Almost everywhere you look nowadays, someone has a Palm™ or some other type of handheld computer. No longer thought of as merely electronic datebooks, handheld devices are now used in many classrooms around the country. Veteran teacher Karen McCann can't imagine teaching without handhelds, even though three years ago she didn't know what they were.

"This is the way I've wanted to teach for so long," says McCann, who has been teaching for 25 years.

Handhelds, as they are commonly called, liven up lessons and are fairly easy to use, says McCann. She has used them with her fourth and fifth graders at Bemis Elementary School, in Troy, Michigan, for two years to study the various properties of water, from temperature to Ph-level.

Learning at the Pond
As part of the lesson, each student uses a Palm loaded with a software program called Imagiprobe that calculates the data students collect during a field trip to a local pond. The students attach a special electronic probe that looks like a metal thermometer to their handhelds and dip the probe in the water to record the temperature or the Ph-level. The information is recorded directly into their individual Palms. Back in class, students download the information to a computer to print it out, or transfer the data to a spreadsheet program.

Super Sleuth Lesson
Amy Nicholas, a third-grade teacher at Mountain Brook Elementary School, in Birmingham, Alabama, uses handheld computers for a Super Sleuth project designed to teach her students science inquiry techniques, research, reading, writing, and math.

Nicholas asks her students to help her find a stolen box of cookies. Using a concept-mapping software program for handhelds called PicoMap, the students plot their investigation plans on their Palms. They walk around the school, collecting data and recording notes in the Memo Pad portion of their Palm devices. They also use a small digital camera, attached to one of the handhelds, to take photographs of the different scenes they encounter.

Students download their data into a spreadsheet program on the classroom computer to print out and study to find the missing cookies. They also can download the pictures they took.

"Integrating the Palm handhelds has gone way beyond my expectations," says Nicholas. "The possibilities are endless. We're constantly finding new ways to incorporate this technology into what we're learning."

More to Learn With Handheld Computers
There are dozens of academic software programs made especially for handhelds. Many are free and can be downloaded from special Web sites. One program, a drawing and animation lesson developed by researchers at the Center for Highly Interactive Computing in Education at the University of Michigan (Hi-Ce), is called "Sketchy."  For a step-by-tutorial, see our link above.

The Palm Web site also has more examples of teachers using handhelds in their classrooms.