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Arkansas sixth graders, the latest gadget wonks

Sixth graders at Fox Meadow Intermediate Center in Jonesboro, Ark., have started testing consumer products and posting reviews online.

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Students assess product
Students from Fox Meadow Intermediate Center put the Weather X Flashlight/Radio through its paces.

Sixth graders at Fox Meadow Intermediate Center in Jonesboro, Ark., have started testing consumer products and posting their reviews online. And given their clear and thorough assessments, it looks like Jonesboro may have a future David Pogue or Walt Mossberg in its ranks.

Students in Millard Cover's reading classes are getting gadget-ey to learn to apply analytical and critical skills to nonfiction. "When we review a product, we first review news releases, advertising, packaging, manuals, and other written materials to see how the product is supposed to perform," the students explain on their Web site. "Then we test it to see how it does compared to our expectations based upon our reading."

The young gadgeteers have just posted their first set of reviews--of the Weather X Flashlight/Radio emergency and safety weather device.

Many students gave the product a smiley emoticon for being easy to read and having a number of power sources (rechargeable batteries, AAA batteries, and a hand crank). A number of young reviewers found the alarm hard to set, earning that feature a frown. But overall, the kids found the product up to their standards, ruling that it warrants their own quality-recognition distinction--the coveted "Sly Fox Award."

"This lean, mean, little cool machine is a functional device that can help you in storms such as tornadoes, hurricanes, flash flood warnings and severe thunder storms," writes one team of reviewers. "This device can help you with all those things FOR A LOW PRICE OF $29.99."

Testing the gadget outdoors
Students test the Weather X Flashlight/Radio outdoors.

Future review products are likely to be a karaoke machine and a flying, remote-controlled helicopter, according to Cover. Manufacturers who would like their goods reviewed by the students can contact Cover via the site. Products can be returned or donated for a student raffle.

But the Arkansas gadget watchers aren't stopping at consumer electronics. As the final step of the reading project, they will use their analytical skills, honed through the review procedures, to analyze scholarship applications. They will then award two, privately funded $500 "Sly Fox Scholarships" to high-school seniors from their school district.

But scholarship applicants best beware. Cover's students have exacting standards.

"The 6th graders who will be evaluating these scholarship applications are ruthless when it comes to checking for grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.," the kids warn on their site. "So, please be sure to edit and proof your application prior to submission."