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Learning Library Blog Could the Apple Watch be headed to your classroom?
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Could the Apple Watch be headed to your classroom?

By Maureen Yoder
September 9, 2014
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Maybe you've heard of the Apple Watch. You may have even given some thought to its potential for education . But since it's still not available to the masses, and its price tag will likely be out of reach of most school budgets for some time, you probably filed the idea under " "fantasy" " and forgot about it.

For you realists, I've got some news. Wearable technologies for the classroom are not a pipedream! The New Media Consortium's 2014 K-12 Horizon Report, which highlights technological trends likely to affect education in the near future, recently predicted that wearable devices will be common in schools within the next four to five years. In fact, many wearables — mostly watches and armbands so far — are affordable and ready for prime time in the classroom right now.

Classroom applications
Activity trackers, such as Jawbone's UP, Nike's Fuel Band, Garmin's Vivofit and Fitbit, were the first wearable gadgets to proliferate in schools. Physical education teachers and coaches have been using them to track students' physical activity and fitness, then collect and graph the data so they can use it for problem solving and motivation. Some of these gadgets even let you award digital badges to students, who can use the armbands to track their own progress as well.

A new development in the wearable tech market is devices designed for the youngest students. Many of these new tools are meant to allow children to become independent while protecting their safety. In addition to a GPS tracking device, some of these devices let children quickly contact a preprogrammed set of individuals.

Wearable tech also holds a lot of promise for helping students with special needs. Those on the attention deficit and autism spectrums, for example, can benefit from devices that send them regular reminder alerts to pay attention, do their homework or take their medication.

All of the new wearables for students are easy to use and colorful. For educators, they offer a new way to motivate students to get active, keep on task and stay safe. And for students, they offer an engaging and convenient way to take responsibility for deadlines, track their own progress and feel secure while gaining independence.

Tools you can afford
Here are five new wearable tools designed for elementary students for $150 or less:

  1. LeapBandLeapBand by LeapFrog is an activity tracker designed for young children that incorporates gamification. It encourages active play and healthy habits with 50 fun challenges, such as " "walk like a crab" " or " "pretend you're popcorn." " An accelerometer measures activity throughout the day and awards points that allow children to play games with virtual pets and unlock surprise activities. Teachers can turn off the sound for classroom use. Teachers can monitor feedback, but federal regulations concerning data collection on children limit advertisers and other third parties from accessing the information. The device, which is water resistant, comes with a quick-start guide, a mini-USB cable for syncing and a rechargeable battery.

    Take a look at this review from CNET to see what it can do:

    Ages: 4-7
    Price: $40
    Apps: LeapFrog Petathlon Games (free)

  2. WatchMinderThe WatchMinder3 is a vibrating watch and reminder system invented by a child psychologist. Parents or teachers can program the watch to generate reminder vibrations, which are more discreet than audible alarms, as well as personalized display messages at scheduled times or intervals. The watch can help children " " particularly those who have attention deficit or autism spectrum disorders " " to stay on task and monitor themselves, allowing them to become more independent. It can also remind kids to take medications at prescribed times, to breathe or do other mindfulness activities or to exercise regularly. The device, which is waterproof and has a rechargeable battery, features on-screen programming, 65 preprogrammed messages and a countdown timer.

    Learn more about the WatchMinder in this video:

    Ages: Kindergarten through adult
    Price: $69
    Apps: WatchMinder (free)

  3. HereoHereO is a GPS watch for kids. Billed as " "the smallest cellular-connected GPS tracking device in the world," " the watch features an accelerometer that sends an alert when it is shaken horizontally five times. A SIM card connects to a local carrier, which alerts teachers and/or parents if a child leaves a designated area. The device, which is water resistant and has a battery life of up to 50 hours between charges, is scheduled to be released in December.

    See TechCrunch's interview with one of the device's inventors to learn more about how to use it:

    Ages: 3-12
    Price: Preorder for $149, which includes a three-month subscription. After the introductory period, the subscription fee is $4.95 per month.
    Apps: None

  4. TinitellTinitell is a small mobile phone wristband with a minimalist design and a singular use. Its complete set of features includes one large button to answer or hang up a call, a microphone, a speaker, an on/off switch and volume control. There is no display. The beauty of this simplicity is that even pre-literate children can easily make calls. They just speak the name of the person they want to call into the microphone. Sound matching, rather than a full-fledged voice recognition application, identifies the name on a list of preprogrammed individuals and connects the call. They can also use the volume controls to scroll through the list and listen to the options before making a selection. The device can also take incoming calls, which an adult can limit to a predefined list of acceptable numbers, without the child having to press a button. The device doubles as a GPS tracker and is both water resistant and " "sandbox-proof." " Though targeted to parents, many educators will find the Tinitell, which is set to be released in April 2015, useful for young children and students with special needs.

    Watch Tinitell's Kickstarter video to see how kids might use it:

    Ages: 3-12
    Price: $129
    Apps: None

  5. PebblePebble is a smartwatch you use in conjunction with your smartphone. Although this device is marketed mostly to the adult consumer market, its access to a wide range of apps provides a variety of powerful functions that students will find useful in and out of the classroom. Partners such as Evernote, which allows users to access all notes on their Pebble, are increasing the possibilities too. For instance, teachers could communicate with their students by sending notes to the entire class or individuals. Students can also set silent alarms on their devices as reminders of events throughout the day. Some teachers create virtual help desks and use Pebble as a classroom management system. Others have challenged advanced students to write an original app for the watch. The Pebble has an LED backlight display, 3D accelerometer, Bluetooth 4.0 and a battery that will run up to a week before it needs to be recharged.

    Want to see the Pebble in action? Check out the stop animation commercial the company's interns made:

    Ages: Middle school to adult
    Price: $150
    Apps: Pebble Smartwatch accesses the Pebble app store, which houses a growing number of user-created apps. You can also use the PebbleKit JavaScript framework to allow iOS and Android apps to communicate with the watch, or you can create and publish your own Pebble apps.

Maureen Brown Yoder, Ed.D., is a professor of educational technology at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A former classroom teacher, she currently works with inservice educators and teaches an online course on emerging technologies. She coined the term electronic constructivism and has written extensively on how to thoughtfully and creatively integrate emerging technologies into existing curricula.