One-to-one computing may be a goal at many schools across the country, but it's a way of life at 22 elementary campuses in the Texas Panhandle, where students are using Palm handhelds for reading and math instruction every day.
The initiative to bring Palm-based instructional technology to schools in the Texas Panhandle was spearheaded by the Amarillo-based Region 16 Education Service Center, which provides training and other centralized services to regional school districts.
"In Texas we are mandated to move to a one-to-one computing environment, but it's just too expensive to do that with laptop computers," says Paulette Baumgardner, coordinator of instructional technology for the Service Center. "With handhelds, you can have computing technology on a one-to-one basis without a horrendous expense."
The Service Center's program to bring Palm handhelds to the region's elementary schools - dubbed "PAALM," for Panhandle Academic Advancement in Literacy and Math - was initially funded in 2003 through a technology grant from the Texas Education Agency. Over the life of the three-year grant, the program received $2 million to pay for the units, software and training.
"When comparing the Palm operating system with other systems on other devices, we chose Palm hands-down because there is so much more Palm-related educational software out there," Baumgardner explains.
"We're in the digital age with these kids," says Heather Voran, an instructional technology specialist at Region 16 Educational Service Center. "They grew up with electronics and a lot of these programs are in a game format, but they're very instructional. The children are so busy having fun, trying to win or beat the machine, that they don't realize how much they're learning."
Region 16 uses, among other handheld applications, Beret's "Study Buddy: Vocabulary", "Herbert's Math Time", "Fraction Math Time" and "CrossWord Time" (www.beret.com).
Although it is too early to determine if the Palm computing program in the Texas Panhandle has contributed to higher scores on standardized tests, Voran says that feedback from teachers and principals has been favorable. "For the majority of teachers, who are using the Palms consistently, we have seen a definite change in student learning," she adds.
The biggest benefit from using Palm handhelds appears to be in practice tasks. "We've had students consistently getting perfect scores on the spelling tests with the handhelds, as opposed to much poorer grades with the old system of flashcards and worksheets," Voran says.
"The Palms have been a great tool to help reinforce lessons by using hands-on activities to enhance learning in both reading and math," says Jim Knight, principal of Baker Elementary School in Canadian, Texas, in a report posted on his school's Website. "The vocabulary building has been tremendous as well as the math speed games."
Although the grant for acquiring new Palm computers and software has expired, Baumgardner says that the Region 16 Education Service Center will continue to support participating districts with ongoing professional development and technical help.
"We're now starting to see other school districts in the region getting on board with Palms, as well," she notes. "As far as I can see, the future is just beginning for handhelds in the classroom."
The author is a freelance writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org