Here’s my top 12 from the 300+ smaller stands that I checked out at BETT 2020. I have no affiliation with any of these companies and my list is based on the usefulness of these tech tools for schools and classrooms. I should also point out that as the big guys, like Microsoft and Google, are so good at shouting about what they do, I’ve left them off this list. Note however, that there are some awesome new things happening with Microsoft Office 365, Minecraft Education Edition and Google’s G Suite, so if you want to find out more, head over to their websites and you’ll have plenty to get excited about! I have included one massive company in my list, and you’ll understand why when I get to it. Let’s crack on!
Now there are lots of interactive whiteboard ecosystems at BETT and quite frankly they often dominate the show and I feel like they are missing the point big time. I must have counted over 50 exhibitors showing off screens and boards of some kind. One that did catch my eye, however, was ViewSonic. The actual physical screens are fine; however, it was a piece of software they were showcasing called myViewBoard. So, with myViewBoard, the teacher shares a code with pupils and gets to see a live view of their device on the board. Now this isn’t anything new, however, it was the interactions with the pupil’s device that I found useful. For example, being able to take control of their device, or maximise it on screen, the kind of stuff usually reserved for screen sharing apps. To find out more, head over to https://myviewboard.com/home and check it out.
Right, next up is Ed Arcade. These guys are a part of EdLounge and EdArcade stood out for a couple of reasons. First up, there are lots of games that are fun, not flash based and mapped to the curriculum ready for use. Secondly, a teacher can create their own versions of the games e.g. by swapping out words in the spelling games. It is an easy to use interface too so shouldn’t take too long to master. Finally, and this is the best bit. It is just £4 per student per year which can be purchased for just 1 child too. So, for me as a parent, it is a no brainer. Just think of how when it is free you get garish adverts everywhere, like Top Marks for example, which is why £4 makes a whole lot of sense.
Now this one is a little nerdy, but when you’ve been in education for as long as I have, they are a welcome breathe of fresh air. I bumped into the guys at LibreSoft Librarian who were eager to talk about their library system. When you’ve used tired old systems like Micro librarian – you’ll know what I mean. This is a fully fledged library system that is web-based and under £300 for a Primary School, and about £595 for a secondary. It is so intuitive and easy to use and just gets on with the relatively easy job of checking books in and out, sending out reminders and encouraging reviews. It is so easy, you can just rock up with an iPad or a laptop, attach the barcode and then start managing books in any classroom – like a mobile library. With the advent of digital, the hope was kids would be reading more on kindles by now. They’re not, so libraries are still pretty relevant in my eyes. If you need a library system, this is the one. You can even add your stock using the pupils and the iPad app which scans in the books to create your inventory. Told you it was a bit nerdy, but fills a big gap in schools, nonetheless. Head over to https://libresoft.co.uk/ and check it out.
School Fox piqued my interest as I watched a live demo over someone’s shoulder. I then spoke to the Founder and had all my questions answered. Now, the market is saturated with SMS apps for schools and parents, however, I have yet to find one that does this. With School Fox, the school sends a message using a web app, in English and based on the profile of the user, the user receives the SMS in their native language. I’ve always wondered, what is the point in messaging and English message to parents who struggle to read in English. School Fox solves that problem. This one feels like no brainer, especially as this cool language function is in the FREE lite version. Check it out at https://schoolfox.com/en/.
So, this one caught my eye as I was making away around as many stands as possible. Blocksi is a bit like Impero and Net Support, however, it is much cheaper and also the UI is awesome and simple. Blocksi also works really well with Chromebooks and G Suite. Essentially, you are able to control chromebooks in a classroom by doing everything from pausing them and sharing your screen to them, to broadcasting a pupil device and launching apps. It is 100% web based which others have yet to achieve and provisioning Blocksi is really easy. So, if you use chromebooks and are looking for a way of managing the classroom experience better, head over to https://blocksi.net/ have a free trial.
Specrdrums caught my eye last year and this new improved version is even better. So, Specdrums are app-enabled rings that turn colors into music with a simple tap. So, you can play the drums and other instruments by just tapping the rings on physical objects, like bananas and limes, or use this handy colourful mat, or just print out a colour chart. There was considerable lag when playing last year, however, this new version has solved that problem. These are an excellent addition to any classroom and a great way to bring both making and playing music to life, digitally.
