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Freebee Friday: Back to School Report Card

We give our students report cards of their progress, so why shouldn’t the people we buy our school computers from get graded as well on their products and services? That’s the idea behind Rescuecom’s annual survey of the most reliable brands and sellers. The company provides tech support for every major brand and derives its scores and grades based on the ratio between a manufacturer’s market share and the number of tech support calls for its gear.

At the head of the class were Amazon, Verizon and LG with A+ grades, followed by Apple, and Samsung with As. Microsoft and Samsung earned B grades, while Lenovo and Acer got C+ scores. Dell got a C- and HP and Toshiba got D grades, showing lots of room for improvement.



Cloud Sale

Adobe cloud saleAs school starts, Adobe’s Creative Cloud is on sale for $20 per month per student -– a 60-percent reduction -– but there are heavy discounts for school- or district-wide purchases. The Cloud is the right set of image, video and Web tools for both teaching about these subjects and actually retouching photos, editing clips and creating action-packed Web sites. In addition to the expected Photoshop, Premiere and Illustrator, the Cloud now includes several tablet apps, like Spark (storytelling), PremiereClip (video editing) as well Photoshop Sketch and Illustrator Draw, two apps for drawing and painting.



The New Gym Class

ChairSince physical education was introduced in public schools in the 19th century it has been loved and dreaded equally by students, but dodge ball, jumping jacks and rope climbing are falling by the wayside in an era of computerized learning and testing. That doesn’t have to be so because there are a tremendous number of digital resources to balance a healthy mind with a healthy body at school. These three services can get everyone out of their chairs and running around.


Focussed fitnessFocused Fitness’s Five for Life program is an all-inclusive way to get elementary, middle and high school students up out of their seats and be more active at school. It has everything from a full phys-ed curriculum that’s chock full of activities to nutrition lessons that can make students into more-thoughtful eaters. Five for Life has an extensive video library for teaching about health, fitness and proper exercise technique. There’s curriculum for elementary, middle and high schools that costs between $144 and $675.


Online gym for meIf all you want is online classes that get kids moving, Online Gym 4 Me does the trick. There are 120 different activities available that run for 15- to 30-minutes, perfect for squeezing into a 40-minute period. There’s everything from fat-burning to yoga and pilates and even a tutorial on how to do a handstand. The program will set up a personalized workout routine with a mix of live and recorded classes. The service can be played on just about any connected screen, either individually or ion the big screen for an entire class. Annual memberships cost $4.90 per month and there’s a free two-week trial to see if it gets the sweat up. At the moment schools don’t get a discount, but the company is working on it.


WalkaboutsActiveEd’s Walkabouts is an interactive app that puts the physical in education for Pre-K through second grade students. It runs online so the software works on just about any connected computer and can change the way you think of gym and lessons. It’s all controlled by the Walkabout dashboard where you can create new activities, reuse old ones, look for lessons, print worksheets and manage classes and students. New activities start with picking the age group, subject and standard you want to work with. After all, it’s easier and more fulfilling to play with numbers or vowels and consonants than fill a whiteboard with them.


Freebee Friday: Micro and Macrochips

Megaprocessor-panoramaNo High School physics class is complete without a rudimentary examination of electricity and electronics, but rarely does it go as far as the digital circuits that run our lives. Rather than microscopic circuits, James Newman’s Megaprocessor can be taught at human scale. That’s because it is 30- by 6-feet his macocomputer chip is composed of a variety of panels for its functional elements, like logic and arithmetic. While today’s typical processor runs at gigahertz speeds, can handle 64-bit programming and has gigabits of RAM available, Newman’s Megaprocessor runs at 8 kilohertz, has 256 bits of RAM and can process 16-bits at a time. Despite the size and technological differences, the Megaprocessor illustrates that the difference to today’s processors is merely a matter of scale. Newman provides a guided tour and its specs.

Best of ISTE: Google Free For All

New Cardboard 1There’s no doubt that Google’s Education Apps has changed the dynamic with free software that used to cost, well, real money. There are three extensions coming that push this paradigm to new heights that range from educational virtual reality to automatically-graded quizzes.

To start, Google’s Expeditions now has an app for taking the kids on virtual fieldtrips. It works with smartphones and the Cardboard carriers, but at the moment is only for Android; engineers are working on an iOS version for iPhones. In addition to the use of educational materials from Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Expeditions takes a big step forward with a version for use with tablets that might not be as visually stunning as the 3D Cardboard headsets, but is much more practical. 

