This green and pleasant land

27th June 2003 at 01:00
History Topic Box series CD-Rom and Teacher Guide

Battle of Hastings Peasant's Revolt Thomas Becket Medieval Monarchs By Phil Smith pound;59.95 each + pound;10.49 VAT Folens Publishers

Phil Smith's multimedia enquiries provide a good starting point for anyone wishing to use ICT with Year 7 classes; the CD-Roms are easy to navigate and the tasks for the most part straightforward. Basic ICT knowledge and skills are required to complete activities, chiefly composed of Word or Publisher documents, basic PowerPoint slides and Excel spreadsheets. The complexity of sources varies, catering for both higher and lower-attaining pupils and the few video clips provided with each CD-Rom add stimulus and clarity. The teacher booklets that accompany the CDs give useful notes on the aims and suggested teaching methods surrounding each enquiry, as well as the ICT and history levels being attained. The tasks in themselves are mainly analysing evidence presented. This concentration on the evaluation of interpretations would be ideal for someone wishing to incorporate ICT into group work to promote debate, engaging pupils in class discussion.

The CD-Roms work well when networked and provide activities that pupils can work through with as much or as little teacher involvement as is deemed necessary - although my pupils needed a fair amount of guidance. The tasks build up knowledge and understanding as they proceed - leading to a final summation, which can be word processed or presented through PowerPoint.

Instructions are clear, and worksheets and stimulus material are also conveniently provided in photocopiable format making each Topic Box a useful resource for non-specialists and supply staff as well as subject specialists who may have to move between an ICT suite and day-to-day teaching room.

The enquiries promote the use of key historical and ICT skills, yet I felt that those teachers who may expect innovative graphical presentation and multiple interactive tasks may be disappointed. The format tends to be word-driven and the font itself is uninspiring - it doesn't vary in style or size unless modified by the teacher. There is a lack of backgrounds and graphics even on the PowerPoint slides, leaving both worksheets and presentations rather lacking in impact. The few sound effects included for PowerPoint use could help to lift pupil enthusiasm for that final piece of work, but the Extras section often seems limited (in the case of Thomas Becket consisting of a blank Word document simply entitled Scrap Pad).

Departments which already have good source material, and teachers and pupils who are confident in their use of PowerPoint, Publisher and Word may, as Folens states, have to use this series as a template to build in their own resources, skills and ideas.

Martin Williams is head of history at St Cenydd School in Caerphilly; and Secondary School Teacher of the Year, 2002 Teaching Awards

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