At River Hill High School in Clarksville, Md., 15 ninth-graders in an honors English class are using handheld computers to study William Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe, write letters to the editor, and critique and edit their peers’ work.
The freshmen are part of a pilot program launched Oct. 3, 2000, to explore how technology?in this case PDAs provided by MindSurf, a Baltimore-based wireless infrastructure company?can enhance education. They’re using iPAQs by Compaq with a Windows CE operating system that’s loaded with Webster’s Dictionary, Encyclopedia Britannica, and instant messaging and scheduling software to download assignments, take and share class notes, hold online discussions and do research on the Internet.
“Because the [handhelds] have Internet capability, we can collaborate with other schools reading the same texts through bulletin boards and chat room discussions,” says Rick Robb, the English teacher whose class is serving as beta testers. “The technology opens up the classroom to broader communication and broader research at an earlier level. Before, you could only talk to learned professors if you were in college. Now you can do it in the ninth grade.”
Using the PDA also creates efficiencies for Robb, who no longer has to spend time photocopying worksheets and quizzes.
Robb, who spent 12 years in IT as a systems analyst before becoming a teacher, thinks using technology to deliver notes and assignments and to stimulate discussions will prepare his students to be productive members of the workforce. “It’s helping kids use standards that are already in practice in business,” he says. “Businesses spend a lot of money retraining college graduates because of the deficiency of technology education.”
The program expanded to six additional ninth-grade classes and one eleventh-grade class at the beginning of February, and by the end of the school year, the entire ninth grade at River Hill High School may be using the devices. Eventually, Robb will find himself teaching the school the finer points of the PDA lingo that he and his students use as much as he finds himself teaching the students the finer points of English usage.