LeapFrog FLY

This pentop computer will capture the imaginations of tweens.

Company: LeapFrog; www.LeapFrog.com
System Requirements: Self-contained pentop computer
Price/Grade: $99 for basic FLY package; other applications $24.99 to $34.99. Elementary to middle school.

Pros:

  • Comes with earbuds, carrying case, FLY Launch Pad guide, 17 games, 35 FLY Paper pages, 3 interactive FLY-FX cards, interactive map, silver face plate, and 1 AAA alkaline battery
  • Many applications; motivates students to learn
  • Great for kids working independently; puts learning in users' hands
  • Lots of hints given if kids get stuck on a problem; icons always available

Cons:

  • Fairly expensive once you get beyond basic FLY package as you need additional applications
  • Application-specific FLY Paper is expensive ($9.99 per pad)
  • Some children will have difficulty holding pen correctly or forming letters the FLY can read
  • Some applications work better than others
  • Cartridges are tiny and could easily be misplaced
  • Audio can be difficult to understand


LeapFrog's pentop computer is an intuitive and entertaining educational tool for math, music, language and other subjects.

At seven inches long, one and a half inches wide, and weighing a little less than a third of a pound, LeapFrog's new FLY pentop computer is creating a lot of buzz. Designed for techno-savvy tweens, this high-tech platform starts with paper and pen — but this is not your father's fountain pen.

The FLY has a tiny built-in processor and an optical scanner that makes it think, talk, and remember whatever you write on the required FLY Paper (which has a dot pattern for the scanner). Kids can make greetings, schedule appointments (the FLY will nag them so parents and teachers don't have to), and create their own talking calculator. Even cooler, kids can build a miniature recording studio with keyboard, drums, and rhythm tracks.

Creating a keyboard is fun, but the true power of the FLY lies in its educational capabilities. Currently students can participate in Fly Through Spanish, Multiplication and Division, Spelling, and Test Prep. Students go to www.LiveOntheFly.com, find their math, science, or social studies textbooks, and print and take curriculum-based multiple choice tests on FLY test paper loaded into their computers (Internet access and Adobe Acrobat required). These programs can be beneficial for students hungry for more practice, but look out: The FLY has a big appetite for AAA batteries, so it makes sense to get the recharging deck ($29.99).

As engaging as it is, the FLY does have some flaws. Patience is key, as users have to wait for prompts before going on to the next step in any of the applications. Also, the FLY has to be held just right, words need to be spaced somewhat regularly, and letters and numbers have to be drawn precisely for the camera to recognize them. This can be very frustrating because the FLY often can't decipher your writing. Unfortunately, if the suspect word's in a phrase, you have to cross out the entire phrase and rewrite it. This is bad news for kids whose handwriting is less than stellar or who tend to give up easily.


The FLY's recharching station saves users countless batteries.

The FLY might also be difficult for students who like to work quickly. For example, in the math program, students use special graph paper to create problems that need to be verified before they can be solved. Carried numbers have to be written in specific locations, and all written numerals are read, processed, and verified at each step. All this takes time. When I told a nine year-old doing double digit multiplication to slow down, she said, "I don't do slow."

With practice, I was able to solve multiplication problems with the FLY but had limited success with Spanish. I successfully translated a few words of English to Spanish but stopped after my fifth attempt to translate wagon. A student and I tried a game of matching English words with the FLY's Spanish translations, but we couldn't always understand FLY-speak (in English or Spanish), and the FLY couldn't always read our words. (The included earbuds can help users understand FLY's spoken word functions.)

In contrast, FLY Through Spelling, where teacher-created spelling lists fuel interactive games, is a blast. Highly motivating and more forgiving in the letter formation department, this entertaining program is a super use of FLY technology.

Jamie Keller is a teacher in Berkeley, California.

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