If classroom clickers are burning a hole in your budget, eInstruction’s Ping features radio-frequency communication and has a wide range of abilities yet cost $995 for a class pack of 24 with a receiver and software; extra clickers are $55 each. It has a range of 150-feet and can be used with true-false, yes-no and multiple-choice formats. It lacks an LCD screen but confirms that the answer has been received with an LED light. The system works with the company’s Insight 360 scheme.
From the dawn of classroom computing, there have been two choices for outfitting students and teachers: PC or Apple hardware. Enter Google’s Chromebook format, which can not only help teach a classroom of kids but also teach the big boys of computing a thing or two about making inexpensive notebooks.
Born of Google’s Web browser, the Chrome OS relies more on cloud resources than local components and that means that it can get by with less hardware than the typical computer for schools. This not only reduces upfront costs but can lower long-term maintenance as well.
This is where Chromebooks excel, with models costing as little as $200, half what schools typically spend on computers, although some can cost as much as $1,300. There are stationary desktop Chromeboxes as well that cost $350. Just plug the small box into a monitor, keyboard, mouse and LAN and you have a general purpose computer.
Chromebooks are also cheap to keep. IDC recently examined how computers were used and maintained at 12 schools and estimated that due to the simplicity and online nature of Chromebooks, their deployment and support costs were 69- and 92-percent lower than with PCs. As far as total costs over three years are concerned, it was the difference between spending $1,472 (for a traditional PC) and $388 (for a Chromebook).
While there are dozens of potential school notebooks available, at the moment there are only a handful of Chromebooks on the market from Acer, Google, HP, Lenovo and Samsung. To examine the state of the art for school notebooks, I gathered four of the newest together, including the Acer C710, Lenovo’s ThinkPad X131e, Google’s Pixel and Samsung’s XE303C12.
They all are smaller and lighter than the typical school computer, but, as is the case with any new computing format, the weak point for Chromebooks is software. Chrome OS lacks such school mainstays as Word, Excel and Geometer’s SketchPad, and the University of Colorado’s PHET science and math simulations that require Java don’t work on the Chromebook platform.
To compensate, the Chrome OS includes goodies like the eponymous Web browser, Gmail and access to Google Docs. There’re also specialty teaching programs for astronomy, anatomy and many foreign languages as well as education packs for elementary, middle- and high schools.
Plus, there’s a variety of free or low-cost general purpose tools, for image editing, video creation, teaching typing and even mind mapping. For districts struggling with the cost of software, this will seem like a gift from the digital gods.
The Chromebook software circle is widening with Compass Learning recently completing a project that allows its entire library of PreK-through-12 curriculum material to be used by Chromebooks. We used their software to teach several lessons with these Chromebooks during the lab evaluations.
Finally, Chromebook takes a step ahead of traditional computers with its Management Console. The Web-based software and allows teachers and administrators to track who has which system, block certain apps from running and even create a common user interface for the institution. The software costs $30 per system and is money well spent.
Because many Chromebooks fall short of the mark in terms of local storage, the emphasis is on cloud storage of term papers, presentations and all the accoutrement of teaching. They all come with between 100GB and 1TB of online storage. This is more than enough for a year’s worth of schoolwork, but the cost can add up quickly after the introductory period ends.
Chromebooks have a big benefit compared to Macs and PCs: a hidden way to instantly wipe a machine clean and make it ready for a new student or teacher. Rather than hours spent wiping a drive clean and installing a new operating system and applications, it takes a click and a couple of minutes to make it good as new.
It all adds up to systems that will easily fit into a school’s computing landscape without breaking the bank. But, instead of a single Chromebook that’s best for schools, there are actually two that together have the power to revolutionize education.
For students, Samsung’s xe303C12 is not only inexpensive, light and thin, but can run for a full day of learning on a charge. It has only 2GB of RAM and may not be the fastest around, but is more than powerful enough to be a constant learning companion. The best part is that at $250 each, it is something most schools can afford.
Paradoxically, I recommend splurging with Google’s Pixel, but only for teachers. It is not only thin, light and powerful but its ultra-high resolution touch-screen makes it much more intuitive to put a lesson together and then project it for the class. In fact, the only major drawback is its $1,300 price tag, but the typical school gets 20 or 25 notebooks for kids for every one for a teacher, so it won’t bust the budget.
In other words, the Samsung XE303 and Google Pixel are a one-two punch for maximum educational impact.
Sony’s latest notebook family is the Fit E, which puts an emphasis on sight and sound. It not only has Clear Audio Plus, but the 14-inch model comes with a 1,600 by 900 resolution and the 15.6-inch version has a 1,920 by 1,080 HD screen. The systems start at about $550 and upgrading to a touch display costs about $100. A big step forward is that most of the company’s new designs will have NFC technology for transmitting data with a touch.
