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Freebee Friday: Give Tech a Chance

Boxlight posterBoxlight has put together a poster and guide that can help make your school’s tech program more complete and successful. Able to be printed at any size, the Acrobat file has the top 5 challenges of incorporating new tech as well as info on everything from getting input on buying decisions to creating a tech committee. 

 

 

 

Jack of all Video Switches

AT-UHD-CLSO-840s_3x4The latest network video switch from Atlona can not only deliver smooth streams of ultra-HD video but adds a bunch of new abilities. The two-piece AT-UHD-CLSO-840 matrix switcher has eight inputs (three of which use HDBaseT) and four outputs (two of which are HDBaseT).  This variety and the ability to go between any input and output adds up to allowing high quality video conferences and split-screen set ups just about anywhere. It can be powered by the school’s CAT-6 cabling, has a range of 330 feet and can be controlled over the network with the company’s AMS software. It’ll be out early next year at $5,000.

Connecting the Classroom

Screen beam 960The dream of inexpensively enabling students and teachers to take over the classroom’s big screen has arrived with ActionTec’s ScreenBeam 960. At $300, it undersells the competition but it isn’t as inclusive as it should be.

It’s role in today’s classroom is to wirelessly receive audio and video from a notebook, tablet or phone so everyone participates and has a good view of the action. Able to tap into dual-band 802.11ac WiFi networks, it’s essential for the high bandwidth data flow in today’s classrooms. The best part is that because it uses WiFi Direct’s peer-to-peer connections, the Screen Beam doesn’t add any overhead to the network. 

At 1.0- by 6.5- by 6.5-inches, the black domed ScreenBeam looks like a conference call phone. It lacks a microphone and speakers.

Around its edge, the ScreenBeam base station has an HDMI port for connecting with the room’s large monitor or projector as well as connections for power and the school’s wired LAN for making adjustments to the ScreenBeam 960.

In addition to an audio jack for speakers, ScreenBeam has a USB connector for linking the device to an interactive whiteboard, but unfortunately, not a thumb drive containing images or videos. The device has VGA-in and -out ports for working with older computers and projectors. There’s a power connection and a recessed reset button.

Screen beam 960 aAlthough it is well designed and easy to use, the ScreenBeam 960 is basic with no controls on the unit or a remote control. Setting it up takes about five minutes and starts with positioning it near the projector or large screen. It lacks VESA mounting hardware or an optional bracket, but is light and small enough to use Velcro tape to secure it in place.

Setting the system up starts with plugging in its power and video cables. Using the Connect wireless display selection in Windows 8.1 or 10 or the Miracast abilities of an Android phone or tablet, all you need to do is type in the ScreenBeam’s security code and 15 seconds later you’re connected.

On the downside, the system ignores Windows 7 systems that are so prevalent in education today. There is a work-around by using the product’s $40 USB Transmitter on an older computer. Unfortunately, there’s no way to connect a Windows XP PC, Chromebook, iPad or Mac to the ScreenBeam.

Using a Samsung Galaxy S2 Tab, Asus Zen 8 and a Toshiba Radius notebook, ScreenBeam worked reliably and delivered clear and smooth video. It has the annoying tendency to refuse a connection but always worked on the second try. Aside from the occasional artifact or hiccup, the video looked great at 1,920 by 1,080 resolution and 30 frames per second.

Because it uses WiFi and not Bluetooth, the range of the ScreenBeam was close to 100-feet. This makes it appropriate in a standard classroom as well as an auditorium, lecture hall or repurposed cafeteria after lunch.

SBWD100TX01It’s not in its element as a quick-change artist. To move to a different source, you need to manually disconnect and then let the next user connect, at least a 30-second process. Plus, unlike other similar, though more expensive, systems such as Barco’s ClickShare, ScreenBeam can’t put two, four or more screens up at once for comparison.

The device’s Central Management System (CMS) makes updates and configuration changes easy, regardless of whether you have a dozen or a hundred ScreenBeam systems. You need to use the system’s Ethernet port.

Actiontec’s ScreenBeam 960 is not nearly as slick as ClickShare, but at $300 you can outfit five classrooms for the cost of one $1,750 ClickShare set up. Plus, you don’t need to pass around the USB clickers to those who want to connect. On the other hand, ClickShare covers the bases better with PC, Mac, Android and iPad compatibility.

Late in 2014, Mesa (Arizona) Public Schools equipped 3,600 of its classrooms with ScreenBeam receivers connected to Hitachi projectors, while revamping its WiFi infrastructure with Cisco 802.11n access points. It’s in use every day for teachers to project lessons to the class.

In any event, Actiontec’s ScreenBeam 960 can turn a projector or large display into a device that the whole class can use and share without busting the budget.

A

Sb960 b

Actiontec ScreenBeam 960

$300

+ Quick connections

+ Long range

+ PC and Android

+ Ethernet connection

+ Central configuration and update software

 

- No XP, Chromebook, iPhone or Mac software

- Can’t display two or four inputs at once

Power in its Place

Block headGot an Apple computer whose AC power adapter doesn’t seem to fit anywhere? You’re not alone but Blockhead has an alternative that only takes up 1.8-inches, half that of the stock adapter. The difference is the snap-on plug module that lets you sneak the adapter into places the standard one can’t. It works with all MacBooks as well as most iPads (although not the older 5-watt models) and costs $20 or two for $35.

