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The Education World Tech Team Reviews
Inspiration for Palm

Does Inspiration for Palm OS live up to the Inspiration reputation? Learn what our Tech Team discovered! Included: Suggested uses for students, teachers, and administrators.

Since 1988, Inspiration has been transforming how teachers and students brainstorm and organize ideas in the classroom. In 2004, Inspiration for Palm OS was released, and Education World asked its Tech Team to take a look at the new kid on the Inspiration block and see if it lives up to its big brother's reputation. Read on and see what our reviewers discovered!

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At its most basic level, Inspiration for Palm OS is a graphic organizer, and it's at its best doing just that -- capturing student ideas and organizing thoughts -- according to Fran Clark, instructional design and technology instructor at the University of Memphis. What the Palm version adds is immense portability, allowing students to work on projects from home, notes Vicky Romano, one of Knox College's tech support personnel and preservice teaching instructors.

That portability lets teachers really to tap into the teachable moment, whether they're in or our of the classroom, according to Jennifer Wagner, computer coordinator at Crossroads Christian School in Corona, California. Wagner particularly likes that the software allows on-the-spot outlining and data collection in graph form while on field trips.

Rusty Sinclair, training director for the Texas Computer Education Association, also sees the benefits of using Inspiration for Palm OS on field trips, noting, "If classroom sets of handhelds are available, files can be created on a desktop computer and then downloaded to the handheld immediately before a field trip. Students could record required information during the field trip and the teacher could upload each student's/group's observations to a desktop computer."

Both Romano and Sinclair agree on the software's value when used in small groups. Brainstorms can be captured by one group member, and then sent to a desktop for printing.


Teachers and administrators also can benefit from Inspiration for Palm OS. "Teachers can use the software to build a "map" of presentations by groups of students working on projects together," says Sinclair. Teachers, he adds, also can beam their observations of group work and then send checklists of their observation criteria to students.

Inspiration for Palm OS also is a great tool for planning lessons and creating meeting agendas, says Mike Silverton, technology coordinator for Cilaire Elementary in Namaimo, British Columbia. He's used the software with pre-service and inservice teachers "as a tool they can use in preparation for their studies, as well as in the classroom."

Administrators also can use Inspiration for Palm OS, which is being marketed to both the business and education sectors. Consider how valuable the software would be during classroom observations as part of teacher evaluations. Administrators, Sinclair points out, could "make a map of the class lesson and make notes about what went on during each step of the lesson. The administrator also can have a template made to record what they expect to observe during the lesson and then add their comments to the file when they upload it to their desktop/laptop."


Inspiration for the desktop has traditionally been marketed for use in grades 4-12, and the Tech Team agreed with that recommendation for the Palm version as well. Sinclair did note, however, that the learning curve of using a handheld should be taken into consideration, and Clark argued that younger students might have difficulty with eye-hand coordination with handhelds. Silverton felt, however, that the transition to handheld was easy and wouldn't cause a problem using Inspiration.

Subject-wise, anything goes! Inspiration for Palm OS has benefits for almost every content area. If you ever brainstorm or need to organize ideas in a subject area, you can use Inspiration for Palm OS, says Silverton. Romano adds that the software would be particularly useful "in writing, developing story webs, outlining, listing vocabulary word definitions, or defining the main points of sections or chapters."


Ed World's Tech Team did find a few weaknesses with Inspiration for Palm OS. Some struggled with the screen size, and the learning curve of using Inspiration with a handheld -- struggles that students unfamiliar with handhelds also might have. As Sinclair notes, "There is enough challenge in the software without the added challenge of the handheld device."

Wagner and Clark also found a few limitations with the software itself. Clark's handheld model would not allow her to draw shapes or make connections with the stylus. She also felt that the software was too text-driven, and she missed being able to insert clip art as can be done on the desktop version.

Wagner agreed that the limited graphics -- as well as few font choices, size, and ability to group items -- was problematic. She found herself creating an Inspiration document on her handheld, then revising it significantly on her desktop, time she felt was not well spent. Finally, she found the PDF guide helpful but since it was only available on CD, she had to be near a desktop to get the help she needed for her handheld's software.


Despite those concerns, our Tech Team enjoyed the portability of Inspiration for Palm OS and came up with some surprising applications, For example, Wagner notes, "I liked the ability to be waiting for a movie to start while starting a template for an idea that came to mind; or being at a museum and being able to brainstorm on my Palm into Inspiration."

Silverton agreed with the benefits of such on-the-spot use of Inspiration. "I use it in staff meetings and for planning lesson/units when I am in the mall waiting for my wife and two daughters. Anytime I need to plan or brainstorm with the use of my PALM, Inspiration makes the task easy and accessible. That's definitely not only a timesaver for me, but also has allowed me to create when and where I want."

Clark listed a number of strengths she saw in using Inspiration for Palm OS in the classroom. The software, she said:

  • Helps students clarify thinking, reinforce understanding, and integrate new knowledge.
  • Allows students to put ideas into their own words.
  • Is very similar to the desktop version.
  • Is easy to learn, as students will be familiar with the desktop version.
  • Can sketch shapes with stylus and draw links to other connections.
  • Includes some templates.
  • Allows students to sync to desktop and word processing programs and to the printer.
  • Enables students to easily transfer/share knowledge with the beaming feature.
  • Makes creating concept maps, webs, diagrams, and so on quick and easy.
  • Enables students to zoom in to enlarge areas or to zoom out to see the whole.

The Palm version's portability outweighed the drawbacks of its limited features, according to most Tech Team members, making it a good choice for the classroom. "In the past," says Silverton, "access to the lab or computers dictated when we used the software. I am going to buy three or four Palms for my classroom, so we can use them on fieldtrips and whenever we want."

Team members were concerned, however, about the difficulty of using the Palm version of Inspiration compared to the desktop version. Using the Dana keyboard was helpful for Romano, who had a hard time using the stylus with the new software. Still, most agreed that, with practice and increased familiarity with handhelds, navigation and use of Inspiration for Palm OS would get easier.

So, is Inspiration for Palm OS right for your classroom? Our Tech Team found numerous benefits in using the software in grades 4 through 12 (and above!), so if you and your students are comfortable using handhelds and are ready for a tool that can transform learning where ever you might be, give Inspiration for Palm a try!

Who Are They?

The Education World Tech Team includes more than 50 dedicated and knowledgeable education-technology professionals who have volunteered to contribute to occasional articles that draw on their varied expertise and experience. The following Tech Team members contributed to this article:

Article by Lorrie Jackson
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Copyright © 2004 Education World