Schoolwide Deployment of palmOne Handhelds
Avery Coonley School may be nearly 100 years old, but when it comes to endowing its teachers and students with handheld technology for the classroom, this private, independent school in Downers Grove, Ill., is one of the most forward-looking schools in the state.
After the rousing success of a fourth-grade pilot program last year, each student and teacher in grades four through eight now have their own Zire 72 handheld, as well as a wireless keyboard, from palmOne. It's the realization of the school's vision to provide a learning device for every student, and one that has earned full support and cooperation from students, teachers and parents.
"The pilot program gave us a chance to discover the possibilities that handhelds bring to teaching, learning and other aspects of school life," said Joe Janojak, technology director at Avery Coonley. "Once we articulated our vision, parents embraced the idea and were instrumental in helping us raise the funds. They see the benefits."
According to Jennifer Garetto and Laura Bojkovski, the fourth-grade teachers who ran the pilot program, the benefits are obvious -- students are more enthusiastic and motivated. They also require very little instruction. Within a few days they are scheduling appointments, writing memos, writing lists to keep themselves on task, filling in the calendar with homework assignments and due dates, and even setting the alarm to remind themselves of a deadline. But the benefits go beyond organization.
"The students write more often and more efficiently because they have keyboards and are no longer dependant upon going to the computer lab once a week," said Garetto. "They write essays, stories and vocabulary words, as well as print them using a wireless Bluetooth(R) printer. They also take their handhelds on field trips, use them to create animations and draw, and use them throughout the curriculum -- keeping everything they need together in one place."
Students fresh from the pilot program are ready and eager to show others the ropes. "They are mentors to other students and teachers. It's a very fun way for them to engage with each other," Garetto said.
The students also have enormous respect for the technology, thanks in part to a creative program that rewards student responsibility. Before they can take their handhelds home, students must earn a "palmOne Operating License" by mastering a set of skills and demonstrating them to their teachers. To get a license, students must be able to enter characters using the handheld's built-in Graffiti 2 software, beam, manage a To Do list, schedule tasks, operate the handheld's camera, change preferences, and sign a contract confirming their understanding of how to take care of their handheld and keep it safe. Most kids get their license in three weeks, and so far, not one handheld has been lost.
What impresses Headmaster Tom Kracht and the other administrators and teachers is how quickly the kids adapt to using the technology and how versatile they are.
"They work more independently, have more conversations, and share information by beaming notes to each other," he said. "Overall, they are more efficient and organized. Having a handheld to use is fun and exhilarating. It gives them a certain measure of independence. To these kids, handheld computers are indispensable tools."