Another gadget for students

When a company sees a downward slide in sales, what's a good solution?

Consider the student market.

Few people take much note anymore of the 24-hour glow of soda machines in high school halls. Or of "M&M math," or teams sporting donated brand-name gear.

So perhaps the arrival of "personal digital assistants" in classrooms won't cause much of a stir.

These hand-held devices, better known by such names as Palm Pilot, are now being touted as the latest power tool for learning - interestingly, at a time when the industry is facing serious declines in sales among adults.

No matter that they will join an increasingly crowded line of such electronic educational "breakthroughs": TVs hanging from the ceiling, courtesy of Channel One; computers lining the wall, ready for Web access; and gadgets like calculators and hand-held spellcheckers that kids clamor for.

What some call "glorified Rolodexes" are marching through school doors this fall in growing numbers. High schools in Dade County, Fla., and Omaha, Neb., are testing them with student groups. The private Forsyth Country Day School in Winston-Salem, N.C., will hand all students a turbocharged version today - complete with media fanfare.

To any parent who's marveled at a child's ability to miss a poster-sized message to take out the garbage, handing out devices best known for storing reminders may seem odd. Sure, the more powerful models can download homework. They can also access e-mail, to be read ... in class?

Meanwhile, there is little proof that such gadgets enhance learning. And in the face of budget shortfalls, many teachers are hitting the sales for less glamorous supplies.

E-mail newcomba@csps.com.

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