PDAs in the Classroom: Integration Strategies for K-12 Educators
Beverly Ray, Idaho State
Digital Assistants) such as Palm Pilots and Pocket PCs have gone beyond the
world of business and are now finding their way into the hands of K-12 teachers
and students. This article begins by
discussing how teachers can use PDAs to facilitate anytime, anywhere course
The integration of
PDA technology into the classroom provides teachers an opportunity to promote student
centered learning. PDA integration strategies that promote technology
integration and student-centered learning are offered. Ideas range from the use of PDAs as creative
and reflective writing journals to the use of PDAs as databases that store data
and promote analysis. The article
concludes with a discussion of free and inexpensive PDA software programs
available for teachers and students.
Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) such as Palm
Pilots and Pocket PCs are handheld computers that serve as an organizer of
personal and professional information. PDAs are now being broadly accepted in a
variety of K-12 educational settings. PDAs come with software that allows
educators and students to perform a range of tasks, including synchronizing
data with desktop or laptop computers, accessing e-mail, managing appointments
and course assignments.
PDAs have been used to
augment and supplant computers in classrooms because they are readily
available, inexpensive, and easy for educators to use. PDAs are effective classroom organizational
tools for educators (Ray, et. al., 2001; Scott, 2002). Pownell and Bailey
(2000) agree, observing that PDAs effectively support how teachers work and use
information in their classrooms. Soloway (2000) contends that PDAs
"support cycles of doing and reflecting"(p. 1) by encouraging
teachers and students to revisit their written work more often. PDAs give teachers greater flexibility in
managing classroom assignments and in creating student-specific instructional
plans (Ray et. al., 2001; Soloway, 2000). They are also a fast and efficient
method for accurately transferring data into a computer (Hecht, 1997; Stover,
2001). Because PDAs allow teachers and
students to readily share files and other information by “beaming” files from
one PDA to another, collaboration and sharing of information and software is
enhanced. This sharing and commenting on other's work leads to an increase in
the quality of finished products, such as written drafts and reflective
discourses (Soloway, 2000).
As PDAs become more available in K-12 classrooms,
teachers must decide how best to integrate the devices into instruction.
Integration is supported by the low cost and ease of use of the units. While
the range of software promoting the integration of PDAs into K-12 settings
expands daily, the majority of software applications continue to be developed
primarily for business users. The dearth of educational software, coupled with
the newest of the technology, means that the K-12 teacher who wishes to
integrate PDAs into the classroom may need assistance in developing effective
productivity and instructional strategies. What follows is an overview of
various integration methods, including specific integration strategies, that
K-12 educators can use to assist them developing their own integration
The Paperless Classroom
Teachers have the
potential to have a paperless classroom by using a PDA. For instance, whenever
parents request appointments, the teacher can input the date and time in the
PDA's calendar (Ray, et. al., 2001). This not only records the appointment
time, but it also allows the instructor to jot a quick note as a reminder about
the topic of discussion for the meeting (Green, 2001). Follow up notes about
the meeting can be added to the original note during or after the meeting. This
feature is particularly useful when documentation or follow up meetings are
required. These notes can later be synched to a stationary computer and
copied/pasted into word processing or other software where the information is
needed. (Synching involves taking the file from the classroom computer to the
PDA). They can also be beamed or e-mailed to administrators (Pownell &
Bailey, 2000; McFadden, 2001).
Beaming Assignments. Daily
assignments, such as required readings, grading rubrics, and laboratory forms,
can be quickly and easily beamed to individual students or to groups of
students equipped with PDA(McFadden, 2000; Ray, et. al., 2001). Conversely,
students can beam completed work, including papers and laboratory reports, to
the instructor's PDA in seconds. The instructor then has the option of grading
the assignments on the PDA or of synching assignments to another computer for grading
or revision (McFadden, 2001; Hecht, 1997; Stover, 2001). Teachers can also use the PDA to keep up
with administrative tasks, such as progress reports, IEPs, and discipline
reports, by synching the files to their PDAs (Ray, et. al., 2001; Scott 2002).
