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Smart software gets to the kids

NEARLY seven out of 10 Aberdeen teachers involved in SuccessMaker and RM Maths programs agree the software adds breadth and depth to the curriculum.

"The best results appear to come - unsurprisingly - where the use of ILS (integrated learning systems) software is planned as part of an overall provision," Roddy Stuart, the city's ICT consultant, says.

The majority of teachers (62.5 per cent) accept that it is too early to be clear about any improvement to test results. However, they believe integrated learning systems improve motivation. Pupils work hard and keep trying where they might otherwise give up on basic work in English and maths. They like the sense of achievement involved in the interactive courses.

One teacher told the researchers: "It's like having another assistant in the classroom. It forces concentration on a task - for 20 minutes the computer directs their work."

Just over half (52 per cent) agree the software supplements existing teaching and most were enthusiastic about the way the software breaks down learning into appropriate elements. They liked the intervention, support and praise offered through the package.

Some found noticeable improvements in spelling at Standard grade after using SuccessMaker; some said it confirmed when to submit pupils for national tests; others that it helped faster children to become more independent learners.

In contrast, some said it was never straightforward to isolate the ILS systems from the impact of other developments.

One teacher added: "RM Maths and SuccessMaker are allowing children to focus their attention on one activity without outside distractions. These children experience particular difficulty in those aspects of their learning both in school and in the home environment. In an area of deprivation like this, ILS is one of the solutions to the problem of poor and limited experience."

But a number of teachers were "completely baffled" by the flow of information from SuccessMaker for recording and reporting and most schools were unaware of the "mapping" results against 5-14 levels. RM Maths was found to be more user-friendly.

Introducing the system is not without technical difficulties and a general impression of those who had no outside assistance was that it was "less than a blissfully straightforward experience". There were problems with networks, the time involved in installation, uncertainties about the American accents and disappearing sound.

One teacher said: "Managing and timetabling SuccessMaker can be a nightmare if you are not full-time in a school. It can be difficult to choose an appropriate location when there is only one machine."

"Aberdeen Schools ILS Investigation, December 2002" is available on the city council's education website.

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