Education In Hand: Reading, Writing, and Podcasting

Education In Hand: Reading, Writing, and Podcasting

Elementary schools create engaging language arts activities with Palm handhelds.

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"We options available for publishing their work, the project has become even more exciting."

An International Class

. In order to challenge and educate each child, all district schools offer a rich and rigorous curriculum.

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Services team supports the schools' efforts and spearheads the handheld implementation.

"Handheld computers offer exciting new opportunities for educators and their students,

says Gagliolo. "Due to their low cost, versatility, and portability, handhelds are accessible to more classrooms than traditional computers."

Between Classrooms

Arlington technology coordinators have developed classroom kits that include 10 Palm Tungsten handhelds for students, one for the teacher, keyboards, a TriBeam charger, and the GoKnow suite of education software, and Inspiration for Palm OS. The kits travel between classrooms in a school, where teachers stagger their times for the writing workshops. In each classroom, two desktop computers and often a laptop round out technology options. So far, six elementary schools are participating.

"It's the closet we can get right now to ongoing one-to-one access to technology tools," says Gagliolo. "We found that it was more successful for classes to share a smaller set, but have more frequent access."

Schools have adopted the Writer's Workshop model from Lucy Calkins, Professor of Education at Teachers College in New York. Based on the modeling of lessons, children select writing topics and move through the writing process, including prewriting, writing, and revision.

They use Inspiration for Palm OS for prewriting activities and word study, and Documents to Go (from DataViz) and GoKnow's FreeWrite for drafting and revising. Students are very excited about the possibilities to share writing and to engage in peer editing through beaming or simply by carrying their handheld to a friend's desk.

According to Lara Heubusch-Debnar, Jamestown Elementary teacher for a multi-age classroom of first and second graders, her children were a little apprehensive about using the handhelds for writing workshops in the beginning. "Once a few second graders picked them up and began using them, all the children wanted the experience," she says.

"Our teachers report increased motivation and enthusiasm for all their students, even their very reluctant readers and writers," says Gagliolo.

Jamestown teacher Helainie Ortiz also teaches a first-second combination. She finds her students are always excited when they know they can use the Palm handhelds during the writing workshop. "I have a student who couldn't write more than a few sentences, but when he uses FreeWrite on the handheld, he can finish a rough draft in one sitting."

Publish & Thrive

Teachers and students use the GoKnow PAAM Classroom Synchronization Manager to upload and access the writing and take it through the publishing process. When it comes time to publish student work, teachers are discovering many creative options. Their students might combine pictures and text once their story is on a desktop computer, and then print it out as a book. Jamestown has made its mark by helping students extend their writing projects with other publication options, like the podcasts, or videos and blogs.

To create the podcasts, students use audio and recording programs like Audacity, SoundStudio, and Apple's GarageBand. They record their stories, poems, and reports, sometimes adding drawings or animations they've made in Sketchy to create a video cast. Then they can share these creations on iTunes, or on a special Web site, or over the school's TV-Video network.

In one podcast, third graders highlight an outdoor observation activity. First they took their handhelds outside to view the natural environment on their school grounds. After taking descriptive notes and drawing what they saw in Sketchy, they returned to the classroom and wrote stories from one of the tree's perspectives. They recorded their stories and combined them with their illustrations, creating an enjoyable listening and viewing experience that's now available on iTunes.

"The greater school community, especially parents, love the podcasts," says Gagliolo. "They like being able to see what students are creating."

Beaming Up

Palm handhelds are also being integrated into Junior Great Books inquiry-based activities. Students record questions they have about a story the class is reading and then either beam them to each other or to their teachers, who can gather together all of the questions and print them out for class discussion.

In Ortiz's class, her first and second graders took their discussions on a book about frogs and their alligator king through the process to build a podcast. After writing and beaming questions about the story, the students created word Webbings of the frog's environment to help them understand the story. They then drew pictures using Sketchy and created audio voiceover of poems that related to the story and their drawings.

"My students find the handhelds easy to use and manage. They know more about some of
the programs
than I do."

"My students find the Palm handhelds easy to use and manage," says Ortiz. "They know more about how to use some of the programs than I do."

Many K-2 teachers are using mCLASS Reading and mCLASS PALS (from Wireless Generation) on the handhelds to streamline the assessment of reading and early literacy skills. These applications offer teachers a way to easily screen, diagnose, and monitor student progress.

"As a teacher who firmly believes

Forwant to help their students be prepared.

"My students understand the many functions of the handhelds programs they use and they happily teach each other," says Heubusch-Debnar. "It may seem scary for some educators, but I'm happy to let go of the wheel and allow my students d the enthusiasm to use the handhelds has made my program more successful and engaging."

"It's amazing to see the power of the technology at work with elementary students," says Gagliolo. "When you see young kids getting this involved and engaged in high-level activities, you have the right thing in their hands." n

Gina Adams Palmer is a freelance writer and producer focusing on education. She is based in Los Gatos, California.