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As the CD-Rom revolution gets underway, Tes reviewers test out materials for junior science and secondary biology. Government initiative, coupled with falling prices, is sending computers with CD-Rom drives into many primary schools. Software producers and traditional publishers have been slow to react to this growing market, with most CD-Roms aimed at older children and adults.
One of the leaders in the field has been Anglia Television. Its latest CD-Rom aimed at late juniors science, Garden Wildlife, is about the common animals found in gardens and parks throughout the British Isles. The material is split into sections accessed from a picture of a stylised town. Clicking on a building or area in the town takes the child to that section.
One of the strengths of a quality CD-Rom is that it gives learners the opportunity to control their own learning. This can be achieved in many ways but, for young learners, a simple interface which draws children's attention is the best. This is achieved with simplicity and thought when "entering" the garden and park areas. Both present the opportunity to browse and find animals in the flower beds or the pond, on the path and crawling across walls.
Each animal found has a full-screen photograph with some text at the appropriate age level and is often accompanied by sound or a movie illustrating particular points. Of course, different animals are to be found at night. By clicking on the sun, children are able to switch the time of day and begin exploring again.
This does not mean that children do not receive guidance. Entering the town's library enables them to learn about animal groups, browse a wildlife booklist, use a wildlife database and take part in a quiz. Teachers can only be impressed with Garden Wildlife's straightforward approach: carefully chosen wording and short sentences. Difficult or technical words are glossaried, and by clicking on them a definition appears. The library database sub-divides its 135 animals into appropriate categories; many entries contain sound and movie clips as well as text.
A unique and popular feature of Garden Wildlife is its animal identifier. Go into Mike's house and he will ask you questions about animals you might have seen in the park or garden in order to help you identify them. Drawing on the database, his questions reinforce the simple animal classification in the library section. Whether used as a serious tool, or simply to try and catch him out, nine-year-olds love it. The final "building" in the town is the cinema where you can "view" any of the 40 movie clips in the presentation.
Significantly, Garden Wildlife is centred not just on the computer. Teachers will find the activity sheets provided elsewhere on the CD-Rom an excellent resource when coming to organising the whole topic.
CD-Rom technology provides many opportunities for children to learn in exciting ways. The curriculum demands that children use and develop skills that make them more and more autonomous users of IT. Garden Wildlife not only provides appropriate subject content in a carefully chosen learning environment, but should they wish to extract any information they can do so quickly and easily for incorporation into their own word-processing or other IT work. If you have a CD-Rom drive or are about to get one this should be on your shopping list.