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Dear Subscribers:

The newsletter's taking a brief summer break next week; the next issue will land in your In-Box 6/29. Meanwhile, do send in those emails about "Great Things Kids are Doing on the Internet" (small things, too!). Here's our lineup for this second week of June:

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Generations Family Tree by Sierra (Reg price $49.99, $9.99 after mail-in rebate)


Wired in the classroom: Pocket PCs for students

Picture this:

These things have been happening this past school year in the 85 middle and high schools US-wide that are piloting the Mindsurf "Schools of Innovation" program. In them, one entire classroom - students and teacher (English, math, history, etc.) - has been given pocket PCs (Compaq's iPaqs, smaller than palmtops), all of which have been connected wirelessly to a school network that is connected wirelessly to the Internet. Each has software for word-processing, email, Web browsing, spreadsheets, calendar, and task lists. Mindsurf finances it all (for the one classroom) for forward-looking schools that are interested in expanding the program on their own budgets. The schools decide whether or not the students get to take the devices home (about half do).

To get a handle on how students learn, and classes function, with these little palm-size computers, we talked with Mickey Revenaugh, vp product planning and research at Mindsurf. She's been involved with education technology for years, and she told us that what she's seeing and hearing from teachers, students, and administrators at these schools has been very confirming for her. This program is also being analyzed independently by researchers at the Center for Children and Technology in New York, and they've cited some of the following findings as well.

What leaped out at us in listening to Mickey is this very basic message the program is sending to students involved: "Learning happens all the time, 24 x 7, wherever we go, and it can be fun as well as fulfilling." Even if that is a student's only take-away from this experience, we think s/he must be coming out ahead.

First we asked Mickey, "Why handheld PCs and not laptops?"

"They're amazing," she said. "We chose them for a number of reasons: They have a very brilliant color screen, so reading on them is a pleasure. We're really promoting the use of e-books…. I was sort of skeptical about e-books at first, but the first time I saw one on this device I was very impressed - they're so sharp, easy to read, and easy to work with in an interactive way. It's a format that actually makes reading compelling for students."

Then there's the fit-in-your-palm size. "We're seeing that there's something very compelling about the personal-ness of a device that size that can be with you all the time," Mickey said (see below for a teacher's confirmation). "It's all theirs, which has a motivating effect. For kids with learning problems, we're finding it removes some barriers in getting them to participate…. Many schools have chosen non-top-performance classes for this program, and it's had some positive social ripples in those schools - a real spike in self-esteem for some kids that's pretty amazing to watch. This won't happen forever, but for right now teachers are seeing it and appreciating it."

She added that one concern schools had going into the program was how responsible the kids would be. "We found they're incredibly responsible with these things. They feel kind of custodial toward them. There are kids whom nobody has ever asked to take care of something valuable before, and we find they're the ones taking the best care of them."

Sheer mobility is another factor: "The quantity of their writing and quality of their notetaking is increasing very dramatically because they have the PC with them whenever and wherever they choose to write. It hooks up to a foldup keyboard that folds to about the size of a PDA [personal digital assistant]."

As for teachers, Mickey's seeing that the tiny computers are less intimidating. "You can put it in your purse," she said. "You can play around with it on the kitchen table without moving furniture. That's no problem for kids who use Gameboys, but it's big for adults. Of course, it's not as feature-rich as a fully loaded desktop, but all those extras can be more confusing." What that spells is faster adoption by teachers and more student-teacher collaboration.

Here's what happens in the classroom: "All the students use the PCs for notetaking in class. Teachers email them homework assignments. [The devices] are also used to do writing assignments, take science lab notes and simple quizzes, and do Internet research." Mickey later added that teachers can provide voice comments on students' essays ("there's a mic built in and a really nice speaker - the sound quality is quite remarkable"), and students can download and listen to famous speeches such as Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream." Mindsurf provides a "Teaching Exchange" and Web guide in its Web site, linking to handheld-optimized sites, lesson plans, and teaching methods for working with these devices. "We have one teacher," Mickey said, "who creates task lists with a little beeper alarm. She sets it so students get a little homework reminder at home at 9 p.m. She came up with that herself."

We asked Mickey about Internet filtering - whether students have free, full-time access to everything on the Web. "The system works with whatever decision a school has made about Internet access. For the future we're looking at adding 'application lockdown,' a feature that gives teachers the ability to control use within the classroom and block whatever application they're not working on." For example, the teacher might disallow Web access during a lecture, while students are using their pocket PCs to take notes. Mickey said, "It facilitates ethical discussion, one of our teachers tells us," which is always good (see our lead feature, "Kids & Net ethics," 4/20).

