Power of the Force;Hands on

10th September 1999 at 01:00
Police simulation Language In Evidence allows pupils to play at being Inspector Morse while honing analysis and comprehension skills. 'Ello, 'ello, what's all this, then? asks Chris Davis

Children have always been fascinated by the police. Crime-based series abound on television and children love them. So a learning tool that allows pupils to be part of the story and investigating a case, make decisions, collect evidence, interview suspects, search for information, even make arrests seems a sure-fire hit.

Enter Cambridgeshire Software House, a firm renowned for its excellent simulation software. It has brought up to date Language In Evidence, one of its most popular products. Designed for group-based class work, the program can be incorporated into the literacy hour and has tips on how to do this.

After allocating children to departments (control room, CID or dog patrol for example), the teacher issues the Pupil Briefing Packs and goes through them carefully with the class; they detail the workings of the simulation and provide tips on how best to tackle, record and follow up the various activities in which pupils will be engaged.

The teacher then needs to load a scenario. The program offers 23 pre-programmed situations, which give the teacher the advantage of knowing what is going to happen. This is certainly a sensible way to begin, since monitoring each group's involvement and progress is simpler when you've already thought through a situation. The alternative is to allow the software to generate incidents and cases at random - more realistic perhaps and far more challenging but impossible to plan and more difficult to manage.

The control room group is crucial. It receives the first indication of a crime committed around the town via a text message on its screen. The group must then decide how to tackle it. It can choose to deal with the incident itself or can allocate it to a specific - and hopefully appropriate - department. The prepared scenarios are designed to involve all departments quickly so no group is left waiting for action for too long.

Once working on a case, a group is able to travel around the simulated town looking for witnesses, suspects, clues and evidence. It can call on other departments to help and consult the computer for information such as personal details, criminal records and vehicle identification. Pupils are encouraged to keep a running record of their progress and to notify the chief constable whenever they have anything significant to report.

The motivation such role-play inspires has to be seen to be believed. Children read rapidly but analytically and with avid attention to the text. And they almost subliminally develop and apply the high-level comprehension skills vital in the days of the Internet but problematic to teach. They will synthesise and analyse, record and report, disseminate and communicate, all while having fun.

The program also includes a simulation of the Internet and simulated e-mails allow groups to share information and keep the chief constable (the teacher) up to speed. These elements alone make this a worthwhile investment - Language In Evidence provides all you need to teach children to use e-mail and the Internet before you let them loose on the real thing - but thrown in with the excellent graphics and animations they make an already excellent package unbeatable.

Language In Evidence CD-Rom for PC Price: pound;49.95 Cambridgeshire Software House Tel: 01487 741223

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