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Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Tech expert: St. Marys one of a kind

By Janie Southard

After completing his assignment in math, Lucas Warner, a third-grade student at. . .

ST. MARYS - Talk about a pin drop. There's just not much noise in some elementary classrooms these days. But when the kids do talk they quickly summarize the district's new technology as "just great." Educators agree. The only stumbling block may be funding.
Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) have arrived in the district.
Third-grade teacher Jen Van Gundy calls this technology the "best educational tool" she's ever used.
"I was a little apprehensive when I first heard we could be going to this and wondering how we'd work this in. Now I find it easy to work this into everything we do. Really, I don't know how we'd get along without it," she said this week in her classroom at West elementary.
Popularized 10 years ago by the PalmPilots and now by BlackBerry, PDAs are hand-held, touch-screen computers that can be operated with a stylus or a keyboard. St. Marys elementary students in third and fourth grades do their work papers, tests, drawings, whatever on their own PDA and then download the information to their teacher's computer in a couple-minute process called synchronization or syncing.
"Sync your work," says Van Gundy.
It sounds unusual to a casual visitor but the kids do what's required and the information silently races to her computer.
Third-grader Sydney Cisco observed that working on her PDA is so fun because of all the math she can get done. Another girl told her teacher her family is moving to Cleveland, but now that the student has the PDA in class she doesn't want to move.
"As far as I am aware, we are the only district in the state to use PDAs," said Kyle Menchhofer, technology coordinator for St. Marys City Schools, who is maybe even more excited than the kids about this new technology. "As far as the kids are concerned, the PDAs make school fun. They can't wait to get here to see what things they'll be doing on the PDA. One guy told the teacher he had all the six math problems done and could he just do a few more ... It's amazing the reception we're getting to this program."
Menchhofer also said the school has had a lot of parents call to say they really like this new addition.
There will be bumps with this new program and one is likely to be funding, he added.
The complete PDA package (the unit itself, protective shell, software, folding keyboard and a case for everything) is about $330. So far, grants have played a big part in securing 100 units, enough for each student to keep his/her PDA the rest of the year.
"Originally we thought we'd rotate the PDAs each nine weeks to the different classes. With the recent grant money (about $3,800) from the (St. Marys) VFW we were able to purchase the remainder we needed so that the kids could keep theirs," said West Principal Lisa Elston, who also was able to use part of her principal's fund to purchase some units.
Once the first measurements of the program's success are in, Menchhofer plans to make presentations to various organizations and businesses explaining the program and its effect on students' learning.
"Of course, yes, we're hopeful for donations of absolutely any amount - even the cost of an audio book," he said.
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