Palms: Personal Digital Assistants, or Handheld Computers

Palms may be an older technology, but they are still great tools for use in the science classroom and in field work. From data collection to video and audio recording, these remarkable devices can enable interactive engagement with the environment and collaboration between students.

Along with a relative ease of use, students can use their palms when out in the field. When a student has a palm, she can record her own perspective throughout the scientific process- from observations, experiment, data analysis, and argumentation and communication. Furthermore, the “beaming” feature allows information to be shared between handhelds through infrared sensors. Palms can beam files such as pictures, videos, memos, or voice recordings from palm to palm within seconds. Palms must be within a few feet for this to work. The beaming feature promotes collaboration among students. The multi-modal recording options also helps students who may struggle with writing and gives another mode of recording observations and data. Audio recording might be faster, freeing up the student in the field and making things more immediate.

A How-to on Palms: (PD-Prezi)

Getting accustomed to using a palm only takes a few minutes. Once a student understands how to use the stylus, the keyboard, and the home button, the student can navigate the palm quite effectively. There is a brief tutorial application one can access from the home screen if one needs more direction.

The buttons on the palm are pretty intuitive–the camera button on the right of the base links to photos and video. The house icon takes you back to the home screen (which is great anytime you get lost). The file icon brings up a menu of choices for any application, giving you options of beaming, saving the file, or deleting items. The button on the left side of the palm allows you to instantly voice-record. Naming files is easy as selecting and typing using the keyboard or stylus (which are the two ways to write using the palm).

One important feature is being able to bring data from the field back into the classroom. There is a “HotSync” feature where information from the PDA can be linked to a desktop or laptop in the computer lab. We will be able to use a certain computer at the Warner school for this purpose during the GRS Camp. This way, students can save their data daily as a good backup in case something happens to the palms. Additionally, there is a memory card that accompanies the palms which can store photos and videos. This memory card can be used to transfer files onto a computer as well. Palms can be charged with a special cord.

Big Picture:

What we like best about palms is that they are an integrated tool that promotes mobile learning. They also help meet some of the constructivist and inquiry-based education goals we are pursuing at the Warner School such as increasing ownership and accessibility of science.

One study showed that students “easily moved between note taking and data collection.” They had opportunities to connect questions and investigations to the data in a real time setting, and this enhances systematic investigations, critical thinking and cooperation (Staudt, 1999, p. 1). Also, PDAs facilitated group work, and immediate analysis of data helped when conducting scientific investigations in the field rather than in the classroom (Ray, McFadden, Patterson, & Wright, 2001)

Constructivist Goals Achieved Through Palms: (Jonassen 1994)
-Provides tools and environments that help learners interpret the multiple perspectives of the world
-Fosters reflective practice
-Enable context-and content dependent knowledge construction
-Supports collaborative construction of knowledge through social negotiation
We believe use of palms can deepen the experience of students during the GetRealScience camp. Palms encourage engaging with the field environment and the process of scientific investigation. They can document and promote exploration through inquiry. Since learning should be internally controlled and mediated by the learner, palms give students tools to direct their own learning.

Benefits of Palms for Educators:

PDAs are much less expensive, faster to boot and access than many networked computers, and highly portable. They are personal devices that encourage customization.
Teachers can use palms themselves for real-time grading or assessment during class. This saves time and increases efficiency. According to one teacher:

[The PDA] enable[s] me to authentically assess students as they work and learn everyday. It allows me the opportunity to accurately keep a log of students’ progress with particular knowledge or skills.

Additional software, for example, “Documents to Go” allows teachers to create their own documents in Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel for use on the PDA. Forms include gradebooks, attendance sheets, discipline reports, substitute teacher forms, parental notification forms, and lesson plan outlines. Teachers can easily share forms by beaming a document from one PDA to another. Several believe that the PDA enhanced their ability to integrate technology in their teaching.

Additional resources:

Read Personal Digital Assistants in the Middle School Classroom: Lessons in Hand by Beverly B. Ray, Anna McFadden, Susan Patterson and Vivian Wright in Meridian (2001).

Tony Vincent’s website is a resource for using handhelds in schools. Learn about handheld hardware and software, lesson plans and information on podcasting, and online articles in “Learning in Hand,”

A site for teaching applications of palms here:

News article on use of palms in the classroom:
“Debating Merits of Palms in Class” by Elisa Batista (August 2001)
Educators’ resources are available on this great wiki-style site

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