to your classroom this year: Pentop Computers
by Alan Zisman (c)
2007 First published in CUE
suppose it was just a matter of time. A decade ago, Scientific American
promised what it called ‘pervasive computing’. We’ve passed through an
era of a relatively few large, centralized computers, to computers on
(more or less) every desktop, to computers embedded in more and more
everyday gadgets: microwave ovens, DVD players, car dashboard GPS units
(and in car engines, transmissions, and braking systems), and more.
Now you can look forward to students carrying computers embedded in
their pens in your classroom.
in time for back to class, there’s the (CDN$99) Leapfrog FLY Fusion
pentop computer (www.leapfrog.com). Cheaper, less obtrusive, and much
more portable than a laptop, it’s aimed at anyone who needs to take
Using special lined paper (with a lightly printed
dotted grid), the FLY Fusion scans and digitizes notes while a student
writes; later, connecting the pen to any (Windows XP and Vista only)
computer via USB, the notes can be exported as a digital file, enabling
them to be saved, printed, emailed, or whatever, Assuming the
handwriting isn’t TOO sloppy, the FLY Fusion will be able to read the
writing, exporting the contents as text, editable in any word processor.
Leapfrog claims the target market is students aged 8 through about 14
with the digital pen, the package includes a custom USB cable (also
used for charging the unit), a notebook-worth of the special ‘FLY
Paper’, application software, a cheat sheet for custom ‘FLYcons’, and a
booklet of games and activities. The pen ships with 64 MB of memory
built-in that can store about 80-100 pages of handwritten notes, and
can serve double-duty as an MP3 player. An additional 64 MB memory
cartridge is available as an added-cost extra, as are additional
learning applications including Algebra, French and Spanish
translators, Harry Potter games, and more. Pricing is relatively
affordable- about $12 per activity, with a $10 coupon included in the
FLY Fusion box. Additional notepads are about $10 each. There’s the
promise of an optional subscription for unlimited downloads.
built-in optical character recognition is pretty good, though some
users may have to train themselves to better writing habits to improve
computer readability. Cursive writing is out, however; there need to be
spaces between letters to enable recognition. Drawings can be stored as
graphics, however, and added to text-based notes or saved on their own.
cool are the other built-in features, (accessible after retracting the
pen’s tip, turning it into a stylus) which include basic language
translation and simple math calculations. You can write in English and
have the pen translate to French or Spanish, or vice versa, Or write
out a math calculation and let the pen read (out loud!) the problem and
its calculated answer! Each Fly Paper notebook includes a Control Panel
in the front and a Music Studio application on the inside back cover.
Control Panel can be used to set calendar entries and to-do reminders,
use the calculator, play music (if you can imagine plugging headphones
into your pen!) and more. The Music Studio application is a fun way to
record and play back rhythm and music tracks, even emulating scratching
a turntable. (There’s an optional Pro version with more features).
writing the letters FP in the notebook and drawing a circle around it,
you signal the pentop that you want to be in FLYcon mode- in this mode,
you can create custom-made applications by more or less drawing your
own computer program. For instance, you could draw pictures of drums
and ‘program’ the pictures so that they play sampled drum sounds when
you tap them with your pen.
All the extras are probably gravy,
though… the main function is to aid note-taking, and it does that
pretty well. For digital-age kids, this may make note-taking more fun.
see whether Leapfrog is able to built up the kind of buzz (and get the
kind of retail distribution) needed before we start seeing these in
student hands in our classrooms. Then again, for those teachers who are
more comfortable with a pen than with a keyboard, this may be an
affordable way to get our own work on screen.