Beam me up, sir

16th January 1998 at 00:00
As pupils from Buswells Lodge Primary school took out their transluscent green + notebook computers to record facts on the workings of Westminister during a + visit to the House of Commons, they found themselves surrounded by Members of + Parliament. The Leicestershire pupils were wary - but all the MPs wanted to do + was admire their new computers. "Children don't often get the chance to impress+ Members of Parliament, but they were genuinely surprised, and a little + envious, at how skilfully these youngsters were using the laptops," says + Inderjit Sandhu, the school's acting head.With only six months experience, + Buswell's pupils are more than familiar with Xemplar's Apple eMate 300 - a + notebook that is light enough (4lb) for a school bag, strong enough to + withstand being dropped, uses a matching green pen instead of a mouse for + selecting, drawing and writing on its touch-screen, and has the potential to + replace exercise books, pens and calculators. The school has 24 eMates, and + teachers sometimes take one home to set up work for the children, who use them + across the curriculum to develop skills such as spelling and + data-handling.There is nothing fragile about the eMate - drop it and it will + bounce back as good as new. The screen stays in any position and can fold flat + to be used as a clipboard. The connection ports are protected by a sliding + cover, and it has "inkwells" on either side of the keyboard to hold the pen + while you're typing.During their Commons visit, the 10-year-olds quickened + their notetaking by typing in key words about the visit on the laptop. The + notes were then developed later, back in the classroom, and once finished were + transferred to one of the school's desktop computers for printing. "The + children found it easier to work like this because they didn't have to worry + about spellings at this stage," says Ms Sandhu.The eMate, which is based on + Apple's Newton MessagePad hand-held computers, runs on a rechargable battery + that last for 24 hours - equivalent to about a week's worth of use in school. + It has no disc drives; work is automatically saved in the memory and once you + have finished working you can either connect a cable and transfer data to an + Apple Mac, Windows PC or Acorn, or you can "beam" it over by an infrared + link.David Amstead, deputy head and information and communications technology + (ICT) co-ordinator at Duston Upper School, Northamptonshire, always wanted his + students to have truly mobile technology. So when the time came to improve the + school's ICT facilities, he knew what he wanted."In addition", he says, "we + were looking for equipment that could connect to our existing PCs and also have+ the facility that would enable students to save and send pieces of work to the+ main PC at different times,to be collected and assembled later." Staff tested + all the portables and palmtops on the market. Two weeks with the eMate + convinced them. Students in Years 9 and 10 now share 40 eMates. Next year, + staff will decide whether they should increase the school's stock."What really + sold the eMate to us was the battery life, " says Mr Amstead."The problem with + most laptops is that, just when you are getting down to it, the battery dies. + After charging for 40 minutes or so, we get a whole week's worth of work. And + we haven't yet worked out how to get into the battery area, let alone lose + any." "During a 50-minute period students barely have enough time to produce a + finished piece of work. With the eMate they can produce a paragraph or two,a + spreadsheet or drawing, name and save it in a user area of the school network + to be assembled into one document later."Ms Sandhu says technology alone is not+ enough. "I won't say it is the way forward in education. It is an aid to + learning," she says. "The eMate gave us the chance to have access to one + computer per child in a whole class, which we have found particularly useful + for visually impaired pupils. Their worksheets on the computer are written in a+ large font so they do not feel isolated or separated from the main class."The + eMate is easy to use, even for students with learning difficulties. "It is + tremendously motivating," says Mr Amstead. "Even the less motivated students + are really fired up by these things. And now that we have found a company + willing to insure them for theft and damage in and out of school, more teachers+ are willing to take them home to improve their capability, and with students + taking them out of school to do their homework on, it means we are getting a + lot more work out of our pupils. "

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