Powerful reasons why Palms are Perfectcomputers for Primary kids

Revelation Computing Pty Limited ** PO Box 459 ASPLEY Queensland Australia ** Tel: +61 73263 8798 ** Fax: + 61 7 3263 8871

Why should small children have to use thesame big computers as their older brothers/sisters (andmothers/fathers) if something more appropriate is available?Whilst researching a recent submission on literacy for anAustralian state education authority, I became convinced thatPalms are an absolutely ideal computer for use by small childrenin the first few grades of school. But don't just take my wordfor it, a grade one girl at a northern Australian school recentlydescribed her Palm as "The best computer ever". Thisarticle lists the reasons for my conviction. The list is probablynot exhaustive. These reasons fall into three categories,physical, technical and economic. Where there are drawbacks tosuccessful Palm usage by small children, solutions are discussed.

A. Physically speaking:

  1. Palm computers are a very appropriately size for small children. Students are used to operating 'Gameboy' like computer games, and the Palm has a similar form factor.

  2. Palms are considerably lighter than the laptops some schools expect their students to carry with them each day. The weight of laptops makes them far too heavy for small students, so laptop programs usually start at grades 4 or 5. For children below that age, the Palm is a much more appropriate weight.

  3. The Palm display screen and student writing area occupy the same horizontal plane. There is no looking up to read then looking down to write (type) as with a conventional PC. The hand-eye coordination is exactly the same as reading a book, or writing a letter. With handwriting programs, for example, the letter outlines can be dynamically modelled on the screen, flat on their desk, whilst at the same time students can attempt to write the same outline on the same screen, also flat on their desk.

  4. For young students, Palms can sit flat on the student's desk enabling the student to get close to the screen. However, the height of the Palm above the desk can make it awkward for small students to operate. Use of a specially designed foam mat (see our PDASchoolCase) provides support for the small students hand whilst they are writing and brings the desk up to the height of the Palm.

  5. Palms are operated with a stylus or pen. A pen is the writing implement young students are first taught to use at school. The supplied stylus may be too small for young students to use successfully. For these children, alternative pens are cheaply available which are the same size as the pens and pencils they use in class (eg the Pilot Pentopia in our accessory kit ). Such a pen will fit almost all the commercially available pencil grips if these are normally needed to assist some children in holding the pen correctly

  6. Palm screens can be somewhat slippery to write on and smaller children may have some problems in controlling the pen. By using a screen sticker on the Palm to create a drag, (eg Concept Kitchen's WriteRight which is part of our accessory kit) the process of writing on the Palm screen very closely simulates the act of writing with a pencil on paper. These stickers also serve to protect the screen. Handwriting on paper is one of the major skills that children are being taught in the first few years of schooling. Use of these stickers also reduces any glare or reflection from classroom lights.

  7. Palms are small and can be easily moved around the classroom, passed between children or taken outside for suitable projects. (Conversely they can be easily lost or dropped, so care needs to be taken).

  8. Palms may be readily stolen, so for security they can simply be locked in a filing cabinet or removed to a safe place at any time. A single briefcase can provide lockable storage for a portable set of Palms.

  9. A classroom set of Palms can easily be 'collected' and taken to the staffroom for 'marking' (just like student's workbooks).

  10. Palms can be readily loaned or hired out to students for remedial homework or sent home (or to a hospital ward) in case of illness.

  11. Palms are robust enough to be sent through the mail to remote (distance) students. Remote students (handwritten) work can be emailed to a distant teacher for assessment. Have you ever tried teaching handwriting to a young student who is not physically present in the same room? The Palm provides an ideal way of capturing children's actual writing samples and replaying them stroke by stroke on a remote teacher's desktop computer. Writing process errors can be quickly identified and corrected.

  12. Palms are completely self-contained - no trailing cords of any kind are needed either for power, printing or simple networking (they latter two are achieved via infra-red beaming). Support for other more powerful networking technologies (eg 802.11 and Bluetooth) have been anounced.

  13. Palms are battery operated using AAA or rechargeable batteries which can last for weeks. The downside is that in the event of the batteries going flat, the Palm loses all its storage and needs to be reloaded. Batteries need to be checked and the Palm backed up before going on long summer holidays, or a dead Palm is there to welcome you at the start of the next term. Fortunately, a single button press (and about five minutes) is all that is required to restore the Palm from the backup PC.

  14. Palms require no special furniture and can be safely used at a student's normal classroom desk. Palms do not need to operate in proximity to a power outlet and thus can readily be used even in the centre of the room.

  15. Palms are much less complicated than PCs and have no moving parts so there is much less chance of them breaking down.

  16. Palms emit considerably less radiation than computer CRT screens so they should be even safer around small students whose bodies are still in the early stages of development.

  17. Palms have been available for a number of years and well over six million of them have been sold world wide. Sales and support are readily available in most countries, and several clone manufacturers exist: eg Handspring and Sony. Second hand units can sometimes be sourced if the budget is tight.

B. Technical considerations...

  1. Palms turn on instantly, with no time wasting 'booting up'. The screen retains exactly the same content from the last time the Palm was used. There are no surprises or hunting around for the file you used last time. If an animation was running when the Palm was turned off, it is still running when turned on again.

  2. Palms will turn themselves off when not being used, saving the teacher having to go around the class shutting down all the computers after a lesson has finished

  3. No typing skills are required to use a Palm, making them ideal for students just starting school who can't be expected to have many keyboard skills.

  4. Despite many recent advances in technology, many teachers still find PCs too difficult or threatening to use. So many PCs sit idle in the corner of the classroom, or are only used to reward young students (by playing games). Palms are considerably easier to use and hence require much less training than a PC or even a Macintosh.

  5. Palms have as much storage capacity (at least 2MB) as the PCs we bought only a few years ago. For example, 35 students can each perform 20 handwriting exercises and still only occupy one third of the Palm's memory. In addition, Palm programs are extremely small in size - thus precious storage space is minimised and internet downloads are completed in seconds.

  6. A single PC or Macintosh somewhere in the school is all that is required to host the desktop software (Palm Desktop). This one desktop computer can backup all the Palms and install any new software. Backing up and installing new software has been reduced to a single button operation for simplicity. Ethernet cradles are available for more sophisticated networks.

  7. A wide range of Palm models are currently available: most affordable models with monochrome screens, colour models (256 or 65,000 colours) and larger screens are now becoming available. Memory availability ranges from 2MB to 16MB with expansion cards promised soon. Models have serial or USB connectivity to PCs and Macintoshes. Batteries may be replaceable or rechargeable. Both wired and wireless modems are available.

  8. With over 100,000 developers creating software for the Palm, the amount of educational software is increasing rapidly. Whilst much of it is for older children, a recent survey of sites like and identified over 100 titles that appeared to be suitable for the younger student. These titles are in areas like: reading, art, mathematics, music, religion, spelling, geography, science, nature, language, plus homework and classroom administration.

  9. Of course, the Palm's organiser functions can be useful too, if class lists and timetables are downloaded from a central school server to the built in addressbook and datebook applications

C. Economics...

  1. At one fifth to one quarter of the cost of a PC, a class of 30 students could each have access to their own appropriate Palm-sized computer for around the same cost as 6 PCs or 4 laptops. For small children, the physical size and shareability of the Palm mean that even one Palm for each pair of children provides an acceptable ratio. For example, one child could work on the Palm, whilst their partner answers questions on a conventional worksheet. Roles can be reversed at any time to give each student equal practice on both paper and the Palm. This brings the cost of a classroom set of Palms to the same as just 3 PCs or 2 laptops. (These figures are only approximate as the ratio of Palm to PC pricing can vary from country to country).