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Build your Own PC

Kano-2There’s no better way to understand how computers really work than to build one, and that’s the idea behind Kano. The kit includes all the hardware and software you’ll need to build a fully functioning computer. It starts with a Raspberry Pi2 computer board with a 900MHz, ARM Cortex A7 processor and 1GB of RAM. It has slots for plugging in a screen or projector as well as mini-USB for power and includes a small USB keyboard with a touch pad.

Kano-3The Kano computer is so small that it fits in the palm of your hand and there are visually oriented building instructions. Once the system is working it can be used with a variety of open-source (and free) software, including Python and Scratch. There’s even an online place for classes and kids to share their best work or ask questions. It even comes with a couple of sheets of stickers for personalizing the computer. It costs $150, but schools can get a 30 percent discount, making it the best bargain in tech today.

The Pad Reader

Rather than desktops or even notebooks, students are more often than not reaching for tablets when it’s time to work on reading, vocabulary and comprehension. After all, using a full windows or Mac computer for this task might seem like a waste of precious resources. Enter the latest reading aids, which have the power to turn a slate into a learning machine.

DRAPearson’s second edition of its Developmental Reading Assessment is now available for iPads, making it easier to get into the hands of students; sorry, Android schools are out in the cold. The app comes with a variety of reading passages, including fiction and nonfiction ones. The software is comprehensive,  covering everything from observation and recording reading performance to evaluating any changes. It’s good for students from Kindergarten to 8th grade and is a free download, but you need to subscribe to Pearson’s content.  

PlanetreadMeanwhile, the recently updated PlanetRead! combines reading instruction with help in mastering the often impenetrable rules of spelling. It places the focus firmly on fun with interactive games, stories and images so the kids will hardly know they’re learning. Based on the notion that phonics should be used in every aspect of language arts and not memorized, the app is aimed at early learners with 54 stories that kids can go through. It tracks progress and rewards those who can master the material. Available for the iPhone and iPad, there’s no Android software available here as well. If you like, PlanetRead! Can be used over the summer break to help those lagging and so that students keep their skills sharp.

Pocket verbalSchools that use Android slates don’t despair because Pocket Verbal Ability is for you. The Android and Chromebook app can not only improve the vocabulary that kids have but the app has been built around more than 3,000 practice questions that frequently show up in the most used standardized exams. The program covers everything from idioms to antonyms and its questions have been categorized and based on level of difficulty, allowing teachers to tailor the software for an individual, class or group of students.

VocabularyWhat if you have a mix of Androids and iPads and don’t care to get involved in the war between platforms? Think about Vocabulary.com, a browser-based system that can help kids learn the right words. Just point a connected slate at vocabulary.com and the words, meanings and sentences start flowing. You can either paste-in words of interest or up to 100-pages of text from an ebook or text. The site then puts together a class-wide activity to learn the key words through a series of quizzes. There’s a fill-in dictionary box at the top and you can even set the site up to deliver a weekly word quiz to students’ email inboxes.



A Window on Android

DuosWhy decide if you want to get Windows or Android tablets when you can get both at once. American MegaTrends has come out with a great Android software emulator that lets any recent Windows system run Android apps. Called AMIDuOS, the software can run on just about any Windows 7 or 8 system and works with Android 4.4 or earlier programs. It not only includes touch support for those systems with a touch-screen, but you can even move files from Android to Windows apps and back again. The program can be had directly from AMI on a 30-day trial or pay $10 for full use of this unique app.

Desk of Distinction

Smoth arcAll classroom desks are alike, right? Well, actually some, like Smith Systems’s ADA Arc do more. Available in a wide variety of color combinations, the Arc not only allows students to work on their own, but you can create a variety of collborative workspaces by putting them together. My favorite is the open-centered octagonal circle created out of eight individual desks. Because of Smith’s unique “Y” shaped legs, you can move the Arc up and down by 8-inches with only two adjustments. It costs about $250.

Sounds Good to Me

Scraft_SiImpactAngleYour school’s next assembly or fall musical can sound as good as if it were at a professional theater with Harman’s Si Impact digital mixing console. With 40-inputs and built-in digital signal processing, the Si Impact has motorized faders. You’d think that with all that power at your fingertips,  it would be too hard for kids and drama teachers to use this audio mixer. But, the Si Impact is as simple to use as an old school analog mixer. It sells for $2,800.

Office on Deck

Office 2016If your school’s computers use Office, then you need to look at and try out the Office 2016 preview. It’s still beta level software, but it has most of the components in place and it’s reasonably stable. The Office rpreview page is now up and ready to download the software in 32- or 64-bit format. The preview will work until the final software is released, likely later this year. There’s a preview tour, but you’ll have to get rid of your present version of Office. Be sure to write down or copy and paste the product key on the page or you won’t be able to get started.

