a class set of handhelds is very exciting! However, after
the excitement comes the question, "How do I handle all these
handhelds?" These classroom management tips are for Palm™
handhelds but many of the tips apply to Pocket PC handhelds as well.
Students seem to learn Graffiti™ much faster than adults.
To teach Graffiti, I tell students the concept behind it. Graffiti
is a simplified alphabet that Palm handhelds can understand. Except
for "X," all letters are one stroke. Next, I have the
class go through the built-in application called Graffiti. This
gives them some practice with the strokes and even shows the strokes
students write on the screen. Next, I beam the students Giraffe.
Giraffe is an arcade-like game where you must write in Graffiti
to prevent letters from crashing into the ground. Students who have
a score of 800 in Giraffe are doing well. Currently, record in my
classroom is well over 3,000!
You can download
a large Graffiti alphabet
to post under your regular alphabet in your classroom. It makes
a handy reference for students, especially when they are first learning
the Graffiti strokes.
Sometimes handheld computers are referred to as Personal Digital
Assistants (PDA's). Although the preferred term is "handheld
computer" over PDA, the "P" for personal is key for
students. Each of my fifth graders formed a very strong and
personal bond with their handheld. Each handheld contained
each student's own information, drawings, appointments, databases,
etc. So when labeling handhelds, I was sure to put their name
directly on the Palm's cover.
year I have taught I have assigned each student a number.
I include that number on the labels I stick to the handhelds.
The numbers make it easy for me to place the handhelds in order
and to quickly check to see which ones I'm missing. However,
a student's first name is far more important than the number.
A first name makes the tiny device personal. I also place
a label with a student's name and number on his or her assigned
keyboard. Using an electronic label maker, I'm able to easily peel
the sticker off at the end of the school year and replace it with
a new one.
Handhelds and Keyboard
Each evening after the students leave school, I lock the handheld
computers in a cabinet. The security is for obvious reasons.
However, I have found no problems with students keeping their keyboards
in their desks. It makes for one less item for me to count
and store daily. It also allows students quick access to their
Each handheld has a sticker label with the student's name and number.
In addition to this, a Palm handheld needs a name in its memory.
Each handheld in the classroom needs a unique username. This name
is given to it during its first HotSync™ operation.
Again, to make the handheld personal, I named a handheld after the
student who uses it. Also, once a Palm handheld is named, the desktop
computer creates a user folder titled after the HotSync™ username
given to it. If I named the handhelds by simply a number, the students
and I would have to translate that number to a name each time we
accessed files on the desktop computer. It's certainly easier to
stick with student names.
No two Palm
handhelds can be named the same in the classroom. I chose to simply
use first names like "Thomas" and "Katie." However,
if you are like most classes, you probably have more than one "Katie."
So, I designated students with the same last name with a last initial.
For example, "KatieG" and KatieS" Palm Desktop for
Windows does not like spaces in the HotSync™ usernames, so
I try to avoid using spaces in the username.
Now, if you
have a class set of handhelds that are shared between students,
the naming can be tricky. In this case, a number would be more appropriate.
Be sure that name number is displayed on the outside of the Palm
so students know which one they are using.
Rather than me, the busy teacher, deciding when each student will
charge their handhelds, I place the students in charge. They are
"in charge of the charge." At the back of the room I have
set up a dozen cradles that are not connected to computers. These
cradle are pluggin into power strips and are simply used as a charging
station. Students are welcome to place their handhelds on a charger
any time they feel their computer needs to be juiced up. On occasion,
I have found it helpful if I place half of the handhelds on a charger
one evening for 30 minutes and then the other half in the morning
for 30 minutes. That way I know that everyone is charged up.
As for charging
at home, I have never sent home a cradle. Handhelds certainly keep
their charge for a night of use. However, I warn students that if
they have work to complete on their handheld computers at home,
they need to be sure they have a full charge before leaving school.
It takes some dealing with feisty software and hardware to set up
computers to synch. All-in-all, it doesn't take long to get handhelds
to synchronize to desktop computers. For the first HotSync™
operation, the Palm desktop software will ask you to name the Palm.
After entering the name, the desktop software will create a user
folder for that Palm. The folder has the title of the username.
