Questions of race: long legs or short?
Over the past couple of years software developers have started listening to teachers. Gradually they are bringing added value to their products. Br?derbund has led the field with its Teachers' Guides, which have recently been extended to include the Living Books series of CD-Roms, guides that are designed to help teachers integrate software into the curriculum. They are available for titles already "localised" for the British market: Just Grandma and Me, Sheila Rae the Brave and The Tortoise and the Hare.
The first story is based on the best-selling book by Mercer Mayer, is a story about Little Critter and his Grandma's visit to the seaside. The main themes are families, shelter and the sea. Sheila Rae is a brave young mouse, who isn't afraid of anything until one day she gets lost walking home from school. This title gives ample opportunity for work on families and friendship. The third title, The Tortoise and the Hare is a familiar story delivered in a fresh manner with lots of twists.
The teachers guides offer a variety of suggestions for activities with a range of curriculum links. In a busy environment, the materials are a useful resource for teachers, which they can either adapt for their own purposes or use as they stand. Each suggestion is clearly laid out, with objectives and the procedures specified, making the materials easy to follow.
The guides all begin with a set of five articles about ways in which work with the CD-Rom can be integrated into the wider curriculum and classroom organisation generally. The first chapter looks at themes and topics and gives an example of how children can explore the theme of shelter through the Living Books. Other chapters give advice on exploring writing styles and the works of authors. There follows a page of technical tips and tricks for teachers, which gives advice on keyboard commands and importing screen captures into other programs. There are also reading lists which will help teachers to explore both the general professional issues and the themes raised by the CD-Roms.
These initial chapters are identical whichever Living Book you buy, but there is also a wealth of ideas and suggestions for using the titles in the curriculum that are unique to a particular title. In each Teachers' Guide there is a large collection of specific activities which have been clearly laid out, with photocopiable activity sheets. These activities extend well away from the use of the computer. The guide for Just Grandma and Me, which features children playing on the beach, suggests that children make useful and decorative articles inspired from natural and man-made materials found on the beach. For The Tortoise and the Hare, an activity compares the suitability of long legs or short legs for races, which leads on to a measuring activity for children.
While these materials are excellent in content, I have a small but important gripe. They come boxed, in a ringbinder, but the paper quality is thin and liable to tear. And the CD-Roms don't come in a hard case, which means they can be damaged very easily. It would be advisable to photocopy the activity sheets on to card, as soon as you get them.
The guides will save time and enable these titles to be fully integrated into the curriculum. Hopefully, more publishers will follow suit.