The Teachermate is targeted at kindergarden through third grade.
The XO laptop is designed to be easy to learn for kids of all ages around the world
Intel’s Classmate is slightly more powerful than the XO, but lacks custom software.
A new low-cost handheld computer called the Teachermate was introduced in March by non-profit Innovations for Learning, Inc. As part of a pilot program funded by the JP Morgan Chase Foundation, one-first grade class in each of Chicago’s 500 public elementary will get a full compliment of the $50 devices, each equipped with reading and math software that can be coordinated and monitored by teachers.
I spoke with the executive director of Innovations for Learning, Seth Weinberger, about the device and its place among the recent flurry of new computers designed for children, such as One Laptop per Child’s XO laptop, and Intel’s Classmate, among others. Weinberger had and interesting take on were the Teachermate fits, and with the experience he has in the educational software market he gave some interesting comments on the approach of the One Laptop per Child program and others.
The Teachermate is designed to be as simple as possible to keep the cost down and make it simpler and more reliable. But most importantly it keeps things simple for the young kids using it. Weinberger said that a full keyboard and Internet access aren’t appropriate for the age groups the device is targeted to.
“When you’re talking about a first grader they don’t really need to get to the internet and if they do, it should really be so filtered for them as to almost not really be the Internet. It has to be mediated by the teacher,” said Weinberger.
Weinberger sees devices such as the XO laptop and Classmate playing a larger role in older classes, after the students have graduated from using the Teachermate.
However Weinberger drew a deeper distinction between the Teachermate and the XO laptop, saying the Teachermate is designed in conjunction with educational software whereas the XO laptop has be developed as a tool or platform.
“They’re providing a platform for educational content, and they’re leaving it up the open source community to really come up with the content. … We work from the exact opposite approach. We started with the software that is needed from a content level to make a teacher effective in the classroom and then we were forced to create hardware, that would be a delivery system for that software but as a result we came up with a complete solution for the teacher.”
It’s an interesting observation on the problems of using technology to educate. It certainly makes sense that for a device that is destined for the classroom, software designed to help teachers teach the basics, reading, writing, math and science, is almost necessary. It doesn’t look like there is any work being done right now on any subject-based education software for XO laptop, at least.