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Teaching With Bells and Whistles
3:00 a.m. Mar. 24, 2000 PST

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Sandy Fivecoat, vice president of sales for The Lightspan Partnership, agrees that the Internet should be more than just a publishing tool for teachers.

"There's a real trend toward the Internet as a platform for content and for interactive tools for teaching and learning," Fivecoat said.

Lightspan sells PlayStations and educational games to schools and also provides parent and teacher training. Kids can check out PlayStations to take home, and Fivecoat said students who use those boxes typically study 30 minutes to an hour longer.

Students practice math and reading in a game format. To advance the animated characters from one level to the next, the kids must solve certain problems.

Soloway teaches "concept-mapping" with Palm Pilots to sixth-graders in the Detroit public schools. Students can, for example, break down and analyze parts of a polluted stream or map different branches of government.

The handheld device is ideal for teaching kids with short attention spans. And by beaming their work to each other, students share what they're learning -- a powerful motivator, he said.

Teachers agree that interactive programs are the most fulfilling for their students, but "sometimes you have to crawl before you can walk," said Dianne Smith, a journalism teacher at Alief Hastings High School in Houston.

In addition to the class website she uses to post assignments and practice tests, Smith has experimented with several interactive programs for her journalism students.

But not all teachers are adventurous, she said. It all boils down to their comfort level with technology. All in all, she believes the text-based sites are a good starting point.

Both Fivecoat and Soloway agree that before schools will reach the level of interactivity they need, they must have higher bandwidth.

So while he pushes for moving forward, Soloway agrees that the text sites are one step in the overall implementation of technology in education.

"It's the first pancake," he said. "[You have to] make a mess and then do it right."

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