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The New Board of Education

ClarusIn the beginning, there was the chalkboard, then the whiteboard and now the Glassboard. Made with high-quality quarter-inch thick glass, the Clarus Glassboards are good for anything from writing math equations to modeling sentences to drawing maps. They’re available in a variety of colors, are more durable than other glass or melamine boards and Glassboards come with a shelf to stow the markers. They can be set up as a single unit on a wall or with casters or as hinged individual screens that combine for a wall-wide writing surface.

Open and Ready

Sis_nexg_dashboardIf you like DIY projects, openSIS’s school administration package is for you. Built from open-source software, openSIS covers a school’s life from pre-K to graduation with demographics, health records and instant access to emergency contact info. Along the way, openSIS can schedule a full school of classes, while keeping grades and creating transcripts when needed. It can archive lesson plans and record discipline problems for later action. It’s all summarized in a compact Dashboard. In addition to the expected, the program can upload current data, easing the transition from old to new. In spite of all this, the basic school-wide CE version is free, but you might want the company to customize it for your district with things like state reporting and Moodle integration.

Freebee Friday: (Almost) Back to School, Part II

Chemistry 2It’s summertime and the classrooms are either empty or very close to it. So, it’s time to think about the new school year that's coming, with Vernier leading the way with a slew of tips, tricks and summer services. To start, you can check out the company’s available grants to help outfit a new lab for the incoming class, watch any of its 180 videos or look over the company’s 1,000 sample experiments online.


Freebee Friday: (Almost) Back to School, Part I

Back to schoolIt’s never premature to get thinking about back to school activities for the fall's first day of class. Scholastic (the corporate parent of Tech Tools) has a bunch, including a great variation on the “what I did over the summer.” Aimed at third-through-fifth graders, Genia Connell has put together a good way to teach the rudiments of storytelling and organizing thoughts while having kids talk and write about their summer trips, family reunions and diversions. The lesson plan includes suggested readings, exercises -- like creating long- and short-versions -- writing a poem and making an arts and crafts project of some element of the summer that could end up being a hallway exhibit for parent’s night. In more ways than one, it says “Welcome Back.”

Freebee Friday: Land of the Free and Not So Free

Windows_logo_-_2002–2012_(Black).svgThe end of July and beginning of August represent a good update and the end of a valuable freebee. To start, on July 29th Microsoft’s free (and sometimes involuntary) upgrade to Windows 10 will end. It’s good because, presumably the pop-ups and come-ons just might be over. It’s bad because unless the offer is extended, the software will probably soon cost $120 for a fresh version of Home and $200 for the Pro version. That's not much solace for a school still using Windows XP.

On the other hand, next week represents the OS’s first birthday and with it comes a large (and needed) Windows 10 upgrade. There will be no wrapping paper, bows or cake with candles. The new software includes a more integrated way to take notes on a touchscreen as well as security enhancements and refinements to the Edge Web browser.

A Multitude of Lessons

Spelling-400_4The library of online lessons from Odysseyware has been enlarged by 250 with an emphasis on math, Spanish and English. The new lessons are visual and include subjects from Math Fundamentals for grades sixth through twelve to Spanish III and Spelling.


A Printer That’s Cheap to Keep

J985dw frontalIf $300 for an inkjet printer seems excessive these days, it is, until you realize that the Brother MFC-J985DW XL Work Smart All-in-One with INKvestment Cartridges not only has a scanner, fax machine and copier, but comes with something other printers don’t: three sets of ink cartridges (12 in all) that the company says are enough for two years of printing.

That might be a bit optimistic, but it’s impressive, nonetheless. That translates into paying $100 for roughly $130 of ink. Not a bad deal, but if you’d rather pay retail, there’s also a $200 version of the printer that comes with a single set of the same ink cartridges.

Overall, at 6.8- by 16.5- by 13.4-inches, the J985DW is about the same size as other multi-function printers and can fit on a shelf, dedicated table or even on a milk crate. Unlike more commercial printers, there’re no bases available that can hold a larger paper tray or other amenities and raise the unit to waist height.

That’s unfortunate, because the J985DW’s tiny 100-page paper tray is just too small. During two months of daily use, I found myself refilling it all too often. On top, it has a 20-sheet document feeder for scanning, copying or faxing pages.

Front and center is a tilt-up 2.7-inch color touchscreen that controls the printer’s settings. There’s a handy instant tap area for seeing how much ink remains in the printer’s cartridges as well as places to print from online storage services, like DropBox, set up faxes, copies and scans. You can create shortcuts to sequences that are used frequently.

