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Freebee Friday: The Future of Mobility

 

Harris poll mobilityWhile teachers and administrators are still on the fence over the impact of mobile technology on learning, their students are all for it. A Harris Poll survey sponsored by Pearson showed that nine out of ten students believe that tablets will change the way they learn. So says the 2014 Mobile Device Survey, which questioned more than 2,250 fourth-through-twelfth-graders and found them very amenable to new technology.

For instance, 81 percent responded that tablets let them learn in a way that’s best for them and 79 percent thought it helped them with their schoolwork. That said, only about 60 percent of those who participated in the survey regularly used a tablet at school. You can read the full survey results for free.

Teaching in the Z Dimension

Kidsengine_manz_boyWhile educational 3-D materials for projectors are few and far between, zSpace can get kids to learn about science, engineering and technology in all three dimensions with its zSpace 200 workstation. You can work and interact with virtual holograms of everything from a set of gears or levers to the dissection of a frog or how the heart works. Students manipulate, rotate and zoom-in and -out of models that appear to float in space in front of the screen with a tethered pen. The company’s Gallery has over 500 3-D models that pertain to architecture, engineering and zoology while the Studio modeling software is for students and teachers to build their own 3-D worlds along with tools for measuring what’s going on.

Accessories that Stand up to Spills

X1800-Black-3It’s never a good idea to mix electronics and liquids, unless they are Rapoo’s latest wireless keyboard and mouse combo. The X1800 set connects with a computer via a 2.4GHz link and is spill resistant. Available through Canada Computers, it costs $20 and its battery should be able to run for a year.

Pen or Finger? Why Choose

Bl595Wi aIn the world of classroom interactivity, the debate continues to rage over which is better: a finger or a stylus. Why decide when you can have the convenience of using fingers as well as the precision of a stylus. That’s the idea behind Epson’s BrightLink 595Wi projector, a device that can not only light up a classroom but fill it with lessons and interactivity.

 If you don’t look carefully, you’ll probably think that the BL 595Wi isn’t new at all because it looks just like earlier BrightLink models. Look closer, though, and you’ll find that while it retains the best bits of Epson’s older BrightLink projectors, the BL 595Wi establishes a new standard for short-throw classroom projectors.

Like its cousins, the 12-pound BL 595Wi is a bit bulky but should be fine for one person to install. There are 8 attachment points underneath for ceiling- or wall-mounting. Happily, the package includes a well-made wall mount that lets you adjust the projector’s position in a variety of ways while it hides the projector’s cables.

Unlike its predecessors, the BL 595Wi model lacks any adjustable feet. As a result, you might need to get Epson’s $209 Table Mounting hardware that clamps onto a table’s edge. I actually prefer the adjustable feet that allow me quickly set up the projector for one-off lessons or training presentations.

Once it’s set up, the BL 595Wi’s trio of LCD panels combine for a bright, rich image that can display up to 1,280 by 800 resolution. It is the ultimate in ultra-short throw technology with the ability to create a 52-inch image with its back against the screen and a 9-foot image at roughly 12-inches. Beyond that, the image gets washed out.

Bl 595wi fThere’s a focus bar on the right behind a plastic door that you’ll need to use once or twice to tweak the image. But that’s about it for physical adjustments because the BL 595Wi lacks an optical zoom lens, although it does have a 4X digital zoom for highlighting an item close-up.

It has the expected vertical as well as horizontal keystone correction and an image shift mechanism, but it only moves the projected image by about a half-inch in any direction. Epson’s QuickCorner image set-up procedure can frame a screen in about a minute, even if the projector is off-center. All you do is pull in or push out each of the image’s four sides with the remote control’s four-way arrows. It creates as close to a perfect fit as possible.

On the right side is an incredible assortment of input ports, with Displayport being the only one absent. In addition to a pair of HDMI (one of which works with an MHL adapter and enabled phone or tablet) ports, the projector has Composite, S- and VGA-video connectors. There’s a VGA-out port for connecting another projector or monitor and 3-D Synch plugs. In addition to a LAN connector, it has USB connectors for linking the projector to a computer as well as an RS-232 port for controlling the projector remotely. A USB dongle for connecting to a WiFi network costs $99.

There are several audio-in and out choices as well as a microphone jack. This allows a teacher with a microphone to use the BL 595Wi’s 16-watt amp and single speaker as a public address system for the class.

The best part is that all of the cables are out of sight because Epson has a screw-in cable cover that can put a pile of unsightly wires and cables out of sight. Oddly, the projector comes with extra-long USB, VGA and S-video cables, but nothing for an HDMI connection.

There are controls on the projector, but you’ll need to rely on the small remote control if it’s out of reach. With the remote, you can select the source and adjust a variety of projection parameters, including color temperature, brightness and contrast. There’s even a key for muting the sound and blanking the screen as well as the choice of three pointers that can be projected, but the remote’s keys aren’t backlit for dark rooms.