If you’re interested in checking these out, head over to https://www.sphero.com/specdrums where you can buy a pair of Specdrum rings for about £99.
I also discovered Marvellous Me in BETT Futures. Now this is great! Simply get signed up and add your pupils – all pretty straight forward. So, you pick a student, choose an activity and add a message which supports emojis, text, video etc. The message appears as a personalised notification for parents who don’t have to respond with a message but can simply high five back which the teacher sees. With it all feeling like WhatsApp, I can imagine that parents will actually interact with Marvellous Me rather than some of the other parent apps I’ve seen which feel very bog standard next to this. And at £199 for a primary school – this is a no brainer. Head over to https://marvellousme.com/ to get started!
Check out Kano PC. You might have heard of PiTop, the guys with the green laptops with Raspberry Pis in them. Kano have had a competing kit in the market and the new Kano PC is a great new way of bringing more of the maker universe to the classroom. So a Kano is a detachable – part laptop, part tablet – make it yourself, touch-screen windows 10 device which can run everything from Microsoft Office 365 and Minecraft to Kano Code which is awesome for coding. The real cool thing is that they have to build this themselves – yep, I said it right – they have to build the device first. How’s that for getting hands on!
With an 8-10 battery life and under £300 this will make a welcome addition to any classroom and get pupils doing more than just using the software on a device. I also like the see-through casing which gets learners right under the bonnet of the tech. For more details head over to https://kano.me/uk/store/products/kano-pc
Now, one thing that was evident this year was just how many robots are kicking about. I mean, when they are dancing, have pens sticking out of them and even climb up walls, how do you choose. Well, if you can’t or don’t have the budget or are looking for a way to spark the imagination at a super low cost then check out this little wonder I discovered down in the imaginative world of Bett Futures by a start-up called Tal Makers. What I love about Tal Makers Robots is the simplicity and also what it says on the instructions – “if it works you probably did something wrong”. These little kits contain everything you need, minus the glue to start building your own low power robot. This is my definition of the whole maker thing. You do not need shiny expensive kits to create a spark in young children. You just need something fun and even silly to make the learning really stick. Head over to https://www.talmakers.com/ and find out more.
I love the guys at ClassVR so was happy to see that a simple addition to their headsets, a tiny hand-held controller is all it takes to now walk around some of the VR simulations. This kind of cool interaction is often reserved for the more expensive units like the HTC Vive and the Microsoft Hololens 2, so great to see it on offer for schools and classrooms too. Just google Class VR and you’ll find everything you need to get going with VR in the classroom.
So, the first seminar I attended was a Microsoft and Merge one where they were talking about AR, augmented reality in education, and more specifically, this funky little thing called the Merge Cube. Now, as you know from mt Digital Workouts, I’m a massive fan of AR and the Merge Cube is now up there. Its pretty simple, get a cube or print one from the handy guides available online – I’ve added links to the resources, and then all you do is download the app for your tablet or head over to the web app and once the camera is enabled, you are able to interact with objects in AR. The cube makes it easy to move around the object. Best thing about the merge cube is it has a massive Facebook group and it also lets you add your own content. This can be a 3D model you’ve downloaded or one you’ve created, in Paint 3D for example. Well worth checking this one out and if you use the printable guide – it is free!
The HP stand this year was awesome – a massive blue bus. 2 things really stood out for me when I was on the stand. The new range of HP Stream devices, or the alleged ‘Chromebook killers. This sub £200 device is lightweight, robust and speedy. It’ll fire up Microsoft Office 365 from boot in about 1 minute. Well worth considering if you want to stick with Windows but want the competitiveness of a Chromebook. However, it is this one that does it for me. On the 14” flip model, HP will give you £100 if you trade in any manufacturers device with an Intel chip that is less than 7 years old. With your old model traded in, the new one only costs £165. Now this is an absolute bargain and the reason why it is my number 1 takeaway from BETT 2020 this year! You’ve all got an aging bank of laptops sitting in a knackered old charging trolley somewhere. If they meet the requirements, a bank of 30 laptops can be traded in for £3000 off the cost shiny new HP ones. You could get a new set for the whole close for under £5000. I feel like Martin Lewis from the Money Show, but this really is an awesome deal. For more details head over to https://hpfe.com/gb/en/pages/edu/home and check out the deals.