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By: Tom Rule, MDS Director of Technology // MDS Musings Blog

You can find all sorts of “Top Tech Gifts” lists on the web. I offer a different approach – as a techie, educator, Dad, and creative person who likes tech but doesn’t like to be annoyed. Here are some general suggestions for tech gifts in a variety of price ranges.


For the photographer, an external lens for the iPad. Most are inexpensive and can add zooming, wide angle, or even macro capabilities to the iPad.

For a musician or budding recording engineer, an iPad microphone is useful. Prices range from about $30 for the IK Multimedia iRig mic to $130 for the Shure MV88. Look for microphones with either a lightning connection or a “TRRS” connector [that’s the headphone/microphone jack]. I have used the Shure mic for recording parts of an album! The school iPads have apps that can be used with these mics – VRP and Garageband.

Some students do not like typing using the onscreen iPad keyboard. While there are many bluetooth keyboards available, I prefer a wired iPad keyboard. The Belkin B2B124 has a decent feel and works simply by being plugged into the lightning port. No setup, no “pairing”, no batteries – it’s powered from the iPad battery.


External battery packs come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. Look for packs that have a warranty, have connectors that you can use [USB is the most common], the output voltage [1 amp will charge cell phones, 2.1 amps is required to charge an iPad], and how many milli-amp-hours [mAH] the battery provides [the bigger the better]. Anything over 20,000 mAH has enough power to charge an iPad almost twice.

Spare cables and/or a charging station are always a great idea. I strongly recommend against buying cheap cables – if they are low enough quality, they can seriously damage your device! In the Apple world, look for cables and chargers that are mFi certified. A charging station is a box with multiple USB ports that can charge multiple devices at the same time. Put it in a central place in the house and you will eliminate the “I can’t find my charger cable” panic attacks.

It’s handy to have two or more USB car adapters available in your car for powering your devices. Look for adapters that provide at least 2.1 amps, and again, avoid the cheap units.

A good quality surge protector is an excellent investment for protecting electronic gizmos. While the electrical systems in Middle Georgia are generally excellent,  devices still get dinged with small power fluctuations. A surge protector can make them last much longer. Look for a “joules” rating – the higher, the better. We use surge protectors from on campus and have been very satisfied with them.

Wireless Network

Upgrading your wireless network at home is often a priority at Christmas. Although the connection bandwidth can be a factor [what kind and how expensive your connection is with your provider], you can often improve your network speed by upgrading your router to a more powerful version. Another option – especially if you have dead spots, is to use a mesh system.

A mesh system uses several wifi boxes – a master and several nodes. The nodes are placed in different areas of the house, and they all work together to provide a solid internet connection. While some experimenting might be required to get things just so, this is a great way to get a strong wireless signal throughout the house. Prices range from $80 to $500.

Many parents ask about having some control over the home internet connection. It’s possible your internet router already has “Parental Controls” as an option. How to use router parental controls.

Another option is a subscription service + hardware boxes called Circle – which has several options for providing parental oversight and control over the internet in your house [and with the app CircleGO, on your student’s iPad. Contact me if you’d like it added to your student’s iPad].

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Mount de Sales Academy is a private Catholic school located in Macon, GA, which is sponsored and inspired by the Sisters of Mercy. Since 1876, MDS has served  a diverse college-preparatory community of learners—students and teachers alike—who are poised to discover, challenged to innovate, and motivated to serve.