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Day and Night

EDU-37502The best way to teach how day and night on earth works for young (and some older) students is to show it. Elenco’s Night’n Day Real Solar Time Rotating Globe can do it and serve as a solar calendar and clock as well. The secret is inside the 11-inch world globe is a light that in conjunction with a geared mechanical clock underneath rotates the globe over the day and night, showing where it’s dark and where it’s light. It’ll take some concentration to put it together but the Night’n Day globe comes with a lot of teaching aids, including a map of the world time zones, a glossary of terms and a way to teach about orbits and eclipses. It costs $130.

Desktop in your Pocket

Apps_dex_feature07_pcAs if Samsung’s new Galaxy S8 and S8+ superphones weren’t the current last word in mobility with thin profiles, large high-resolution screens and top-class processors, they add one big new item to the mix that can’t be matched. With the $150 DeX Station fold-open dock, you can connect the phone to a display and keyboard, effectively transforming it into the equivalent of a desktop PC. When it’s time to move to a new class, you can pull the phone from the dock and put in your pocket.

You’d think that after Samsung’s Note 7 disaster, the company would go conservative, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The S8 and S8+ are marvels that squeeze even more power and potential into smaller packages.

The key is how quickly Android software has caught up with Mac and PC apps. With the addition of Android versions of Microsoft’s Word, Excel and PowerPoint, there’s little need to get a more expensive and sometimes cranky Windows computer when a phone is all you’ll need. Plus, those schools that use Windows client-server emulation software, the DeX-S8 combo includes Citrix and VMware software built in as well as apps for Skype and Adobe Lightshop. The phone can natively run Gmail, Google Drive and YouTube apps.

On the downside, many general-purpose and educational apps haven’t been adapted to work with DeX and can’t run full-screen or are missing some features. Look for more companies to jump on the DeX bandwagon with optimized desktop Android apps.

Inside, the S8 and S8+ are like tiny tablets. Powered by a Qualcomm 8-core Snapdragon 835 processor that runs at a top speed of 2.35GHz, the chip delivers faster action but uses less power than earlier versions. Each phone comes with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage space, so it can handle just about any task – online or off. All this adds up to a powerful phone that scored between 30 and 40 percent higher on the GeekBench 4 single- and multi-processor tests compared to a year-old Galaxy S6.

S8+ and s8The Galaxy S8 and S8+ with their 5.8- and 6.2-inch AMOLED screens (versus 5.1- and 5.5-inches for the S7 and S7 Edge models) are not only among the brightest displays available but can show super-sharp UHD resolution. Still, with all it has, the S8 is thinner, narrower and slightly lighter than the S7 or S7 Edge.

The DeX dock is the phone’s perfect companion with the ability to connect a display, keyboard, mouse and more. The back of the fold-open DeX Station dock has a USB C, pair of USB 2.0 and an HDMI connection, but neither a VGA port for connecting to an older display nor an audio jack. Using the dock’s Bluetooth capabilities put sound it its place. It has an Ethernet port for connecting to the school’s network or you can use the phone’s WiFi or mobile data abilities.

When closed, DeX has a Moon Pie look, but open it and it has a pair of interlocking circlular plastic pieces. The upright portion looks like a Qi inductive charging plate, but all it does is hold the phone inplace. All dock-to-phone connections are made via a Type C USB plug. It’ll likely require some patience and trial and error get the phone and plug to line up.

EE-MG950_004_Front-Slide-Open_BlackSetting up the phone-to-screen connection took a few minutes with an S8 phone, but it’s time well spent. Rather than a tall thin image of the phone’s screen showing up on the display, you get a full landscape view of the phone’s contents in HD resolution. Later when I docked the phone, it took 8 seconds for the phone to link up with the dock, screen, keyboard and mouse.

Overall, it looks and feels a lot more like what you’re used to with a PC, Mac or Chromebook and less like a phone. When its connected, the keyboard, mouse or incoming call can wake up the phone. In addition to printing, the DeX dock lets you drag and drop items between windows, use Control-V, -C, and -X and right click to get contextual menus.

While it worked fine with Word, Excel and Acrobat, the Kiwix version of the PHET science and math simulations show up in partial-screen portrait format. Clearly, a work in progress, you can’t set up printing with a right click, the system balked at opening older PowerPoint files and Samsung’s vaunted voice-activated artificial intelligence agent, Bixby, won’t be available for another six months in the U.S.