Teachers, whether this sounds good or you have objections, email us your thoughts on pocket PCs in the classroom! Parents, what do you think about your kids learning, at school and home, with these little devices? Email us!

Watch for Part 2 of this story - interviewing a pocket PC-using teacher - later this summer.

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For more info

  1. A teacher's view

    Subscriber Anne in California, a former teacher and now a teacher trainer in education technology, recently sent us her view of mobile, Net-connected computing at school:

    "Working with wireless is very cool. Doing it with kids is even cooler. You realize this IS their future. Why would anyone want to be tethered to a cable after experiencing the freedom that wireless brings?!

    "This past year, I've had the opportunity to be project director for a mobile computer lab that has moved through seven different elementary and middle schools in the county…. Bringing 20 computers into any classroom would normally be met with groans. Space is always at such a premium. But teachers are immediately won over when they realize there are no wires to trip on - AND the computers can be used anywhere, without rearranging the furniture. It's such a liberating experience. Students work at them from their desks, on the floor, at activity centers, and outdoors.

    "These are students who are used to going to weekly computer lab. But when you put laptops in the classroom for a defined period, it totally changes the way computers are used. Every class managed to complete at least one in-depth multimedia project. And often parents were invited to a special evening of presentations. I like to burn CDs of student work and I include the work of all their classmates to take home. The children absolutely love it. So do their parents.

    "There's something about iBooks and laptops that makes the computer experience very personal. Perhaps it's that you can lift them. You see kids hugging them to their chests as they return them to the recharging bins at night. You see them resetting the appearance of the desktop to personalize it - which is something they never do in a computer lab. And you see students - from the six-year-olds to the older kids - voluntarily helping each other. When the computers are packed up to move to the next school, there's always such a letdown. Everyone hates to see them leave. I'm sure the experience alters their perceptions about ubiquitous computing forever."

  2. In the media:

    "Students Embrace Technology" at, mentioning one of the US's most wired schools - in the Washington, D.C., area - and these stats: Nationally, there is slightly more than 1 computer for every 5 students, and the ratio of students to an Internet-connected computer is less than 8 to 1.

    "Mixed marks on giving laptops to students" at about the debate in a "Microsoft country" (Seattle-area) school district about how essential school laptops really are to a good education.

    "Handheld Sex" at a sobering report that adult content "will prosper" on handheld devices just as it has on desktop computers connected to the Net. It's only a matter of time, and this piece from the Wireless 2001 conference reports on some of the providers and their plans. And here's's very thorough treatment of the story, "On-the-go porn".

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Family Tech: How useful are ".kid" and ".xxx"?

Web publishers and other companies have been pushing for specialized sectors of cyberspace for kids and adults. Instead of "dot-com," these "areas" would have new top-level domains (TLDs) of "dot-kid" and "dot-xxx."

In his Family Tech column for the San Jose Mercury News this week,'s Larry Magid explains why roping off children's and adult content wouldn't be particularly helpful to parents who want to keep their kids away from sexually explicit sites. For one thing, it might lead to a false sense of security. "The only way something like this might work," Larry writes, "is if ICANN [Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which regulates Web addresses] created a procedure for applying such a designation and then set up a well-funded agency to monitor all .kid sites to make sure they're in compliance. That would be expensive and difficult to enforce. But even if a .kid site was completely devoid of inappropriate material, it doesn't mean that it has anything of value to children. That's a judgment that is difficult to make, especially by an agency that purports to be objective." And ".xxx" is even more problematic, you'll see in this Family Tech column.

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Web News Briefs

  1. Rating school districts online

    That's what the state of Michigan will be paying Wall Street's Standard & Poor's $10 million to do, according to "The idea is to use the Internet to make school systems more accountable to their stakeholders by showing the 'return on investment' for tax dollars spent on education, measured in terms of test scores and other raw data." eSchool News adds, "Critics say it would be better to spend those millions directly on education." What do you think - do email us. (Here are the actual Michigan school ratings at S&P.)

  2. Teens not prosecuted

    As the New York Times put it, free-speech victories come in many forms. The district attorney who decided to forgo prosecution of two teenagers who published a sex-gossip Web site about their peers said the site was "offensive and reprehensible," but not criminal. The Times cited other news stories reporting: "The site, which has been shut down, not only commented on the alleged sexual preferences or activities of more than 30 girls, but also included comments on their looks, eating habits, and their parents' marital problems, according to the news accounts." A clear call for Net-ethics education! For starters, the simple message might be: What you wouldn't put into print shouldn't go up on the Web. But teachers and parents, please email us your favorite Internet ethics tips, or related thoughts. (This item is a followup to our report last week, "Teen sex gossip on the Web" and our recent feature on a great resource for teaching Net ethics.)

