Learn to harness the wind

27th June 1997 at 01:00
LAND USE. CD-Rom for Multimedia PCs, Pounds 49.95 ex VAT, Matrix Multimedia, 10 Hey Street, Bradford BD7 1DQ. Tel: 01274 730808.

WEATHER WORLD DISAPPEARING WORLD. CD-Roms for Multimedia PCAcorn, Pounds 59.99 ex VAT, and Multimedia PC only. Pounds 34 ex VAT (both include site licence), YITM, Television Centre, Kirkstall Road, Leeds LS3 1JS Tel: 0113 243 82830161 627 4469.

There's a story (maybe it's true) of a primary head who thought the word "million" had little value. Her students had no sense of Pounds 1 million or a million starving people. Dividing the task up among the classes, she produced a pile of a million pieces of paper, which, by all accounts, produced quite an impact in the school hall. The dustmen, however, were not impressed.

The moral of the tale? There's no moral, just a reminder of the resource that exists in schools . . . something that the Ordnance Survey and the Geographical Association are clearly aware of. In 1996 the OS and GA jointly mobilised hundreds of schools throughout Britain to carry out a comprehensive survey of land use across Britain. With 19 categories to work with, the students produced a remarkable record of what the surface of our land is actually covered with. This Land Use CD-Rom is one result of that exercise.

Using Staffordshire as the "case-study", the CD-Rom enables comparison between aerial photographs, OS maps and the students' land-use maps (coloured on a blank OS version). In addition, there are complementary statistics, providing percentages for each type of land use. Although this information is interesting, the CD-Rom is essentially valuable as a tool for developing geographical skills, in particular the comparative analysis of location and land use.

Users can switch between areas and scales very easily. There are on-screen reminders of the key, scale and location of each map, and a range of exercises examining land-use conflict and change. The publishers recommend that the maps can be used as a basis for comparison with a school's own locality.

In cartographical terms, Land Use appears to be fully utilising the potential of the CD-Rom format. A wealth of information of differing types is stored for simple, side-by-side accessing and on-screen comparison. Like other products from Matrix, it is well thought-out, carefully targeted and sensibly priced.

Weather World and Disappearing World are for approximately the same market area as Land Use. There the comparison falters. These are from the all-singing, all-dancing school of CD-Roms, with video and audio clips, plenty of variety in presentation, and opportunities for student interaction.

The producers of Weather World have obviously thought about a new point of entry for this much-studied topic, and have come up with an interesting, though not very realistic, concept. The weather world of the title is a virtual weather control station where you, the student, can alter the weather in six simulations - including preventing a hurricane from disrupting the America's Cup, creating the conditions to halt forest fires and producing fog in the English Channel to cancelling a school sailing trip! It's good fun and can be quite thrilling to work against the virtual clock. The important point, of course, is to learn some lessons along the way. This will depend upon the teaching. There is always a danger that the result will become the important factor, not the method.

To help learning, the simulations are supported by excellent texts and illustrations to describe the weather in a more traditional form, with some interesting annotations helping the explanation. It's all there - it's just a case of how you use it.

Disappearing World is based on Granada Television's much acclaimed series of the same name. Not surprisingly, video clips are at the heart of the product, which invites comparison between peoples as far apart as the mountain-dwelling Basques in southwest France and Lau islanders from the South Pacific, and as different as the forest farmers (the Mende) in Sierra Leone and pig herders (the Kawelka) in Papua New Guinea.

The ability to compare under a range of topic headings creates a social context in which to enjoy the 80 minutes of video and 250 photographs. Disappearing World is not going to fill up hours (even many minutes) of core curriculum time, but it's a fascinating publication and well worth using.

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