Palm Readers: Handheld computers—those digital organizers that busy executives today can’t seem to live without—could soon be just as useful to students, some educators believe. Portable and surprisingly powerful, the little devices can be programmed to run educational games, operate scientific probes, and send and receive data over the Internet.
Some teachers in the Hudson, Massachusetts, school district have experimented with computers such as the Palm III for several years. They tout the Palm’s portability, noting that students can take it outdoors to collect data. For example, 5th graders in two classes at the district’s Farley School use the computers to investigate a nearby conservation area. Each child has a Palm, which is connected to a temperature probe and loaded with software that can record and analyze data. With their computers, students can graph temperature changes over time in ponds and piles of leaves, at various depths and at different times of day. Then, using an infrared port, the students can easily compile the data on a laptop, enabling them to discuss their findings without retreating to the classroom.
“It has a huge potential” for schools, says Robert Tinker, director of the Concord Consortium, a nonprofit group in Concord, Massachusetts, that studies and develops applications of new technologies for education. “It’s not the only answer to things, but it can be a serious computer for young children. I call it the ‘equity computer,’ a computer that you can afford to give every child.”
Few schools are using them yet, but that could change if more educational software and hardware for the Palm is developed. Hundreds of programs have been written for the Palm operating system, including games and presentation tools that can be used for learning, but so far programmers have focused on the business and hobby markets.