An elementary school principal, with help from three university engineering students, has developed a wireless “network mouse” system that allows any designated student to control the cursor on a monitor at the front of the classroom.

Each student has a device similar to a laptop power pad and, when selected by the teacher, can use a fingertip to operate the classroom’s central computer. Result: Any designated student can participate in a computerized lesson without being at a computer.

The concept is the brainchild of Dennis Sonius, principal of the Morningside Elementary School in Twin Falls, Idaho. Sonius said he has always believed classroom learning could be accelerated if every student could work with the computer just as the teacher did.

“But that meant too many computers in the classroom—you’d run out of space,” he said. “And it would be too many wires. I wanted something simple, something that kids could interact with from their desks, and it had to be wireless.”

The Idaho educator could not find such a tool commercially, so he developed it himself.

Sonius already had considerable knowledge of computers. He introduced the Twin Falls School District’s first computers to Bickel Elementary School in 1980 and wrote a programming booklet for elementary students.

So he repaired to his basement and then contacted the University of Idaho for some help.

“They gave me three engineering students, who put it together for their senior projects,” he said.

In return, the students get to share in the profits from the invention once the money starts rolling in. That shouldn’t be long, now that the device—called Mousenet—has worked its way through the expensive patent process.

Sonius had little trouble rounding up investors to finance mass production by a company in Post Falls, Idaho.

The system, which uses the same kind of communication signal as a cell phone, consists of a unit that enables the teacher to punch in a signal to any designated student and a number of 3-inch-by-4-inch sturdy rectangular devices for students.

Schools can buy between eight and 32 touch pads, for $1,900 to $5,995 depending on how many touch pads they buy.

The student gadget is like a power pad on a laptop, Sonius said. Students simply use a finger to rub on the device and point to what the teacher has instructed them to point to on the computer screen at the front of the classroom.

The system was field-tested by Teacher Cathy Muus in her fifth-grade class. She applied it in an instructional program involving states and the locations of cities and land forms. Muus would show the image, call a student by number through the command block, and get an immediate student response.

“Everyone would participate,” she said. “The kids loved the concept.”

Not only were they sucked right up into the learning process, Muus said, but they were amazed their very own principal had invented the system.

“The thing I liked is that everyone could participate,” she said. “The drifters, the doodlers, the talkers—they stayed interested.”

Schools interested in purchasing Mousenet should call (208) 736-0648 for more information.

Links:

Twin Falls School District
http://www.tfsd.k12.id.us

Mouse-net LLC (web page will be accessible in late July)
http://www.mouse-net.com