If your kids are having trouble spelling, try the Learn That Word online service. Think of it as a vocabulary coach that helps kids learn, remember and use the right words, spelled the right way. There are vocabulary lists for the major standardized tests as well as the ability to add your own based on a class project or reading assignment. A classroom of up to 30 students can use the service for $200 a year, which can be doubled if you let the organization link to your school’s Web site.
Most teachers feel they’ve entered hell when they need to create their own worksheets. Freeology can help with a wide assortment of worksheets for everything from organizers to Word Searches to analyzing the narrative flow of a short story. With nearly 500 to choose from, there’re even sheets that can help teach out to efficiently take class notes.
As tablets and smartphones infiltrate into the classroom, they’re being relied upon for a variety of tasks once reserved for desktop or notebook PCs. That now includes video editing because they have the power to edit and playback clips either made with a video camera or with the slate itself. Here’re my favorite video editors that won’t break the bank because they are all free or available at minimal cost. Next stop, the Oscars.
Forget about paying for video editing software because WeVideo now has an Android app for making movies on the cheap. The program lets you control a phone’s camera directly, easing the compilation of your clips. There’s a slew of transitions, effects, filters and the app can even save the project to WeVideo’s online servers for storage. It works on a small variety of phones, including Samsung Galaxy S4, Google Nexus and Sony Xperia Z. It’s free to download and use and you only pay $2 when you want to export the video or go over the 2GB online storage limit.
As its name implies, Splice lets you put together a movie from a series of video clips. It can be used on the iPad or many iPhone models and allows you to not only put together a series of video clips on a timeline but mix in photos and several audio tracks, like music, voice-overs or natural sound. You can integrate text anywhere on the screen and the software comes with several visual and sound effects as well as video transitions. When it’s ready, Splice lets you share it through social networking or on YouTube. The best part is that Splice is a freebee and can be downloaded from the iTunes App Store.
If your school can’t decide between Android and iPads, think HighlightCam Video Editor, a free app that can turn a pile of clips into a cool video with only a small amount of effort, making it ideal for small kids putting together mini-movies of a video diary, a field trip or the entire school year. The action of editing takes place automatically, and all you do is pick the clips and a theme. When the video is the way you want it, it can be shared on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other outlets. A big bonus is that the app is a freebee.
MovieAid can turn an iPhone, iPad or Android device into a movie machine. After selecting the clips you want to use, the app lets you arrange them in sequence, add transitions, titles and a sound track. Everything can be dragged into position and pinched to zoom in and out. It’s free, but the $2 Pro version allows you to use slow-motion or time lapse sequences and create vids that are longer than 1 minute. After previewing the cinematic creation, it can be exported as an .MP4 video or posted on a variety of social-media sites.
The latest in making school computers more mobile is Dell’s Mobile Computing Cart, which can hold up to 30 14-inch systems. It’s only slightly larger than a classroom desk and despite weighing nearly 200-pounds, has a handle that makes it easy to roll from room to room. It has power built-in so that when they’re not being used, the systems can be charging as well as remain connected with optional wired networking. And, when the last bell rings, the cart can be locked up. The cart sells for between $1,900 and $2,800.
Summertime is coming and what do you do when you’re finished cutting the grass, raking the leaves and cleaning out the attic? How about brushing up your skills for creating STEM labs? Over the summer, Catalyst Learning Curricula is running five professional development seminars that can turn your regular old science labs into memorable interactive learning experiences. From “Helping Students Design Labs and Analyze Data in AP/IB Science” (June 10 to 14) and “Critical-thinking Activities for Teaching Genetics” (June 17 to 21) to “Critical-thinking Activities for Teaching Cell Biology” (June 24 to 28), “Critical-thinking Activities for Teaching Anatomy and Physiology” (July 8 to 12) and “Critical-thinking Activities for Teaching Ecology” (July 15 to 19). They’ll all be held at a hotel in Ashville, North Carolina, cost $490 and include a slew of lesson plans, lab experience and help in planning next year’s syllabus.
While a standing desk can be a better way to learn, just about every piece of school furniture requires kids (and teachers) to sit in the classroom. Not Safco’s AlphaBetter Desk, which can be set for between 26- and 42-inches above the floor. It has two shelves as well as a footrest and can be ordered with a matching stool. The desk is durable and available in a variety of colors.
If your school’s cooling bill is making you hot under the collar, Carrier’s Energy Assessment Program can help with a way to keep the temperature comfortable while saving energy. The assessment is done to ASHRAE Level I Energy Assessment standards and is carried out by local dealers. At the end, the district will get a report that can help plan any remedial work that needs to be done.