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Board of Education

Wb80Califone is entering the already crowded interactive whiteboard field with its WB80 product, which focuses on cost and ease of use. At 48- by 64-inches, the board is the right size for putting over an existing chalk board and can fit into the digital teaching gear a school already has. It’s powered by its USB data connection, comes with all the cables you’ll need and has precision to within less than a tenth of an inch. The WB80 only works with Windows computers and sells for $1,170.




Bottomless Pit of Data

NETDISK_351UNE_01Increasingly, the digital classroom is experiencing a big problem: With videos, presentations and all sorts of assignments, a hard drive fills up faster than you can say school’s in session. IOCELL’s $60 NetDisk 351UNE can provide unlimited storage horizons for a school with external data storage options. Based on Network Direct Attached Storage (NDAS) technology, the NetDisk drive enclosure works with network, USB or eSATA storage devices and is compatible with most WiFi routers.



Freebee Friday: Basic-Basic

Smallbasic5Need a method for teaching the basics of programming to middle school or high school kids, but don’t know where to start? Microsoft’s free Small Basic is a great introduction to the intricacies of writing programs for kids. Unlike other programming languages, Small Basic is actually an entire classroom curriculum, with sample lessons, an online forum and lots of examples. From games and basic apps, the software is a great first step for future programmers.



Freebee Friday: Online Classroom

ThinkportThinkport may have been made just for Maryland students but anyone can use the excellent materials. From how to figure out averages and the economics of business to a look at Picasso’s blue period and narrated early readers, Thinkport has it all. Most lessons have videos, and there are provisions for broadband as well as slower dial-up connections.



Habla SAT

Shmoop_SATSpanishNeed help with ESL students preparing for the SAT and ACT tests? Shmoop now has online prep classes for these important college entrance exams for those who Spanish is their first language. It costs $23 and has most of the instruction in Spanish but the exam questions and explanations are in English to give practice for the actual test. The study program includes three sample exams.



Kid-Proof Cam

Cameradc9w-01Tired of replacing broken digital cameras at $200 a pop? Hamilton Buhl’s DC9W is tough enough to survive daily abuse from clumsy students (as well as a few teachers) and come back for more. Capable of shooting detailed 9-megapixel photos, the $179 camera has a 2.4-inch preview screen, a flash and rechargeable battery. Plus, when it gets dirty, just rinse it off.



The Printer that Does it All

1018179376Whether it’s for a school office, a classroom or a shared resource in a hallway, few printers can do more for less than OKI’s MC561 Color MFP. The $750 all-in-one printer may be a little pricey upfront, but it can replace a shelf full of devices, has low per-page costs and can print on both sides of paper. The bottom line is that it can save schools a lot of money in the long run.

Like most recent color laser printers, it’s a lot to move around and install, and will require two people to heft it into place. It takes up 17- by 20-inches of desk or table space, and it can easily fit into a bookshelf. You’ll need to leave 28-inches of space above so that the scanner cover can swing open.

Each element of the MC561 takes several steps forward, compared to the competition. Its printer and scanner can duplex, while its fax machine can send files over the Internet and be used while it is printing. The copier has an excellent sheet feeder that didn’t jam once in three months of heavy use and you can quickly scan a document to an Acrobat .pdf file on a memory key.

The print engine uses a one-pass approach, which speeds things up and reduces the chances of paper jams. It uses four separate color toner cartridges as well as separate drum and fuser, which cuts maintenance costs because you only have to replace what’s worn out.

Mc561 control panelIt all adds up to one of the lowest per-page costs around. According to the Business Equipment Research and Test Lab (BERTL/www.bertyl.com), the MC561 costs 12.7 cents per page to print in color versus 13.6- and 13-cents for the competitive Xerox Phaser 6 and Samsung CLX 6250fx systems.

Its prints are quite good with well-formed type, good color balance and subtle shading. In fact, if you use the high resolution photo mode, the MC561 can do justice to artwork or student photos if printed on heavy stock.

You won’t have to wait for them. The MC561 pumps out its first print in 12.7 seconds and can produce 31.3 pages per minute (ppm). That speed drops to 10.5 ppm using the printer’s paper-saving duplexing feature.

