Handheld Computing in the Social Studies

Article excerpt

THE BELL RINGS, and students enter their social studies class and take their computers out of their pockets. They gain access to their daily notes and agenda after the teacher presses a button. The teacher takes roll on her own handheld computer and, with a click of a button, sends an instant attendance report to the administrative offices across campus.

Meanwhile, a student is walking the halls, late but obviously in no hurry to get to class. A school administrator stops the student, takes out her handheld computer, enters the student's name, and immediately pulls up the student's class schedule. The administrator escorts the student to class.

Back in the classroom, the social studies students form into groups to beam data to one another from public opinion surveys that they conducted in their neighborhood over the weekend. Within five minutes, the groups have an idea of what they can learn from their surveys. They make presentations to share their data with the class.

Handheld Possibilities

Schools and individual classrooms are beginning to explore the various uses of handheld computing devices. Access to affordable, portable, and multifunctioning technology is important to school systems that are updating their technological resources. (1) Rather than purchase dozens of costly desktop computers for individual classrooms, schools can equip each classroom with one or two desktop computers and a classroom set of portable handheld computers. Not only are handheld computers and their peripherals much more affordable; they also present students the opportunity to use technology in a variety of projects and settings, something that a desktop cannot provide. They offer basic computing software, such as word processing and spreadsheet applications, which is typically compatible, or can be made compatible, with other handheld computers and PC desktop systems. They allow wireless Internet connections so that students can use their handheld computers to gain access to the World Wide Web and to send and receive e-mail.

When preparing to make a decision on whether or not to use handheld computers in the classroom, teachers need to be aware of the following possibilities, so that they can evaluate whether handhelds will help meet current classroom needs.

Writing

A full-size keyboard attaches to the handheld and folds up for easy storage. In class, students can keep a journal, take notes, or work on historical essays. Having word processing at their desks means that students can start an assignment in class and finish it when they get home without having to transcribe any of their work.

Handhelds can also assist in collaborative writing. Students in groups of three, for example, can work collaboratively with their handhelds on a five-paragraph essay. Each student can write a separate body paragraph and beam his or her work to an "essay-keeper." Together, students can draft an introduction and conclusion. Handhelds also enable students to conduct a peer review or to peer edit by beaming their essay to their partners and having the partners give feedback. With a color handheld computer, students can make corrections or suggestions in a different ink color.

Research

Currently, web capabilities vary among handheld devices. Some handheld users do not have full web-browsing capabilities; teachers must find the relevant websites on their own and instruct students on which websites to explore. (This will probably not be considered a limitation by teachers who prefer students to work under their direct guidance rather than to surf the web freely.) Most handheld users must purchase an external Internet card and be near a hub for Internet access. As handhelds evolve and respond to classroom needs, this function will likely change.

Organization/Study Skills

Students can enhance their organizational skills with handheld devices. …