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Freebee Friday: X Marks the NetSpot

NetspotThe hardest part of covering a school with WiFi often involves filling in dead spots after the access points have been installed. NetSpot can help with software that eases creating a site survey of a network’s strong and weak points. There are free apps for Macs and Windows systems as well as a $149 Pro version for Macs that adds the ability to use 15 different ways of looking at the data and can tap into hidden networks.

LAN in Hand

Netsctou g2Figuring out what’s wrong with a network can take hours of nosing around, but Netsscout’s AirCheck G2 can likely figure it out in seconds. The handheld network scanner can connect with a Wired Ethernet LAN or a 802.11ac WiFi connection and its 5-inch color touchscreen can present everything from checking Connectivity and mismatched wiring to looking for channel interference. It can not only help troubleshoot DHCP and Power over Ethernet problems but Cisco Discovery issues as well. All results can be saved to a cloud account for later comparison. It costs $2,193.53 with a case, AC adapter and cords.

 

An Edge at School

71m3ZYc1TsL._SL1500_Don’t let Satechi’s Edge Wireless Gaming Mouse’s name fool you, it is just as appropriate for schools that need high-precision pointing devices as for gamers searching for the center of the universe. At $25, it costs about what a boring basic wireless mouse goes for, but offers so much more.

At 5-ounces (including its pair of AA batteries), the Gaming Mouse feels good in the hand, is smaller than most chunky mice and can be comfortably used by 4th through 12th graders. The Edge’s black plastic case has a soft inviting coating, a comfortable ridge for your thumb to rest on as well as an indent for the pinky and ring fingers on the right. All this means that lefties might feel left out because it concentrates most of its control buttons on the left.

The good news is that unlike some pointers, you won’t have to load any software to get it to work on a recent PC. It sets itself up immediately for PCs that use Windows XP and newer, Macs with OSX 10.4 and newer and Chromebooks of all vintages. Any adjustments need to be made from within the OS’s software.

Rather than being tethered to a computer with a USB cord, the Gaming Mouse is wireless. On the other hand, instead of Bluetooth, it uses a proprietary connection that requires using the included small (easy to lose) 2.4GHz USB adapter.

Img_8760Unlike more basic pointers, the Edge has a multitude of buttons. It has the basics: right and left click buttons as well as a smooth scroll wheel for moving up and down within a long Web page or document. The mouse adds page-forward and -back keys for the thumb, a dedicated double click button and one for adjusting the mouse’s resolution.

It may not be able to use 12,000-dot per inch (dpi) resolution as many new pointers can. You can choose between 800dpi for things like word processing and Excel spreadsheets through 1,600- and 2,400- to 4,000-dpi for image editing or design work where high precision counts.

Turn the mouse over and you’ll find not only a switch for changing the mouse’s responsiveness between 250 and 500-hertz, but a setting that turns the buttons into video controls. This allows the Gaming Mouse to show off its split personality by being able to play/pause, fast-forward/rewind and clear the screen. The scroll wheel becomes a volume control, but the mouse lacks a mute button.

There’s a visual advantage to the Gaming Mouse as well. The scroll wheel and a “G” logo on the Edge are backlit and have a purpose. As you change the mouse’s optical resolution, the light cycles through red, purple, green and blue. If it’s too much of a distraction, you can turn the light show off.

After between 5 and 10 minutes it goes to sleep to save battery power. While other wireless pointers wake up by moving the mouse around, you’ll need to press one of its buttons to bring it back to life. Satechi says that a set of batteries should go for 36 months and Edge worked fine with a set of rechargeable Sanyo’s Eneloop batteries.

Img_9161Overall, the mouse is well made, sturdy and has a solid feel to it. It comes with a 1-year warranty, but I expect it to last a lot longer, even in classes with small children.

Everything is smooth as silk and the mouse works just as well on a laminate desktop in a classroom as on a glass tabletop in a library.

Its precision and hand-feel make the Gaming Mouse a joy to use compared to budget pointers. At $25, the Gaming Mouse is cheap enough to be in any classroom or computer lab where precision counts.

A

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Satechi Edge Wireless Gaming Mouse

$25

+ Inexpensive

+ Adjustable resolution

+ Works with PCs, Macs and Chromebooks

+ Lit scroll wheel

+ Video shortcut buttons

 

- Requires USB adapter

- Awkward to wake up mouse

Keyboard Locker

Guard idYou use antivirus software to keep outsiders from infecting your computer, but what about your keyboard? Keyloggers can record everything you type, so why not encrypt it? Strikeforce’s Guarded ID can do exactly that with military-grade 256-bit AES encryption, so everything you type – from grades and discipline reports to credit card and ID numbers – stays safe and secure. While the computer gets the actual keystrokes, a hacker only sees random numbers. There are apps for PCs and Macs ($30) as well as Androids and iOS systems ($20).