CastMeanwhile, the ChromeCast hardware gets new software, just for the classroom that lets the teacher have any child show his or her screen to the class over WiFi. It integrates well with Google Classroom by providing a class list to choose from, but it can’t do split screen imaging.

Quizzes_06Finally, Forms Quizzes lets teachers quickly create and automatically grade assessments without ever taking out a red pencil. The quizzes can have images, photos and videos and if the student gets the wrong answer, you can embed hints, encouragement or links to resources.

Best of ISTE: School Tablet Lock-Down

Mbank274636_560_560Kensington is being much too modest in its appraisal of its latest charging cabinet, the AC12 Security Charging Cabinet for Chromebooks & Tablets. In addition to Chromebooks and tablets, it can fit most small portable computers that are 14-inches or shorter. The AC12 cabinet can securely hold up to a dozen systems in pull out drawers, but can be locked down and charged at once, so they’re ready for the next class. The cabinet has lockable wheels, plenty of ventilation and costs $700.  Booth 2848.

Communicate without Words

Swiftkey symbolsFor those hard to reach special students who can’t communicate through traditional means, SwiftKey Symbols presents an innovative visual language as a way to start talking. It works on Google phones and tablets, but not iPhones or iPads, and includes an array of representative stick figure drawings that create a new vocabulary and a means of communications. The array includes I, you, like, go and a slew of other works and concepts. Kids and teachers can add their own drawings and photos to the mix to personalize the vocabulary. Just drag a symbol at a time to the top of the interface, edit and rearrange the sequence and play it to create a visual sentence and start a new world of understanding. 

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.

Freebee Friday: Next Tech

You gov ieeeIt’s true that we all love and secretly loathe new technologies because they have the power to enrich the classroom but often leave behind other technologies we were just getting used to. According to a survey sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers of over two thousand adults conducted by YouGov, the most important STEM subjects in You govsecondary education are math, science and overall technology. Over the coming year, the poll respondents thought that the most influential technologies will be Smartphones (42 percent), tablets (37 percent) and 3-D printers (32 percent). 

What’s going to be left behind? Based on the responses, digital music players and cameras are on the outs as stand-alone devices. That’s mostly because their roles have been taken over by even the cheapest tablets and phones.

Best in Shows

Fetc bettAlong with the New Year and ever-present danger of writing 2014, we have a slew of education shows upon us. At them, we’ll see and try-out the latest teaching products –from tablets and projectors to administrative software and computer carts – are debuted. This year, though, we get the double whammy of BETT and FETC at the same time. Although they are still on different continents, it’s a lot to absorb. Here’re my favorites from the current Ed Tech shows.

6_to lumensNotebooks and tablets need to be as mobile as students and teachers are these days with the ability to go from room to room as needed. Capable of holding up to 48 systems, that’s exactly what Lumen’s Rhino CT-S50 cart does. It can hold and charge notebooks, tablets and Chromebooks so they’re always ready for class. The lockable cart is mounted on stable casters, is ventilated and uses a smart charging system that reduces power demand. The bonus is that the S50 cart provides a large work surface on top with an articulated arm to hold a slate or monitor. FETC no. 323.


What’s better than wheeling notebooks and tablets around on a cart? Individual lockers like the LapSafe Diplomat PIN can safely hold and charge the systems when they’re not in use. Rather than a keyed lock, though, each Diplomat PIN locker has its own combination that gets typed into the locker’s keypad. The combinations can be set up with the company’s TANmode software, frequently changed and sent to users via an email or text message. The sturdy steel lockers come in stacks that can hold a dozen systems. Bett no. F186.

Acer C740 Chromebook_rear left facing 2Acer’s new Chromebook C740 has the distinction of being just about indestructible at schools and should outlast its students. The system has an 11.6-inch screen that can show 1,366 by 768 resolution and a durable display hinge that can take being repeatedly twisted and turned. The screen cover is reinforced and the system can stand up to foot-and-a-half drop. Schools and districts buying more than one-hundred systems get Premier Care, which includes accident damage coverage. All told, it costs $260, weighs less than 3 pounds and should slide into and out of a backpack with ease. There will also be a C910 model that includes a 15.6-inch screen and 4GB of RAM for $300. BETT no. F188.

ItslearningThe itslearning app takes this student information service to new levels of mobility with iPad and Android apps. The software allows teachers, students and admin staff access to the school’s itsLearning info without logging onto the system. The apps can not only automatically facilitate communication between students and teachers but deliver assignments and grades as well. FETC no. 1041.

