28th April 1995 at 01:00
When headteacher Jane Carson heard of the Government-backed, Pounds 4. 5 million initiative to introduce CD-Roms into primary schools, she jumped at the opportunity.

The scheme, managed by the National Council for Educational Technology, has now been extended for a second year at a cost of Pounds 5 million, bringing multimedia technology, using Apple, Acorn, or PC-compatible equipment, to nearly one-third of England's primaries.

CD-Rom (compact disc read-only memory) looks the same as the domestic audio CD but it can store text, sound, graphics, animation, even moving video - a potent blend known as multimedia. Adapted for electronic publishing and computers, CD-Roms have become an invaluable resource to the participating schools.

Anne Sparrowhawk, NCET fieldworker, visited 55 schools involved in the scheme and discovered they fell into two camps: "There are those who see CD-Roms as offering a wealth of information with which to augment the printed material available, and those who see the need to develop the children's use of technology.

"Few schools talked about both of these issues, and whether schools focused on content or on skills significantly affected the ways they encouraged children to use the machine."

Roselands junior mixed infants school in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, is one of those schools concentrating on both areas, according to headteacher Jane Carson.

A multimedia computer was installed 18 months ago and its cross-curricular nature and versatility has proved irresistible to pupils and teachers alike.

The NCET computer and complementary pack of CD-Roms has been in constant use at the 210-pupil school since its arrival, enhancing the learning skills of even the youngest pupils.

The school's classrooms and corridors are covered in topic work on the human body, Ancient Greeks, and music, much of it produced using multimedia technology and incorporating stylish graphics and text.

Roselands has a dedicated, cross-curricular approach to IT and two computers per classroom, where pupils learn how to do word-processing, graphics, Logo, and data handling. Two terminals are installed in its open-plan hall for use by pupils of all ages.

The range of topic work involving multimedia has been extensive. Last year the oldest pupils did some "authoring" - creating their own stories on screen with text, sound and graphics, and there are plans for more writing in the future.

Mrs Carson says: "Even the slowest child can achieve using multimedia. It can take the brighter ones further and challenge them and give success to the slower learner.

"We feel the initiative has really opened doors. It has helped provide us with extra materials and given us the chance to evaluate the kind of materials which are around. But there is quite a gap in the market for those with the right vocabulary which tie into national curriculum topic work."

Pupils work in rota in pairs or small groups of differing ages, a form of mentoring that encourages collaboration.

Three pupils from different year groups aged five and six were scouring My first incredible amazing dictionary, a CD-Rom produced by Dorling Kindersley. They were captivated by the sound and images of insects produced on the screen by clicking the mouse.

When Joshua, a five-year-old reception pupil, had problems using the mouse to select "p" for plant he was helped and encouraged by Scott, a year 2 pupil, 18 months his senior.

By the end of their 10-minute session the boys had successfully located "t" for tree, "f" for flower, and "i" for insect, and answered questions about them on the screen.

"You would not think an infant of five would recognise the word insect, but they only have to look for the first two letters and the rest follows," Mrs Carson explains.

Finding paintings that depicted food, the latest topic for 11-year-olds Beverley Wilson and Gemma Alderton, proved no problem.

Within minutes they had used their IT skills to enter the National Art Gallery CD-Rom, found still lifes by a variety of artists including Andrieu and Ian Van Os, and selected and printed them out as a graphic with text. "I enjoy using CD-Roms very much - it is more interesting than looking through text books, " says Gemma.

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