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For classroom teachers, there are many hurdles in choosing and using educational software. First there are physical barriers, such as getting keys to the computer room, knowing how to turn the computer on and having a few spare hours. Then you need to load the software and learn how it works, before you decide how to use the program in the classroom with your pupils. Anything that helps teachers to use software more effectively is a bonus.
The government's CD-Rom in Primaries initiative identified the need for quality resources for CD-Rom use, and research suggests that teachers consider these a vital factor when deciding which software to buy. Some companies, especially those with their roots in education, have always produced teacher-friendly guides, while others are beginning to see the advantages in adding guides to existing software.
Br?derbund and TAG developments have just released a set of guides to support five existing titles by Br?derbund. While Br?derbund's innovative and hugely popular software has been classed as "edutainment" and has largely been aimed at the home market, there are endless possibilities for its use across the curriculum and this is where the teacher's guides can help.
UK guides have been developed for KidPix Studio, The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis, Where in the World Is Carmen San Diego and Carmen San Diego - Junior Detective Edition. They include guidance for teachers on the contents of the products and how they work, as well as examples and ideas for using them in the curriculum along with ready-made worksheets.
Most teachers who are keen on using computers in the classroom find a way to subvert a program to meet the educational needs of their pupils. Teachers are an inventive breed and are used to capitalising on resources. However, they are short on time. KidPix Studio is a delightful program which is very easy to use, but I have been using it regularly and I am still discovering its capabilities. The user's manual helps, but the teacher's guide is more focused on my needs as a teacher and would have saved me time in the early stages of learning the program.
However, writing a teacher's guide is no easy task. You can assume that the teachers who use it range from beginners to the IT literate and the guidance needs to reflect this. Since the program can cover a wide age range, the curriculum ideas have to be tailored to a particular age, as well as taking account of ability.
The TAGBr?derbund initiative is certainly a step in the right direction, but the art of writing teachers' guides for software is a developing one and will need refining. The software industry is realising that emphasising the way that software is used in the curriculum is vital, but the real stumbling block is often the teacher's ability to use the computer. Two thirds of teachers still don't use computers regularly in the classroom, a fact which hasn't altered in the last five years. While TAG's guides do help with technical skills, they still assume a fair amount of existing expertise with computers, and the instructions for a large program like KidPix Studio are rather complicated to follow. Since you can only fit in one or two ideas for use in each area of the curriculum, these need to be crisp and instantly recognisable to teachers.
The maths suggestions in KidPix Studio are a good example of this, but as an English teacher I was not particularly inspired with the English ideas, which seemed rather tame in comparison with the wonderfully whacky things the program can do. KidPix Studio is such an innovative program, it would probably merit materials being developed for each separate curriculum area, in a pack of their own.
The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis isn't so logical when you first start using it. This program develops maths skills and logic problems through a game where you have to free the delightful Zoombinis from the big bad Bloats.
Logic isn't my strongest trait and I was glad of the guide, which gave an excellent tutorial to begin with and explained the educational ethos behind the game. The guide saved time and frustration, and the supporting materials for children would help them to understand the program and enable them to use it effectively.
Maths Workshop is more clear cut in its approach than the former two and the guide is full of well defined curriculum-based tasks which are easy to follow and would be a very useful resource in the primary classroom. Where in the World Is Carmen San Diego and Carmen San Diego - Junior Detective Edition guides are geographical adventures and are packed with teacherly, well produced activities that would keep a class busy for a whole term.
The development of teacher guides is vitally important, but ideally, guides for teachers and parents should go hand in hand with the initial stages of the development of a program and be linked in with training for teachers.
Initiatives by companies such as TAG and Br?derbund could be nurtured and supported by Government funding, since they could make a significant difference to the way IT is used in class.
Guides available for: Maths Workshop; The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis; KidPix Studio; Where in the World Is Carmen San Diego; Carmen San Diego - Junior Detective Edition.
Prices: teacher's guide without CD (any title) Pounds 29.95; teacher's guide with CD Pounds 49.95; CD only (without guide - any title) Pounds 29.78.
Available from TAG Tel: 01474 357350