ClassroomGoogle’s Classroom just got a lot more useful in, well, the classroom. The latest version of the software not only works with both Android and iOS systems, but lets you cache lessons and multimedia material offline so that you can now use it to teach in unconnected rooms. Teachers can add all sorts of images and Web pages as well as take a picture from the Classroom’s assignment page to document a project, what’s on the board or even take a snap shot of a homework assignment and turn it in digitally. BETT no. E240.

Screen480x480Aimed at K-through-2nd graders, Science4Us can be the first science lessons students are exposed to, so it has to count. Available online or via Science4Us’s free iPad app, there isn’t an app for Android tablets. The 28 two-week modules available cover everything from the physical and environmental sciences to life and earth science. Along the way, the lessons integrate literacy and math into the science lessons. The service costs between $5 and $12 a student. FETC no. 553.

SkywardThe job of drilling down to the school or classroom level to get the data needed just got a lot easier with Skyward’s myDistrict360. It can not only show individual students grades, attendance and other details, but provide context for how each class and school is doing. The online program lets you enroll new students through a Web form and create your own reports for what’s important without the need for programming. FETC no. 840.

Create educationCreate Education has a vision of the future of shop classes at schools that revolves around teaching kids to use 3-D printers. The company combines its Ultimaker 2 printer with its Cura software to allow kids to make all sorts of small plastic items. The key is that they model the items on-screen using the CAD design and imaging software and then watch it being made on the 3-D printer. BETT no. F54.

State of the InternetThe old saying that reading begets reading couldn’t be more true, according to Scholastic’s “Kids & Family Reading Report."The corporate parent of Tech Tools, Scholastic surveyed 2,558 children and parents to compile its results. While it points out that girls continue to read more than boys, the big take-away is that those who read become better and more proficient readers. The biggest factor in building a strong reader is that their parents read to them aloud between five and seven days a week before the student entered kindergarten. FETC no. 201

OkiEven with the ever expanding digital classroom, there’s still a place for printers at school. Take OKI’s MB562w printer, which can not only pump out up to 27 pages per minute of sharp 1,200 by 1,200-text and graphics, but works with OKI’s Remark scanning software to grade bubble tests and compile the results. FETC no. 1416

NB_3Smart’s Notebook software can bring everything needed for education together, from lesson plans and multimedia to collaboration and assessments. The latest version has a Lesson Builder for creating innovative classroom activities as well as Concept Mapping that can have a class turn ideas and concepts into deeper understanding. FETC no. M12.

Elmo-l-12idElmo’s L-12iD can put anything from a petri dish to a paper map onto the big screen and gives the teacher the choice of switching between sending the video stream through a computer via a USB cable or go directly to the classroom projector through an HDMI cable. The document camera-visualizer leads the way with a 12X optical zoom lens, full HD resolution and a built-in microphone. If you need a Web cam, the L-12iD’s lens can be flipped up to face the class. BETT no. C477.

  E805_ltCould the classroom projector have met its match? NEC’s 80-inch flat-screen display sure makes it look possible. The MultiSync E805’s HD screen can not only be controlled remotely over the school’s network, but it can work with Crestron and AMX control networks. It delivers a bright and clear image, has a 10W sound system and all the inputs you’re likely to need to connect, including both HDMI and DisplayPort plugs. The screen sells for $5,600 with a three-year warranty. FETC no. 1268.

SungardOne size does not fit all schools, but SunGard K-12’s Plus 360 Suite can put all the information that a teacher, principal or district supervisor needs in view. It can not only show the big picture but zoom in on individual students or classes and handle everything from student information, curriculum and assessments to financial, human resource and special education issues. It can even be set up so that a parent can view her child’s grades. FETC no. 1408.

UnplagWhether it’s copying a paragraph from Wikipedia or not properly attributing a source, plagiarism is front and center for teachers. In a few seconds, Unplag can cross check it against 16 million Web pages from Google and Bing, against any file on your computer or with respect to another student’s work. In fact, you can try it out by pasting a passage up to 275 words into the company’s Web site and look at the results. BETT no. E346.

Office 365 moodleMicrosoft’s Mix is a great way to add multimedia and interactivity to lessons, but it just got a lot more versatile with the addition of an add-in for material in Moodle’s open-source Learning Management System. The Moodle plug-in works with all of Office 365, lets you work offline and log-in using a single Office 365 password. BETT no. D270.


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