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WiFi to the N-th degree

It may have taken three years, but the I.E.E.E. 802.11n Task Group has finally approved this next generation wireless networking protocol. While the equipment has been out for years, it’s now official and along with it the ability to mix and match devices without fears of incompatibility issues. In other words, it’s finally time to unwire the school for data with 802.11n. 

What does 802.11n give you? On top of better security than either 802.11 b or g, the n version of WiFi pushes more data through the air. It also provides the ability to put two data radios in the router, one running at 2.4GHz and the other at 5GHz. Together they can deliver up to 600Mbps to a client, more than enough to stream high definition video to students. Unfortunately, to get top speed data you’ll need to use an 802.11n receiver, but many notebooks and desktop PCs are already equipped with them. 

Unlike other introductions, the formalization of the 802.11n protocol is almost a let-down. It’s different because most of the equipment has been on the market for some time, although some might require a software upgrade to bring it into compliance with the now-approved standard. Here’re three of my favorites that can help keep everyone connected.


Netgear’s WNDR3700 router offers top throughput possible under the 802.11n protocol with a 680MHz processor and a pair of data transmitters, bringing audio, video and all sorts of data into any classroom. The system has four gigabit wired connections as well as the ability to connect with dozens of wireless clients at a time. For those who like a clean design, the WNDR3700 hides its 8 antennas inside. On top of a broadband meter that tracks online usage, at any time, you can adjust which type of data gets the high-speed lane with Netgear’s quality of service program. The router can sit horizontally or vertically and costs $190.

WRT610N,1 (1)

Looking more like an alien space ship than a wireless router, the purple and black Linksys WRT610N router can stream video at top performance. It’s got a pair of data radios and three antennas hidden inside its case as well as built-in gigabit wired connections. Linksys includes software that automatically gives priority to data that is time sensitive, like video clips or VOIP phone calls. The WRT610N adds a 30-day trial of the Linksys Network Defender security software, and sells for $170.


Rather than using a pair of transmitters and hiding its antennas inside the case, 
Hawking Technology’s HWRN1A gets by with a single 2.4GHz radio and proudly displays its three antennas in the back of the router. Its peak performance is roughly half that of the others, but thanks to some clever antenna design and integrated amplifiers it has the longest range in its class. As a result it covers more space and you need of them to cover a school. Like the others, it has four gigabit wired Ethernet ports. At $120, its price is as enticing as the ability to stay online without a cable in sight.

Scanning on a Budget


There’s no doubt that over the last few years, few tech items have come down in price faster than flat bed scanners. Rather than a luxury, a flatbed scanner is now an affordable necessity for every school. Epson takes the next step by pricing its latest Perfection V600 scanner at $250. Capable of turning paper documents, photo prints or with the included media carrier even film or slides into brilliant digital files, the V600 produces super-sharp images of 6,400 by 9,600 resolution. Because it illuminates the original with LEDs, not fluorescent lighting tubes, the scanner neither needs any annoying warm up time nor a calibration every time it’s turned on. It comes with Digital Ice and Easy Photo Fix software which lets users repair old, faded and ripped images as well as software for emailing scans or turning them into Acrobat files. There’s an online tour of the scanner, which goes on sale in mid October.

Complete Digital Curriculum Toolkit

Digital school 1

I have to admit really liking Adobe’s current Digital School Collection as an excellent and comprehensive toolbox for to turn paper curriculum into digital lessons. The only shortcoming was that the major apps in it were too different from each other, and required some time, patience and practice to work through a complicated project. A great way to either create digital class programs or student portfolios, it consists of PhotoShop Elements 8, Premeire Elements 8 as well as a slew of utilities and supporting software.

Digital school 2

The next version will be even better because the interfaces of PhotoShop and Premeire are more similar and have a common organizer for files, although they’re still dedicated to the task at hand. A big step forward is the ability to run on netbooks, which are becoming more and more popular with school buyers. On top of Contribute CS4 and Acrobat 9 Pro, the package includes an online service for creating podcasts, but it hasn’t been integrated into Soundbooth CS4. In addition to a lot of teacher and class resources, Adobe will be creating tutorials and lessons over the coming year. It costs $149 with school discounts available.

Bea a Bettr Spelar


I bet you’re as tired as printing, giving and grading paper spelling tests as your students are by taking them. There’s a better way with TedCo’s $30 SpellQuizzer, a program that can prep and test kids on their spelling words. The program assembles the week’s worth of key words and helps students practice their spelling. When it’s quiz time, the software reads the words and students type in how they think the words are spelled. If they’re right, they move onto the next word, but if there’s a problem, SpellQuizzer will correct them. There’s a free 30-day trial of the program, which works in recent Windows releases, but not Macs.



Whether it’s a heavy snowstorm, flood or terrorism warning, setting a school up to survive an emergency doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars in equipment and software. MySchoolAlerts is a freebee that can inform parents in the event of a school-wide emergency or shutdown. It can call them, send emails or text messages. Once the system is set up, it invites parents to opt into the system and pick their preferred form of communication. Whenever there’s an emergency (or you need to send out news about the school play or an upcoming football game) just record and type your message and the software will send out thousands of messages a minute. Best of all, it’s free, although they’d appreciate a donation.

