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Portable Writing Tool.

Want writing results? Put technology in kids' hands--and backpacks.

Who: Cheryl Perkins, third grade teacher, Charles W. McCrary Elementary School, Asheboro, North Carolina


Inspiration: When Perkins found out last year that, thanks to a federal grant, every third grader in Asheboro city schools would have access to an AlphaSmart 2000 word processor, she was skeptical. Would students be able to do more with these simple machines than practice keyboarding skills?

Happily, yes. "It's been like putting a computer in every child's hands," Perkins says. "The AlphaSmarts integrate well with all subjects and really motivate the students."

This year, all 800 third and fourth graders have one of the $200 pint-size word processors to use at home and school.

Students now type in everything from book reports to multiplication tables. They can print their work out directly or hook their AlphaSmarts to the classroom computer and integrate their files with its software programs.

AlphaSmarts are built of durable bicycle helmet material--strong enough to be drop-kicked, although none of the students has tried. On the contrary, Perkins says, "Students are very appreciative and protective of them--and excited that they can take them home."

Issuing an AlphaSmart to every student "doesn't put anyone at a disadvantage," Perkins says. "The use of technology is growing, and all children need to become technology-literate."

Lesson: In Perkins' classroom, the AlphaSmarts are handed out first thing in the morning--if they haven't been taken home the night before.

Because students can type and edit their work in advance--and save up to eight files--they have time to learn how to add more sophisticated layers of technology. They can embark on projects that were previously limited by the relationship of, say, 24 children to one classroom computer.

"I use more multimedia programs now than I ever have," says Kathy Malpass, a third grade teacher at Lindley Park Elementary School.

Students can read a book and then have a "silent debate," by typing in reactions to the reading. Results are printed out and posted. Observations made when conducting science experiments can be simultaneously typed into the AlphaSmarts.

Perkins' students toted AlphaSmarts to the zoo and typed in comments, then took pictures with a digital camera. Back in the classroom, they downloaded their text and photos into the computer and produced a slide show on their trip.

The bottom line: Having their own word processors gets students to write more. "And if they can put into words what they're doing, they understand it," Perkins says.

Angie Haywood, a third grade teacher at Guy B. Teachey Elementary School, agrees.

"I used to hear a lot of, `How much do we have to write?'" she says. With only four lines of text displayed at a time on AlphaSmarts, "kids can't tell how much they're writing, so they write until their ideas are complete."

Click: "By having students more involved, more on task, more motivated, they're more successful--and I can cover more material," Perkins says.

"The students feel like writers," Malpass adds. "They have a sense of ownership with their writing as well as with having a machine."

For More Information

Visit Asheboro city schools on the Web at To learn more about the AlphaSmart 2000 word processor, go to

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Title Annotation:includes related articles on computer technology in schools
Publication:NEA Today
Geographic Code:1U5NC
Date:Apr 1, 1999
Previous Article:Wired Classroom.
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