For instance, the flexibility of the PDA may prove useful for traveling
teachers who move from classroom to classroom or from to school to school on a
daily basis. Rather than transporting paperwork in files and notebooks, they
have the potential to transport important documents electronically using PDAs
(Greene, 2001; Wright, P., Bartram, C., Rogers, N., Emslie, H., Evans, J.,
Wilson, B., & Belt, S., 2000).
Word-processed files such as a class syllabus and other course materials can be
stored on the PDA for quick reference in class or in the field. This is
particularly useful when explaining assignments and grading procedures to
students who are engaged in complex tasks outside of the classroom. Student
work can be beam back to the teacher’s PDA or synched to a stationary computer
for quick grading (Ray & McFadden, 2001; Soloway, Norris, Curtis, Krajcik,
Marx, Fishman, & Blumenfeld, 2001).
Teachers can inventory instructional materials using database software
available for the PDA. Information in the database can be beamed to other
teachers. Additional PDA databases can be used to store information on
individual students (Scott, 2002). Information such as contact numbers, special
health or medical needs, reading levels, or even student hobbies and interests
can be stored in the PDA and quickly accessed as needed (Ray & McFadden,
2001; Soloway, 2000).
Teachers are using PDAs to record grades in various spreadsheets, including
Microsoft Excel. Keeping an electronic grade book on a PDA allows for quick
reference when a student asks about a grade. It also allows the teachers to
input grades into an electronic grade book stored on the PDA. This is
particularly useful in classrooms where constructivist and cooperative group
activities require teachers to engage in “on the fly” or alternate assessment
of students’ work. PDAs are also useful for teachers who require students to
present oral reports or to participate in class discussion sessions. Quick
access to the electronic grade book is useful for keeping up with attendance
and tardy arrivals, as well. Using the PDA allows teachers to bypass the
stationary computer and still maintain an accurate grade book. PDA spreadsheets
also can store attendance records and performance assessment charts (Ray &
McFadden, 2001; Ray, 2001; Roblyer & Edwards, 2000).
Web-clipping. Using a free web-clipping service, such as
AvantGo, provides instructors access to information that may assist them in
planning activities such as projects, lesson plans, and lectures. Online
weather updates, maps, and tourist information can make the process of planning
a fieldtrip less time consuming for educators. Also, web-clipping services
allow users to customize and select the pages that they want to download and
use in their classrooms (Buyukkokten, O., Garcia-Molina, H., & Paepcke, A.,
2000; McFadden, 2000).
Wireless Web Publishing. Teachers can design their own virtual
fieldtrips--or course web pages…and then assign students to download the sites
to the PDA for reference and class discussion. Individual teachers or schools
can design web sites containing information that parents can download to their
PDAs as well. This information can include syllabi, class rules, lesson plans,
school and cafeteria calendars, faculty contact information, student academic
handbooks, and other manuals that often fail to make it home in students’
Students and PDAs
Using PDAs allows students to take
greater responsibility for their assignments. For example, when referring to
the onboard calendar they can visually see what assignments are due. Knowing
when a particular assignment is due allows them to organize their work, play, and
study schedules more effectively. Knowing the details of an assignment,
including its point value and due date, can help them set priorities. Using the
PDA "effectively [gets] 'rid' of all the additional pieces of paper or
additional notebooks" (McFadden, 2001).
Word Processing. PDAs assist
students in the writing process. They can write, edit, and revise stories,
papers, and journals. They can also use the PDA to take class notes. Students
working in groups can beam poems or other writings to one another. Individual
reading and writing exercises can be completed on PDAs as well (McFadden, 2001;
Soloway, 2000; Szuchman, 2002).
PDA Integration Strategy 1. Students work together in
small groups to create a poem, acrostics, biocrostics, or other creative
writing tasks using their PDA’s memo software or word processing software. One
students begins the writing activity by writing an entry into the file. This
student then beams the document to the next student. That student adds an entry
before beaming it to the next student for further work. Once completed,
students can share the written work among the group before beaming the finished
product to the teacher.