  3. MP3: Version 2

    This week saw "the first major update to a technology that has become synonymous with both digital music and online piracy," reports CNET. Called "MP3Pro," it will include a new player and "ripper," or file creator, that will allow music fans to create near-CD-quality digital music files using about half the disc space previously required for MP3s. That's the good news. The fairly predictable bad news (for consumers, not music equipment manufacturers) is that MP3Pro files may not sound as good on systems designed for standard MP3s. This first release of MP3Pro will be limited, though, CNET adds; and there are competing technologies, for example Windows Media and an open-source, royalty-free project called Ogg Vorbis. But so far MP3 has the most users. So we wait to see who wins (and who the record companies will work with). The CNET piece gives a good view of the changing e-music landscape.

  4. Viruses: Hoax or fair warning?

    Did you, too, get one of those viral emails warning about a virus - a warning that was actually a hoax? The writer of this ZDNet piece did. The article offers tips on how to spot a hoax before it tries to trick you into messing up your computer the way a real virus would!

  5. Cheap Apples (and PCs)

    This is a good time to buy a (relatively) cheap home computer, the experts are telling us.'s Larry Magid had a piece in the Los Angeles Times this week saying just that and telling us what type of PC to look for and where. On the Macintosh side of computing life, ZDNet's computer shopper took a virtual shopping trip in search of the best iBook deals. Here are her findings.

  6. Women hackers

    Actually, they may not call themselves that. At least, nineteen-year-old computer whiz Sarah Flannery at Cambridge University has always been a bit confused about what "hacker" means, and the New York Times reports she's certainly not alone. "A 'hacker' is generally defined [by those who call themselves hackers] as someone who loves to write precise programming code and takes joy in exploring the nooks and crannies of the Net - including places that some would prefer they not explore." Read this worthwhile piece to find out if women code jockeys agree with that definition. Many of them definitely do not agree with efforts to stereotype them as different from male programmers and bringing some unique contribution to their field because they're women. For example, they might take issue with the whole premise behind…

  7. HEmail, SHEmail

    Of course, this "Beware the Web's anonymity," 2nd paragraph).

    Meanwhile, "women rule the Web," according to the latest survey cited by The figures, from Jupiter Media Metrix, show that US women over 18 comprise 40.9% of all online users, up from 40.3% in May 2000 and 39.3% in May '99. Men 18 and up now compose 39.8% of all online users, down from 40.1% in May 2000 and 45.7% in May '99. "The largest gender shift over the past two years occurred among users over the age of 35," reports Washtech, adding that online females 35-54 increased from 19% in May 1999 to 20.1% this past May, while males in that age bracket dropped from 20.7% to 15.6%.

  8. GoTo[Your]PC

    We bet some of you travel on business! Well, those who do will find this new tech development fairly amazing. Forget lugging around the laptop (it always feels heavier than its official weight)! Now, with a new Web site called, described by the New York Times, you can access everything on your home PC (email, Word docs, spreadsheets, etc.) via the Web from any connected PC anywhere, using any browser. Really. :-)

  9. Ashcroft & Net porn

    The US's new attorney general recently made it quite clear to Congress that the Justice Department is now taking a hard line on Internet pornography. According to Wired News, the emphases in Attorney General John Ashcroft's first appearance before the House Judiciary Committee were on better enforcement of existing laws and better cooperation with state and local law enforcement agencies.

  10. 'Boutique' ice cream via the Web

    Bringing new (positive) meaning to the term "dot-com meltdown," reports that Godiva's Chocolate Raspberry Truffle is now way too plain-vanilla for the most sophisticated palate, and Haagen-Dazs is so 1980s. But the Web is here to help: "A handful of boutique creameries are finding their way online,… scooping up electronic sales of pricey pints that are packed in dry ice and delivered right to the gourmet's front door." And no worries - buried in the piece are the URLs of some of these e-purveyors.

  11. Freddi Fish gets laid off

    More lay-offs in children's digital entertainment this week: Games starring Freddi Fish, Blue of "Blue's Clues," and Putt-Putt the well-mannered car will no longer be created by Humongous Entertainment, according to Only if the market "really demands them" will Humongous develop new Freddi Fish or Blue's Clues titles, the company said. It laid off 82 people this week, Nando reports, and the remaining 117 staffers will focus on the "Backyard" series of children's sports games.

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Summer reading for kids

It's not easy to find the best books for children - by age level and category - all in one place. So at the start of each summer the Christian Science Monitor's book editors do it for us.

In the June 14 Books section (scroll down on the left-hand side, just past "Ideas"), you'll find suggestions for concept books, picture books, independent readers, poetry, and other categories, as well as brief descriptions and rankings from Publisher's Weekly, and this year's winners of the Horn Book Awards for Excellence in Children's Literature.

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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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