Resources or tools that facilitate elementary classroom processes but aren’t major curriculum or textbook components can take at least three forms: tools that help teachers with their daily work; materials (software or electronics) that can be used for learning centers with individual students or small groups of learners; and online or electronic materials and software that support the curriculum or help teaching in some other way.
Through the years, elementary teachers have developed a number of methods for dealing with their enormous workloads, including creative ways to work with part of a class while keeping the rest of their students productively busy. These methods have included teacher-made materials (remember folder games?) as well as simple electronic toys as these became available.
Computers, the internet, and advances in various electronic technologies are adding some interesting new possibilities to the mix of teaching resources for the elementary grades. In many cases, these new materials are more effective and more interesting to students than some of the older methods.
This article takes a look at a few examples of new technology-based possibilities for elementary education. Several of the items mentioned here can be used across grades K–12, but they are well-worth considering in an elementary resources context.
My current favorite tool is a flash drive. I work and transfer information among at least five computers a week—and sometimes more—including my home computer. I began in the days of floppy disks, then moved on to CD-ROMs. I always encountered the same problems. There were always formatting issues and, sooner or later, the constant switching damaged the disks. Today’s flash drives are small and plug directly into a USB port to serve as portable storage devices. This technology is so quick and easy to use that information storage and transfer between machines is now quite simple.
A great example of a flash drive is the Memorex TravelDrive USB. The drive is available in 512MB, 1GB, 2GB, 4GB, and 8GB versions with a capless design featuring an outer protective shell made of a black soft-touch material. The drive swings around 180 degrees from the protective shell to plug into a computer’s USB port.
The TravelDrive has a lanyard hook, a key ring, a blue LED indicator lamp, Migo Portable Vault USB security software, Enhanced for ReadyBoost capability for improved performance with Windows Vista, and a quick start guide. The device works with Windows (including Vista), Mac, and Linux. On initial installation in a USB port, the unit automatically installs any needed software in seconds and is instantly ready for use. The 2GB version has a suggested retail price of $49.99, although it is often available for less.
Palm Z22 Organizer
A few years ago, I spent a fair sum on a hand-held computing device. After several years, I’m still using the unit—for the same tasks that now can be performed by the much less expensive, nicely designed Palm Z22 organizer.
Basically, the Z22 is an all-in-one planner, journal, sticky-note holder, address book, and calendar designed for people who aren’t familiar with hand-held devices by the makers of the original PalmPilot. Everything here is simple; often only the touch of a button is required to bring up appointments, addresses, and more. The unit comes with an easy three-step set-up poster to help users get started. At about 3 ounces, this is one of the smallest and lightest of the hand-held organizers.
The Palm Z22 has a bright screen that displays color and can be seen easily in light or dark rooms. It holds years of appointments, thousands of addresses, hundreds of photos, to-do lists, and more. The retail price is about $99.
The fairly new Pulse Smartpen offers many possibilities for classrooms, school meetings, or workshops. The device can be used to take notes, record audio, and link the audio with written text. Users can review the audio by tapping the tip of the Smartpen on the notes or drawings written with the device. For writing purposes, the Smartpen works only with Livescribe interactive dot-enabled paper. Some of this paper is included with the initial purchase.
Notes taken with the Smartpen can be transferred to a computer for organizing. Searches may be performed for words contained in the notes. The captured text and audio can be used in movies that can be uploaded to the internet or viewed on classroom computers.
The Smartpen weighs 1.3 ounces and includes 2GB of memory and Livescribe desktop software (available by download). The device also comes with a 3D recording headset, a case, charging cradle, a starting guide, and other materials. The retail price is $199.
SMALL GROUP WORK
Elementary teachers have used learning centers with individual or small groups of students for a long time. Today’s new technology offers some interesting possibilities for keeping small groups of students absorbed, working, and learning while the teacher is working with other individuals or groups. The following are some examples.
EyeClops Bionic Eyes
JAKKS Pacific, Inc.
The EyeClops Bionic Eye is a microscope of sorts that looks like a big round eye with a handle. The device magnifies objects and words and puts the images on a television screen without the use of software.
The hand-held Bionic Eye comes with a viewing tube, a base for hands-free use, and a dish for viewing bugs, liquids, other materials. The unit has a 200x zoom and three LED lights that can be used as needed for illumination. The EyeClops Multi-Zoom Bionic Eye comes with three lenses for magnifications of 100x, 200x, and 400x.
These units would be great for centers where students are viewing objects, liquids, etc., and writing about their observations. The price is about $50 for both the EyeClops Handheld Bionic Eye and the EyeClops Multi-Zoom Bionic Eye.
Tag School Reading System
LeapFrog Enterprises, Inc.
The Tag School Reader is a hand-held learning tool for students in Pre-K through grade 3. The device provides audio feedback as students touch a penlike device to portions of specially printed books and materials. The Tag School Reader is portable, does not require computer access, and can be used in many settings.
Students can touch an icon to hear a story read aloud or a single word’s pronunciation. The included activities work with core reading skills such as comprehension, vocabulary development, phonics, and phonemic awareness.
