Remember folder games and puzzles? Teachers have always used instructional aids of one kind or another to supplement instruction, such as calculators in Math class, games, puzzles, math aids, and other devices for small group or individual work.
In recent years, as money and other factors have permitted, computers and computer-related electronics such as MP3 players, hand-held devices, keyboards, projectors, whiteboards, etc., have been included in this niche.
In addition, a number of diverse electronic instructional aids have become available. These usually aren’t as expensive or complicated as computer-related devices. They are more focused in purpose or subject, and they usually use computer chips in some way. Frequently, these products are easier to use in small group instruction, especially in elementary schools.
These new supplemental classroom electronics can be divided roughly into four categories: interactive book systems, learning laptops, hand-held devices, and other study aids.
The interactive book systems are children’s versions of ebook readers. These require the purchase of a reading unit and separate books (usually loaded onto a cartridge of some sort, to be read using the reading unit).
Learning laptops are considerably less powerful than regular laptops and are often devoted to a specific subject. Most of these have functioning keyboards and can be expanded with expansion cards, sold separately. Many are aimed at home use and aren’t as suitable for school, but they can still be a valuable addition in the classroom.
In this case, hand-held devices aren’t personal digital assistants (PDAs) or Palm-type devices. Rather, they are calculators, electronic games with educational themes, spellers or dictionaries, and other portable devices. The electronic learning aids used in middle school and older classrooms tend to be this type of product.
The "Other Study Aids" category refers to a wide variety of electronic devices, from GeoSafari’s Talking Globe to phonics pads and more. Of course, there is a lot of overlap among the four categories identified here.
Overall, the classroom use of supplemental electronics changes from elementary to high school. Elementary schools seem to use the devices for small group or individual work, and perhaps for remedial work as well. In addition to calculators, older classes are more likely to use supplemental electronics for reference work.
This article is intended to give an overview of supplemental electronics and provide some idea of the products available. This is not intended to be an intensive review of devices or a complete guide to available products.
In past issues of MultiMedia & Internet@Schools, we’ve discussed other products that might fit into these categories, including the Radius Audio Learning System, Classroom Jeopardy, the GeoSafari Talking Telescope, and more. You may wish to take a look at your back issues of MMIS for more ideas along these lines
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