With the ability to connect with the J985DW via a USB cable, wired LAN, WiFi, thumb drive or SD card, it offers freedom of choice for printing. Plus, it can tap into Apple’s AirPrint and Google’s Cloud Print to print wirelessly.

There’s another printing method that’s rapidly becoming the de facto choice for phones and tablets: Near Field Communications or NFC. Just tap the phone to the NFC spot to the left of the screen and use Brother’s iPrint & Scan app to put anything on paper.

J985dw screenThe hardest part of the setup is that the USB and Ethernet ports are hidden inside the printer. You need to open the machine up, snake the cables in before plugging them in. It takes an extra minute, but is worth the effort.

Inside, the J985DW also has a high-quality flatbed scanner that can turn pages into 2,400 by 1,200 dot per inch images and .pdf Acrobat files. They can be saved on a PC, thumb drive or emailed. It took 52 seconds to scan a sheet on the printer’s flatbed, but if you want to scan a stack of two-sided originals, the J985DW lacks a one-pass scanner so you need to manually turn the stack over and scan them again.

The printer creates super-sharp 6,000- by 1,200 dot per inch documents and is rated to deliver 12- and 10-pages per minute (ppm) of black and white and color output, but it struggled to get close to that. The first page came out in 5.5 seconds and the J985DW produced color documents at the rate of 4.3 ppm. If you use the printer’s duplexer that drops to 3.4ppm. It’s slow, but not nearly as loud as a laser printer.

At 22-watts, the J985DW doesn’t use nearly as much electricity as a laser printer does and it drops to 2-watts when it goes to sleep. The J9895DW has a Quiet mode that most schools will like. It not only silences the printer but uses less ink.

The printer allows you to choose between Normal, Fast and Best quality printing modes as well as Natural or Vivid color. Its output is bright and sharp and characters come out well formed with little bleed through, even on photographs, although areas of dense printing tend to pucker a little.

J985dw inkWith nearly 4,000 pages printed in a variety of modes, the J985DW is economical with per-page costs of 3.4 cents per page for color and less than 1 cent per page for monochrome text documents. That’s quite a bargain compared to the cost of HP’s much more expensive OfficeJet Enterprise Color MFP X585 as well as most laser printers.

While the J985DW can’t stop rogue firmware from running, it does come with a nice network monitoring program. The BRadmin Professional lets you see what going on inside of Brother printers as well as some HP devices. You can see if a printer is running out of ink, how many pages and printed and make key changes to its operations. At any time, you can type in the printer’s IP address and see what its settings are and make key changes.

Getting the J985DW also gives you access to Brother’s Creative Center, a library of software and templates that can help with school projects. In addition to making brochures and small booklets, the printer can help create flash cards, posters and coloring pages.

With a two-year warranty, the J985DW’s $300 price is roughly that of HP’s Color LaserJet M452dw printer, but it cuts the price of printing to the bone, allowing classrooms to use this valuable teaching resource without thinking about the costs.




Brother MFC-J985DW XL Work Smart All-in-One with INKvestment Cartridges


+ Can print via USB, WiFi, SD card, LAN, NFC or thumb drive

+ Includes three sets of ink cartridges

+ Touch screen

+ Phone and tablet apps

+ Two-year warranty


- Slow

- Small paper tray


Time’s Up

Time timerEvery classroom has to squeeze a lot of activities into the school day before the final bell rings and the best way to do it is to set a timer for each. Time Timers has a variety of physical and software timers that all have a red disk that gets smaller as – well – time marches on. There are wristwatches and handheld timers that range from $30 to $80 as well as apps for iOS, Android and PCs





From Minecraft to STEM

PiperOne way to get kids excited about learning about engineering, math and science is to use Piper as an entry point. Based on a Raspberry Pi processor and a slew of components and programming software, it lets kids comfortably try out engineering and technology ideas by advancing through the Minecraft game and creating electronic projects. There’s no soldering and Piper is smart enough to let kids know when they’ve made a mistake. It costs $300. 

Freebee Friday: The App as a Class

UdacityForget about teaching how to use Word and Excel, because kids often know it better than the teachers. The future of computer education at schools is teaching programming and Udacity’s Android development for Beginners is a great start. Aimed at those who want to try out programming, the course takes 24 hours to complete. It is built around a step by step progression for how to go from idea to app. The course is video based, includes exercises for students to test their knowledge and abilities and each student should be able to build two apps before it’s over. 

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