Greetings from the Far East

12th March 2004 at 00:00
Ray Fleming and family head for Asia as their travelling education experiment continues

Today, I'm writing on the verge of crossing from the developed world to the developing one. After six months in North America, Australia and New Zealand, we're a day away from getting on a plane to Asia (in case you've missed the plot so far, we're travelling around the world for 12 months as a family, with Charlotte, eight, and Emily, four. Charlotte is missing Year 3 at school, so we're continuing her education with the help of software on our RM Tablet PC, and resources from the internet).

In the last six months we've enjoyed the relative luxury of not having to worry too much about the practicalities of travel - it has always been easy to find accommodation and make travel arrangements. Charlotte's learning has been supported by the computer software, as well as visits to local libraries and a little library of books we carry.

Once in Asia, things will change dramatically - both children will learn huge amounts from the culture and people of the countries we're visiting.

And somehow we have to relate that back to all of the things that Charlotte's classmates will be learning back at home! For Christmas, Charlotte had some new software, which has helped her to do this, both from the BBCSherston partnership.

Where in the world is Barnaby Bear turned into a solid favourite for both of us. It's a multimedia journey to six destinations, four in the United Kingdom, one in Eire and one in India. Each of these has a range of activities associated, including the journey, route-finding with a map, modes of transport, how the landscape is formed, shopping and what there is to see as a tourist. Using the software, Charlotte has absolutely no idea that what she's doing is linked to the key stage 1 curriculum objectives, and is just enjoying it for what it is - a great interactive way to explore places. As she can explore it town by town, or learn a skill (such as map-reading) and then do each of the map-reading exercises for each destination, she has covered everything in the software twice without really realising it. Even though we're not in a classroom, she has enjoyed the way that she can keep an electronic scrapbook to record what she has been doing. Of course, with a class group, pupils each have their own record of what they've done, along with their own typed notes for each activity. Used in the classroom, this would be an excellent CD-Rom, as it is easy to use, engaging, and very easy to select which parts the pupils use each lesson.

Magic Grandad's Seaside Holidays is also themed around a journey, this time through time, with the same holiday compared from the perspective of 1900, 1950 and today. The same rich mix of graphics, video and audio made it engaging to explore, but Charlotte found the interface slightly confusing - she quickly got to the point where she had "done it all", without realising there was so much more to it. In the end, it was something we used together, with me asking questions and providing direction as we went along. If I had been in an IT suite with 15 computers all running it, I'm not sure how I'd have coped. It's clear that more preparation and direction would be needed to get the most from this CD-Rom.

Fizzy's First Numbers was the new CD-Rom for Emily (who's just 4), also from Sherston. Designed to teach the numbers 1-9, it is perfect for Emily, who's just learning them. It has nine different activities, all linked to numeracy objectives, including "Spotty Pants" (matching a set of items to a corresponding numeral), "Hide and Seek" (recognising numerals) and the "Woolly Washer" (conservation of number). However, it became repetitive, and Emily and I were frustrated by the biggest drawback in the software - that you can only learn about one number at a time in the activities. It meant that for each game, for example counting, the same number of items would appear each time to be counted, rather than being varied. Although that must be deliberate, it meant it wasn't easy to see which numbers Emily did and didn't understand. In the end we went back to playing Uno to learn numbers (despite the quoted age range on the box being for six years up).

One benefit of travelling with a Tablet PC is that the girls both find it easier to use than a laptop, because of the stylus and the touch-sensitive screen. Sometimes with a standard PC the mouse can be an obstacle, but they can even use the Tablet PC for drawing and handwriting.

Two months on, Barnaby Bear is still the firm favourite, and Charlotte is still happy to go back over activities again. Let's hope that everything she has learnt will help us to find our way around Asia for the next three months.

The family's travel diary is on the web at www.rfleming.net. Ray can be emailed at all@rfleming.net

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