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Antonia Murguia (San Antonio ISD)
Tapping into the TEKS: K-12 Palm Handheld Conference
Copyright 2003 Miguel Guhlin
"Where is everybody?" I asked about 7:00 AM, November 15, 2003, as I pulled into the parking lot with Wesley Fryer (Tools for the TEKS columnist) and Mark Gabehart (Chief Technology Officer for La Porte ISD). Wesley had flown in the night before and had been on hand as the Tapping into the TEKS conference facilitators packed bags with goodies. These included free software from Learning Services, Kidspiration/Inspiration that were placed in bags sponsored by the TCEA Area 20.
Facilitators set up projectors across the beautiful conference facility, otherwise known as Tejeda Middle School in NorthEast ISD, as well as handled numerous different arrangements. Also present were a variety of exhibitors, all selected for the powerful products that could be available on the Palm Handheld Computer. You can find participant photos, video clips, workshop materials online at http://www.edsupport.cc/tcea20/k2h/TCEA20Palm
Of course, at 7:30am, all the facilitators--composed of educators from NorthEast and San Antonio ISDs under the leadership of Lacey Gosch, Conference Manager--arrived. As I walked in the front door at 15 minutes until 8:00am, the registration desk was bustling with activity, as exhibitors and speakers checked in along with visitors from as far as El Paso and Deer Park ISDs. The conference was blessed with a varied audience. Among the conference participants were those who arrived were committed to learning about a technology tool that could serve both for information management and increasing student access to handheld computing power.
Conference Exhibitors:
The conference was sponsored by several exhibitors, each with a particular product, or suite of products, that enhanced one of the two ways--management or mindtool--in which handhelds may be used in K-12 settings. Some of the exhibitors included the following:

Tango http://www.tango-software.com

Media-X http://www.media-x.com

Wireless Generation http://www.wgen.net

Learning Services http://www.learningservicesinc.com
You can find a complete list of exhibitors online at: http://www.edsupport.cc/tcea20/k2h/exhibithall.htm
Wandering in from the main presentation area was Patsy Lanclos, her beautiful smile and welcoming voice as she greeted familiar faces. Patsy's keynote echoed, like the conference participants themselves, more than just a hope that handheld technologies could transform the teaching and learning process. Rather, the keynote affirmed the role of education professionals and challenged us all to take the next step--forward. A little girl festooned with all manner of gadgets appeared on the screen (view photo), prompting Patsy's question, "Are you ready for her? Or him?" She then went on to ask the audience, "Do you have stuff in place so that you can teach to the digital child, so that you can prepare them for their future and not your past?"
With twinkling eyes and her usual brilliant smile, Patsy shared that "Most teachers report that they use computers basically for word processing, games, searching the Internet, and checking email." While they may continue to be used as a "management tool," as Patsy stated in her keynote address, what about using them to foster critical thinking and problem-solving? While management tools "are wonderful if they save us time...[they] really don't enhance learning to any extent." The key question posed was, How can children and adults use handheld computers, or computer period, to enhance learning?
This article explores some of the ways handheld computers can be used to respond to this question. Handhelds can increase student access to computers and teacher/administrator access to student data. To better explore the how to use handhelds as management tools and enhance learning as mindtools--to borrow Dr. David Jonassen's term--this article is divided into two sections.

