Overall, the students were able to use the Palms for learning within my classroom, and I could observe this daily. I had the impression that students were also using them for recording assignments, taking notes in other classes, and incorporating in their general learning environment, not just my classroom. Simple student surveys that I conducted bore this out (question 12: Period 1, Period 4). During this study, several students and even parents have indicated further interest in using Palms for student learning. I also sense in many of my fourth period students some "withdrawal" symptoms after the Palms were transferred to first period.
The biomedical debate portion of the project was not successful at all because of the over reliance on technology for it to work the way I intended it to. First, it required access to the blog as a full time member in order to post (anyone can comment, though). Thirty out of fifty students managed this hurdle by the end of the semester. Of these, twenty one managed to create a post of their own. Only four students in first period (the class that was given the debate project) were able to hot synch at all. So, in the end,only two positions (con:tissue engineering, and pro:designer babies) out of six ended up on the blog, and these were for separate debate issues. Two other groups beamed me their positions on genetically modified foods, but their idea of a debate was a bulleted list (pro: GM food, con: GM food), and they never turned it into the blog. So, in the end, there was no real "debate". While I think this is an excellent type of activity, for ninth grade, even advanced, this may best be done live. I would have to invest more time in teaching the technology regarding hot synching, troubleshooting, and also devote more time into the format of the debate. I would also relax my standards as far as "Palmblogging" goes and allow students to directly blog their position.
I had the most hope for the Bionotes magazine project. Students were given three choices: conduct an interview, review a web site, or write a story from a first person point of view. We cannot expect our students to perform as well as Barbara Walters or Michael Crichton in these endeavors, but perhaps we can spark an interest in this type of activity. While doing this project a problem quickly arose: no one could insert pictures into a word document using Documents To Go. Most of the students successfully accomplished every other task, only a few managed to get me actual photos in other means (e-mail, beaming, etc.). In the end this would mean a lot more manual editing of the files to make them "web-ready" and so most of that has not happened yet. I was very pleased with most of the quality of the projects and have included several good examples here as well as a few that were not quite as good.
I would be very interested in having class sets of Palms for every student for the entire year. For this project, sometimes it seemed like an add-on, where I was creating a project just because it could be done on a Palm, or requiring that an assignment be done on the Palm because that was the tool. I want to do more where the instruction is the focus, and the Palm is the tool chosen by the student, rather than by me. Some students already do this: a majority of the students claimed that they used the Palm for other classes (question 1), and I even had one student beam his Spanish vocabulary homework to me so I could hot synch it for him and then e-mail it back to him (he could not get hot synch to work at home). The deepest impact I can elicit from the surveys and anecdotal evidence is the relationship between the Palm and authentic learning. Palms are meant to be used by people with careers, mostly in business. Here are a group of students organizing their schedules just as adults (including myself) do everyday in the real world. Some of them have even decided that when this project is over they would rather have a business workhorse like these PDA's over an iPod , which is largely viewed as a personal entertainment device. The impact on learning for these students did not just happen in my classroom, it created a paradigm shift in their entire learning experience.