Feel-good factor for fabric

17th March 2006 at 00:00
Simon Smith recommends a series of interactive lesson kits


FIBRES AND FABRICS. PROPERTIES OF MATERIALS. Birchfield, pound;149.95 each. www.birchfield.co.uk

Teaching the properties of materials can be an uphill struggle, but the computer-based resources in this series give the topic an attractive makeover. These CD-Roms provide a set of fully integrated activities for class or individual learning situations, with a knowledge base that combines technical knowhow with contextual photos and animations.

The text gets straight to the point, edited down to bare essentials.

Everything on screen is clear, colourful and accessible for the older secondary pupils at whom the resources are aimed. Stunning pictures illustrate the materials and animations make the processes clear - even captivating.

Each topic on the main menu has a set of interactive quizzes and word searches, introducing an element of competition. The teachers' section provides notes on using the interactive games and suggestions for managing the software in different teaching situations. The customised worksheets can be printed out and followed up in class or as homework, and the extended questions demand a written response.

Properties of Materials uses the brilliant idea of rewarding students with the chance to make a video. As they work through the questions in the mega-quiz section, they can make choices about the kind of video they want to make. First they choose a few clips from a menu of visual clips.

Then they choose a soundtrack and finally they get to insert their own messages. I was disappointed to see that the video became an animated pop video rather than anything that related to product design, but there can be no argument with the motivational value of do-it-yourself movie-making.

Both CD-Roms have features that are very suitable for interactive whiteboards. A mask feature enables teachers to control what part of the screen pupils see first, and in a drag-and-drop section they fill in blanks to complete a series of sentences.

An important feature of the series is the assessment section, which allows teachers to analyse pupils' performance on the various quizzes and word games. While students might feel they are playing computer games, their teachers can be monitoring the learning process and reviewing their attainment at every stage.

Simon Smith is head of design technology at Colfe's School, London borough of Lewisham

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