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Farewell

LogoAfter a run of more than 10 years -– and about 4,000 posts -– this is the last Tech Tools update. It has been an amazing decade that has witnessed the advent of novel digital teaching techniques, personalized learning, Web-based curriculum platforms and inexpensive classroom technologies that have enlivened education while stimulating students and taxing the imaginations of teachers and administrators. Along the way, we learned how to enhance education with projectors, tablets and all sorts of software and online services.

As you might guess, after a decade, there’s more than enough thanks to go around, but I need to start with the product makers whose support and cooperation I could not have done without. Next up, those at Scholastic who have helped make Tech Tools a success.

But, most of all, I need to thank you, the reader. You’ve always been central to the Tech Tools mission and coverage. You deserve the lion’s share of the credit by coming to Tech Tools daily to see the latest in school technology.

Keep an eye out for a new and improved Tech Tools that might have a different name. In this age of rapid technological change, anything really is possible.

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The Price is (Now) Right

Ipad aAs Apple brings out the 2017 version of its iconic iPad tablet, the company concentrates on value with the best iPad for school uses yet. In most aspects, it resembles the now discontinued Air 2 model, except a very important one: price. The $299 price tag for schools (versus roughly $400 for the Air 2) makes it one of the best buys around.

At 0.3- by 6.6- by 9.4-inches and just over 1 pound, it may be a little heavier than the Air 2 model, but it’s still easy to carry around, hold in your hand or throw into a backpack. It has lost the size and weight edge over Samsung’s year-old Galaxy Tab S2 Android-based tablet, which weighs 13 ounces. If you want something smaller, both Apple and Samsung make mini-sized 8-inch pads.

Like two tablet peas in a pod, both have 9.7-inch displays that show the same 2,048 by 1,536 pixel resolution with sharp images as well as the ability to play smooth video. On the other hand, the Tab S2 uses OLED display technology to deliver a brighter image than the iPad’s traditional LCD display.

Unlike the iPad Pro, its younger iPad sister lacks a purpose-designed stylus for the slate, although it worked with a generic rubber dome pen. The response with fingers or stylus was quick, accurate and able to integrate up to 10 independent touch points, so the iPad can be the center of classroom collaboration.

Ipad school bUnder the skin, the iPad has an A9 processor that runs at 1.9Ghz and includes a coprocessor for video playback. The iPad comes with 2GB of RAM and either 32- or 128GB of storage space. Inside, it has a powerful 32 watt hour battery pack that was good for 8.5-hours of continuous video playback.

As expected, the new iPad can connect via WiFi with an 802.11ac radio as well as Bluetooth 4.2 for a keyboard or external speaker. There are versions with mobile data abilities that add about $150 to the price tag and require a monthly check to the mobile phone network.

In addition to its HD Web cam, the iPad’s front-facing 8-megapixel camera can create surprisingly detailed shots as well as 40-megapixel panorama images by panning the landscape; a nice art project is to use this abillty to have students create a Mobius strip image. It has precise exposure control, image stabilization and can even be used to burst a bunch of rapid fire shots.

All this adds up to a powerful tablet that scored an impressive 9,720 on the GeekBench 4.1 overall Compute test. That’s three-times the 2,656 score of the Tab S2, putting the iPad in its own class.  

Logitech rugged caseNeither the Tab S2 nor the current iPad have been designed for the abuse that is so often encountered in the classroom, but the iPad has the next best thing: Logitech’s $100 Rugged Combo Keyboard Case. The snap-on plastic cover can make the pad last and last, but adds to its bulk.

With the plastic case, the pad and keyboard add up to a 2.7-pound package that works both as a standalone tablet or a more conventional keyboard-centric notebook. Made of sturdy ABS plastic, the case has rounded corners and a soft fabric coating. While it protects the iPad from the shock of a 6-foot impact, the case can’t protect the pad against spills.

The iPad slips into the Logitech case in a matter of seconds. All the connections and cameras are available via port holes with one exception. The system’s main Lightning pug is covered, but the case has a pass-through connection to one next to it.

Pull out the back, and the case has a stand for holding the screen at between 20- and 60-degrees. On the downside, the rugged case tends to be top heavy and you can easily tip it over if you tap or swipe too vigorously.

