STRATFORD - Stratford Elementary third- and fourth-grade students are the first in Iowa to be part of a pilot project using Pocket PCs.
Pocket PCs are smartphones with all of the functions of a computer but no texting or calling capabilities.
The pilot project came about as the result of a Prairie Lakes AEA conference aimed at introducing ways to integrate technology into classroom teaching, including Dr. Elliot Soloway and Dr. Cathleen Norris, co-founders of GoKnow Mobile Learning.
Diane Jackson, administrator of staff/support services at Prairie Lakes AEA, wanted to do a pilot project using mobile devices at a school in a small community, where Internet access may not be readily available for a majority of students. She approached Lisa Schaa, Stratford's technology director. After sharing information with teachers, they agreed.
Gina Balsley and Jan Baker co-teach in the classroom that includes both third- and fourth-grade students.
Prairie Lakes AEA paid for the data plans, software and trainings. Verizon donated all of the smartphones to the 22 third- and fourth-graders involved in this project. Training was provided to the teachers before school began, and an August open house brought parents in to learn about this project. Parents and students signed an agreement regarding use and care of the device.
"The reason why we call it a Pocket PC is that we didn't want kids and parents to think it is a phone," Schaa said. "The calling and texting capabilities are disabled so in essence, it's a computer."
At school, students access the Internet through the building's wireless connection. If a student doesn't have wireless Internet at home, the Pocket PC connects through the telephone tower.
Teachers send out homework that students complete using the Pocket PC and send back to the teacher. The device also includes both a digital and video camera. Students use it as a reference tool by searching the Internet and collaboratively working together on projects.
"This is the digital world for kids," said Superintendent Sarah Binder. "We are helping kids learn how to use technology, how to be flexible because technology is always changing, and the really cool thing about Pocket PCs is that it helps kids organize their thinking. When your thinking is organized, you think better and you think more profound thoughts."
On the bus ride back from a field trip to Des Moines, students had their heads down and thumbs flying fast and furious as they blogged about their experiences.
"You could have heard a pin drop on that bus," Binder said.
The district plans to continue with the project and a new group of students next year.