The Tag School Reader is part of a system that includes headphones, Tag School books, rechargeable battery chargers with rechargeable batteries, and classroom storage boxes for the Tag School Readers. A package with four Tag School Readers, four storybooks, four headphones, four USB cables, and an application installer CD-ROM is priced at $275.
PLATO Achieve Now on PSP
PLATO Learning, Inc.
The PLATO Achieve Now software in a PSP version offers a fascinating opportunity for teaching and learning. PSP is the abbreviation for the PlayStation Portable, a hand-held game console manufactured and marketed by Sony Computer Entertainment, Inc. This hand-held video game console features an optical disc format, a large viewing screen, multimedia capabilities, and connectivity with the PlayStation 3.
PLATO Achieve Now on PSP provides a hand-held mobile instructional program that can extend classroom activities with 29 reading/language arts activities and 28 mathematics activities for K–7 students. The educational gaming program includes interactive software, school and home learning activities, teacher materials, professional development features, and student assessment functions. The software comes in both English and Spanish versions.
This program would be excellent for small group or individual work; it will definitely hold student interest, especially for boys. In addition, the program can be used with an entire classroom. The hardware cost is about $200. The software pricing varies, based on the number of users.
OTHER CURRICULUM SUPPORT
Puzzles are great curriculum support. Puzzlemaker is a puzzle-generation tool for teachers, students, and parents. More than 10 types of math and vocabulary puzzles can be created and printed, including word search, criss-cross, and more.
Puzzles can be created and customized for specific grade levels and curriculum. Users can create puzzles from their own word lists or from curriculum-based word lists available with the program. Puzzlemaker is easy enough to use that, with some help, students can create their own puzzles. A variety of tools allow users to organize, edit, and save puzzles in multiple formats.
Puzzlemaker is available online at no cost. A CD-ROM version offers several features not available online, as well as the advantage of avoiding internet slowdowns during peak-use periods. The CD-ROM includes a searchable Merriam-Webster elementary and intermediate dictionary, a teacher’s guide, and more than 350 clip art images and 70 sample puzzles. The CD-ROM edition, for use with Windows (including Vista), is available as a single computer license for $49.95.
LightSPEED Technologies, Inc.
REDCAT, a wireless microphone system that clarifies the teacher’s voice and evenly distributes sound throughout the classroom, is a good example of classroom amplification technology (CAT). The device helps children clearly hear spoken instructions, enhancing classroom instruction.
Research indicates that CATs improve academic performance, reduce vocal stress, and help create an optimum learning environment. They have been used with considerable success, especially in elementary classrooms.
The REDCAT all-in-one system works right out of the box and requires no installation. The device can be mounted on a wall like a picture frame or placed on a bookshelf or desktop. The unit uses a LightMic IR (infrared) wireless microphone that leaves the teacher’s hands free for other tasks. The features include two microphone channels,
speakers, and the ability to accept auxiliary input from televisions, CD/DVD players, and personal computers.
DORA—Diagnostic Online Reading Assessment
Curriculum Associates, Inc.
DORA is an online program for grades K–12 that supports curriculum through assessment. Available in English or Spanish, DORA helps teachers do a better job by simplifying reading diagnosis, guiding differentiated instruction, and monitoring student progress. DORA is especially useful for busy elementary teachers. The companion programs include DORA Phonemic Awareness, Unique Reader, and DOMA—Diagnostic Online Math Assessment.
DORA uses state standards and best practices for reading assessment, as well as intelligent technology that adapts to each student. The program provides a combination of audio, text, multimedia, and graphic interfaces to engage student attention.
The assessed key reading skills (high-frequency words, word recognition, phonics, oral vocabulary, reading comprehension, phonemic awareness, and others) are compiled into comprehensive student profiles. New student data is saved; reports are automatically updated. The collected data can be used to create summary reports, state standards reports, reports of aggregate assessment scores, and reports of levels of improvement by class, school, and district.
An amazing number of electronic devices could have been discussed in this article. Digital still photo and movie cameras, hand-held computing devices, electronic keyboards such as the AlphaSmart products, whiteboards, digital projectors, tablet computers, and more are almost certain to become important tools in the future for elementary grade teachers.
It can be a fascinating—and frustrating—process to watch technology come into a district and find its way into classrooms on a regular basis. Progress can be slow, despite the fact that some educators love the technology and newer teachers are receiving better and better technology training in colleges.
Some of the less expensive devices—a Memorex TravelDrive, EyeClops Bionic Eye, or Puzzlemaker—offer an excellent place to start new technology initiatives. Teachers can acquire this technology with PTO funds or even with their own money. As these less expensive technologies and software become part of our lives, we can then move on to the bigger and more all-inclusive products and take full advantage of the ways they can improve instruction.
Charles Doe has been teaching for 37 years, including 20 years as a Title I reading specialist and 7 years as a media specialist. In addition to presenting and writing articles, he has been involved with computers in education for more than 20 years. He is also a longtime product reviewer for MultiMedia & Internet@Schools magazine. Communications to the author may be addressed to Charles Doe, Media Specialist, Hastings Area Schools, 232 W. Grand, Hastings, MI 49058 or firstname.lastname@example.org.