Amazon Reviews

Each Amazon Item of the Week is something that has either made my life easier and more enjoyable in the classroom or in my personal life. Everything that I have reviewed here is something that I either own or have used.

“TCI By The Lake is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.”

Logitech MK550 Wireless Keyboard and Mouse Combo

Logitech MK550 Wireless Keyboard and Mouse Combo

Adding a wireless keyboard and mouse to my classroom was a game changer this year. I went deskless a couple of years ago, so I sit in a circle with my students. I have  a regular desk at the front of the room but the VGA cable doesn’t reach to where I sit in our circle and the wireless connection from my laptop to my projector is a bit too laggy for some higher resolution streaming. I keep this keyboard on a stool right in front of me and the mouse on a table to my right where I keep my laser pointer and planner.

We all know what happens when the teacher turns his or her back to write something on the board; phones come out and kids start chatting. I keep a blank Word document open on “web” view (this gives you a nice wide screen) with 28-point font at all times. Everyone can see it in real time as I type. This works particularly well during Persona Especial (Special Person) interviews, as I don’t lose that connection that I have with the group as we ask our questions by having to go up to the board to write something down. It’s also easy to save my notes at the end of each interview so that I can keep the interviews straight.

This keyboard has more features than I will ever use in the classroom. There are all the features you would find on an integrated laptop keyboard and then some. I can launch Windows Media Player, various Microsoft Office apps, and a calculator all right from my keyboard. I specially like the separate volume and media control buttons that are conveniently located at the very top. No more pressing “F2” and “F3” to control the volume.

Logitech advertises “whisper-quiet” typing with this unit. While it’s not quite silent, it is the quietest keyboard I have ever used. I like it because you can still hear the keys but it’s not distracting to anyone in the room unlike the cheap cabled keyboards that come with desktops. The keys on the Logitech MK550 Wireless Wave Keyboard respond well to varying levels of pressure and make very little noise. There is a large, cushioned wrist wrest that takes a little getting used to, but I’m glad it’s there. I wasn’t sure if I would like the “wave” shape at first, but I now find my home desktop’s traditional rectangular keyboard awkward and unnatural and will be replacing it with this unit in the near future. The keyboard has three height adjustment levels which stay in place as you type. The oversized space bar is perfect for a CI classroom. Logitech must have known that we need to pause our Movie Talks and telenovelas frequently to check for comprehension!

One of my favorite features of this keyboard is the unifying USB receiver. This simply means that the same USB receiver handles both the mouse and the keyboard. The receiver is so compact (about half an inch long when plugged in) that I can just put my laptop into my bag without removing the USB receiver. It has never gotten in the way or been dislodged. I keep the USB receiver on the side of my laptop that is facing our class circle and haven’t had a single issue with connectivity after more than two months of extensive daily usage. This is one of the most common issues with cheaper units. Logitech’s specs tout a 10-meter range. I keep mine at around six meters away with a few students sitting in between the keyboard/mouse and the USB receiver without any issues.

The ambidextrous full-size mouse is just the right size. The scroll button is conveniently located and operates very smoothly. I keep my mouse directly on the table (no mousepad). It tracks smoothly in all applications. You should be OK using it on any clean, semi-smooth surface except for glass.

The battery life has been outstanding so far. Each device uses two “AA” batteries. Logitech says that the keyboard has a three-year battery life while the mouse’s will last for two. My experience with my  Logitech mouse at home supports their claim.

The only complaint that I have with this unit is that the “caps lock” key is not illuminated.

In summary, this keyboard has improved my classroom management and engagement by keeping me in the circle. This sleek combo is a great value considering that you can spend this much on a quality wireless mouse by itself.

                                                                               Logitech R800 Professional Presenter with Green Laser

Logitech R800 green laser pointer

Logitech R800 Professional Presenter with Green Laser

This was one of my first purchases when I began my teaching career. While I often take the time to walk over and physically touch a word on a wall with my hand (this forces me to slow down my delivery), there are times when you need to be able to point from a distance. I sit in the class circle (my classroom is deskless), so being able to help them quickly establish the meaning of words without getting up every time helps preserve the sense that we are having an authentic group conversation that I’m not going to interrupt.

My favorite feature of this presenter is the green laser. Green is far more visible in the dark than red. Military and law enforcement use green lasers in their optics for this reason. The laser is a vibrant green even with all of my lights on, whereas a standard red laser looks a little muted. I also like the fact that this presenter has a timer to keep you on track.

The USB receiver stores neatly in the base of the presenter. My slides always advance on the first click even without a clear line of sight to the receiver. I like how this presenter feels in my hand. Other cheaper units feel too small to me and are awkward to hold while gesturing during class or a presentation. The neoprene mesh zippered protective pouch keeps the unit from being damaged when you toss it into your laptop bag.

This unit takes two “AAA” batteries which last for about three to four weeks on average with moderate usage. I did notice that it was going through batteries far quicker when I kept the laser on while doing choral translations. A set of batteries will keep for months if you’re mostly using it as a presenter to advance slides in a presentation.

The company claims a 100-foot wireless range. I have used this presenter in a large lecture hall and verified this.

My laser pointer has been in heavy service (teaching, presenting outside of school, and entertaining cats) for more than four years and is still going strong. My only complaint with this presenter  is that the battery compartment lid doesn’t fit as tightly as it did when it was new, however I have dropped it quite a few times over the years.

I knew that I could trust this product because it has the Logitech name on it. Just like the Logitech MK550 Wireless Keyboard and Mouse Combo that I also use in my classroom every day, this presenter is a “must have” tech tool in my opinion.

under-the-same-moon-dvd

“Under the Same Moon” (La misma luna) (2008)

“Under the Same Moon” (La misma luna) (2008) DVD

I first saw this movie on a flight to Dallas for a Blaine Ray workshop and fell in love with it. I still recommend that you watch it even if you don’t teach or speak Spanish! Its PG-13 rating (due to some mild language and mature thematic elements) makes it a suitable option for a high school class. Its 106-minute run time allows us to finish it in two 90-minute blocks with plenty of time to pause and discuss what is happening. I prefer to own the DVD rather than stream it for three reasons: a.) it’s more reliable, b.) it’s easier to start and stop to discuss scenes, and c.) movies come and go on Netflix and Amazon Prime all the time.

I wasn’t familiar with any of the main cast (Adrian Alonso, Kate del Castillo, or Eugenio Derbez) prior to watching this, but that’s often what makes heavy movies like this better. None of the actors or actresses in “Under the Same Moon” are typecast to certain roles, which is something that afflicts many otherwise solid movies.

I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I can say that the movie has a happy but bittersweet ending. There are multiple moral dilemmas that confront the characters that can fuel a passionate class discussion as to who was the most selfless and whether or not they made the right decisions.

We teach a unit on immigration in the beginning of Spanish 3. We do “Esperanza” by Carol Gaab as the first of two class novels for the semester. While it’s technically a level-one book, we have found that the discussion of such a heavy theme goes much better in level-three.

The audio is in Spanish although some of the dialogue is in English. Unfortunately there are only English subtitles. I found myself doing more of a Movie Talk (no circling or targeting of specific vocabulary or grammatical structures) throughout the key scenes. You’ll find plenty of opportunities to pause it and talk about topics that you covered either in “Esperanza” or in a general lesson on immigration.

“Under the Same Moon” is an ideal capstone that the students can work toward as part of a larger unit or theme. My level-three students consistently mention it as one of their favorite class activities on their end-of-semester surveys.

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Marc is an educator, blogger, veteran, and small business owner. Feel free to send him a message here or read his story here .