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Cat's got the cream;Hands on

Two programs specifically designed for classroom use come under scrutiny from Chris Drage as he evaluates their merits.

Number Box

This is a spreadsheet program that follows the same concept as its sister program, the word processor Write Away! - it is designed specifically for classroom use and not the office, making it an everyday computer tool which is exciting and easy to use. Such is the functionality of Number Box with its different levels, suitable for different pupils and abilities, you can use it successfully from key stages 1 to 3. Spreadsheets are certainly easily introduced with this program.

The use of Quick Sheets makes the development of powerful spreadsheets particularly easy, so pupils can quickly start entering their own data. Just by choosing a topic, answering a few questions or choosing from a range of options, Number Box will create a spreadsheet ready for the pupils to enter the results of their survey or experiment.

Once the pupils have entered their information they can use the Quick Sum tool to analyse the data by showing the minimum and maximum numbers or calculating the average, median or mode. For younger or inexperienced pupils this can be done automatically, while the older or more experienced pupils can use formulae in the traditional way of spreadsheets.

Number Box is the educational spreadsheet for Windows. I like its ability to dive straight in and make a sheet through its range of Quick Sheets. Similarly, I like the wide range of easy-to-produce graphs and the way it operates at different levels for different pupils and abilities. It offers an easy introduction to the concept of functions including, minimum, maximum, average and mode. Also you can import work from other BlackCat programs such as First Workshop and Information Workshop. Number Box is one of the best introductory spreadsheet programs to date.

Write Away!

Contained within Write Away! are a wide range of tools designed to develop and encourage pupils in their writing: an option to use simple dialogs that have been designed for younger pupils, a writing planner, simple spelling checker, even a word game to reinforce correct spelling. The program can be run at different (colour) levels to suit specific ages and abilities.

It is also possible for a level to be created for individual pupils or groups. This is no "Noddy" word processor - all the tools a child is likely to need are there making Write Away! an attractive tool for a primary school to use right through key stages 1-2.

The teacher has a large amount of control to build topic banks of words, and add or remove features and fonts. The built-in word banks and ability for each child to create their own word books, and the writing planner make it particularly suitable for literacy work.

Write Away! has other attributes like the writing planner and notepad features. In the end it comes down to a suck-it-and-see situation. You can obtain inspection copies if necessary and try before you buy.

Number Box and Write Away!

Price: pound;95+VAT from BlackCat Educational Software

Tel: 01874 622114

www.blackcatsoftware.com

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