Freebee Friday: Principal Videos

Principal videos leadershipBeing a good principal involves a lot more than being a good teacher, although it helps. WNET and the Wallace Foundation have teamed up with videos that show what it takes to be a good principal. Called “School Leadership in Action: Principal Profiles,” the clips cover everything from creating the right learning environment to cultivating the leadership skills in others. These mini-movies are about 12-minutes long, show real world situations and can be invaluable to every principal. 

Teacher Togetherness

Teacher teamworkWhat does it take to collaborate in the classroom? Marilyn Swartz and Margaret Searle know and have put together “Teacher Teamwork: How do we make it work?” The 48-page book is deceptively small but is overflowing with real-world ideas and activities to bring teachers closer and create educational teams. It boils down to four ideas, from setting up guidelines and procotols and working through conflicts to fostering decision-making skills and building a teamwork state of mind. Published by ASCD, the print edition costs $10, but the ebook is only $6.

The Mix and Match Board

Prd_high_sbm685-u100-leftThe idea behind the newest interactive whiteboard from Smart Technologies is mix and match, depending on what you need. The M600 family of boards is available in 77- and 87-inch sizes and can accommodate two touch inputs using the company's optical DViT technology. It starts with the M680, which has a 77-inch screen and can be purchased with Smart’s V30 projector. The board includes a pair of pens and an eraser. The larger M685 board is 87-inches and can be had with the company’s U100w projector. Either way, the boards work with Smart’s Notebook software and Exchange online repository of educational materials, so they can jump right into class on the first day of school.



A Pair of Tough Chromebooks

Chromebook compositeThe sweet spot these days for school notebooks is Chromebook models with 11.6-inch displays that are not only easy to carry and toss into a backpack, but can be had for around $300. That’s music to the ears of district officials trying to outfit entire schools with hundreds or thousands of computers.

The latest pair of Chromebooks from Acer and Dell shows that good things still come in small packages. To start, these two Chromebooks excel at packaging, with each weighing less than 3-pounds. Yet, they still deliver enough performance for everything from homework to online assessments.

After that they go their separate ways with different focal- and price-points. While the touch-screen-equipped Dell Chromebook 11 sells for $330, the Acer C740 Chromebook 11 comes with a standard display and sells for $50 less.

Both can fit into any school’s IT landscape, run for a full school day of classes on a charge and – best of all – are tough enough to be abused with a variety of ruggedized elements. Which you choose depends as much on whether touch is important to teaching at your school as whether you have an extra $50 in your budget for each system.

Acer Chromebook 11 C740

Acer-Chromebook-11-C740-nontouch-gallery-02Value is the name of the game when it comes to Acer’s Chromebook 11 C740 with an excellent mix of the latest components and a ruggedized design that should outlast even the clumsiest teacher, student or administrator.

From a distance, the gray and black C740 looks just like the CB 11 Touch, but it is significantly smaller and lighter. It has dimensions of 0.8- by 11.2- by 7.9-inches and weighs 2.8 pounds. With its AC adapter, the C740 has an enviable travel weight of 3.2-pounds.

On the downside, the system has a cold, hard feel to it, particularly compared to the soft finish of the CB 11 Touch. It does have a textured bottom that can help keep it from being accidentally dropped while running between classes.

At wide-XGA, the C740’s resolution matches that of the CB 11 Touch, but lacks the innovative activity light of the CB 11 Touch and doesn’t have its touch-sensitive screen. Acer does sell a touch-enabled C720p model.

Acer-Chromebook-11-C740-nontouch-gallery-05While it lacks the CB 11 Touch’s Gorilla Glass, the C740 is one tough customer. Its corners have been reinforced to protect it from sudden impacts and can survive a 17.7-inch drop. Plus, the case has strengthening ribs that can tolerate 132-pounds of force and the system has stouter hinges. Unfortunately, the screen doesn’t fold fully flat on a table.

Rather than the Celeron N2840 that’s on the CB 11 Touch, the C740 has a newer 3205U processor. It runs at a slower 1.5GHz, but has twice the amount of processor cache compared to the N2840. The C740 includes 4GB of RAM, 32GB of storage space and the bonus of 100GB of online space for two years with GoogleDrive. Acer also sells a $249 version that has 2GB of RAM.

If that’s not enough, you can add to its capacity with an SD card. It matches the C740 port for port with USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports as well as HDMI and audio connections. It was able to connect to a network with a USB-to-LAN converter or with its 802.11ac WiFi system. The C740 also has Bluetooth 4.0.