EE-MG950_002_Back1_BlackStill, it has the phone-desktop dynamic down pat. When a call comes in, it shows up on the desktop and you can take it, ignore it or push it to the voicemail system for a message. Unfortunately, when it comes to using Skype for video chats in the DeX holder, the S8 camera is aimed at the ceiling, but it can be re-aimed by propping up the phone to point it downward; a stack of business cards or Post-It note pad works well.  

Overall the Dex concept has its pros and cons. To start, for the school, there’s one device to buy, set up and maintain. On the other hand, at $150 plus the $750 (for the S8) or $850 (for the S8+) it’s not a cheap set up. But, instead of some bits of data being scattered on a phone, notebook, tablet and online repositories, it’s all in one place.

Is the Galaxy 38/Dex combo a powerful phone or a mini desktop computer? The answer is yes.



Samsung Galaxy S8 with DeX dock


+ Phone to screen connection

+ Wired Ethernet included

+ Excellent desktop software

+ Single place to put files

+ Word, Excel, PowerPoint and other apps

- Lacks VGA and audio output

- Hard to aim camera for video calls

Teaching the Teachers

Screen shot of Kyte learningThe last thing a teacher has time for is professional development, but the time is well spent because it can make you a stronger and more creative instructor. Kyte Learning’s technology-oriented online PD platform lets teachers brush up on their skills anytime, day or night. Whether it’s a refresher class or an introduction to a new skill, the Web-based service is aligned with ISTE’s courses, is video-based and lets administrators assign, track and evaluate the results.

Clean Machine

TPU090312-10-pEver clean out a keyboard? You’d be amazed at what accumulates under the keys, but LogicKeyboard’s LogicSkin keyboard cover for Apple’s Magic keyboard can keep it clean as a whistle. In addition to a version with a clear skin, LogicKeyboards has ones with huge letters to help younger and visually impaired students see and use each key. They’re available in black on white or white on black.

Freebee Friday: Big Job for a Small Screen

School assistant bIf your kids are struggling with a 6-day schedule, split sessions or just getting the right assignment to the right teacher, School Assignment is a great way to consolidate everything onto an Android phone or tablet. The app is free and lets you put a schedule, assignments and grades in one place.

Stand (or Sit) and Deliver

Stand_Hero_ImageIf you’ve thought that standing desks are the way to increase attention span and student participation but don’t want to eliminate the sitting option, Elevate is like a breath of fresh air. Made of finished birch plywood in New Zealand, the angled desk has three adjustable shelves that are set in the angled vertical frame’s evenly spaced slots. This allows a variety of configurations, from sitting with a keyboard in front of you to using a notebook standing. All it takes to change the $185 Elevate desk is moving any of its shelves to a different height. 

Captivate the School

CaptivateThe latest school software from Adobe upgrades a district’s Learning Management System with online learning possibilities. The key is that Captivate can turn your desktop bound curriculum into an exciting online experience with access to 75,000 materials. The Captivate Prime version also lets any connected digital device play and the app has the ability to create live teaching materials. There’s a 30-day trial of the software available and pricing starts at $350 per year for a teacher with district wide licensing available.

HD on a Budget

HD142X angleIf you think your school needs to stick to outdated XGA and wide-XGA projectors because of cost, Optoma’s latest classroom projector is a real eye-opener. It’s not only a simpler approach to classroom video but the HD142X puts up a bright image and is inexpensive to both get and use, but has a hidden got-cha.

At 3.9- by 11.6- by 9.1-inches, the black HD142X is about right for this class of projector, but it weighs just 5.5 pounds. In addition to three adjustable feet for table or shelf setups, the projector has three threaded attachment points underneath. Optoma sells several ceiling mounts, but the HD142X will work with many universal installation kits. The bottom line is that it can easily be installed and maintained by one person.

Rather than a short-throw design, the HD142X has a traditional projector design that can be mounted on the ceiling, table, wall or shelf. The projector’s image is created by a single 0.65-inch second-generation Dark Chip Texas Instruments DLP target that uses a 7-segment color wheel.

The step forward is that the HD142X outs a sharp and detailed 1,920 by 1,080 resolution image on screen. It tops out at 25-feet and can display 3-D material, assuming all wear the funky glasses.

On the downside, it has a minimalist connection panel, with a pair of HDMI ports, one of which can connect with an MHL-capable phone or tablet. It, however, does without a traditional VGA video port. This will leave many schools dependent on old tech behind.