BL 595wi bThe projector comes with five test patterns built-in and you can add your own as well as have it display the school’s logo on start-up. It works with PCs and Macs directly, Windows tablets via its HDMI input as well as iOS and Android tablets with the Epson’s wireless iProjection apps. At any point, you can connect up to 50 students or teachers using Epson’s Moderator software and display any four images.

It really comes into its own when you use the BL 595Wi’s Pen Mode. It comes with two pens and a hard plastic case that has a magnetic base. After going through a calibration routine, you can write, draw or doodle directly on the projected image or use the pen as a mouse.

About the size of a marker, each pen weighs 1.9-ounces and uses an AA battery. It has a soft plastic tip that makes it feel like you’re writing on paper and a mouse button. It works with or without a computer connected and even on plaster walls.

The projector also comes with Epson’s Touch Unit, which gets mounted on the wall between the projector and the screen. Once set up, you can draw, write or tap with your fingers as well as the pens – or go back and forth. The action is the equivalent of the pen but without the mouse emulation button, although Epson has programmed in finger gestures for left-clicking, zooming and scrolling.

All told, six people can interact in the BL595Wi’s projected space in any combination of pens and fingers. No other projector provides this level of flexibility for impromptu collaboration, small group lessons or one-on-one teaching.

With all this going for it, the BL 595Wi can be a bear to set up and I wish it were better integrated. For instance, the Touch Unit would be better if it were part of the projector and didn’t require its own cable. That said, it should only add a few minutes to install.

Bl595Wi dEpson includes a thorough installation manual, something that is increasingly rare in this business, along with a paper template that will make attaching the wall bracket a snap on the first try. The projector’s 285-page manual is similarly exhaustive (and exhausting) but tells you everything you need to know about its set up, operation and diagnostics.

In addition to working with Smart Technology’s Notebook software, Promethean’s ActivInspire and MimioSudio Software, you can license these programs through Epson for a single copy or an entire district. The projector can also connect with a document camera or Web cam. In a series of mock lessons, it works just as well for drawing triangles and sketching maps as for tearing apart sentences. The addition of finger motion helps when you either can’t find the pen or it’s already in someone’s hand.

While the projector uses a traditional high-pressure 245-watt lamp, rather than costing $250 or $300, Epson sells replacements for a reasonable $79. It takes a couple of minutes to replace. It is rated to run for 4,000 hours in normal mode or 6,000 hours in low-power Eco mode.

There’s also a $15 dust filter that needs periodic maintenance. It’s easy to get to and quicker than changing a lamp.

It took 22-seconds for the projector to start up, but you’ll need to wait a minute or two for it to get to full brightness. The projector shut itself off in less than 2-seconds, so little power is wasted. There are modes for Presentation, Dynamic, Theatre, Photo and sRBG material as well as for use with a Blackboard and Whiteboard. In high-output Dynamic mode, it put close to 4,000 lumens of light on the screen – more than 20 percent over its 3,300-lumen specification.

In addition to a surprisingly sharp focus, the BL 595Wi had good color balance, although its light greens weren’t up to its rich reds and blues in Dynamic mode. Things look a lot more realistic in Theatre mode, but you lose about 30 percent of the projector’s brightness. Regardless of which mode you’re using, the projector pumped out smooth video with good audio synchronization.

Brightlink 595 wi classroomAt full power, the BL 595Wi uses 310-watts of power, which declines to 2.1-watts when it’s off with the projector’s communications electronics remaining on to quickly wake it up. You can set it up to use no power when off but you sacrifice the ability to always be connected to it via the school’s network.

That adds up to estimated annual expenses of about $69 if it is used for six hours a day during the school year and electricity costs 12 cents per kilowatt-hour, the national average. That’s pretty good, but the projector runs hot with 150-degrees Fahrenheit exhaust and a fan that is loud enough to disrupt a quiet time lesson.

The BL 595Wi costs $2,399 with the wall mounting hardware and a two-year warranty, but can be had for $1,799 through Epson’s Brighter Futures educational discount. At first that might seem high in a world dominated by interactive projectors that cost closer to $1,000, but the BL 595Wi not only comes with a pair of pens (at $150 each) and wall-mounting hardware (at about $300), two options that can add up to $600, but it is as bright as it is flexible in the ways it can be used to teach and learn with.

A

Bl595Wi e

Epson BrightLink 595Wi

$1,799

+ Bright image

+ Pen or finger touch interactivity

+ Up to six simultaneous users

+ Assortment of connections

+ Includes wall mount

 

- Loud fan

- Complicated set up

- No feet for tabletop use

 

Four Antennas are Better than One or Two

Netgear x4 nighthawkIf you thought that having an 802.11ac router with three antennas was a good idea, then Netgear’s Nighthawk X4 is even better. Based on Quantenna’s 500MHz WiFi chipset, the new Nighthawk router can handle four independent streams of data over the 5- and 2.4GHz bands. It can move up to a theoretical peak of 2.3Gbps, but expect much less than that if you plan to continue using older gear. The router has an eSATA port for a hard drive as well as a pair of USB 3.0 connectors and four gigabit LAN ports. It will sell for $280.

