Friday, November 03, 2000

School in front of tech effort

The Associated Press

        EMINENCE, Ky. — When Microsoft executives were looking for students on the cutting edge of high-tech learning, they chose a middle school in a small Kentucky town.

        Students at Eminence Middle School work with pencils on hand-held computers. Seventh- and eighth-grade students take notes, write papers, get homework and read books on a digital tablet the size of their hand.

        “We've realized these could do a lot more than we ever thought possible,” said Stephanie Sorrell, a language-arts teacher. “The kids are so motivated to work this way.”

        In her seventh-grade classroom, there are no books and few notebooks.

        Tracy Wellens, a product planner at Microsoft, led a group from Microsoft that visited the Henry County town last week to see what the school was doing. She said her team is putting together a report on whether the Eminence program has implications for other products.

        “We learned quite a lot about it,” she said. “It was very exciting.”

        The way it works is that Ms. Sorrell and the other seventh- and eighth-grade teachers download books and readings from the Internet to her personal digital assistant. She is able to download most of the literature she needs from free library sites on the Internet.

        From up to 3 feet away, she transfers the assignments or readings from her personal digital assistant to student PDAs with an infrared beam.

        Students complete work or reading on their PDAs. They can then beam the homework back to Sorrell or attach the hand-held units to a regular computer and type it out. They can also hook a PDA up to a portable keyboard to type information into it.

        The pilot program started last year, when the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative in Shelbyville got a grant to buy digital assistants for Hispanic students, who could use them to download Spanish-language materials.


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