It was the speed king with the ability to start up in 6.5 seconds. The system’s Peacekeeper and SunSpider scores of 2,920 and 327.8 milliseconds provide roughly twice the performance potential of the CB 11 Touch. Still it ran for only five minutes less on a charge. In fact, the 8 hours and 35 minutes of playing back HD videos delivered over WiFi means that the system may not even need to be charged every day.

Acer-Chromebook-11-C740-nontouch-gallery-06The C740 comes with a 1-year warranty and if you get them 100 at a time, you get a couple of bonuses. To start, Acer’s Premier Care adds dedicated service and can let you jump to the head of the support line. The Educare warranty adds battery replacements, paid shipping and accidental damage coverage. If you buy it through CDW, you can extend its warranty to three years with accidental damage protection for $142. 

With $150 Chromebooks from Asus on the way from Asus, the C740 has its place in schools because it is a rugged, well-designed system that has all the right parts.



Acer Chromebook 11 C740


+ Performance

+ Small and light system

+ Up-to-date components

+ Tough design

+ Battery Life


- No activity light

- Wide XGA display


Dell Chromebook 11 Touch

Cb 11 touch cFrom the start the Chromebook 11 Touch has been designed with education in mind. From the ruggedized case to the touch-display, it is a small notebook that was made for schools. It, however, falls short (particularly in comparison to the Acer Chromebook C740 Chromebook) in two key areas: price and performance.

At 0.9- by 11.4- by 8.6-inches and 2.9-pounds, the jet black CB 11 Touch is easy to carry, pack and use. It has an inviting soft finish that’s grippy and the case has protective bumpers around its edge. On the downside, it’s larger and a couple ounces heavier than the C740. With the included AC adapter, the CB 11 Touch has a travel weight of 3.4-pounds.

While I’m disappointed with the CD 11 Touch’s 11.6-inch wide-XGA resolution, it has a secret that can help teaching. It can respond to ten individual inputs, regardless of whether it’s from a child’s finger or a stylus. While Google is readying a software update that will make touch more central to the operating system, at the moment it’s still a big help. You can not only tap to open and close apps, but you can draw or finger paint directly on the screen.

The screen has a good stiff hinge that makes for a stable place to tap and swipe the display. Plus, its display can fold flat onto tabletop, which is a big advantage when it comes to touch-screen work.

Cb 11 touch aA big step forward for school notebooks, the CB 11 Touch has a unique activity bar on the back of the screen lid. Using included software, a student can put up a green light (get teacher’s attention), a red one (ask a question) or a blue one (raise hand). This is such an intuitive addition to the Chromebook’s repertoire that I’m surprised nobody thought of it sooner.

Designed to survive the harsh environment of schools, the CB 11 Touch has a Gorilla Glass reinforced screen. It has also been tested to stand up to everything from having 16-ounces of water spilled on it to being repeatedly dropped from a desk onto a wooden floor.

Powered by a Celeron N2840 processor that runs at 2.1GHz, the CB 11 Touch is a step behind the newer Celeron 3205U on the C740. Both come with 4GB of RAM, but the CB 11 Touch's 16GB of storage space is second best. It has an SD slot for adding storage capacity.

They both have the same ports with an older USB 2.0, a newer USB 3.0, audio and HDMI for connecting to a display or projector. It lacks a wired LAN port but worked well with a USB-to-LAN converter and has 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0. The CB 11 Touch adds an optional mobile data card for always-on Web access.

Cb 11 touch bThe CB 11 Touch takes the backseat to the C740 when it comes to performance. It can start-up in 9.1-seconds, nearly 30 percent slower. With 1,491 and 522.5 millisecond scores on the Peacekeeper and Sun Spider tests, the CB 11 Touch has roughly half the potential of the C740. 

Still, the CB 11 Touch was able to continuously play back videos over a WiFi connection for 8 hours and 40 minutes, more than enough for a full day of school with some time left over for listening to music, playing a game or grading tests. The C740 ran for a nearly-identical 8 hours and 35 minutes on a charge.

While its one-year warranty matches that of most school notebooks, the CB 11 Touch’s coverage can be extended to a more fitting three years and include accident protection for under $100. To my mind it is money well spent considering that they will be tossed, sat on and generally abused every day.

Touch has the power to turn a tiresome lesson into a tactile experience, and the Dell Chromebook 11 Touch can make school seem more like fun. 


Cb 11 touch d

Dell Chromebook 11 Touch




+ Rugged design

+ Student activity light

+ Display folds flat

+ Touch screen

+ Battery Life

+ Mobile data option


- Wide XGA screen

- Performance

- Price 



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