Since the focus of the conference was Tapping into the TEKS, it was no suprise to find a wealth of exhibitors who wanted to participate. While the contributions from exhibitors helped lessen the cost of the conference for participants--for those who pre-registered, the conference was free while onsite registrants paid $30--our real purpose was to have Palm Handheld software and hardware to share with participants. Perhaps the most exciting aspects of these products are that they facilitated classroom management, administrator or teacher access to student data, as well as were backed by a central database. The central database--important for compiling data recorded, whether it be student multiple choice tests or notes for a teacher appraisal--were server and/or web-based. That Palm software has moved from handheld only to server/web-backed tools presents a wonderful opportunity for creating class networks, data aggregation by class, campus, and district. With access to so much data, even No Child Left Behind advocates will be awash in the information they can collect about student performance, teacher quality, and information access for the academic community.
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Jason Kennedy (Media-X) and Mark Gabehart (La Porte ISD)
Some of the exhibitors took the opportunity at this conference to share new product lines. For example, Campusware's web version of their gradebook and how it could be accessed on a wireless Palm handheld computer. Robert Knuth demonstrated the web version of their flagship product, GradeSpeed, on the Palm. This certainly bodes well for districts with large implementations of wireless Palms. Teachers and administrators can actually access grades, attendance and schedules via their wireless Palm without switching to a different product.
Yet, Campusware was not the only exhibitor who had a gradebook type product to share. Liberty Solutions' //Tango// product also offered an alternative set of tools to use. This product also boasted a "quizzler" type application that allowed beaming and collection of student generated data. Other classroom related management tools included Educational Testing Services (ETS) Discourse software that made its first showing on the Palm Handheld Computer.
Another fascinating suite of tools included Media-X's web and Palm-based combo products for facilitating administrators' management of the Professional Development Appraisal System (PDAS), having quick access to student data including attendance, locker numbers and combinations, student photographs, and as well as iNotice product for tracking discipline. In the case of mVal (PDAS) and iNotice Data is captured on the Palm and transferred to a web database though a wireless or cradle sync. In the case of ePrincipal, data is exported and converted from your existing student information system and synchronized with the Palm.
As mentioned in earlier articles, one way of administering the Texas Primary Reading Inventory and tracking what was once known as "running records"--and is now "Reading Records"--was also shared. Wireless Generation shared their two products in use in several Texas districts. The two Palm-based products with web reporting capabilities for teachers and administrators were mClass: TPRI and mClass:Reading.
Setting the Stage
Although difficult to sit in on presentations when you are also walking the facility to make sure everything is "alright," I did have the opportunity to sit in on one or two presentations. As mentioned earlier, Patsy Lanclos' keynote address set the stage for the conference. Some of the key points she raised flowed from the requirements educators face in using technology, such as:
  1. Teachers are required to teach technology applicatons (but they must know that themselves)
  2. Teachers must have same mastery level expected of 8th graders (federal government says this too)
  3. Teachers must regularly integrate technology applications into all curricula (performance descriptors say INTEGRATE, not teach skills in isolation)
The main obstacle was that the "lab model or garden of computers does NOT give children the access they need to become technology literate." This is supported by Elliot Solloway's research. In it, Mr. Solloway--co-director of the Center for Highly Interactive Computing in Education at the University of Michigan--states, as cited by Stresing, 2003, that "Forty-five percent of the teachers say their kids use computers less than 15 minutes a week."
Patsy made the point of asking the conference audience where access to technology can take place. The answers demonstrated that access is limited to: a) the teacher's computer; b) one of two or several in the classroom; c) the lab on occasion; d) the computer at home, or worse, e) no access.This "loanership" perspective--our current attitude today Patsy asserted--needs to shift to one of "ownership." Putting handhelds in the hands of students is the only way to allow students ubiquituous access. A telling insight is that schools are out of space, out of wires, out of money in classrooms and districts. The handheld's small "footprint," easy to learn and access, abundance of free software, long battery life, and flexibility provide one way of addressing the access issue.
Ms. Lanclos challenged several myths about use of handhels in classrooms, citing research such as SRI International's September, 2002 study that found the following:
  • 93% of teachers believe handhelds have a positive effect on learning
  • 75% who let students take Palms home report increase in homework completion
  • 72% said handhelds are easier to integrate into classroom activities than desktop computers
  • 89% said handhelds are effective teaching tools
The truth of this research is being tested in several school districts in Texas, notably Lewisville ISD and in area 16's TARGET grant Panhandle Academic Achievement in Literacy and Math (PAALM). You can find out more online at http://www.esc16.net/PAALM/index.html
The handheld also has a wealth of software available for it. Since students need to use tools for real life problem-solving, that means that built-in tools such as word processors, spreadsheets, and databases on the Palm handheld will work well. This has already been demonstrated in SRI's research, but also by the Center for Highly Interactive Computing in Education (http://www.hice.org/). A variety of software tools are available, but in particular for graphic organizers (PicoMap), word processing (FreeWrite), moving web pages to the Palm (FlingIt!). The software tools available to teachers to manage what students have created has also improved. GoKnow's product PAAM. The power of the Palm Archive and Application Manager (PAAM) is in what it can do with class sets of Palms:

