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Eminence Pocket PC Project

My Initial Problem

During the 1998-1999 school year, while a new teacher in the Eminence, Kentucky school district, I encountered a challenge that I never anticipated going into teaching. As I looked at my class rosters I noticed I had a dozen ESL (English as a Second Language) students. I struggled with how to teach the same curriculum to my Spanish-speaking students that I taught my native English-speaking students. Like many states, Kentucky has a standard-based curriculum that must be taught to all students. As a conscientious teacher, the language barrier concerned me and I began to pursue other resources to teach my ESL students. One of my co-workers directed me to an Internet resource that had most of the required curriculum developed as web lessons already translated into Spanish. As I looked at this site,, I immediately saw that it could be a valuable resource for me to provide the ESL students the opportunity to follow the lessons at the same time as the English-speaking ones. The only problem with using the resource was that with only one computer in my classroom with Internet capability, my ESL students could not all access the Internet at the same time.

I emailed the webmaster at to ask about additional resources for teaching my ESL students with a minimum goal of teaching the same type of information that was on the web even when my students could not be online. From this inquiry, I met an advocate from Kentucky Migrant Technology Project, who visited my classroom and after several discussions asked if I would be interested in using handheld computers for my migrant students in May 1999. They thought this would be an option to provide enough devices so the students could use the site and keep up in class. Of course I jumped at the opportunity to get more technology in my classroom. My correspondence continued over the summer until Bobbi Turner, the KMTP middle school curriculum advocate, came and demonstrated the E-11 Casio Cassiopedias in a Professional Development session to show the teachers how to use them. From there we were turned loose with the Windows CE Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) in the classroom.

The Start of the Paperless Classroom

My entire 8th grade class was issued black and white Palm-sized PCs. The students were all given the CASIO E-11s with Windows CE 2.0. After trying to load via the channels of the PDA, we realized that there were too many hyperlinks and graphics in order to utilize the sites off-line via channels. Nevertheless, the project did continue and from there we began a paperless classroom.

All the students did all of their assignments on the PDAs. They typed all of their work on the tiny on-screen keyboard and submitted their homework to me through the infrared ports. This allowed me to have backup copies of each of the students' assignments, which helped lessen the possibility that a student's work would be lost. The CE version of Windows was very compatible with the Windows 98 PC version that was used on the desktop so documents were easily copied, dragged and dropped and synched between PDA and PC. The infrared option also eliminated the stack of papers I used to carry home and back to school because all the assignments to grade were on my pda. The conversion of daily paper to digital not only saved paper, but it made grade tracking more organized and tidy.

The students also took notes on the pdas which also saved on daily paper waste. This was easy after the students practiced using the Hand Recognition program. Again organization was easier to keep up with multiple copies and multiple back-ups.

Saving the School Money

Even before the ebook reader on the new Pocket PCs, we managed to download and use digital texts of public domain literature such as "Romeo and Juliet" to read on the pdas. This saved school money for textbooks and copying costs. I passed the literature to a couple of students via infrared and those students would in turn infrared to the students behind or beside them for reading aloud in the classroom. This gave me the freedom to change texts without the additional cost of buying more books.

Paper cost was also saved in the number of photocopies I made for my students. We scanned worksheets that previously would have been photocopied and sometimes ran them through a text recognizer software package and sent them via infrared to the students. This allowed me to eliminate trips to the copier yet still be able to provide another copy to a student that lost a handout without much effort. I also gave individual tests and quizzes via the pda. I could keep up easier with the handouts that I used without new folders in a file cabinet. I am more organized by having all my resources on my desktop computer and my pda when I need it.

New Uses

Of course, the students and my organization were all aided using the CE Outlook functions. The students used Outlook to schedule extracurricular activities and homework, which helped them build planning skills. The pda's homepage acted as a reminder of appointments and on-going active tasks. Some used their pdas as alarm clocks and to sound to remind them of important events such as tests.

We also downloaded CoolCalc, a program that offers several calculators that perform advanced mathematics functions. This program was used regularly in math and science for trigonometry and algebra lessons. Other downloads were games that the kids played at home and between classroom activities.

The voice recorder was used for ESL and Special Education students to record teacher lectures. The ESL students also read and recorded English paragraphs to practice their pronunciation.

