What are we waiting for?


Earlier this week I had the opportunity to attend a workshop at Erie #1 BOCES where we looked at the Handheld-Centric Classroom. The presenters were none other than Dr. Elliot Soloway and Dr. Cathie Norris of GoKnow, Inc. I got so much out of this workshop, I couldn't possibly put it into one post. I decided to post what I learned in chunks related to what the good doctors spoke about.

I can't say enough about the down-to-earth discussions I had with Dr. Soloway and Dr. Norris. Dr. Soloway was real, understanding and very curious as to what the group thought were some reasons why handheld computers were not more prevalent in our schools. Despite Dr. Soloway's correct statement, "they are not handheld computers, they are computers!", I choose to continue to refer to them as handhelds or handheld computers because they are not prevalent in schools at this time. Unfortunately, many teachers see them as just personal organizers or only good for games. We simply must to a better job on getting the word out to administrators, teachers and students.
Dr. Soloway suggested that there has been "precious little" impact of technology on K-12 education. I have to agree. Every where you look districts are throwing wads of money into hardware for classrooms. Has this method really changed anything? Even with the major money being thrown around they can't throw enough to reach the holy grail of technology integration, 1 computer per student . The typical ratio of students to computers is 5:1 (9:1 in urban areas) and is far from 1:1. Dr. Soloway and Dr. Norris believe as do I that handheld computers are the solution. (Remember they are computers)

A great idea is how some teachers are getting sets of handhelds, at very low costs, by looking for older used units. What's so great about this idea is that for just getting started with handhelds you don't need a high end unit. Many of the older (+/- 2-3 years) are capable of running most applications that are used in a classroom. Many of these applications can be found at Tony Vincent's web site learninginhand.com.

I want to publicly thank Michelle Okal and Jeff Dolce of Erie1 BOCES for inviting me to attend this workshop. Check back for more in the next few days as I run through the rest of what I learned from this great experience.

Primary Handhelds

While attending a Technology Summit for district TechnoCoaches I attended a session by Debbie Feasel, a 2nd Grade teacher at Plank South Elementary School in Webster, NY. Debbie spoke about moving from a one Palm classroom to a classroom set of Palm handhelds. She reviewed applications she has students use: GoKnow applications such as FreeWrite, Cells, iKWL, Sketchy, PiCoMap.

FreeWrite was used to write compositions. Debbie opted not to use Palm's Graffiti writing software, but the on-screen keyboard. She felt it was very important for her students to focus on her writing and not trying to learn another writing technique (they were learning cursive writing at the same time). Probably a good idea. Students would input responses to questions
about stories a partner read and beamed them to their partner in order
to provide feedback.

She found that students would follow directions on what applications to open and work with very quickly. This was encouraging as she need not go step by step each time they used the handhelds.

Cells is a spreadsheet application she uses with students to create lists, practice math facts, and for data collection. Students created lists of
different types of ants that they encountered while reading a book about ants. She would also beam a file with a list of adjectives in one column and
another column named "Examples" that was blank. Students would need to input examples they thought of related to the adjectives given.

She spoke about a struggling student who shined while using his Palm handheld. He was on task and produced the quality work expected of his
teacher. NCLB? Isn't this what's all about?

iKWL is a program that helps students organize their learning process. In addition to the iKnow, iWonder, and iLearned, students added words that they didn't recognize or know.

Sketchy was by far the most popular application for Debbie's 2nd graders.
Sketchy allows students to illustrate ideas and concepts that they are
trying to understand and learn. Students used Sketchy for learning about planets and weather. Their illustrations can be animated to display a series of pictures the students created. One student was so
creative and thoughtful he animated drawings of a recent haircut complete with opening and closing scissors and falling locks! Way cool.
I wonder if it would have won the Sketchy Contest! Other great examples of Sketchy was how Debbie had students create animations about how they
add and subtract using place values and demonstrating the water cycle.

One last application she uses with students is PiCoMap. Debbie used this with students after reading a story to get main ideas and to organize their thoughts after a field trip to
the George Eastman House.

Using the GoKnow applications, student work is connected through a web. For example, links to Sketchy animations, PiCoMaps and Cells files created by a student are accessible through the applications themselves and through the Handheld Learning Environment (HLE)

Debbie also used the To Do List to list objectives for students to achieve. (I have suggested to teacher's that this is a very good way to begin using handhelds in their classrooms.)

Other applications used in her class were Big Clock, Math Card, Match Who, FlashBoom, DataViewer, & US State Trivia.

Games were used as prizes. Cards indicating that students had earned a new game were left on desks the following morning. Game apps she
found useful were Froggy, Sorting Hat, Connect4, Checkers, and Chess.  Debbie finished up by saying this was a great way to foster
collaboration among students. She also mentioned that "students were
their own TechnoCoaches".