A multimedia feast

16th June 2006 at 01:00
Chris Higgins welcomes a range of adaptable interactive software

Lesson Kits for History

Ages 14-16

An unlimited-user site licence for the Lesson Kit (incorporating the Instant Lesson and Lesson Builder) costs pound;149.95; Tools software starts at Pounds 99.95.

All titles supplied on a 14-day trial basis

www.birchfieldinteractive.com

This is an exciting addition to the range of interactive educational software because, as well as using the ready-made lessons, teachers can personalise activities to the needs of their pupils.

The Lesson Kit for History, for ages 14-16, includes The Depression and the New Deal, and The Rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party - two popular units in the GCSE modern world syllabus.

Students are taken through a series of Instant Lesson presentations, which combine an array of interactive features - video clips, computer-animated charts and voice-over commentaries. At the end of a presentation, they undertake - either individually or on an interactive whiteboard - assessment activities ranging from simple labelling to gap fills or extended writing exercises.

The Birchfield developers have done their research about different styles of learning and the software provides a feast for auditory, visual and kinaesthetic learners. Features include a Photo Zone, a chronology activity, and a "drag and drop" zone - a computerised gap-fill task.

One of the main challenges facing creators of educational software for subjects such as history is how to assess higher-order thinking skills.

"Drag and drop" exercises and multiple choice activities work well for giving immediate feedback on factual knowledge, but as yet there are few e-learning tools that assess more complex thinking. Birchfield's Lesson Kits make a brave first step in this direction with an extended writing zone.

Students are questioned on a series of issues relating to the topics studied in the Instant Lesson presentations. The Rise of Hitler section includes 21 questions ranging from, "What problems did the Weimar Republic face?" to "What was the most important reason for the Nazis rise to power?"

Answers can be saved, printed or sent to the teacher for assessment. When each session ends, students get feedback. This is useful for teachers who are eager to track which students are too "click happy" when it comes to e-learning and race through more focused work to get to the fun quizzes at the end.

Assessment data can be exported to a spreadsheet or printed as hard copies.

Students can even print their own progress certificates with information on topics completed and assessment scores. It would be nice if this assessment software also provided more feedback, for example: "You failed to score highly on the impact of the Wall Street Crash on Weimar Germany. Why not go back to this section of the software or consult this particular website to improve your understanding."

The biggest selling point is the accompanying Lesson Builder software. As well as providing ready-made Instant Lessons on selected topics, the software features a step-by-step guide to creating audio-visual presentations.

The software is extremely user-friendly and within minutes I had created my own mini-sequence of lessons on trench warfare. It can be purchased separately from the Lesson Kit, and used for subjects other than history.

This is an attractive option if, like me, you prefer to create your own resources rather than using sometimes ill-fitting off-the-peg ones.

Chris Higgins teaches history at Invicta Grammar School, Maidstone, Kent

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