PDA Integration Strategy 2. Students use their PDAs to
create, edit, and revise a reflective journal as they study a novel or work on
a research project. The teacher then, at random, asks students to beam their
journals to her PDA. The teacher beams responses or comments back to the
PDA Integration Strategy 3. The teacher creates text
files that allow students to edit paragraphs for punctuation, capitalization,
and spelling on their PDAs. The text files are beamed to individual students
for revision. Once revised, students beam the file back to the teacher’s PDA
(or print hard copies for submission). Over the course of a semester students
create a document that contains basic grammar and punctuation rules and
examples. A variations on this activity
would require students to sequence paragraphs in a story by using the cut and
Students can create simple survey instruments that can be stored on the PDA.
Students can use these surveys to conduct field research, including interviews,
by recording data and other findings in a PDA spreadsheet, such as Tiny Sheet
(www.iambic.com), or in Microsoft Excel. Completed surveys can be beamed to a
central computer so that results can be tallied and discussed in class (Greene,
2001; McFadden, 2001).
PDA Integration Strategy 4. Students use spreadsheet software on their PDAs to set up and
manage financial information, such as stocks during a stock market simulation.
Students obtain daily stock reports by clipping the information from CNNfn
(http://www.cnnfn.com/) or the Wall Street Journal (http://wwww.wsj.com).
Information, including the name of their stocks, the purchase price, the daily
or weekly percentage change, and other information about the stock, is entered
into the PDA. Students beam information to team members for discussion and
decision making activities, such as what stocks to buy and what stocks to sell.
PDA Integration Strategy 5. Working individually students collect, count, weigh, and sort
recyclables or clean trash in their homes for an assigned period of time
(Roblyer, 2001). Each student records
his findings in the PDA. Once the information is collected, students beam the
data to the teacher for compilation. When all data is collected, the teacher in
turn beams the data to groups of students who are assigned specific data analysis
tasks. Groups hypothesize about what the data suggests for the local community.
They also can use the information to make recommendations for action.
PDA Integration Strategy 6. Students use their PDAs to
conduct and collect social science research using a simple survey
instrument. Groups of students fan out
across the school to collect data from a variety of classes or grades. Once the
surveys are completed the data can be combined into one file for analysis and
Database Applications. Students can use databases to store, sort,
and search through large amounts of information. Information can serve as the
source of original research and analysis
(McFadden, 2000; Hecht, 1997; Roblyer, & Edwards, 2000; Soloway, et.
al, 2001). Students can merge
individually collected data into a larger database simply by beaming or
synching their databases.
PDA Integration Strategy 7. Students work in groups to search through and analyze local
census data (recent or historic) that the teacher has stored in a PDA database.
Students began the activity by exploring the data and learning how to use the
database software. Once they are comfortable with the software, they can begin
to formulate questions that the database can help them answer concerning the
local community during a particular time period (e.g., average family size,
infant mortality rates, mortality rates, and other questions such as race and
PDA Integration Strategy 8. Students go into the field to investigate the relationship
between the local community and the natural environment by collecting data on
the type and number of birds observed in various locations. Students also
record information about the setting (e.g., where the birds are located, the
time of day that they are sited, date of the observation, and any other
observable information that they discover). Variations on this activity include
having students observe the diversity of
rocks (Roblyer, 2001), plant (e.g., hard wood trees), animal (e.g.,
small mammals), and insect species in the local area. Using the database
students draw conclusions about the impact of urbanization on the natural
Laboratory Settings. In laboratory settings where each student or
groups of students have access to their own PDA,
students can conduct experiments, test hypotheses, and quickly record results A
variety of probes, which attach to PDAs expand the investigative potential of
the laboratory Software associated with these probes allows students to record
and analysis scientific data from the probes. Using this data, students can
also conduct scientific research in the field (Soloway, 2000; Soloway, et al,
PDA Integration Strategy 9. Students graph temperature
changes over time in ponds (Soloway, 2001). Once the field experience is
completed students beam the results to one another or to the teacher’s PDA for
analysis. Variations on this activity include testing and recording CO2 levels in the local area over the course of
PDA Integration Strategy 10. Working in pairs students
use a PDA to record the results of laboratory experiments. Findings and
conclusions are then shared and discussed as a whole group activity.