Small, But Powerful Printer


Need a full-power multi-function printer (MFP) for the classroom but don’t have enough space for it? Sharp’s FO-2080 is one of the smallest MFP on the market yet it doesn’t cut corners on performance or features with the ability to pump out 20-pages per minute of crisp printed material from its inkjet engine. The FO-2080 can fax, make faithful full-color digital scans and copies from its letter-size scan bed. Because it can print on both sides of paper, the system can save a school hundreds of dollars in paper costs over the school year. It’s also the rare product in its class to have two paper trays so that one can hold regular paper while the other tray has card stock, colored paper or transparencies for art projects. The printer sells for about $800.

HD on the Cheap

Viewsonic vt3745

Looking for a good basic TV/monitor for a small classroom? Viewsonic’s latest 37-inch display, the VT3745, presents a sharp 1,920 by 1,080 resolution for full high definition viewing. With a wide viewing angle of 160-degrees everyone in the class gets a good view of the screen. Audio is top shelf as well with built-in SRS surround sound speakers. The display should be available within the month and will cost $800.

Printing on the Cheap

B-500dn a

If the typical classroom inkjet printer is too slow and color lasers are too expensive, think big, really big. Epson’s B500DN is a $485 inkjet printer that has been designed to quickly and cheaply put whatever is on a computer screen onto paper. 

Don’t let its large size fool you. It’s big but the B500DN is all muscle that provides access to paper, ink and the waste box from the front. While most printers are small and can hold a couple hundred sheets of paper, the B500DN is a behemoth whose paper tray can handle more than a full ream of paper. There’s a rear paper tray for specialty media like card stock and envelopes. Its ink cartridges are the size of candy bars and hold 100 milliliters (ml) of ink compared to 3 to 5 ml for the typical printer. Because of this you don’t have to replace the cartridges as often and the ink is less expensive. 

That works out to significant savings for the typical classroom. For example, the printer’s high capacity black ink cartridge is rated at 8,000 pages and costs $70, versus a $16.50 Canon black cartridge that’s rated at 500 pages. In other words, the per-page costs of the Epson B500DN are about one-quarter that of other inkjet printers. 

For those who want to save on paper as well, the B500DN is unique in its class by providing a duplexer for printing on both sides of paper. There is a little bleed through and it slows the printer down, but it is a great way to make every sheet of paper count.  

B500DN-l inks

The B500DN can also save on electricity as well. When it’s working, the printer consumes about 30 watts of power, a pittance compared to the 300 watts that color laser printers, like HP’s Color LaserJet CP1518ni, use. Plus, it has an economical sleep mode that uses just 4 watts, compared to 5 watts for the CP1518ni. This can significantly lower a school’s power bill over the year.  

On the downside, it can take 10 or 15 seconds for the printer to fully wake up from its sleep mode, but once it wakes up, it is a fast printer. Using a USB connection to a PC, the B500DN was able to pump out 4.2- and 5.9 pages per minute to produce Word and Acrobat documents, or about 15 percent faster than the CP1518ni. It took a slow 1 minute and 9 seconds to deliver an 8 by 10 photo versus 45 seconds for the CP1518ni.

While the printed pages are sharp with well formed type, its forte is not photorealistic color prints. Even set to Photo mode, the output has a faded and unsaturated quality to images. It’s fine for printing Web pages, class projects or reports, but is second best for art-room work.

Over the course of nearly 10,000 sheets of paper, it never jammed but occasionally it picked up two sheets of paper at a time when I used Epson’s special inkjet paper. Bargain paper and HP Multi Purpose paper worked fine. The printer is a bit loud, so I recommend stashing it in the corner of the classroom or out in the hallway so that it won’t be a disruptive influence.


Epson B500DN


     + Low ink cost

     + Economical on power

     + Large paper tray

     + Duplexer

     - Slow to wake up

     - Unsaturated colors

     - Noisy

The Keyboard that Scans


Ever wanted to scan a page but the school’s scanner is either in the Library, the main office or the art room? It happens all too often, but KeyScan’s KS810-Plus Imaging Keyboard can turn paper into digital images but doesn’t take up any extra space. It connects to a PC (sorry, no Macs) with a USB cable and can turn an 8.5- by 11-inch page into a digital scan in about 15 seconds. Capable of 24-bit color and a top optical resolution of 600 dots per inch, the KS810 sells for $140 and can create .jpg, .tif, bmp or even Acrobat or Word files out of paper.

Equal Opportunity Math


There’re plenty of digital and online curriculum programs for math, but until now nothing aimed at the special needs of students with disabilities. AbleNet’s Equals is a pre-K through 12-th grade math curriculum for kids with a variety of abilities. The site’s lesson topics range from algebra and geometry to estimating and data analysis, and each area has three levels of instructional strategies for those with a variety of disabilities: mild, moderate or even severe disabilities. 

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Tech Tools are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.