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Struck by lightning

VIOLENT EARTH. CD-Rom for Mac and PCPounds 49.95 Wayland Multimedia,tel: 01273 722561 for details andfree poster. Age group: 5-plus

No, it isn't another global shoot 'em up game, Violent Earth is a well-constructed resource on the power of natural forces and their influence on people's lives.

You quickly appreciate how important the opening screen of a CD is when you have a class of eager children ready to click anything in sight. Lengthy explanations of menus or obscure icons are guaranteed to dampen their enthusiasm. The learning pathways through this disc are simply displayed by a wheel, each segment leads to a set of structured resources on Floods, Volcanoes, Timelines, Activities and others. Immediately the children are involved with the topics, gathering information, making comparisons or understanding processes.

The subtle way in which the children are guided through each section is clear evidence of teacher involvement in every stage of this CD's development. Each screen is carefully composed with a striking picture or video to capture interest and complementary text to provoke thought.

The technical quality of the film and animations is superb (particularly a tree being split in two by a lightning bolt). The text is well written with a stated reading age of nine and over, and there are no irritating scroll bars with additional text that nobody reads. Both male and female voices are used for narrating blocks of text on screen and navigation is obvious. The children get lost and absorbed in the content rather than the technology.

This attention to educational detail opens the use of the CD-Rom to a wide curriculum audience, not just geography. The English department can use the writing assignments in the Activities section. Budding journalists are given a short quiz to see if they have done enough research to gain a press pass to investigate a natural disaster: a trip to Mexico City to report on the earthquake, or floods in the Mississippi basin. There are eye-witness accounts, film footage of events and many questions to be answered.

Science or technology may want to look at the section on Energy Connections for project work. The CD has a selection of project ideas and poster diagrams which can be printed out - ideally on a colour printer - as supplementary material for use away from the computer.

At first glance Violent Earth looks deceptively simple and perhaps superficial in content but this is undoubtedly because we are conditioned by so many badly-designed CD-Roms. In practice it is an excellent learning resource for children at key stages 2 and 3 and I wouldn't hesitate to use it at key stage 4 as well.

There are a few minor criticisms: having to remember to bookmark a page before going to the glossary otherwise you lose your place; setting the page to landscape before printing otherwise the pages are cut off; and no network version.

But these are minor cavils on what is an excellent first venture into multimedia publishing. Further titles, Habitats 1 and 2 and Exploring Science: Light and Sound will be available later in the year and are to be keenly anticipated.

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