When students sync their handheld computers, PAAM retrieves all the documents from the handhelds and sends them to a secure server. From any networked computer teachers and parents can review and assess student work, distribute assignments, and provide feedback to their students. It does this by:

  • Manages (collect, review, distribute) the hundreds of documents students generate on their handheld computers
  • Automatically maintaining an electronic portfolio for each student that is viewable anywhere, anytime
  • Automatically backs-up student work on the server and easily restores student handhelds
Source: http://www.goknow.com/Products/HLE_PAAM.php
GoKnow's product--with a few additional components--is available at $19.95 per student or Palm. Videos are available on the web showing how different software tools can work for your students at http://palm.hice-dev.org/media.htm.
Wesley Fryer, in his spotlight speaker sessions, shared some of the perceived obstacles. They are as follows: 1) Every Child Does not need their own computer; 2) Handhelds are stepchildren to laptops; and 3) The future is tomorrow. Elliot Solloway tells teachers that, "“With handhelds, take your existing curriculum and fold it a little bit into handhelds (don't have to start over)." With software and hardware available inexpensively or at low cost, Solloway may have a point.
Note: Conference participants who attended Mr. Fryer's presentation walked away with a CD-ROM containing his presentation and freeware Palm handheld applications. Contact Mr. Fryer at wesfryer@yahoo.com.

Challenging Common Myths about Handhelds
Some of the myths regarding handhelds are built on "old" technology that is no longer used. These myths included the purported lack of print capability, time to input data, necessity of cradles, and that the small screen is hard to read. In truth, printing can be handled wirelessly, through "beaming," or synchronization. Keyboards, such as Palm's Ultra-Thin keyboard, make it very easy to add data. Cradles have been replaced by convenient cables, and some applications lack the need to synchronize via cradle. . .they can do it through built-in WiFI connection. And, finally, the small screen is reminisicent of a "tool" children use quite a bit--the gameboy. Furthermore, there are many possibilities for using additional Palm handheld peripherals. Some exciting peripherals that were demonstrated in one spotlight speaker's presentation (Dr. LeAnn Steinmetz) included the use of digital cameras (Veo Traveler for approximately $80).
Quick Cost Comparison
Critics seek to compare Palm handhelds to laptops, arguing that it is better to get a laptop for each student. Others argue that if it's cheaper to get a Palm and peripherals, then schools will do it. Here's a quick cost comparison. Please note that the numbers are based on estimated educational prices as informed by CompUSA and PC Connection web sites. Lower prices can probably be obtained for each of the items. For example, Palm One, Inc. has an Education Purchase program (e.g. buy 30, get 3 free. buy 100, get 12 free, etc.).
Cost Totals for
Mac Laptop (iBook)
PC Laptop
Wireless Palm (Tungsten T)
Non-Wireless Palm (Tungsten E)