Like other OKI systems, the MC561 can use a wide variety of papers and even print banners that are perfect for decorating a classroom, hallway or pep rally. Oddly, its built-in paper tray doesn’t hold a full ream of paper, which will be awkward in a classroom that doesn’t have a place to store extra paper. There is a high volume paper tray that adds room for a full ream and costs $250.

C300_c500_paper_trayAs far as scanning goes, the MC561 is a mixed bag. It creates sharp and vivid digital files out of 8- by 10-inch photos in 36.7 seconds at 300dpi or 2 minutes and 9 seconds in 1,200 dpi resolution, but it requires setting the MC561 to scan mode. Other MFPs change to scanning mode automatically. On the other hand, the system can put a scan into an email or place it on a network folder when done.

There’s a prominent series of buttons on the left for deciding what you want the MFP to do. The system’s status is displayed on the adjacent 3.5-inch hinged screen. It has a full keyboard for entering names and numbers without having to deal with the keypad interface.

Completing some tasks is a little convoluted, however. The MC561 can hold 16 fax numbers, but it takes six separate steps to send a fax if the number hasn’t been saved.

The fax/copier’s hopper can hold 50 pages and it never jammed during three months of daily use. Best of all, it can scan both sides of the sheet.

For schools that have a polyglot of systems, the MC561 will fit right in with drivers for Windows, Mac and Linux computers. The system includes copies of Nuance’s PaperPort document management, color matching as well as ScanSoft optical character recognition software.

Mc561 config tool3The best part is the excellent Admin Manager program for keeping an eye the printer remotely. On top of details like its IP address, the software shows its toner level as well as the status of the belt, fuser and drums. It even shows how many pages have been printed or scanned, a great way to charge departments for their use.

Like so many other recent printers, the MC561 can connect via a USB 2.0 or Ethernet networking cable. It doesn’t have WiFi built-in, though.

The MC561 uses 280 watts of power when printing and 20 watts at idle. Unlike other MFPs, the MC561 doesn’t sound like a 747 taking off or dim the lights when you’re using it, making it a great choice for older buildings.

While the MC561 comes with a 5-year warranty on its print engine, the rest of the machine is covered with a 1 year warranty and includes overnight replacement so that you won’t miss a print. At $750, the MC561 squeezes in a lot of MFP for the money and costs $150 less than Xerox’s Phaser 6. The best part is that it costs less to run, so it will keep paying off for years to come.


OKI MC561 Color MFP



+ Can print and fax at once

+ Fold-out keyboard

+ Duplex printing and scanning

+ Fast printing

+ Low per-page costs

+ 5 year warranty on print head


- No WiFi

- Need to set up system prior to scanning

- Small primary paper tray


MacBook Redux

Overview_hero20110811If you blinked you might have missed Apple’s low-key revamping of the MacBook Pro line of computers. To start, the new MacBook Pros look exactly like the old ones, and the big differences are in the inclusion of the high-performance Thunderbolt I/O system and the components you can stuff inside.

  • The 13-inch line now can be had with a 2.4GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor and a 500GB hard drive for $1,200.
  •  The 15-inch family now starts with a 2.2GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor and a 500GB hard drive. It’s priced at $1,800.
  • Apple’s big-boy 17-inch computer now has a quad-core 2.4GHz Core i7 processor with AMD’s Radeon HD 6770 graphics and a 750GB hard drive. It sells for $2,500.        



Label Me

LW-400There’s nothing that screams classroom organization more than neatly made labels for boxed items or what’s in drawers or cabinets. Epson’s LabelWorks LW-400 can put your choice of 14 fonts, 10 styles and a library of over 300 symbols, including bar codes, on a tape that’s 0.7-inches wide. It works in 7 different languages and can print on a variety of specialty tapes.


Teacher Central

ScholasticScholastic’s popular Teacher site has been one of the most popular online education destinations with more than 1.6 million weekly viewers. It just got a whole lot better. The upgrade not only adds a variety of instant activities to get the day started, but more than 7,000 lesson plans and an expanded Book Wizard section where educators can find the exact right book for everything from a child’s research project to a class project.



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