Friday, May 13, 2005

Time Goes By

Upon returning from FETC, the team met and discussed what we were going to do with the handheld situation. The school district would be funding the hardware purchase for our pilot of a one-to-one handheld deployment, while our school would pick up the budget for software. Being the leader that she is, our principal felt she should ask for everything we could dream up and try to get the district to outfit two full classrooms, while hoping that if they said no, we would at least get more than we initially bargained for. Well, it paid off, even though they only went for one classroom set of handhelds. The plan involved the handhelds, wireless keyboards, WiFi cards, a projector, a laptop computer, a color printer, a Margi Presenter to Go, a charging station, and handheld cameras.

On the school's end, we would be purchasing software from a company called GoKnow. We had seen a presentation at NECC in New Orleans and were captivated by the presenter and the products offered. Our group likes to refer to the presenter as "Bruce Villanch" because he reminded us so much of the comedian. We also knew the option was open to locate freeware for Palm on the Internet, since so much existed out there.

After the proposal was submitted to the district, it was approved and the process of waiting for hardware to arrive began. It took quite a while, due to the "deals" we found online with the handhelds while researching at school, weren't necessarily the same "deals" the district would get.

Eventually, boxes started arriving and piled up in our school office. I was told they were there, but it was so late in the school year, I didn't know if I should go ahead and start using the handhelds or wait until the following school year began. Slowly, I began to take boxes to my classroom. Once the handheld carton was sitting in my classroom, I could hear it calling, "Open me up. Let the students play. Come on, I dare you!" Okay, I admit it, they finally got to me. I couldn't let all that technology sit there wasting away while I had students eager to test it out.

At the time, we hadn't received any software, just the hardware. Well, what was I to do? I had a demo version of Math Amigo and installed that on the handhelds. It only offered 5 math activities, one of which was quite difficult. It didn't matter to the students though. I went over how to turn the handheld on and navigate to the Math Amigo demo and away they went. You could have heard a pin drop when they were working. I mean, who ever knew that students who were less than two weeks away from summer vacation would want to WORK more? I couldn't stop them. They sat and "played" math for an hour straight one day. The demo offered various activities and students would complete ten problems, while a timer was ticking in the corner of the screen. Since it was only a demo, there wasn't any way to save their scores, so I had them keep track on a piece of paper. They went into competition with themselves, trying to solve more problems correctly in shorter time periods. It was amazing to watch them so actively engaged.

The only downside was that the school year was ending and these students wouldn't be the group that would fully participate in the pilot program. I felt bad when I had to turn down their offers to stay in the fourth grade for another year. You can't blame them for trying though. :)