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2020 Back-to-School Tech Roundup

Whether your student will be heading back to class in person or online, here are some tools to help foster success this fall.

August 7, 2020

​​​​​​​While many specifics of the coming months remain unknown, it’s already clear this school year will be unlike any other. For some students, the year will begin with at least part-time remote learning, if not a full virtual schedule, while others will be adapting to a changed classroom environment. But for all, technology will be a vital asset in helping students learn while remaining flexible. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up this list of helpful tools and gadgets.

1.  Wireless, noise-cancelling headphones/earbuds:

​​​​​​​For students of all ages, home has no shortage of distractions. And when home is also the primary location for your child’s learning, limiting those distractions is critical to success. That’s why anything that can help a kid literally tune out peripheral noise and focus on his or her work, is a great back-to-school purchase this year. Available at a range of price points, noise-cancelling headphones or earbuds reduce audible interruption and can be used comfortably for extended periods, in various locations and positions. They can also be beneficial for a variety of purposes, from listening more attentively to a streaming or recorded virtual lesson, to using ambient sounds or instrumental music to improve concentration while working independently. Options like LilGadgets Untangled PRO Kids Bluetooth Headphones are great for younger kids, while models like the Mpow X3 True Wireless Earbuds are an affordable alternative for tweens and teens.

2.  Lightweight, glare-free e-Reader:

​​​​​​​For older students especially, who might encounter issues with procuring physical books this year, having a glare-free e-reader that is more conducive for long study sessions than a laptop or regular tablets, can be a big help. Options like the Kindle Paperwhite and Kobo Clara HD are designed to match the reading experience of a printed page, a nice feature to lessen eye strain when virtual lessons are likely increasing screen time. Some e-readers are also especially nice for study purposes as they include enough web browsing capability to do a little research or look up a definition, but without the ready access to digital distractions like games or movies a traditional tablet might have. While obviously usable for English and literature classes, the device can also be helpful in other content areas as various textbooks might also be available digitally for these devices, making it easier to move between learning locations for those with hybrid schooling schedules, while preventing bulky piles of textbooks in the living space.

3.  Digital Notebook with Pen:

​​​​​​​Whether seated at the kitchen table or a classroom desk, taking notes is a frequent part of the learning process. While doing this digitally is a great way to reduce paper clutter and more easily keep track of it all, for many people of all ages typing just doesn’t offer the same level of information retention and reinforcement as the act of writing. Digital notebooks blend the benefits of physically writing out key ideas and concepts, with the organizational and environmental benefits of going paperless. With a wide range of models and an array of features, there are suitable options for students of various ages. For elementary or middle-grade students, using a Rocketbook can help develop their handwriting as well as their study skills, while something more advanced like the reMarkable device might be a worthy investment for high school or college students. And for those who already own tablets, adding a compatible digital pen and the right app – such as Notablility for Apple users, or LectureNotes for those on Android devices – gives many of the same advantages.

4. USB Outlets:

​​​​​​​While the tools mentioned so far are all awesomely portable thanks to their wireless functionality, at some point you are still going to have to recharge them. And, like so much of the technology you probably already have at home, they use USB connections to give their battery a boost. That’s why upgrading existing outlets to those with built-in USB charging might be a great move before the school year starts. Functioning easily as a charging station, USB outlets can recharge your headphones, e-reader, tablet, smartphone, etc. without using the bulky adapter, or sacrificing a plug, to keep all your family’s devices ready and accessible. This is especially convenient if your home is also serving as a school and an office. Plus, depending on your needs, a range of options are available, like models which include both USB Type-A and the newer Type-C connection, and those designed with higher amperage for a faster charge. Have a teen with more devices than they know what to do with? Add a quad charger to their desk area to charge four devices at once.

5.  Activity/Fitness Watch:

​​​​​​​It’s no secret that a student’s health and well being have an impact on his or her level of academic achievement. So, while this suggestion isn’t actively used for studying, it’s can still be very beneficial to your child’s learning by encouraging healthy amounts of activity. While school environments have often been too sedentary already, adapting procedures for a pandemic might take this even further. For students who are finding themselves back inside school buildings this fall, their routines will be changing. Perhaps they will no longer be moving rooms between classes, or going around a classroom to visit different learning stations or activities. Maybe participating in extra-curriculars will be put on hold. And for those who are learning entirely at home, they could also find themselves moving a lot less throughout the “school” portion of their day. That’s why an activity or fitness watch could be a great option to help remind or motivate kids to get up and move more throughout the day. For younger kids, the Garmen vívofit® jr offers the basic step and activity tracking, with the added bonus of fun prompts and games, while also letting parents include chore rewards and homework reminders. For teenagers, Fitbit options, like the Alta HR, or the ever-popular Apple Watch, include features for more holistic insight into their health (to see how they are sleeping, or how their heart rate might be impacted by stress) and can send alerts to help them reach daily goals for activity.

6.  Upgraded Router or Wireless Access Points:

​​​​​​​Lastly, with the increase in digital dependency remote or hybrid learning requires, considering an upgrade to your home’s Wi-Fi network might save you from future headaches. (Connectivity issues are never fun, but they are worse around a deadline or due date.) Depending on the size and layout of your home, the needs to ensure a strong network will vary slightly. Checking the age and capacity of your existing router is a good starting point no matter what your space is like, making sure it is a dual-band device using the current Wi-Fi standard, and has the power necessary for solid coverage. It is also worth noting that some newer options, like this router from Luxul, include Router Limits by bark, which helps parents manage a child’s online usage – a great feature for safer screen time during distance learning. Now, for larger homes, homes with additions, or those just needing to support a lot of simultaneous traffic, even a high-performance router might not be enough on its own. In that case, adding an access point or two can strategically expand your network for better coverage to any nook or corner a kid might find for a quiet place to study. That way all schoolwork, as well as any work-work or other digital need, is guaranteed a quality connection without interruption.

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