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Sat, Aug 25, 2001 - Page 24 News List

Software companies target students


The days of the Trapper Keeper are over. An icon for students of the 1980s, the three-ring binder included folders for organizing schoolwork by subject and featured covers of popular rock and movie stars, all enclosed by a handy Velcro flap.CFToday students are increasingly carrying hand-held organizers like the Palm or the Visor outfitted with software to track their assignments, help them prepare for tests and even help them conduct science experiments.

Already common among college students, Palm-based hand-held devices are now beginning to show up in some high schools, middle schools and even a few elementary schools, said Elliot Soloway, a professor of education and computer science at the University of Michigan.

"Games are going to drive kids to buy the Palm, and they're going to bring them to school," said Soloway, who has developed free educational software for the Palm operating system through the university's Center for Highly Interactive Computing in Education. "Eventually, teachers will have to figure out a way to use them in the classroom."

So with a Palm and a Visor loaded with nearly two dozen educational programs, I decided to become a student for a week, keeping track of a packed schedule of class assignments and cramming for potential pop quizzes. While most applications involve a nominal registration fee, many are available in free trial versions so that you can see if the program is right for you. All of them work with any hand-held computer using the Palm operating system, usually version 3.1 or above.

One of the most common student uses of a hand-held computer is to keep track of assignments and grades. Due Yesterday (www.due-yesterday.com), US$15, and 4.0Student (www.handmark.com), US$19.99, are good replacements for pocket calendars. Both provide tools that allow you to enter information about courses, including meeting times, contact information for professors and assignments. They offer views of due dates that can be customized by the week, by individual course or with all classes included. Assignments and test dates can be exported to the Palm's datebook and to-do list with either program, allowing students to coordinate schoolwork with the rest of their lives.

Due Yesterday also includes a feature called "due next," which alerts you to your next assignment and how many assignments you have turned in late in that class (just in case you want to skip writing that English paper to finish studying for a chemistry exam). For the student who is always fiddling with a calculator to determine his grades, 4.0Student presents "what if" scenarios to predict grades through the end of the semester. It also calculates grade-point average based on grading policies for the class or the school in general. Data from the semester can be backed up and stored from any computer with Web access at fourostudent.net. (The Web-based service requires a subscription, which costs US$39.99 for one year and includes a copy of 4.0Student.)

Once your schedule is entered into the Palm, several programs can help with homework assignments or with preparing for the big test. A suite of programs called ImagiMath (www.imagiworks.com), US$39.95, includes ImagiCalc, a full-function calculator; ImagiGraph, for plotting graphs and even animating them; and ImagiSolve, a math worksheet that helps solve equations with a tap of the stylus. Students around the sixth-grade level can try Bubble Blasters (www.handheld.hice-dev.org), a free math game developed by Soloway's center at Michigan with floating bubbles that contain answers to multiple-choice questions about fractions, decimals and mixed numbers. The object is to choose the correct answer before the bubbles float away.

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