After using the pdas for an entire year we realized we had accomplished more than we originally thought was even possible. We had conducted a paperless classroom. We had took a traditional Language Arts curriculum and managed it through hand-held technology. We began to evaluate the year and decide the course of where we wanted to go from here for this school year, 2000-2001.

Over the summer and the beginning of the 2000-2001 school year Microsoft's Handheld division donated 50 more PDAs. These devices had been previously used by their team for testing and demonstration purposes.  This donation made it possible for all my students to have some type of PDA. We are running Compaq 2100s and 1500s; HP Jornada 420 and 430s; Casio Cassiopeia 125s and 500m and Phillips Nino. This has been very educational to me to learn six new devices and run 90 PDAs on five slow computers. Trying to teach Language Arts and manage and repair that many devices takes more time than any one person has in their day! With the help of my husband, Tom and my co-teacher, Donna we are making it work. 

E-Mail and Web Access Eludes

At this point, we noticed that we had only managed to do the traditional class in a more modern fashion. Two major technical elements are still missing which are, oddly enough, the very ideas that began the whole project in the first place. We are missing email and Internet capability. The reason they are missing is that they were biggest challenge with the early versions of the Windows CE devices.

These challenges exist in our project first because we are trying to run 30-35 pdas on a couple of PCs and a network. This is being addressed through trial and error and asking network experts for advice.

The second reason the Internet and email mostly eludes us is the hardware we are using. Windows CE 2.0 can handle the Inbox email issues but the Internet capability via channels is our biggest challenge. The only channels that work are the pre-picked Avant.go channels such as the Wall Street Journal that are usually not the types needed by middle school educators.

Pocket PC is the Answer

In searching for a solution for real-time Internet and more email capabilities, we are sure the best solution is to switch to Pocket PC. With the couple of up-graded Pocket PCs that Rebecca has sent me I have experienced the improved Internet capabilities and can access the site. With a $100 modem card plug-in, the Pocket PC can really surf the Internet. If we bought a few modems, the school could utilize a dial-up Internet account. This would allow students that do not have the Internet at home to research on-line with the Pocket PC and a plug-in modem. This would also help access and other useful websites that the older Windows CE cannot support with graphics and hypertext. Another idea is to purchase network cards to allow multiple students to have Internet privileges.

Pocket PC also offers more Multimedia capabilities that would benefit the class. The best program is Microsoft Reader. This program makes reading on the pda much easier. On the Windows CE devices, all digital text had to be downloaded and converted into the Notepad program. The text was multiple screens long and the students had to scroll down to read. With Reader there are cursors\buttons that act as page forward and back to make reading easier to maneuver. There are also many books that are ready to use free from the Internet. With Windows CE, the easiest technique was to copy and paste to a Word document and then convert to the pda. Microsoft Reader books are already formatted to run on the Reader program.

Another Pocket PC function that would benefit my class is the Transcriber program. The only Hand Recognition software that runs on CE is JOT and Calligrapher. Transcriber does not require the user to learn how to input exactly like the program requires and not input one letter at a time. The software is easier to use and faster. It would really help the students to reduce their input time. The keyboard on the pda and the stylus hunt and peck method is slower and difficult to use if you need to write fast as a teacher lectures.

The Pocket PC also has the built-in capability to play music files. This was a function that some students used even with the older CE. The Pocket PC makes it easy to get music and play them.

The music usage and playing more games on the Pocket PC still consumes more power and runs down the batteries but most Pocket PCs have rechargeable batteries. The E-11s have AA batteries and a disc back-up battery, which gets expensive to replace. They run down quickly even without high power functions such as playing music and games. The students frequently lost their data and programs because their batteries ran down. The Pocket PC would solve this problem.

The final reason moving to the Pocket PC is most of the new software available today is only offered on the Pocket PC. The older E-11’s can’t operate many of the latest features that PocketPC offers and are becoming obsolete. With the popularity towards the handheld technology more and more programs will be offered for Pocket PC.

I know there is still much to learn about the paperless classroom of today and tomorrow. In order for us to keep up, schools and students need to test and use the latest technology. We want to spread the word to other schools, students, and teachers about all the possibilities that are available when they use the cutting edge technology that Microsoft and their partners offers today.


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The Paperless Classroom
Revised: November 05, 2000