Rather than using Bluetooth to connect the system with the keyboard, there’s a four-pin physical connection and is powered by the iPad’s battery. Its keyboard is a joy to use compared to the iPad’s on-screen keypad with specialty keys for multimedia, screen brightness and locking the screen. On the downside, there’s no touchpad so you’ll spend a lot of time reaching for the screen to tap and swipe.

Logitech rugged case bA strong magnet holds the pad to the keyboard base. Any first grader should be able to detach the two.

The bad news is that the case only fits the new 9.7-inch iPad. The good news is that it only adds $100 to the pad’s price tag and will be available through Apple’s education purchasing page. At less than $400, the two work like hand in glove and can make an ordinary iPad last and last.

A

Logitech_Rugged_Combo

iPad (2017) with Logitech Rugged Case

$299 plus $100

+ Value priced iPad for schools

+ Inexpensive

+ Powerful

+ Rugged with case

+ All ports and cameras are available for use

+ Mechanical keyboard with pull-away slate

- Thick and heavy package with case

Pod in a Pack

Q2u5Want to turn a lesson into a series of class podcasts, but the audio never sounds right? Samson’s Q2U Recording and Podcasting Pack has everything you’ll need to turn a classroom into a recording studio with a microphone and stand, windscreen and adapters. All the audio is mixed with included software for a PC, Mac or iPad/iPhone and the kit costs $60.

 

Being Smart about SMART

Edm600bannerYou no longer need to use a SMART projector to make a SMART board run properly. The Epson PowerLite 680 ultra-short throw projector works well with the M680 and M800 SMART boards and you can get it for $1,160.

Freebee Friday: School Supplies, Supplied

AppersonThere’s nothing worse on the first of class to find out that not all the kids showed up with their markers, tissues and other basics of education. Apperson can help put an end to it by delivering a school pack for each student that the parent pays for. All the teacher does is pick the supplies that each student needs to bring. Apperson does the rest and the school gets a 5-percent payment so it’s also a fund raiser.


Flipping over a new Flip

UntitledIf you liked the original Asus Chromebook Flip C100 as much as I did for its ability to transform from a tablet to a keyboard-centric notebook to a self-standing presentation system and its newfound ability to use Android apps, you’re likely to love its follow-on Flip C213. Based on a Celeron N3350 processor (instead of the original’s RockChip), it should be more powerful. It also has protective rubber bumpers and an 11.6-inch 1,600 by 900 display that can respond to 10 individual touch inputs. It comes with 4GB of RAM, 32GB of storage space and cameras, front and back.

As was the case with the original Flip, it’s younger brother can use the latest Android apps as well as Chromebook ones, including the free versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint. There’re two happy surprises with the second-generation Flip. First, it has a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) built-in for enhanced security. It also is like several other rugged Chromebooks, the new Flip has passed the Mil-Std 810G drop test, so it should last and last. With a stylus, it will cost $400.

Basic and Bright

Me301w aThe classic classroom projector takes a big step forward with NEC’s NP-ME310W, a $575 device that not only puts a large and bright image on-screen but is one of the least expensive classroom projectors to get and use.

At 6.4-pounds, it’s a bit heavier than Optoma’s 5.5-pound HD142X but is still small and light enough for a single person to install and maintain. It measures 3.9- by 14.5- by 11.5-inches and its white plastic body should blend right in to most classrooms. Underneath, the projector has three adjustable legs and five threaded attachment points allowing it to be set up in a variety of ways – from ceiling hardware to a shelf or nook.

It is conventional all the way with a standard-throw lens that has two control rings for adjusting the 1.7X zoom lens and focusing the image. It can be a little frustrating to use at first because it can be hard to get your fingers properly angled to precisely focus the projector.

Inside, the NP-ME310W has a 0.59-inch LCD panel and the device can fill up to a 25-foot screen. While its wide-XGA resolution is enough for showing the typical lesson, it can’t compare to HD projectors, like the HD142X.

It has things that other projectors in its class lack: horizontal and vertical keystone correction as well as pincushion control, making it a snap to get a perfectly rectangular image. The figure 8 control panel might be off-putting at first but it is an improvement over a basic control panel, with a large on/off button and access to adjusting the volume, opening the Menu and adjusting the image. There’re warning lights for overheating and when the lamp is reaching the end of its life.