DIY Whiteboard

Ormiboard planetIf your school can’t afford the expense and hassles of dedicated digital whiteboards for its classrooms, you might have all you need at hand. That’s because Ormiboard can turn any connected computer into projector collaboration tools. Just connect to the Ormiboard site, pick your lessons from the hundreds available and start working on it. The site has full lessons on everything from the solar system to nouns and pronouns as well as a good variety of clip art, educational games and audio so you can make your own. You can try it out for free, but the service costs $60 per teacher and school-wide discounts are available.

Making Reading Exciting

NewsleaNewsela’s reading curriculum is used by 800,000 teachers daily and the latest update includes a library of primary sources, biographies, famopus speeches and news articles, from the Gettysburg Address to the Sooner's land rush. It all brings young readers closer to the material with primary sources and vivid images. The site still has daily features that include quizzes that can be instant homework assignments and its content is offered in several Lexile levels for readers of different abilities.

Freebee Friday: The Big Test

Civics testForget about state-wide social studies tests or college entrance exams, a good measure of a middle- or high-school class’s knowledge of our nation's history and government is to take the citizenship test. There are 100 practice questions available, but to become a citizen, you need to get a 60% score on a random mix of ten. Not sure about your answer? Don't worry about deportation. Regardless of whether you get a question right or wrong, you’ll see insightful explanations that can turn the test into a teaching moment. 

 

Getting Your School’s Mojo On

MojoWith more than 50-million students, teachers and staff using Google for Education apps a day, it’s time for the program to widen its horizons and that’s what Mojo Networks is working on. Due out by the end of the year, the company’s secure WiFi management scheme will integrate with Google education apps and will be able to control much of what goes on at school. For instance, Mojo Enforce will not only restrict access to the school’s LAN but will add an extra authentication layer than WiFi access points can do on their own. This can deter hackers without the need for an on-site security appliance. Expect more and deeper integration as time goes on.

 

Tutors On Call

EverlyNeed to suggest a math or English tutor for a struggling student? Everly has a group of qualified teachers on call who can help kids get it right the first time. When you sign up, you can choose tutors based on their background, education and experience and book a tutoring session at your choice of location. The first hour is free, but Everly scheduling is available only via a Web browser; the company is working on mobile apps.

Android on a Chromebook

Chromebook androidSince their separate inceptions, there’s been a barrier between Google’s Chrome and Android products that divided two very similar products. The latest Chromebooks software erases that line, opening new vistas for teachers, students and schools.

At the moment the software is limited to a handful of Chromebooks, including the Asus Chromebook Flip C100, Acer Chromebook R11 and Google’s second-generation Chromebook Pixel. Later this year, there’ll be an update that will widen the circle to include several dozen models from Acer to Toshiba.

Android chrome with elipseIt took me less than five minutes to convert an Asus Flip Chromebook to run just about any Android app out there. Be warned: the software is still under development and might have a few quirks. For me, it was rock solid and made my Flip Chromebook much more powerful.

Here’s how to do it. Start by going to the Chromebook’s Settings page and scroll down to the Android Apps section just before the bottom. Click the box that says “Enable Android Apps” and your system will automatically download the needed software. After a restart, my Chromebook was transformed into combo Chrome-Android machine, capable of running most apps out there.

Word  install chromebookIn fact, the updated Flip now has a prominent PlayStore icon at the bottom of the screen. Click to select from the more than 2 million Android apps – many not available to Chromebook users – on offer. The big payoff is that you no longer need to use separate devices for Android and Chrome-based software and you can mix and match apps.

I set up my Flip C100 with the 123s and ABCs, Complete Chemistry, DuoLingo and Math Tricks. If that wasn’t enough, the system can now run the Android-based free versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, making them even more powerful in the classroom setting. All of the apps worked fine and the action of the Flip’s touchscreen made it feel like I was using an Android tablet with a keyboard.

Overall, the software works remarkably well with few glitches and essentially opens Chromebooks up to a whole new world of apps. It also marks the removal of one of the last artificial barriers between Androids and Chromebooks. You have to wonder why Google’s programmers didn’t do this earlier, but I’m happy they finally got around to it.

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