Web-clipping. Students and teachers can
keep up with current events by clipping a variety of newspaper articles
daily. Primary documents that can be
“clipped” include the United States Constitution, the Declaration of
Independence, and the Bill of Rights (Bull, Bull, & Whitaker, 2001;
PDA Integration Strategy 11. Students clip 9 (download)
articles from assigned newspapers to their PDAs. Working individually or in
groups, students go through the paper to select and read an article on a
current issue. Once the article is read, students use their PDAs to write a
summary and critique of the article using a writing prompt beamed to them by
their instructor. A variation on this activity would have students clip
articles on one topic or event from newspapers with different points of view.
Once the articles are clipped, students read the articles and identify the
content and point of view for each newspaper. Students come together for a
roundtable discussion of the diversity of perspectives presented in the
Additional Academic Uses
PDAs with eight megabits of ram or more can
store a variety of dictionaries, thesauruses, or other reference tools. Storing
these materials on the PDA provides teachers and students a source for quick
Dictionaries, Thesauruses, and
Other Writing Tools. Several freeware dictionaries and thesauruses are
available for download. For example, the Noah Lite English Dictionary
(http://www.arslexis.com/), with 122,000 words is available as freeware. As
students use the PDA---or another computer---for word processing, they can
quickly access a dictionary and thesaurus on the PDA (McFadden, 2001). Teachers
and students in foreign language courses, can find free or inexpensive foreign
language dictionaries online from several different Internet sites.
PDA Integration Strategy 12. Working together students create a customized dictionary of
economic terms using word processing or other software. Once created, this one
of a kind dictionary is used by students to assist them in completing homework
and other assignments. A variations on this activity asks students to create a
dictionary of geographic and geologic terms. Students use this dictionaries to
assist them in locating natural features in the local area.
E-textbooks. Many publishers
are beginning to offer electronic versions of their textbooks. While many
promote dedicated e-book readers such as the RCA REB1100, which can store up to
twenty novels, textbooks can be stored on PDAs as well. Teachers and students
can easily download and read a variety of free classic texts from the Electric
Book Company (http://www.elecbook.com) and other sites on the Internet. Access
to texts is no longer limited by what books are available in the school
library. Many online publishers, such
as Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble, offer electronic books for purchase and
download to a PDA. Software like PeanutReader (http://www.peanutpress.com),
Documents To Go (http://www.dataviz.com), and AportisDoc
(http://www.aportis.com) supplement a variety of free text readers that are
PDA Integration Strategy 13. Students supplement
textbooks and available literature by downloading out of print literary works
not commonly available in their libraries or in their local bookstores to their
PDAs. Students read the literature on their PDAs and use their PDAs to keep a
response journal. The teacher beams additional writing prompts to the PDAs and
makes random checks of the response journal.
Scientific Calculators. While
scientific and other types of calculators are ubiquitous in math and science
classrooms, the use a calculator on a PDA is efficient for students who already
must carry a great deal of material in their backpacks. The use of a calculator
on the PDA consolidates one or more calculators into one efficient device that
has a variety of purposes. If the
onboard calculator does not meet students’ needs, more complex calculator
software programs (e.g., scientific, graphing, and molecular), which are often
free, can be downloaded for classroom.
PDA Integration Strategy 14. Students use a PDA
graphing calculator program in concert with a PDA probe to sample and display
change in air quality over time. Or as Soloway (2001) suggests, students can
document changes in water quality over time.
