Rewarded by a sound investment

8th March 1996 at 00:00
Judges in the primary section of the Resources Awards found a clear winner, as Jon O'Connor reports.


The Music Show. Channel 4.

The continual re-writing of the national curriculum has meant seven years of confusion for the educational resources industry, with many publishers and teachers reverting to caution in the classroom. But not everyone. The TES's Resources Awards threw down a challenge: could educational publishers come up with an exciting and innovative package of materials which would draw the best out of all the available technologies?

Judging the competition offered an insight into the mundane, the curious and the visionary. There was, however, one obvious and outstanding winner in the primary category: The Music Show from Channel 4. With a video by Terry Braun at Illuminations (Pounds 19.95), a CD-Rom by Andy McKeown of Shropshire Information Support Services (Pounds 19.99), a teacher's guide by Christine Alford at the Educational Television Company (Pounds 3.95), and an activity book by Clive Kempton, published by Southgate (Pounds 9.99), it did all we were hoping for and more. This package will excite and inspire the specialist and non-specialist, pupil and teacher.

The production standards are stunning, using the best mix of text, graphics and animations to focus on the theme. The video offers music workshops with performers as diverse as Evelyn Glennie, Yehudi Menuhin and Jazzie B. Add to their star quality a completely original use of computer graphics to recreate visually the shape of a melody, the size and rhythm of a pulse beat, or the patterns that go to make a harmony, and your eyes are literally opened through a new type of music education.

With the accompanying CD-Rom children have the chance to consider concepts at their own pace, revisiting the video material, and experimenting with basic composition. Click on melody on the menu, and you're into the Yehudi Menuhin workshop, with the maestro explaining the shape of a tune to a small group of children; highlight a paragraph of the scrolling transcript and he'll run through that bit again. Listen to the tune and watch the shape weave a line across the screen.

One of the runners-up also featured CD-Rom. How We Used To Live has served generations of pupils through school TV for more than a quarter of a century, but it can still adapt to new technologies. The current term's topic, The Victorians, is vividly brought to life using video, CD-Rom and teachers' support materials with a wide range of curriculum potential (CD-Rom Pounds 79.99, video Pounds 60, plus VAT).

The film offers a good drama-documentary, with strong characters who manage to represent their time without being stereotypes. The CD-Rom again scores highly with a selection of data that is well organised and accessible from various angles of enquiry. Character biographies, the history of navvying and the story of the emerging railways can all be traced from simple indexes, icons or from the relevant point on a timeline.

The other runner-up was the Oxford Reading Tree (Oxford University Press) for Stage 3 More Stories, a series of reading books, story tapes and floppy discs (six books Pounds 7.80, software Pounds 40, tapes Pounds 46.30, plus VAT). This product shows the value of continuous development and how the new technologies can exploit the full range of learning, using eyes and ears, at the early stages of reading development. The original story books offer soap opera characters with child appeal, plus nicely-designed text and illustrations. The core material translates well into much fuller stories on tape, while the software offers children an enjoyable way of following the stories at their own pace.

And what of the other entries? They were a mixed bunch. The World of Robert Burns (Cambridgeshire Software House), for example, consists of a CD-Rom, booklet and audio tape, but fails to maximise their potential. The CD-Rom links maps and a wide range of visual imagery as background to the poetry and biography of Burns, and the audio recording of familiar and not-so-familiar works gives a good feel for the metre and the song-like verse, but fails to inspire today's young writers. At Pounds 79.95, plus VAT, the package offers aficionados fair value.

The RNLI's Launch was the joker in the pack - with a serious message. With a video, posters and pack comprising wallet, teacher's guide, activity sheets, audio tape and marine chart there's plenty to work on. The audio dramatises some well-chronicled rescues, while the video footage of self-righting craft undergoing trials is riveting. The posters are crisply informative, yet uncluttered. This package does not slot into any single curriculum area, but generates some excellent mathematics, problem solving, technology and geographical activities. At Pounds 10, you can't go wrong.

The Resources Awards are run in association with the British Educational Suppliers Association. Jon O'Connor is head of Parkside First School, Hertfordshire. The other judges were Jean Beck of the National Council for Educational Technology; Annie Owen, primary maths co-ordinator, Homerton College, Cambridge and Chris Drage, primary teacher, John Betts School, London.

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