The first article in this series, "Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs): Always a Productivity Tool but Now an Instructional Support Tool for Classroom Teachers," included information on the general category called PDAs and their use as productivity tools. In addition, information was included on how PDAs, Palms in particular, are used as instructional support tools for classroom teachers. The second article in this series, "Software Tools for Personal and Professional Productivity," included information on several additional inexpensive pieces of software that can become absolutely essential for an educator. Software sites and Palm software in various categories, such as productivity, utilities, educational applications and such, were also included in Part 2.
As we established in the earlier articles, PDAs are being used increasingly by principals, teachers, and students on a daily basis. In this article, Part 3 in the series, examples of classroom and instructional use are included to give the reader a sense of the kinds of applications being used by teachers and students.
Example 1: Elementary school teachers use Palms with their students to investigate the environment near their school. Each child has a Palm, which is connected to a temperature probe and loaded with software that can record and analyze the data. The students graph temperature changes over time in ponds, puddles, and piles of leaves, at various depths and at different times of day. The students collect their information and then use the Palm's memo function to record their observations. When they return to class, they "beam" their data to a computer so it can then be compiled for class discussion.
Example 2: Students use PDAs to keep track of homework assignments, grades, and notes, effectively getting "rid" of all the additional pieces of paper or additional notebooks. Four. Zero (pronounced four-point-zero) is is one example of a course work, class information, and grade tracking software for the Palm. Students can begin a word processing document or report in class and then "sync" it to their PDA and edit and finish the report at home or in class or the media center using Documents To Go Professional. The next day, the student can print the document or "synch" it back to the desktop or laptop to be sent as an email attachment to the teacher.
Example 3: Teachers use the PDA to record their grades in grade book programs such as Teachers Pet or PRESTO GRADE or using MicroSoft Excel along with Documents To Go Professional for the Palm (see Part II). As the teacher works with the students in the classroom, it is possible to give immediate feedback on a particular class assignment or test grade or actually grade an assignment and enter the grade right on the spot via the Palm, then, either back at the desk or at home, the grades can be "synched" to the desktop or laptop. With the Palm, the procedure is greatly streamlined for teachers. This substitutes for the traditional process of taking up the paper, grading it later and then, MUCH later, putting it into a paper gradebook, finally to be recorded in the computerized data system.
Examples of instructional tools to accompany the Palm for specialized instructional tasks:
Educational software such as FLASH, a flash card program which allows the teacher or studentto make questions in the form of sets of flash cards, all within the Palm's memo pad, extends the power and potential of a PDA to become a tutor. This software program, FLASH, has two testing modes, learning and quiz. In Quiz mode, the user is given a quiz covering the complete set of flash cards or only the hardest cards in a set. In the Learning mode, the software creates a personalized learning schedule for the user, providing him/her practice on each card until mastery. The software tracks the difficulty the user had with an item, including the number of attempts. Thus, students needing extra help with multiplication, vocabulary terms, or history concepts, for example, can use this electronic flash card program to learn the information and be provided a personalized learning schedule based on the user's answers. Traditional flash cards can not provide the personalizing scheduling and learning management.
Special calculator software can be downloaded for classroom use for such activities as currency and metric conversions, and scientific functions. There is no need to buy specific calculators for every subject studied; simply load on the software which costs zero to $14.95. This enables the classroom teacher to spend one set amount from his/her classroom budget to get the Palm and then customize it's calculator function to meet changing subject matter and/or student populations.
The Noah Lite English Dictionary can be downloaded for classroom use. It has comprehensive definitions of 122,000 words and is available as freeware. As students use the Palm for word processing a homework assignment, the dictionary can be quickly accessed on the Palm. Everything you need in the palm of your hand: word processing tool AND dictionary! If a student is taking a foreign language class, there are dictionaries for Spanish, French, etc., for easy access.
PDAs can be personal productivity tools as well as an instructional tools in the classroom for both teacher and student. The range of software are being developed for the various brands of PDAs is growing almost daily; this means that educators who own and use PDAs now have multiple tools and can expect the offerings to continue to improve. As an additional incentive for the use of PDAs in the classroom, Palm just recently announced (October, 2000) the Palm Education Pioneers (PEP) technology grant program which gives Palm handheld computers to elementary and high school teachers (grades K-12) and their students to enable innovative teaching and learning.
Also, 3com, marchFIRST, and McGraw-Hill announced on October 26, 2000, announced the development of the Media Ease Learning Solution, which will provide teachers with a one-stop technology resource for creating rich-media lessons and delivering rich-media content to students. 3Com, a leader in educational networking, marchFIRST, a leading global professional services company and McGraw-Hill Education will deliver the Media Ease solution in February 2001.
These developments in the support of the use of PDAs and other technologies, coupled with teachers' already demonstrated willingness, even eagerness, to use PDAs such as Palm, indicate that the full power of this tool in instruction is on the brink of coming to fruition. Principals and teachers may find that PDAs such as Palm may be the affordable, easy to learn, highly portable tool they have been wanting and needs.