Software for Educational Users
The variety of software available for PDAs makes it
possible for teachers and students to customize their PDAs to reflect their
individual course loads. Numerous titles promote instruction in a variety of
setting. Online clearinghouse sites, such as Palm Pilot (http://www.palm.com)
and Zdnet’s Palm downloads (http://www.zdnet.com), simplify the process of
locating, downloading, and installing free and inexpensive software for
Course Management Software
PraestoGrade. This class
management software allows teachers to insert grades, calculate grades, and
generate reports. Information on the PDA can be synched to another computer as
Teachers P.E.T. This
inexpensive software allows teachers to input, manage, and calculate grades on
a PDA. Teachers can synch information to a stationary computer or print
directly from the PDA to a printer with an infrared port. (http://www.coffeepotsoftware.com/products.htm)
ThoughtManager for Teachers.
Classroom management software that allows teachers to manage tasks, homework
records, and beam work such as outlines, activities, ideas, agendas, and lesson
plans. Over 75 downloadable education resource outlines and templates make it
easy to create and organize lesson plans and classroom activities.
Course Management Software
Four.Zero. This software
allows students to input and track their semester calendars, course
assignments, and grades. It also allows students to perform “what if” scenarios
that help them predict final grades.
A Plus. Students can record
assignments due date, subjects from list, headline, contents, complete status
and even scores obtained in A Plus. It also supports subject filtering. A handy
memo pad is included in the program for quick notes taking.
Documents to Go Professional. This software allows the
user to create and edit Micosoft Word and Excel files on most PDAs. This
process allows the teacher ---or student---to work on and edit Microsoft Word
and Excel documents. Teachers can write lesson plans, construct tests anytime
or anywhere. They can grade electronically submitted word processed papers on
their PDAs by synching students' work to their PDA. (http://www.dataviz.com)
Ibrite powerViewer. The
software converts Microsoft PowerPoint 97 and
2000 presentations into a mobile format that includes images, bullet
text and notes. (http://www.ibrite.com)
Ibrite iMaker. iMaker allows
for the creation of course specific reference manuals, such as curriculum
manuals, which can be shared with colleagues for review. Teachers can also
create specialized dictionaries that address their curricular needs. These
specialized dictionaries can be stored on student PDAs for quick reference
while working on projects or homework assignments. (http://www.ibrite.com)
AportisDoc Mobile Edition.
AportisDoc is free text reader software that works on most PDAs. AportisDoc's
web site also offers over 3,000 free titles, ranging from Moby Dick to the works of Plato. (http://www.aportis.com/)
Tiny Sheet. This is a popular spreadsheet program for the PDA.
Tiny Sheet allows users to create and access multiple sheets, and input data on
the PDA. (www.iambic.com)
ThinkDB 2.0. ThinkDB 2.0 is a
shareware relational database manager that allows users to create, edit, and
customize databases on the PDA. It is a flexible and easy to use program that
supports custom views, resizable columns, and a form designer that lets users
design their own record entry forms. (http://www.thinkingbytes.com/)
AvantGo. AvantGo is a free
web-clipping program that allows the user to download a variety of web sites to
the PDA via the user's desktop computer or laptop. Entire web sites can be
selected and downloaded daily. These selections can also be updated as class
content changes. AvantGo provides teachers and students access to a variety of
news sources, information about the stock market and financial markets, maps
and weather information. Well known educational content providers include
Scholastic, NASA, and MapQuest (http://mapquest.com). Current events can be
examined via The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Christian Science
Monitor, The Weather Channel, and many local sources. (http://www.avantgo.com)
CoffeeCup Wireless Web Builder. This inexpensive
software allows instructors to build or convert existing web pages---or entire
web sites---into a format that students can view either from PDAs, cell phones,
or other Internet devices. (http://www.coffecup.com)
Software for Educational Users
DiddleBug. This is a freeware
program that turns a PDA's screen into a writing pad where users can write or
draw electronic post-it notes. DiddleBug allows users to set an alarm function,
so that the message will pop up as a reminder.
