Reading, Writing, and Podcasting: Elementary Schools Create Engaging Language Arts Activities with Palm Handhelds

By Palmer, Gina Adams | District Administration, June 2006 | Go to article overview

Reading, Writing, and Podcasting: Elementary Schools Create Engaging Language Arts Activities with Palm Handhelds


Palmer, Gina Adams, District Administration


If you're looking for top-notch entertainment on the Internet, check out the Apple iTunes store under "Podcasts" and then look under the unlikely link "Education." There you'll find an entry for Jamestown Elementary School in Arlington, VA, with a list of podcasts that students regularly produce, featuring recordings of poetry, stories, reports, and music. Some of the podcasts highlight photos and videos of the children's artwork, offering viewers a multimedia experience. You'll also learn a thing or two about trees, habitats, or even young children's ideas on peace.

Jamestown is one of the most active schools in Arlington Public Schools' integration of handheld technology to support the district's writing curriculum and the podcasts are the result of creating original content using Palm handheld computers.

"We decided to implement Palm handheld computers last year to support our K-5 writing program," says Camilla Gagliolo, Arlington instructional technology specialist. "We thought handhelds would allow students to complete the entire writing process using technology in their own classrooms, instead of in the computer lab. And now with the many options available for publishing their work, the project has become even more exciting."

An International Class

Arlington Public Schools is located across the Potomac River from the District of Columbia. The 19,000 students who attend the district's schools come from over 120 countries and speak more than 100 different languages. It's essential that the district offer a range of programs to meet individual needs of this diverse and sophisticated population. In order to challenge and educate each child, all district schools offer a rich and rigorous curriculum.

Instructional staff at the schools have developed school-wide writing and reading programs, engaged students in hands-on math and science projects like the Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE), and implemented a wide range of technology tools to support teaching and learning. The district's Instructional Technology Services team supports the schools' efforts and spearheads the handheld implementation.

"Handheld computers offer exciting new opportunities for educators and their students, says Gagliolo. "Due to their low cost, versatility, and portability, handhelds are accessible to more classrooms than traditional computers."

Between Classrooms

Arlington technology coordinators have developed classroom kits that include 10 Palm Tungsten handhelds for students, one for the teacher, keyboards, a TriBeam charger, and the GoKnow suite of education software, and Inspiration for Palm OS. The kits travel between classrooms in a school, where teachers stagger their times for the writing workshops. In each classroom, two desktop computers and often a laptop round out technology options. So far, six elementary schools are participating.

"It's the closet we can get right now to ongoing one-to-one access to technology tools," says Gagliolo. "We found that it was more successful for classes to share a smaller set, but have more frequent access."

Schools have adopted the Writer's Workshop model from Lucy Calkins, Professor of Education at Teachers College in New York. Based on the modeling of lessons, children select writing topics and move through the writing process, including prewriting, writing, and revision.

They use Inspiration for Palm OS for prewriting activities and word study, and Documents to Go (from DataViz) and GoKnow's FreeWrite for drafting and revising. Students are very excited about the possibilities to share writing and to engage in peer editing through beaming or simply by carrying their handheld to a friend's desk.

According to Lara Heubusch-Debnar, Jamestown Elementary teacher for a multi-age classroom of first and second graders, her children were a little apprehensive about using the handhelds for writing workshops in the beginning. …

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