Hd142x backThere’s neither wired nor wireless networking included, but the HD142X does have a USB port as well as a 3-D synchronization outlet and a 12-volt connection for powering a screen. There’s an audio-out jack and the projector has a 10-watt speaker that should be plenty for many mid-sized classrooms.

Turning the HD142X on and making adjustments is simple. It has an old-school control panel on top and one of the best remote controls I’ve ever used. It’s not only backlit, but has buttons for picking from the projector’s five modes, adjusting the volume and changing the image’s aspect ratio. Oddly, it has source buttons for composite and YPbPr video, although the projector can’t work with these inputs. Plus, Optoma has nothing along the lines of Epson’s iProjection iOS or Android apps for a wireless connection.

It took a long 33 seconds for the HD142X to start up and show its image, which can delay the start of a lesson. It took 23 seconds to shut itself down. In its Bright mode, the HD142X was able to put 2,535 lumens on-screen, about 15 percent below the Optoma spec. That drops by 45-percent when using the warmer and more realistic Cinema mode, though. Still, it stood up to overhead lights and a bright sunny day.

Hd142X remoteIn its Bright mode, the projector uses 232-watts of power, roughly twice what the solid-state Casio EcoLite XJ-V1 uses. The HD142X’s $179 replacement lamp is rated to last for 8,000 hours of use. Add it all together and if the projector is used for about six hours every school day, the estimated operating expenses for the HD142X will be a reasonable $60.25 a year. That’s about three-times the cost of using the EcoLite XJ-V1, but equivalent to the much brighter Epson BrightLink 697Ui.

A big bonus is that even in its brightest mode, the projector’s fan only put out 39.2dBA, making it one of the quietest projectors around. That said, its exhaust is kind of hot at 170-degrees, but the projector will likely be far away from accidental contact.

The HD142X sells for $550 and includes a 1-year warranty, making it one of the classroom’s best bargains. By making the most of a traditional projector design and delivering a bright and detailed image, the HD142X does a lot with a little.


HD142X front

Optoma HD142X


+ Inexpensive

+ Simple operation

+ HD imaging

+ Backlit remote control

+ Excellent contrast

+ Quiet operation


- Lacks VGA input

- No wired networking

New OS, New Surface

WindowsCloud_PreOrder_Angle_1920After four and a half years of steadily increasing acceptance and sales of ever more powerful Microsoft’s Surface Tablets and Books, there’s a new Surface in town: The Surface Laptop. Built around a 13.5-inch UHD screen the system fits into a 2.8-pound package that is 0.6-inches thick – perfect for throwing into a backpack between classes. Inside is a Core i5 or i7 processor that should be more than powerful enough for typical classroom and administrative tasks. The gem in the crown is the Surface’s Dial Dock, which has a big knob that is context sensitive so that in Word, it can flip through pages, but in Spotify it changes the volume. Starting at $999, it should be out by mid-month in maroon, blue, gold and silver.

W10_Surface_Full_Start_3x2_en-USTo make it all work, Microsoft has written a variant of its flagship operating system called Windows 10 S. It might stand for School, Streamline or Security because it hits at each of these items. The new software promises faster start-ups, the ability to set up and manage systems as well as run programs in a secure container, but can only add software that comes from the Microsoft Store. It’ll not only be on the Surface Laptop but less expensive notebooks from the likes of Acer, Asus, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, Samsung and Toshiba.

Animate Learning

HUE_ANIMATION_BOOK_GREENWe teach math, languages, history and a slew of other things, but rarely think about, well, creative thinking. There’s nothing like being faced with a camera and editing software to make you think about a story to tell and how to tell it. The Hue Animation Studio has everything needed for getting a class to turn an idea into a story. It comes with a USB camera on a goose-neck arm, a base, cables, apps and a book on how to animate anything. About the only thing you’ll need to supply is a computer and ideas.

Hueanimationeditframewindow2The software lets you become a producer, director and animator, all in one. In addition to the expected editing operations, you can record your own soundtrack or import one as well as use special effects and do green-screen backgrounds or time-lapse sequences. The best part is when you’re done, the mini-movie can be shared on YouTube for everyone to see. There are tons of online tutorials so that kids can learn as they create their masterpiece. Available in red, green or blue cameras Hue runs on PCs (Windows XP to 10) as well as Macs (OSX 10.5 ore newer) and costs $70, but the company discounts school orders.

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