It will also back up all of the settings, documents, and applications
into that folder. This has come in handy many times for when a handheld
crashes. Simply choose the right username and synch. Presto! The
Palm is just as it was last time it was synced! I have often thought
of disabling the back up conduit to speed up the HotSync operation,
but in the end, I like knowing that everything is backed up each
time a student synchronizes with the desktop.
After the technical
set up, synchronizing is incredibly easy. Students just set their
handheld into the cradle, press one button, wait a minute or so,
and it's done sychronizing.
It's best to
assign handhelds to one computer for sychronizing. Although, technically,
students could synch to any computers with Palm Desktop installed,
it's best if students synchronize to their assigned desktop machine.
The students and teacher will then know exactly which desktop computer
has the synchronized files.
responsible for synching their own device, not the busy teacher.
Reserving time in the morning for performing HotSync™ operations
is a good idea. If there's a lot to synch, it's helpful for the
teacher to start the process. Here's the process I used with my
arrive, they take their handheld from the stack, place it on the
cradle, and press the HotSync™ button. I consider it a great
waste of time for a student to stand in front of the computer
and wait for the synch to complete, which sometimes can take up
to three minutes. So once students start the synch, they go to
their seats and get to work. Of course, other students are entering
the room and want to synch as well. If someone else is synching
at the time, they start a pile of handhelds in front of the HotSync™
cradle. When someone notices that a handheld is done synching,
that person removes the handheld and starts the synch for the
next handheld computer in the pile. This kind person also delivers
the handheld that was done synching to the owner's desk. Using
this method, we were able to have everyone synched in the first
fifteen minutes of the day. Also, students are always welcome
to synch throughout the day to synch a document to print from
the desktop, "fling" web sites, or to back up data.
Applications and Documents
There are three good ways to get data in and out of a Palm handheld:
beaming, synchronizing, and using SD
Express. If possible, I prefer to beaming. Most times I wait
until the class will use it to beam a document or application. I've
found beaming a quick document or small application takes about
the same amount of time as passing out a worksheet to each student.
How's that possible? Well, I beam the application or document to
one student. Then I go on to another student. Meanwhile, the first
student is beaming it to as many other students as he can. You see,
it's really cool to be the one to do the beaming, so immediately
after receiving the file, each student in turn, beams to another.
The file is passed around the room faster than you can do the math.
I've found that it takes about one second for every 10K of a file.
For example, beaming Silly
Sentences would take about 6 seconds since its file size is
When a file
is very large (over 300K) or I am installing software that requires
more than one file to be installed, I either use the HotSync Manager
or SD Express to install the files to each handheld. To
use HotSync Manager, one must indicate the files to install before
performing the actual HotSync operation for each user. With SD
Express from Grant Street Software ($249), I simply insert the
expansion card with the applications/files/documents into each handheld,
and I can install one or more sets of files from the card.
Palms to Students
Students at my school have had opportunities to extensively use
technology since kindergarten. So, my fifth graders are no strangers
to the basics of computing. The very first time I was going to introduce
handhelds to my students, I made a wonderful sequence of skills
for students. This wonderful sequence was to take three weeks. However,
on the first hour of using Palms, students went through all the
material I was going to show them in the first week! The lesson
learned here is that students pick up the Palm Operating System
very quickly. They'll certainly be navigating around the operating
system much faster than adults. Much faster. They also become Graffiti
experts in about twenty minutes. What's nice about this is that
the technology is not an obstacle when learning with handhelds.
Students can focus on the tasks, learning, and curriculum.
for introducing Palm handhelds is to take a Constructivist approach.
Give the guidelines of use, care, and responsibility. Hand out the
Palms and let the students discover what all of the buttons and
menus do. They can't hurt the Palm Operating System (and if they
do, just hard reset and synch to back up)! Students will be engaged
while investigating and while discussing what the buttons and menus
actually do. Isn't this the way you learned how to use a handheld
computer? Take it out the box and experiment! Of course, follow
up the experimenting with good instruction on the names and functions
of button, icons, and menus.
The research so far says that students who take handhelds home are
much more likely to use it as a tool in the classroom. However,
I have reservations with letting them go home just whenever. My
students needed good reasons to take a handheld home overnight.
