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Pharaoh tales can come true

Your class can bring history to life - well, virtually. Reva Klein reports on child-made software

You'll find a number of interesting choices on the menu of the homemade CD-Rom on ancient Egypt produced by Year 5 and 6 children at Laburnum primary school, Hackney: subjects such as 'The Red Sea', 'Mummies' and 'Aswan'. I click on the latter and from there choose 'The Daily Pharaoh' because I like Pharaoh's hairdo in the icon.

More choices. How can I resist 'Cleopatra Comin' At Ya?' Under the shock-horror headline, 'Sister Marries Brother!' - and a vibrant painting of the Queen of the Nile - we get the whole scandalous story: 18-year-old Cleopatra has married her 10-year-old brother Ptolemy.

I'm desperate to know what the locals think, so I click on 'Hear the Gossip' and listen to girls' voices that could have come from EastEnders:

"Ooh my gosh, did she really marry her brother?" "Oh my God, this was ancient Egypt!" Experiencing, this witty - and occasionally informative - CD, it was no surprise to discover that it recently won a National Education Multi-Media Award.

Egypt is just one of nine subjects on a history CD-Rom, Trails in Time, produced by primary schoolchildren in the London borough of Hackney, part of a project started by Vivi Lachs, the borough information and communication technology advisory teacher.

Her post, funded by an Urban Regeneration grant, allows Vivi to work in nine primary and two secondary schools in the borough, encouraging teachers to use computers creatively by spearheading subject-based, multi-media projects.

The idea for the CD-Rom came from her belief that "because history is a very linear subject, multi-media offers the opportunity to deliver information in a different structure; all the children can be looking at different aspects of history". Other schools did multi-media projects on the ancient Greeks, the Vikings and the Tudors.

Vivi is a proselytiser for the motivational power multi-media authoring gives to children. "Because it involves drawings, textures and sounds as well as words, all children can be involved, no matter what their mother tongue or their academic ability."

A key component of these projects is Vivi's collaboration with teachers. She meets them to discuss how multi-media can be integrated into the curriculum and then brings in an artist to work out, with the teacher, the media through which to create different images - the history project used paintings, drawings, tapestry and collages.

Next she works with the class and teachers on what a computer program is and how to illustrate the subject, as well as what the text should be. The software she uses, HyperStudio, has a number of screens that you link together, which allows the "authors" to include texts, photographs and artwork.

Most teachers are beginners in multi-media, but Vivi says: "They take on all the responsibility after they see the model I've suggested."

Children love the empowerment the production work gives them, motivating them to research and discuss the project and work co-operatively.

Vivi says it offers them something they don't get from books or worksheets. "Because they're experimenting and creating something new, the information they acquire becomes more ingrained in their minds than what's presented to them through other materials. They're learning from the experience of finding things out, even by making mistakes."

Trails in Time (Pounds 10) from Vivi Lachs, 0171-923 4592, or e-mail HyperStudio (from Pounds 99.95), from Tag Developments, 01474 357350

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