More fair than fowl

7th November 2003 at 00:00
Flashy Ducks

Reception and key stage 1 maths

PCMac CD-Rom (Teacher and Children's versions)

Price: pound;150 ex VAT (full site licence and full home licence)

DoulbestruckQCA

0870 9000 402

www.flashyducks.co.uk

Fitness for purpose *****

Ease of use ****

Features ****

Quality ****

Value for money *****

Flashy Ducks? It may sound like a program about wildfowl with attitude, but Flashy Ducks is the second title to be produced by Doublestruck in association with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), following on from the well-received Testbase CD-Rom.

The aim of this program is to provide teachers with computer-based versions of the QCA's national test assessment materials for maths that can be used for teaching, learning and assessment.

The first thing to say is hats off to Doublestruck for coming up with a simple licensing system that really does offer schools excellent value for money. For the price of several single-user CD-Roms you receive a full site licence, allowing Flashy Ducks to be installed on as many machines as you want. It also includes five copies of the children's version and there are no limits on the number of computers you can put this on either.

Another thing teachers will like is the high degree of flexibility this title offers. It can be used for whole group work with an interactive whiteboard, for small-group work with several pupils gathered around a machine, or for individual work on a home or classroom computer. You can even print out activities. There's also much scope for customisation, and installation and set-up are quick and simple. The overall design is clean, clear and uncluttered.

The Teacher's disc contains all the content plus tools for preparing materials.

The teacher's screen is divided into three main sections. On the left is the resources menu, where users can access a full list of topics (such as shapes, time, money, addition and number sequencing) or they can select items by specific topic or the numeracy strategy. Flashy Ducks uses a drop-down menu system that will be familiar to anyone who has ever used the Start menu on a Windows PC.

Once you've got your list of topics, you then choose the activities. There are four main types: learning resources which can be used to support teaching, test questions, randomly-generated questions targeted at expected levels within Year 1 and Year 2, and variable questions, which allow teachers to adapt the test questions, for example by adjusting values.

Once you have chosen your activities, you just drag and drop them into the "My Selection" box. Here, you can preview the activities in a large window, print them out or save them to disk (as a ".duk" file). A nice touch is the inclusion of ideas for extension activities, including puzzles.

Children will enjoy using this program. The screens are full of are large, bright, colourful graphics. Text is kept to a minimum and most tasks simply involve dragging and dropping items or typing in values. Children can also click on a duck icon to see whether they have got the correct answer (you get a happy quack if it's right and a noisy one if you don't), The duck also uses speech bubbles to instruct users, for example, to try again or seek help. The computer automatically marks the pupils' tasks and a report is generated which tells the teacher what topics the child looked at, the tasks they did and their results.

Whenever a program is designed for young children it's tempting to use lots of multimedia, but the developers of this title have eschewed flash for friendliness and function. So there are no whizzy (and distracting) animations and sound is kept to a minimum. Spoken text would have helped some children, but this title is so easy to use that most pupils would have few problems once their teacher had demonstrated how to use it.

The Children's disc contains the topics, which can only be accessed by entering a code, allowing the teacher to control the learning at home as well in school. Work can be supplied to children as a .duk file saved on a floppy disk or even emailed to the child at home. Teachers could also use this facility for preparing materials at home. Anyone who has used Testbase will know what a great time-saver it is and appreciate its versatility and flexibility. This program offers more of the same and is highly recommended.

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