By Vivi Lachs
Books on computers have a notoriously short shelf life, so anything that inspires and provides practical steps for implementation in the classroom is a boon. Here we have a 200-page book with CD-Rom (for PC and Mac) featuring students' multimedia work. Aimed at primary and secondary teachers, the book aims to get pupils to use the multimedia tools themselves - as a means to an end.
Multimedia comprises images, animation and sound and is interactive, so the reader can choose the end of the story or opt to zoom into a diagram. Pupils can easily create such presentations in word-processing or authoring packages, and this book aims to persuade children to take part in meaningful learning that includes ICT along the way.
It is a pity the book has not been designed with any great imagination, but persevere as the content is good and has the hard-pressed teacher in mind. I particularly like the way most chapters are presented in three sections: "thinking about" offering the theory; examples of classroom practice from the perspective of teacher and student; and "in practice", which provides practical advice.
Although you can dip into this book, it does follow a logical progression, from chapters on planning a project as part of the curriculum (including English, drama, science, history and geography) through group work and space allocation, to dealing with an audience, screen design, interactivity, collecting information, criticism, evaluation and assessment.
Each project is given a focus, curriculum area, age group and group structure with information on the number of computers - a computer suite is not assumed - time needed and audience. These are real projects dealing with everyday issues and will enable the ICT-wary to feel a little more confident about letting children loose on creating a multimedia presentation with simple tools and little ICT experience. In practice, children and teachers say the experience has consolidated their understanding while allowing them to practise ICT skills. As one Year 5 pupil says: "You're learning science and get to learn to do animation, like learning two things at once."
But for these teachers the chapter on "choosing software and resources" is a cop-out. If you have never worked with multimedia before, you need solid advice on which packages to use and why. True, this would date the book, but advice on what to look for when buying such authoring packages and hardware only goes so far. Lachs also touches on web authoring but wisely doesn't attempt to cover it in full - this is a subject for another book.
Advice for the real classroom is definitely this book's strong suit, with information on gender-grouping, children with English as an additional language and students with special needs. This book is not just for ICT-specific lessons - the computer, and multimedia in particular, are seen as empowering tools to be used throughout the curriculum. But Lachs manages to stop short of becoming too much an author with a mission and keeps the approach practical.
Pam Turnball is ICT and science co-ordinator at the Heys primary school, Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire