Life in Sapientum on five aureii a day

ROMANS CD-Rom for Acorn, Apple Mac and Windows PCs;Pounds 40 exc VAT SCA (Anglia Television), PO Box 18, Benfleet, Essex SS7 1AZ. INVADERS AND SETTLERS IN BRITAIN: THE ROMANS CD-Rom for WindowsPounds 39Ablac Learning Works, Newton Abbot, Devon TQ12 2BP.

Anglia has produced an adventure-type program set in a fictional, provincial town of Sapientum in Roman Britain. The CD is packed with detailed pictures, videos and animations to introduce life in Britain in Roman times. Before you can settle in Sapientum as a citizen, you have to register with the town magistrate in the Forum and choose a job from those offered. You have to identify the tools of the trade you require and find out as much as you can about the job and everyday life in the Roman town. You're told your task when the magistrate registers you. You're given five aureii to spend to help get you started, then off you go, exploring the town and talking to Romans you meet on the way. Once the pupil convinces the magistrate that she has earned the right, then citizenship is granted and the adventure ends.

There is a tremendous amount of information about the Roman way of life buried in this CD with expert help at hand to offer modern explanations. It is packed with historical facts and images, information and background material. It is the high-quality photographic images which set this adventure apart from most - almost virtual reality but without animation On the downside, children find navigating this CD-Rom a little strange at first. The map of Sapientum is not entirely clear and I would have preferred a more detailed, possibly illustrated, map.

This is an excellent resource for older primary pupils, although getting all your class through it in one term will prove difficult.

Ablac's The Romans takes a quite different approach, being more like a traditional illustrated history book. It claims to be structured specifically to meet the requirements of key stage 2 and should stimulate exploration and discovery of every aspect of the Roman occupation of Britain.

What makes this resource unique is the three progressive, colour-coded levels which cater for children of different abilities, thus providing a degree of differentiation within an age group. Children navigate via buttons and icons with (sensibly) only one screen being open at any one time. There's a timeline, puzzle section and reference shelf which lists suitable reference books. Unfortunately, some of the speech on this CD is very wooden and uninspiring and the overall approach has been to present a "reference book" on CD-Rom. Why not just publish the printed book?

More seriously, the Ablac software ran abysmally on my RM Multimedia Window Box 5 computer. Multiple mouse clicks threw the software completely out of synchronisation, or put it into a continuous loop between two screens. Speech, too, was seriously affected just by moving the mouse when it was playing. Often the problem was serious enough to warrant resetting the computer completely. With Ablac's The Romans it really is a case of try-before-you-buy.

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