days, education happens wherever there’re students and teachers together and Boardmaker Online’s iPad Student Center helps bring it all together. The app lets students display lessons on their iPads, do assigned activities while teachers can monitor progress that toward educational goals. Plus, the Boardmaker community has thousands of pre-made lessons and multimedia content for you to use. It’s free for individual teachers, but if you want to track students, you’ll need the Professional version, which costs $200 a year, although there’s district discounts.





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