Sometimes I gave assignments that needed to be completed on the
Palm so the whole class took their handhelds home at night. Other
times, no one took their handhelds home. Yet other times a few students
who were studying or working on projects took them home. One year
I had one student who left his handheld at home twice. The first
time was a consequence in itself: he was left out of many fun activities
that day. Unfortunately, the consequence the student and I decided
on after the second time was that he was not to take the handheld
home for a month. It certainly solved the problem of leaving it
at home. If something was assigned on the handheld, he had to either
stay after school or complete the assignment without the handheld.
All other students never left their handhelds at home.
with Inappropriate Use
My students knew that having the handhelds was a huge privilege
not to be taken lightly. I told them that other teachers, principals,
and administrators will be watching. Even people from their middle
school were taking note of what was happening in our classroom.
This was a big responsibility. We didn't want anyone to think that
these devices were being used by fifth graders for inappropriate
games and for "note passing" by beaming. I shared this
concern with students and I had very few incidents of inappropriate
use. There were a few occasions when "notes" were beamed
from one another, but the limited range of beaming of the Palm doesn't
let the notes get very far. Also, sometimes adult guests with Palms
in my classroom beamed students games. These could be used only
at very restricted times when I specifically say that students have
free time. The temptation to play those games at the wrong time
was overpowering for a few fifth graders. If caught, I took away
the handheld for the rest of the day. On the one occasion I had
a repeat offender, I took away the handheld for a week. However,
I never took away a handheld as a consequence that had nothing to
do with the handheld. Taking away recess is a far more appropriate
a consequence for pushing someone in the hall rather than taking
their computer away. It's actually quite a pain for me when a student
is without a Palm because I have to come up with alternate activities
To get parents on board and supportive of handhelds in the classroom,
I devoted ten minutes of the parent night at the beginning of the
school year to handheld computing. I explained to parents that their
students have a wonderful opportunity to learn the fifth grade curriculum
with the help of handheld computers. I also explained that handhelds
are not simply organizers, but tiny computers capable of using a
variety of software applications. To show this point, I had parents
view the video
from GoKnow with Dr. Elliot Soloway. The video shows real students
doing real learning using Palm handhelds. After watching the short
video, parents were amazed at what could be done with handhelds!
There are more videos you may consider showing parents here.
At the parent
night, I also told parents the guidelines for use, which includes
taking the handhelds home and inappropriate
use. If you are looking for examples of forms for parents and
students, check out these Usage Agreements.
Also, the book Palm
Handheld Computers—A Complete Resource for Classroom Teachers
has great forms you can use. Also, you might want to hand out Why
Your Child or Student Needs a Handheld Computer for School.
of have learned a lot handhelds from their students! Students are
not only excited to take their handhelds home to use themselves,
but also to show their parents what they've been doing in school.
Handhelds make a sort of "instant portfolio" for students,
parents, and teachers upon which to assess and reflect.
You will probably want a signed usage agreement/contract from parents
and students. The contract should tell who is responsible if the
handheld is lost, stolen, or broken. It should also explain the
consquences for inappropriate use. Here are links to some usage
agreements from schools around the country:
Problems and Troubleshooting
After a month of using the handhelds, many student "experts"
emerge. The whole class knows who these students are. If there is
a problem with a handheld, students should see a troubleshooting
expert first before asking the teacher. After months of using Palm
handhelds,There are actually very few things that go wrong with
Palm handhelds and there are only a few options to take to troubleshoot:
soft, warm, or hard reset. Sometimes there would be a synching problem,
which might not be solved by a reset. Usually one setting on the
desktop computer needed to be changed and the synching problem was
solved. If you have a problem that cannot seem to be solved, try
searching for an answer or posting a question in a educational
handheld discussion forum. For really technical problems, the
forums at PalmInfocenter
can be of great help.
Usually introducing new software is simple. For applications that
might be challenging to learn, try selecting a few students to preview
the software. These students become the class experts for when you
are ready to use the application with the class. The experts will
be a great help. Many students preferred to get help from their
peers rather than from the teacher. Also, a document camera or a
Margi Presenter-To-Go with a multimedia projector is very helpful
for showing the class what to do on handhelds.
Management Web Links
Managing a classroom full of handhelds can be done in a number of
ways. How you manage hardware, software, and learning is an individual
decision based on available materials, personal preference, management
style, and students' level of responsibility. Here are some links
to web pages that share more classroom management information: