Rolling rules and plastic spuds

24th February 1995 at 00:00
Helix Fun to Learn series, Rotameasure Pounds 3.49; Rotadraw Pounds 7. 99; Weather Station Pounds 12.99; Potato Print pack Pounds 3.99 from High Street retailers. Helix, POBox 15, Engine Lane, Pye, Stourbridge, West Midlands DY 7AJ

Some years back, Helix cottoned on that pencils and rulers did not have to be boring, and started to build a range of tools for school that kids would want to be seen with. The company's fresh approach has put it on the front line in high street cred right across the school age-group.

Helix has recently added to its Fun to Learn range, which I am glad to say really does live up to its name. The new items include the Rotameasure and Rotadraw sets, which will appeal to different audiences, a weather station and a potato print kit.

Helix has a good product development team hidden away somewhere, which has an intelligent eye for reworking an old concept, such as the familiar trundle wheel on which its new Rotameasure is based. The Rotameasure is a sturdy, hand-held plastic tool which schools will find immensely useful for measuring irregular lines and undulating surfaces. There will be many possible applications, including mapwork and the early stages of scale drawing.

Its clown-on-a-unicycle design is clever and amusing. An easy-to-use window for reading measurements is provided and the Rotameasure caters for distances of up to 99cm, which is ideal for work on comparing and understanding standard metric units of measurement. The main wheel, which is graduated in increments of 1cm, rotates a secondary gauge every 10cm. There are many applications which will also consolidate the grasp of circumference and scale.

The Rotadraw is an interesting and slightly more challenging variation on drawing by numbers. The set includes a simple design frame, fibre tip pens and paper, together with a series of six circular plastic stencils, each with an animal subject. A brief fact sheet provides a very readable, succinct set of notes on each of the species featured on the stencils.

The actual process of working round the stencil using a numbered sequence is quite absorbing and requires or promotes a good level of concentration. The pack will appeal strongly to the home market, especially as it comes as a ready-to-go set, but would also help to develop children's hand-eye co-ordination and fine motor skills in younger classes.

The Fun to Learn Weather Station is a pleasingly robust package of components, including a sun dial, thermometer, weather cock, wind speed indicator and rain gauge. A well-designed set of weather station charts is provided. The markings on the rain gauge and the wind-speed indicator are a model of clarity and provide for both metric and non-metric units. The packaging provides clear guidance on assembling the components on to the sections of tubing provided, resulting in a simple, functional and attractive learning resource.

Potato printing is an essential classroom skill, which I learned during my initial training. The Helix Potato Print set is something you will either love or hate. It consists of a plastic potato-shaped printing block holder, six different printing blocks and a small printing pad. Other print pads are available separately. The images are crisp and bold, and all will work equally well with ink pads or poster paints.

Potato printing purists may theorise about the roots of civilisation being undermined by ersatz vegetables. I have no problem with the plastic. I actually think that schools could use this kit as one of a number of approaches to engaging children in exploring the printing process.

Learning what is needed to create a simple, effective design in relief, and experimenting with the distribution and balance of the image is worth a lot of spuds.

Helix deserves a vote of thanks from teachers for promoting the pleasure of education with its range of products, many of which have serious learning potential.

Helix - stand 670

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