Instant improvement

30th June 2006 at 01:00
Lesson Kits for Design Technology and Food Technology

Various titles at pound;149.95 each (eLC approved)

Windows PC DVD-Rom format, unlimited user site licence.

Birchfield Interacative

Founded less than 10 years ago, Birchfield has already released more than 250 educational packages on CD and DVD aimed at pupils aged 3 to 18 across a wide range of subjects.

Earlier this year, they launched their Lesson Kits for Design Technology on DVD-Rom. Each title in the Lesson Kit range has three sections: instant lessons, providing ready-made interactive learning modules; lesson builder, which teachers can use to create their own interactive lessons; and the assessment tool which monitors pupils'

progress through the modules. Described as suitable for 14-18 years, the kits are targeted at GCSE and are mapped to the AQA, OCR, Edexel and WJEC syllabuses.

Installation is straightforward, with clear instructions for express installation on a single PC or a more elaborate procedure for network managers. Lesson Kits require both Quicktime and Windows Media Player to be installed; the installation procedure will pause and allow you to download and install either if you don't have them already.

The instant lessons use a combination of 3D animation, music, narration and interactive tests. They are at their best when students can work through them individually, learning, testing themselves and revising as necessary, but can also be used for group work via a projector. For maximum portability the lessons can be exported in PowerPoint (.ppt) format for screening or printing worksheets. The combination of still pictures, animations and text - which is narrated as well as appearing on screen - should ensure that even students with poor language abilities get the message.

Lessons can be run either with or without assessment. With assessment is intended for individual work. Quick-fire multiple choice tests and "click and drag" word games follow each short section giving pupils instant feedback and providing evidence for the teacher that the pupil has done the work. There is even an indication of the time taken, to check that students are sticking to the set task even when you are not standing over them.

Reports and charts of students' individual performance or that of groups and year groups can be printed.

The without assessment mode is better suited to whole-group work with questions which invite a "hands-up" response from the class.

The content is generally good and suitable for the age range, though some more attention to detail in the editing could have made it even better. I was particularly amused to see that the texture of sharks' skins makes them more "aerodynamic" and found some of the explanations in Mechanisms and Structures rather confusing. Teachers who think they can do better or wish to tailor lessons to suit their teaching style can use the Lesson Builder part of the package.

Lesson Builder has a four-part screen with a browser to find resources, a resource preview pane, a My Lesson pane where your lesson is assembled, and a text editor for captions. All the resources used in the instant lessons are available to you, and you can import your own media clips in Apple's Quicktime movie format or Windows Media AudioVideo format.

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