At least eight high-tech school districts throughout Oregon have begun using Palm, Inc. technology in their classroom curriculum as part of a broad handheld integration program, the mobile computing company announced Thursday.
The integration concept jumped off in 2001 when Palm unveiled its Palm Education Pioneer (search) (PEP) program grant.
With funding from the grant, more than 100 schools nationwide implemented Palm handhelds, while a number of research hubs studied the effectiveness of the device in a classroom setting, according to a recent press release.
A subsequent nationwide study revealed a positive outlook.
As a result, many Oregon districts (i.e. Eugene, South Lane) have begun implementing handheld technology through various programs over the past three years, according to Todd Hamilton, instructional technology specialist for Eugene School District (search).
"Handhelds are becoming so common in our classrooms now that the idea of using them in an instructional capacity is much less foreign," Hamilton said in a statement.
"It took a leap of faith on the school district's part, and then an extremely successful program to prove that Palm handhelds are about more than calendars and address books."
Hamilton, along with colleagues Lynn Lary and Colt Gill of the Lane Education Service (search) district, submitted grant proposals and received federal Title IID Enhancing Education Through Technology funds for their respective schools.
They used the federal dollars to successfully implement handhelds in their classrooms.
"Originally, the districts applied for a one-time grant, but state instructional technology guidelines allowed them to reapply if the district was willing to mentor another district in the use of technology," Lary said in a statement.
The group partnered with several districts across the state to provide a "creative mentoring" program to train school officials attempting to make the transition from pen and paper to Palm.
"We then created the Northwest Handheld Integration Project (search) Web site, enabling us to mentor local folks face-to-face and folks we didn't see regularly, online," said Hamilton.
"Our mentoring then took the form of e-mail, instant message and web-based resources posted to the site."
The group has since applied for and received funding each year, enabling them to generate additional district partnerships and provide alternative mentoring models.
This past August, they hosted the Northwest Handheld Integration Project Summer Institute, which brought in 140 teachers from eight districts, Hamilton said.
While the state grants emphasize increased access to classroom technology, their guidelines leave room for creative licensing.
Some districts continue to focus mainly on handheld technology, and others set their sights in goals like one-to-one computing, according to the release.
Regardless of the approach, the pioneering district officials allege increased benefits for the kids.
"Motivation is huge," Gill said in a statement. "We thought it would taper off, but kids are producing more and doing better work than they did with paper and pencils. Using a handheld keeps them on task and helps them to be more successful."
Students in the various districts' classrooms are using Tungsten E2 (search) handhelds from Palm.
Thanks to Uncle Sam, schools have also made available wireless keyboards, charging stations, printers and digital projectors with document cameras.
From kindergarten through 12th grade, students are using the Palm as an all-encompassing academic solution. They are applying handheld technology for letter recognition (thanks to a text-recognition feature), graphic organizing, pre-writing, revising and everything in between, Hamilton said.
The consortium of schools is also taking advantage of free software made available through the Integration Project. Students can utilize a graphic organizer, as well as spreadsheet and word processing functions.
Palm software applications are also available by subject.
For aspiring scientists, faculty at participating schools have approached the Palm eBook feature from a new angle, by developing dichotomous schemes for identification purposes (i.e. a "tree identification key" that can differentiate between an Oak and an Elm by prompting questions from the student).
"We [also] had a teacher in middle school who offered an elective math class to interest kids in problem solving," Lary said in a statement.
"Usually he has 17 to 20 kids each semester. Once he started using Palm handhelds, 50 kids wanted in. That's the kind of hook these tools are for kids. When it comes to handhelds, kids want access all the time."