The Pen Gets a Whole Lot Mightier – New York Times
The toy is interesting, but what is also interesting is the way it integrates reading/writing/sound. The concept of silent and personal reading is, after all, fairly new. Are we seeing a return to a more oral/aural society? A different kind, though, one where memory/memorization is not key–the computer holds your memory…
the Fly Pentop Computer.
The Fly is so fat because it contains an AAA battery, a computer chip, a speaker and, mounted half an inch from the ballpoint tip, a tiny camera. For all of its educational, interactive tricks, the Fly pen requires special paper whose surface is imprinted with nearly invisible micro-dots. As you write, the pen always knows where it is on the page, thanks to those dot patterns and the camera that watches them go by.
incarnation, which is aimed at “tweens” (8 to 14 years old), no PC is required or desired; instead, you get crisp, instantaneous audio feedback from the pen’s speaker.
STAGGERING possibilities await a pen that can read software right off the page as it moves, and the Fly package comes with a sparkling sampler. For example, as you tap countries on a world map, the pen pronounces their capitals or plays their national anthems. On a glossy, fold-out mini-poster of a disc jockey’s setup, you can tap buttons to get music samples, or tap turntables to produce record-scratching sounds; then you can record your own compositions or compete, memory-game style, against other players. There’s even a sheet of stickers that, when tapped, produce appropriate sound effects. (For my two elementary-schoolers, the belching mouth alone was good for 20 minutes of hilarity.)
The Fly also comes with something called Fly Open Paper: a sheaf of blank pages that permit a much more free-form range of creative activities. You indicate which program you want by writing its initials in a circle.
For example, in Notepad mode (draw an N in a circle), you can write up to three block-letter words at a time; the pen then reads back what you’ve written. In Scheduler (circled S), you can write “Tuesday 3:45 P.M. student council”; at the specified time, the pen will turn itself on and speak the appointment’s name.
Then there’s the Calculator (circled C), which is for nerds what “Pinocchio” is to wooden puppets. As you draw a set of calculator buttons, they come to life, speaking their own names when tapped and announcing the mathematical results (“one hundred sixty-nine, square root, equals thirteen”).
Fly Tones (circled FT) is an unforgettable demonstration for both parents and children. You draw a piano keyboard, complete with black keys if you like – and then you can play it. You can even draw and operate buttons that change the instrument sound, adjust the tempo, record and play, and so on. Talk about brainstorming on a napkin!
These starter programs are stored in a white plastic cap on top of the pen. But the Fly can accommodate additional cartridges – sold separately, of course ($25 to $35 each).
Each comes with appropriate pads, sheaves or books of the specially printed paper. There are hits and misses among these add-ons (which include Spanish, math and spelling), but the good ones break some interesting new ground.
Fly Through Math, for example, is dedicated to multiplication and division. You write the digits of a math problem into the squares of the included graph paper. Like a watchful parent or teacher, the Fly’s little voice-over elf comments immediately when, for example, you forget to carry the 1 or misplace a decimal point. This in-problem feedback is far more helpful than a computer program that just tells you that your final answer is wrong.
Then there’s Fly Through Tests. From a Web site (flypentop.com), your sixth- through eighth-grader can download multiple-choice quizzes in PDF format that correspond to the chapters of specific popular published textbooks (math, science or social studies). You print them onto the blank paper that comes with this cartridge, and voilà: instant interactive tests, specific to the textbook you’re using in class.
Fly isn’t solely about academics. The original software cartridge includes games, jokes and even Easter eggs (secret features). You can also buy kits like Flyball (interactive baseball cards that let you manage a team), Fly Journal (a lockable diary with daily writing prompts) and Fly Friends (girlie activities pertaining to shopping, fashion and boys).
…goes on to describe some of the problems…