Its (About) Learning

Its parent-home-pageThe latest version of the itslearning K-through-12 individualized instruction service concentrates on making its curriculum more easily visible to teachers, parents and students with a streamlined log-in and new MyPage. It has everything from assignments and class lessons to individual portfolios and learning plans. The service works on all hardware platforms and now has a portal for parents to keep track of their children schoolwork.

Freebee Friday: Word City

Screen568x568While it was designed for use with home-schoolers, Vocabulary SpellingCity can open up a world of words to young students. Available for iPads, Android tablets and over the Web via a browser window, SpellingCity has 30 word-based games including MatchIt Sentences, FlashCards and Parts of Speech. Together, they can expand a class’s vocabulary while helping their spelling. The app automatically tracks each kid’s results, can deliver reports and is free to try out. The premium edition costs $30 for five users.

 

Next-Gen iPad Now

Ios 8Got a lot of iPads at your school? You need to stay ahead of the software curve by downloading and trying out the iOS 8 Beta to make sure that it works with all your software – old and new. It’s a free download from Apple site that includes more ways to share items, add custom buttons and add links to online storage systems. You’ll need to register to get the software, which includes a guide on how to use app extensions.

 

 

 

iPad Protection Program

03For those schools that have invested in iPads and have spent too much time, effort and money repairing and replacing broken units, there’s hope. Zagg’s Rugged Folio encases the fragile pad in body armor that can protect it while providing a real keyboard for typing.

Made of five layers of polycarbonate plastic and a sheet of stainless steel, the Folio case may have soft rubber bumpers and a textured finish, but its skin is solid and able to absorb or deflect the stress of being dropped or abused. The exterior has a soft grippy surface that actually feels better in the hand than a naked pad and is harder to drop.

At 1.1-pounds, the Folio designed to be used with an iPad Mini is significantly heavier than the pad itself. With the Mini installed, the pair weigh in at a hefty 1.8-pounds and is just over an inch thick, making it much bulkier than an iPad. On the positive side, it’s still smaller and lighter than most mini-notebooks and the Folio case can easily be slipped into the outer pocket of a backpack or briefcase.

You install an iPad into the Folio by squeezing it into and under the case’s flexible silicone edging. It’s a bit awkward and feels like you need three hands to do it, but a pad can be installed or taken out in a few seconds. The two fit together solidly and there are cutouts for all the switches and the pad’s camera. The fit is perfect and the iPad feels like it was designed for the Folio case rather than vice versa.

06With the case in place, you can use the iPad like a traditional mini-notebook. It has 16.5-millimeter keys that feel a little cramped, but are a big step forward from  using the screen-based keyboard. There’re specialty keys for getting to the iPad’s home screen, playing multimedia and controlling the volume. It lacks a touchpad so you’ll have to use the touch-screen.

A big bonus for those who teach in the dark is that the entire keyboard is backlit. It’s easy to adjust the brightness and Folio gives the choice of seven colors.

At any time, you can grab and remove the screen from the base to use it like, well, a tablet, but with its armor covering all the sides except for the screen. Its magnetic clasp actually grabs the slate when it’s close to the keyboard base.

In addition to using it as a notebook or tablet, the Folio case can also be used in tent and presentation modes as well as holding it like an open book. It can’t be set up flat on a desktop with the mechanical keyboard available as is the case with many convertible computers. On the downside, the screen feels a little loose when it’s being used as a notebook and the Folio case has the tendency to tip over when it’s swiped or tapped too vigorously.

01There’s no electrical connection between the pad and keyboard and the Folio connects using Bluetooth. The two linked on the first try and re-established contact many times after that. Even though the keyboard isn’t physically connected to the tablet, it can wake it up by double tapping a key. It will go to sleep when you close the lid and wake up when you open it.

Its lithium polymer battery is more than enough to power the keyboard for two years of daily use, according to the company, and it didn’t fail me over a month of using if for a few hours every day. On the downside, it has only the crudest battery gauge and requires a micro-USB connection to charge it, compared to the lightning plug used for charging the iPad itself. In other words, you’ll need to keep cables for both on hand.

If you’re looking for a way to make iPads last a lot longer, Zagg’s Rugged Folio delivers with the closest thing to making them bullet-proof.

 A

02

Zagg Rugged Folio

$140

 

+ Tough case

+ Removable screen

+ Long battery life

+ Backlit keyboard

+ Four computing personalities

 

- More than doubles size and weight of pad

- Tips over

- Battery requires micro-USB plug

Warp-Speed Computing

HP Z840 Workstation with HP Z27i Display lowIf your computers are lagging when it comes to video editing, computer-aided drawing and math computation, think about a workstation, like HP’s Z family. This kind of power doesn't come cheap, but the typical school might need one or two workstations or at worst a lab room full of them. Equipped with either Nvidia Quadro or AMD FirePro graphics, Intel Xenon processors and ultrafast DDR4 RAM chips, the Z440, Z640 and Z840 workstations sell for $1,299, $1,759 and $2,399. There’re also portable G2 workstations with 15-inch and 17-inch screens that sell for $1,500 and $1,750.

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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.