by Scott Baughman

 Back-to-school season is upon us once again and while this year things look a LOT different than they ever have, my usual review of useful tech will be even MORE useful than ever before with kids across the land doing virtual school.

Sure, you’re sweltering in the summer heat right now, but the time draws nigh for the day kids across the land of dread.

It’s back to school time, kids. I know, it’s sad but true.

However, this year, Geek Uncle Scott is here to help with a little rundown of the coolest –and most intriguing – back-to-school technology out there making today’s classroom look less like a blackboard jungle and more like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.

First up we’ve got what I consider one of the coolest scientific innovations in many generations – a USB-enabled microscope!

Yes, gone are the days of students and teachers rustling up slides, taping down the leg of a mosquito and then fiddling with the entire glass assembly to line up the perfect view in the lens of a heavy metal behemoth perched on the edge of a steel desk in biology class.

No, today’s students are doing their inspection and investigation of bug parts with a USB-enabled stick that has a tiny footprint, or may even be handheld! Utilizing the Universal Serial Bus to its fullest, these gadgets take the heavy lifting and viewfinder fiddling away from the often laborious laboratory task of getting a first-person perspective on such miniscule subjects as the aforementioned bug parts, cellular walls or even the contents of your own belly button lint. Yes, we peeped our own lint in my science class back in the 20th century. Kids, don’t ask.

Anyway, my favorite of the USB-enabled microscopes is the imminently affordable AM2111 from Dino-Lite digital microscopes. It’s tiny, handheld, works with Windows or Mac and best of all is only about $99 online. The thing is a scant 10 centimeters long and only about 3.5 centimeters in diameter with a quarter-inch sensor. It literally fits in the palm of your hand.

Plugging it into your computer and downloading the software couldn’t be simpler and in no time you’ve got your microscopic view playing out on your monitor. Can you imagine how excited me and my geek friends would have been to see that back in ninth grade in the 1990s? We would have been over the moon with the ability to project our bug parts onto a huge 21-inch – or larger! – display to do our note taking and investigation. It was always a pain for me to have to squint into the viewfinder and then flip through various lens settings to get the magnification I needed for our experiments.

The AM2111 can display images in resolutions up to 640×480 pixels (that used to be the maximum setting on my monitor in high school!) and can magnify images from anywhere up to 10 times normal size to 230 times normal size. Now, you won’t be viewing atoms on the thing, but for most science classes this is perfect. And it includes a built-in light to help make things easier to see across the board.

Next up we’ve got the latest in educational and useful stylus options for those ubiquitous tablets that students (and teachers) are using these days. Sure, you can scroll across the screen of your iPad or ASUS with your grubby little paws and fingers, but when you need precision your pointer finger isn’t going to cut it.

Enter the stylus. The best device for precision use on your tablet is, of course, from the boys in Cupertino. The Apple Pencil currently only works with the iPad Pro but it is great for either the 12.9-inch or the 9.7-inch version of that mother of all tablets. There’s zero latency from the device – meaning as soon as you press down it starts making marks or flipping pages, just like a real pencil! And when you combine the precise movements with the pressure-sensitive screen of the iPad Pro you can make incredibly detailed and lifelike drawings on the device, save them to your file folders and share them with the world almost instantly.

Don’t feel like buying from the mother ship? No worries, Adobe offers their versatile – and much more compatible with other tablets – Ink and Slide stylus. The Ink and Slide works with any iPad 4 or later, iPad Air and iPad Mini thanks to a Bluetooth connection. The device also comes with a “slide ruler” to help you make perfect straight lines, circles or other shapes. And an LED light on the side of the styles even shows you what color you have currently selected if you’re using it to draw or paint digitally. This is perfect for a serious art student.

So, maybe these devices won’t make it easier to go back to school, but hopefully they’ll make it more interesting.

Until next time, download complete!