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Profiles in solutions: glimpse how easy it can be to print, do a presentation, read e-mail, connect to the Internet and perform assessments with your handheld.

Administering the Texas Primary Reading Inventory to her 80 kindergartners twice each year was a time-consuming chore, admits teacher Kristi Bush of Norton Elementary in Mien, Texas. It involved reams of paperwork and all the associated headaches. But she was cured last winter after joining a pilot program that used Palm handhelds and specialized assessment software to administer the state-mandated test to Texas students.

"The paper method seemed like it took forever," Bush says. "To perform the whole test on a student probably took around 30 minutes, and to transfer their answers to a whole-class answer sheet took another 10 minutes," she recalls. Multiply those 40 minutes times 80 students--and it's nearly six days per school year that Bush would be out of the classroom just to administer one test. Yet with the mCLASS:TPRI application, which she learned to use in a one-day training session, the time per student was cut to 10 minutes.

I was able to do both my classes of 40 students in one day," she says. "Then I was able to get back into the classroom teaching, not testing."


Bush credits her Palm handheld equipped with mCLASS, from Wireless Generation, with eliminating all that thumbing through the testing booklet. It fully automated the TPRI's decision tree. All she did was tap a student's answers into her Palm handheld, and its fully scripted software did the rest of the work. Once all students finished, this kindergarten teacher just synchronized her handheld to the mCLASS Web site via Palm's one-touch HotSync cradle for access to her entire classes' results, along with remedial suggestions tailored to each student.

"It's really just a huge, huge timesaver," Bush observes. "It helps me concentrate more on my students and getting the results I need."

Saving time is just one advantage to the use of handhelds. Better data collection is an even more valuable characteristic. "Another benefit to doing assessments on a computer and having them scored automatically is that we gain more specific information," explains John Watson of EyeCues Systems, maker of the Assessa package. "Things like how long each student took on each question, say if they really labored on a long-division math problem." The goal is to give instructors immediate and detailed information about the state of their students' learning.

In light of the No Child Left Behind act's testing mandates, districts are looking to technology-based assessment for help. Notably, handhelds are positioned to assist. Students like taking tests on a handheld, teachers report. And their usage enables both deeper and more frequent assessment, if desired, because tests can be created, delivered and scored relatively quickly.

Scantron--a big name in No. 2 pencil assessment--has helped lead the way with Classroom Wizard. Teachers create tests for delivery on a Palm OS-based handheld by writing original questions or by pulling items from the company's existing bank of test topics and questions. "In addition to multiple-choice and true-false questions, Classroom Wizard also supports fill-in-the-blank, short answer, and will even collect an essay question," says Joanna Goldston, marketing manager for the product.

More applications for handhelds are focusing on learning assessment. For example, PAAM, short for Palm Artifact and Assessment Manager, by GoKnow, lets teachers create a digital portfolio of all the work a student has done on a handheld, and even 'allows parents to access it via the Internet. Newcomer iQpakk, from MentorMate, goes a step further by enabling teachers to put entire lessons on a Palm handheld--notes, pictures and graphics--and then follow them up with a test.

"What it comes down to is students are studying in more places. Palm handhelds allow you to take all the information in the textbook, plus immediate feedback from the teacher, with you on the bus or to a basketball game," notes Mark Johnson, director of research and development at MentorMate. "Kids are so active today, and that's where Palm handhelds are really nice. They get the power of a laptop without the inconvenience of a laptop."


Connecting a Palm handheld to the Internet, a campus or district network, or to an e-mail system can happen in several ways. It depends on both the Palm model being used and the type of Internet connection. For most Palm models, however, the one-button Hot-Sync synchronization process remains the simplest method.

Reading e-mail and Internet content on a Palm handheld when using the simple synchronization method is akin to taking home an order from a favorite restaurant. When you get your dinner "to go," you get to enjoy your favorite meal in a box. You can take it anywhere, but if you decide you want something else on the menu you have to go back to the restaurant and order again.

Staff and students can also Internet-enable many Palm handhelds with an expansion card or universal connector add-on unit. Like going to a favorite restaurant to eat, real-time network access delivers a two-way, live experience; you can order from the menu at any time.

For districts already invested in Palm handhelds, a growing number of third-party network solutions exist. SANdisk, for instance, will soon offer an add-on Wi-Fi card for Palms with an SD expansion card slot. Other solutions--from Enfora, TdBeam and Portsmith, for example--are currently available.

Wi-Fi, wireless networking using S02.11b standard, can link some handhelds to the campus LAN or Internet in real time. As needed, staff can pull up a class schedule or a photo ID from the student database, for example, or review homework due dates. One of Palm's newest models, the Tungsten C, features built-in Wi-Fi capability. With this kind of connectivity, the Tungsten C becomes even more viable as a low-cost alternative to a desktop or laptop computer.

Bluetooth is another wireless way to go. Built into the Palm Tungsten T series models, this short-range radio-frequency connection to PCs, printers, headsets and more is just starting to break into its own.

Printing and Presentations

Palm handhelds do not come with built-in printing capability, a trait that goes back to the device's original use as a personal organizer. But adding the ability to print to any printer costs just a few dollars per unit. PrintBoy, from Bachmann Software, is far and away the most popular application for printing from handhelds. (Some new Palm models include PrintBoy in their software bundles.)

The simplest way to print hard copies is to connect to the printer through the handheld's infrared beam. If your printer doesn't have IR, Bachmann sells an $80 adaptor that can enable your printer with external IR for handheld printing.

Handhold users with wireless Internet or network connections can use the network to send their Palm-based document to any printer on the network.

What about presentations? Smart devices have that well in hand, too. Simply load your PowerPoint slideshow or other multimedia document into the handheld. Specialized hardware, like Presenter to Go by Margi, will handle delivery and display on a large monitor or projector. Alternatively, turn any whiteboard into a digital live document that can be shared with Palm handhelds. Innovative solutions are the norm.

RELATED ARTICLE: Customized training helps.

While Palm handhelds are fairly easy to use right out of the box, the tech-savvy and techno-phobic alike have much to gain from targeted professional development. Such training usually starts with the basics, but then quickly extends into using applications suited for classroom instruction, student assessment, administrative tasks and more.

Palm Education Training Providers [PETPs) are training and consulting companies that have been certified by Palm, Inc., as experts in using the handhelds in education settings. These vendors offer everything from one-day seminars to multi-day retreats, depending on the needs of the teacher, administrator or district. These trainers typically offer sessions throughout the year in regional locations, but are also available to come to individual districts for customized training.

Below is a list of certified PETPs from around the country:

Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology

Denver, Colo.



Discovery Learning

Houston, Texas



Fitzgibbons Training and Consulting

San Francisco, Calif.




Northampton, Mass.



K12 Handhelds

Long Beach, Calif.



Miami Museum of Science and Space Transit Planetarium

Miami, Fla.



Rutgers University Center for Mathematics, Science, and Computer Education

Piscataway, N.J.



The Sage Team

Penfield, N.Y.



Stroh House

LaGrange, Ind.



Smart Technology Group

St. Louis, MO



Technology Solutions

Marietta, Ga.


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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Solutions
Author:Sausner, Rebecca
Publication:District Administration
Article Type:Directory
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2003
Previous Article:Inquiring minds: the UC Berkeley School of Education is helping K-12 school districts integrate Palm handhelds into an innovative Web-based science...
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