Surface Sits Still

StudioWhether it’s the Surface, the Pro or the Book, Microsoft’s iconic PCs have always been very portable. That changes with the Surface Studio desktop. Expected to arrive in early 2017, the Studio is an all-in-one system with a huge 28-inch touch screen that can show 13.5-million pixels and tilt to a variety of angles, including a desktop drawing panel. It’s expensive at $3,000 with a Core i5 processor up to 32GB of RAM and graphics that can use up to 4GB of video memory, but the Studio is unique. There’s also a pressure sensitive stylus for intricate work and a unique Dial knob (see inset) that can sit on the screen to add an extra level of adjustments.

 

 

String Along Schools

TwineAs its name implies, Twine can be the string that binds a school together into an educational community. In addition to the expected (attendance, grades and schedules), Twine can handle lesson plans and assessments. If you want to, it can be where reminders and messages are kept and sent. Based on Edsby’s technology, the key is that every user, from students to teachers to administrators, can have different permissions and access to data.

Freebee Friday: 60 Full Minutes of Programming

Hour-of-code-5Apple’s Hour of Code program takes a big step off of the Internet and into the company’s iconic showrooms. From December 5th through the 11th, every Apple store will host an Hour of Code Workshop. Just type in your state, pick a store and pick your time. The latest addition is the Swift Playgrounds app that can help get younger students to use their iPads to write programs and create games. Based on the open source Swift language, the playground software may seem like fun and games, but students (and teachers) will quickly learn the basics of coding and how programs work.

 

Freebee Friday: Tree Teaching

Sen teacher printablesSen Teacher is a great resource for the entire school with free digital curriculum for everything for science, math and language as well as art education. Most of the activities are like games, so learning can be fun and there’s a good selection of printable worksheets and assignments. The site both uses cookies and has advertising on it.

Lean Tablet STEM Machine

If you think that you need a set of expensive STEM sensors and interface device to build an up-to-date physics lab you’re dead wrong. The fact of the matter is that many of the latest tablets have a slew of digital sensors built in and all you need is the right software to tap into them.

To take this notion to its logical conclusion, I set up several of the latest sensor apps on an Asus Zen 8 slate or iPad Pro and tried out a few experiments. While none can match the abilities of dedicated lab sensors or the ability to measure voltage, current or resistance, they can be a good substitute for stand-alone sensors.

While these programs are more limited in scope that traditional STEM offerings, the programs are a big win for schools because they don’t lock you into a vendor and its products. Here you can mix and match. In other words, you can create a STEM lab for less.

Sensor Box for Android

Sensor boxA good way to get started, Sensor Box runs on Android phones and tablets. It lets you tap into sensors for acceleration, light level, sound level, horizontal and vertical orientation as well as magnetism. On the other hand, it doesn’t work with the Zen 8’s gyroscope.

The screen as a digital read-out, an analog interface – like a speedometer gauge for audio level– as well as a graph that tracks the sensor’s output. On the downside, you can’t graph several items at once, like sound and light levels or tag data with GPS position data.

The free software has ads, but they’re unobtrusive at the bottom. On the other hand, Sensor Box is fun and free.

 

 AndroSensor

AndrosensorUnlike the others, the Android-based AndroSensor has a no-frills interface but offers a good assortment of sensors. It shows a list of sensors (acceleration, gravity, light, magnetic field, orientation and sound level) with an explanation of the measurement, its units and the accuracy of the sensor.

You see the current readings along with x-, y- and z-axis orientation, when available. Click on the circle in the upper right corner of each section and a narrow graph of its data appears. Click again and the graph goes full screen. Unfortunately, you can’t run several streams on the same coordinates, but AndroSensor lets you time stamp a data set to help with physics experiments.

Like the others, this freebee has easy-to-ignore ads. Unlike Sensor Box – though –  it can use GPS readings for tying physical data with a location. 

Super Tools

Super toolsSuper Tools not only is for iPads but is the simplest app of the three and presents students with the practical use of the sensor data, like a compass, as well as a helpful unit converter and magnifying camera.

It can appear amateurish with a blank desktop icon and no place to make app-wide changes, like for inches versus centimeters. On the other hand, it is rock solid and dependable.

Like the others, it has a magnetometer, although it’s call a Teslameter in honor of the unit and the scientist. It has discreet ads at the bottom and occasionally takes you to a video game, but it’s easy to get back on the straight and narrow.

Of the app’s 18 sections, the most interesting is the program’s speedometer. It takes GPS readings and creates an average speed based on two or more positions. It’s great for outdoor labs, but is only as accurate as the GPS position fixes.

Its weather page shows not only temperature and barometric pressure but relative humidity, wind speed and direction. What it doesn’t do is tell you the source of this data. While I like the app’s level, the included screen-based digital ruler is calibrated for the 9.7-inch iPad display and I used the larger Pro model’s 12.9-inch display, so it was off by quite a bit.

Unlike the others, Super Tools doesn’t graph things, but is a powerful way to obtain your data.

The Budget-Friendly Projector

CP-X25LWN frontThink LED or laser projectors are the way to go to save on lamps? Think again because Hitachi’s CP-X25LWN can get 10,000 hours of use out of its lamp. Able to deliver 2,700 lumens of light, the CP-X25LWN’s lamp has a five-year warranty that covers it for 10,000 hours of use. That adds up to roughly ten years of five hours of use every school day. The projector itself delivers XGA resolution through a trio of LCD panels, has all the ports you’ll need as well as a 1.2X optical zoom lens. Happily, its air filter should last 10,000 hours as well, making maintenance a snap. The projector costs $839 and replacement lamps (with the filter included) are a reasonable $129.

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