Big Clock 2.8. Big Clock is a
free clock with an alarm, world time, and timer/stopwatch. Everything is
displayed with large numbers and the timer works even while the device is
turned off. (http://www.palm.com)
Many other educational software programs are
available for download via the Internet from Palm.com (http://www.palm.com) and
other PDA software clearinghouse web sites.
be personal productivity tools as well as instructional tools for both teacher
and students (McFadden, 2001; Ray, et. al, 2001). PDAs prompt exploratory and
constructivist practices in the classroom and in the field (Soloway, 2000). In
the hands of students, PDAs can promote accquition of critical thinking and
creative thinking skills (Szuchman, 2002). They also be used to promote a
greater sense of responsibility among students. However, issues relating to the readability of the PDA screen and
the fragile nature of the devices must be address if PDAs are to be more fully
used with students (Jones, Marsden, Mohd-Nasir, Boone, & Buchanan, 1999;
Ray, et. al., 2001).
Buyukkokten, O., Garcia-Molina, H., & Paepcke,
A. (2000, June). Focused web searching with PDAs. Computer Networks, 33
(1), pp. 213 – 230.
G., Bull, G., & Whitaker, S. (February 2001). Web clipping. Learning and
Leading with Technology, 27 (5), pp. 54 – 57.
Hecht, J. B. (October 1997). Using a PDA for field
data collection. Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Mid-Western
Educational Research Association. Chicago, IL.
Green, P. D. (2001, May). Handheld computers as
tools for writing and managing field data. Field
Methods, 13 (2), pp. 181 – 197.
Jones, M., Marsden,
G., Mohd-Nasir, N., Boone, K., & Buchanan, G. (1999, May 17).
Improving web interaction on small screens. Computer
Networks, 31 (11), pp. 1129 – 1137.
McFadden, A. (2000, December). This Tech's for You:
PDAs-What, What for, and Why? Part II. International Education Daily. Retrieved
April 8, 2002, from
(2001, January). This Tech's for You: Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs)
Part III. International Education Daily.
Retrieved April 8, 2002, from
Pownell, D. &
Bailey. (2000, April). The next small thing: Handheld computing for educational
leaders. Learning and Leading with
Technology, 26 (7). pp. 46 – 49.
Ray, B. (2001, July/September). PDAs in the
Classroom: Integration Strategies for Social Studies Educators. Computers in the Social Studies,
Retrieved April 7, 2002, from http://www.webcom.com/journal/
B.B. & McFadden. (2001, October). PDAs in Higher Education: Tips for
Instructors and Students. Journal of
Computing in Higher Education.
B., McFadden, A., Patterson, S., & Wright, V. (2001, Summer). Personal
Digital Assistants in the Middle School Classroom: Lessons in Hand. Meridian. Retrieved April 10, 2002, from http://www.ncsu.edu/meridian/sum2001/palm/index.html
M.D. & Edwards, J. (2000). Integrating educational technology into
teaching. Merril: Upper Saddle River, NJ
B. S. (2002). PDAs: An essential tool for the principal. Features. Retrieved April 7, 2002, from http://www.pdaed.com/vertical/features/Principal.xml
Soloway, E. (2000).
Supporting science inquiry in K-12 using Palm computers: A Palm Manifesto.
Center for Highly-Interactive Computing in Education. Retrieved April 7,
2002, from http://hi-ce.org/palm/solowayletter.html
Soloway, E., Norris, C., Curtis, M., Krajcik, J.,
Marx, R., Fishman, B. & Blumenfeld, P. (2001, April). Making palm-size computers the PC of choice for K-12. Learning and Leading with Technology,
28 (7). Retrieved April 7, 2002 from, http://www.iste.org/L&L/archive/vol28/no7/featuredarticle/soloway/index.html
Stover, D. (2001, March). Hands-on learning.
ElectronicSchool.com. Retrieved April 7, 2002, from http://electronic-school.com2001/03/0301f4.html
Szuchman, M. D. (2002).
Palm Pilots and critical thinking skills in higher education. Features,
Retrieved April 7, 2002, from http://www.pdaed.com/vertical/features/Principal.xml
Wright, P., Bartram, C.,
Rogers, N., Emslie, H., Evans, J., Wilson, B., & Belt, S. (2000, June).
Text entry on handheld computers by older users. Ergonomics 43 (6), pp.702 – 716.
| Article Submissions
Copyright © 2002. All rights reserved.
Last Updated on 14 December 2002