Digital Camera

Total Cost
While one group can certainly argue that students will not have access to exciting tools--such as video or audio editing--on the Palms, in the face of the numbers above, one cannot help but notice the low cost of Palm handhelds and what is available. Other software programs--like Kinoma Producer--allow one to play video clips on the Palm. This is particularly useful for showing video clips (e.g. such as immigration clips converted from digital video distribution systems). Using peripherals like Margi's Presenter to Go ($100), projecting the Palm's screen is easy.
In the Classroom
Wesley Fryer, Helen Teague and Candace Figg--3 of the 4 spotlight speakers for the conference--shared some exciting ways to use Palms in the classroom. While they all alluded to the work that Elliot Solloway had done, they also took the time to model for participants how to use some of the software tools. For example, Wesley Fryer demonstrated the use of the Sketchy tool by creating a simple animation. Sketchy is a simplified drawing tool with an animation tool. The animation tool consists of 3 components, including 1) create multiple pages as in a flip book, 2) duplicate pages, 3) play pictures in succession. Sketchy can be used for a variety of purposes, including students illustrating how cell division takes place, something that Wesley modeled for those attending his sessions.
Helen Teague shared that the Palm can be used for surveys, journals, Venn diagrams, eBooks, math "scratch paper," self-practice, calculator functions, budgeting, crossword puzzles, creating graphic organizers, and sorting data. And, in truth, there are now many examples of how to use Palms in the classroom for just this purpose as shown on Mr. Vincent's Fifth Grade class web site at http://www.planet5th.com. Both Helen Teague and Dr. Candace Figg followed up with a recommended list of software one could use for these various purposes.
Dr. Figg's approach focused on "Handheld Computer Strategies to Support the Writing Process Across the Curriculum." Dr. Figg shares that one of the more powerful structures for teaching writing is the workshop approach (as outlined in The Art of Teaching Writing by Lucy Calkins, 1994). This approach

...allows students to work through the writing process from the initial collecting of ideas, thoughts, pictures, and slices of life, to the blending of these bits and pieces into a writing piece, to the sharing of the piece with a peer reviewer and revising/rewriting the piece, and to the final stages of editing the writing for proper use of mechanics, grammar, and spelling.
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Dr. Figg states that the computer has been relegated to the final stage of the writing process and used mainly for purposes of formatting a final published version of the written piece. As a writing teacher myself who has used Calkins and Atwell's approach to writing workshop with only limited computer access for students, I understand the reasoning why students only see a computer at the end of the process. During publishing, the final step in the writing process, teachers want students to make their work "look nice." Of course, the benefits of using computers in the initial stages of the writing process are left unrealized. In her handouts for this session, Dr. Figg provides a chart that matches handheld applications and/or hardware (e.g. FreeWrite, PicoMap, PresenterToGo)to different writing activities (e.g. topic generation, rehearsing ideas, etc.).
Note: You can obtain copies of Dr. Figg's handouts online at http://www.figg.com/handy4class/region20.htm as well as find contact information.
As I reflect on the wonderful strategies shared at the TCEA Area 20 conference this past November, I can't help but think back to when I had last seen this type of excitement before. It was the advent of the new, faster computers that replaced Apple //e and 8088 computers. It was the arrival of the Internet and what it could mean for us. A veteran now of the techno-fads, the reality of what handheld computers will do for us is greater and less than what we imagine. But, isn't that the way life is?

Jonassen, D. (1999) Computers as Mindtools for Schools: Engaging Critical Thinking. 2nd Edition.Prentice Hall.
Photo of girl. (October, 2003). Adobe Education Advertisement. As printed in Technology & Learning, Vol.24, No.3
Stresing, D. (October, 2003). Education and Technology: The Future of Handheld Learning. Available Online: http://www.technewsworld.com/perl/story/31911.html
Wood, C. (March, 2002) Education. Available online http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,4149,15154,00.asp

About the Author
Miguel Guhlin currently serves as the Director for Instructional Technology (http://itls.saisd.net) for San Antonio ISD. He has also had the pleasure of serving as TCEA Area 20 Director for 2002-2004 term. He can be reached at mguhlin@yahoo.com or via his web site at http://www.edsupport.cc/mguhlin