Rather than skimping on ports, the NP-ME301W has everything you’ll need for today and tomorrow’s classroom. In addition to a pair of HDMI, VGA (in and out) and composite video connections, it has audio-in and -out jacks. The projector’s 20-watt speaker sounds surprisingly good and is loud enough for most small and mid-sized classrooms. The USB port lets you directly open image files from a memory key, but neither videos nor .pdf Acrobat documents.

Me301w cA big bonus is that the NP-ME301W includes wired Ethernet networking. Expanding its horizons to connect to the school’s WiFi network requires an $80 adapter that fills up the USB slot.

It connects with tablets and phones wirelessly. Oddly, the company’s Wireless Image Utility doesn’t work with the projector. Instead, you can use NEC’s Multi-Presenter, which allows up to 16 student screens to be projected.

You can also use NEC’s Virtual Remote Tool to control the projector from a phone or tablet, but the remote control is a gem. It not only fits well in the hand, but lets you instantly pick the source and control things like volume, keystone correction and the projection mode.

To get started, the NP-ME301W took a long 23 seconds to put its image onscreen and another minute to get to full brightness, which can kill precious time at the start of a class. On the other hand, it shut itself off in 2-seconds. In between, the projector’s fan was annoyingly loud at 47.4dB and variable with it changing its tone frequently as what was being projected changed.

Of its seven different projection modes (High-Bright, Presentation, Video, Movie, Graphics, sRGB and DiCom Sim), sRGB looks the best with lifelike flesh tones and saturated colors. At full blast in High-Bright mode put 3,330 lumens onto a screen, about 10 percent above its stated spec, but this drops to 2,700 lumens in sRBG mode.

Me301w dWhile running, the projector used 272-watts of power. With its $99 lamp (rated to last 4,000 hours), this translates into estimated annual expenses of $69 if it’s used for 6 hours every school day and electricity costs the national average of 12 cents per kilowatt hour. That’s slightly higher than the HD142X but several times more than a Casio EcoLite XJ-V1, which doesn’t require replacement lamps.

The projector comes with a four-year warranty for schools and can be had for $575 with NEC’s K12 Star educational discount. This makes it a small projector that’s a big bargain for schools not ready to take the HD plunge.

 

A

Me301w b

NEC NP-ME301W

$575

 

+ Very bright

+ Large image

+ Input ports, old and new

+ Good price

+ Inexpensive

 

- Loud fan

- W-XGA resolution

It’s Elementary

Ctc.jpb - CopyMath is one of those subjects where there’s a great range of abilities in primary classes, from those streaking ahead with fractions to those who are still working on the numbers and operations. CTCMath lets you target each with the right curriculum with a learn-at-your-own-pace system that not only is efficient but can build a student’s confidence for the next module. With more than 1,400 lessons, ranging from the first five numbers to calculating harmonic motion, each takes less than 10 minutes to compelte. Most of the lessons have an interactive element, audio and animations as well as a one-page summary that can help make the lesson’s ideas and techniques stick. There are also fully worked out answers to problems to show how it’s done. The online program produces detailed reports for staff and parents on how each child is doing along with where she is in the scheme.

Bigger Really is Better

BenQ EX3200RWhen it comes to displays, bigger is always better and BenQ’s EX3200R screen is among the best. Its 31.5-inch display is curved at a slight angle to increase your field of view and reduce the amount of refocusing your eyes have to do as you go from one corner to the other. Able to show full HD programming, it has a high 144-hertz refresh rate for flicker-free operation and you can set it up to suppress the blue light output of the screen. It lists for $450. 

Freebee Friday: Sentence Helpers

GrammarWe all need a refresher class in grammar and reducing our reliance on sentence fragments. Hartford’s Capital Community College Foundation has a great interactive page that can help. It has everything from guides that explain the parts of a sentence to quizzes and lessons on how to use a dictionary. If you don’t have 45 minutes to use it in a class, feel free to tell your students about it as a reference page for when they’re (their) not sure which (witch) word to use.

 

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