Templates for richer learning

6th January 1995 at 00:00
Jack Kenny is impressed by a new range of easy-to-use programs which enable their users to concentrate on what they want to achieve, not how to go about it. The new version of ClarisWorks version 3 (Pounds 64.50) for both Macintosh and Windows is more impressive than its predecessor. It is the only integrated program with the same interface and file formats for both systems.

Claris "assistants" are employed to help users produce many types of documents. They permit them to focus on what they want to do rather than how to do it and act as guides through tasks such as creating tables, letters, memos, reports and presentations.

The Windows version has new features including outlining, presentation and colour painting. Using it, you can see that the distinctions which we draw between spreadsheets, databases, presentation and word processing are becoming very blurred indeed. All of these capabilities are also available in the Macintosh version, which until now was one version ahead of the Windows.

The idea of using ClarisWorks as the basis for templates (ready-to-use files such as the layout of a newsletter) and for extension programs is a good one, as this is certainly the best integrated of the integrated packages.

The theory is that you have a good, basic, powerful, reliable program on which you can build templates which will exploit the power of the spreadsheet, the database, the painting or the drawing program.

The best thing, of course, is that if the templates are well designed, you can have teachers happily using spreadsheets and databases very soon after they have learned how to operate the machine and the software. The short-circuiting of the learning time for teachers is attractive. It is, therefore, very important that the templates are doing the things that teachers want to do rather than the things that designers can think of doing.

Northwest Semerc has produced Claris templates of word-processing activities for the first school - IT Works: Infant Writing (Pounds 20). Basically, these are libraries of graphics texts and primary fonts which can be cut and pasted: very simple, very attractive, and well worth looking at.

Semerc's data-handling package IT Works: DataPack (Pounds 20) has a clarity and simplicity that is pleasing. The Semerc material will only run on the Macintosh. EasyWorks (Pounds 24.95) must be the bargain of the moment - a desert island piece of software. If there was to be only one piece of software in addition to ClarisWorks, this is it. It simplifies word processing, painting, creating newspapers, spreadsheets and graphing. It is what teachers need and is presented in such a way that all but the computer phobic will be able to use it after only a few minutes' tuition. It is not an exaggeration to say that the combination of this and Claris could be all that the primary school needs.

The Primary Templates (Pounds 24.95) are good. They are simple and will encourage teachers to think of ways of adapting them. Most, not all, of the assignments that are set are sensible, but children will quickly become bored with the kind of task that merely asks them to sequence images in the life cycle of a frog. Some of the English tasks are a little pedestrian, too.

It is difficult to believe that the Secondary Templates (Pounds 29.95) have been tested on teachers. I cannot imagine a group of modern foreign language teachers being happy with a task that merely teaches the nomenclature of various parts of the head. Nor will the science teacher who has been looking warily at information technology for some time be thrilled by a task which is just moving around images of flasks, tripods and Bunsen burners.

"Working with this template will enable pupils to develop and refine their mouse skills and sequential thinking skills," according to the blurb. Maybe, but what will it do for science?

In English, where the possibilities of having such a powerful package should have been exploited, there is just a template for mail merges and a word game, none of which will cause a stampede. Some of the maths and geography examples have some validity.

The graphics power of ClarisWorks is exploited by Image Factory (Pounds 29.95). Most of the graphic techniques in ClarisWorks could be discovered by the keen explorer, but this makes them accessible. The program is in two parts: Studio concentrates on painting and Drawing Board on patterns. Some of the effects that can be achieved are startling and, if used judiciously, can enhance work rather than merely draw attention to themselves.

The drawing of scale maps can be done by Mapmaker (Pounds 29.95). It has a wide range of mapping features. There are buttons to draw major and minor roads and others to represent water, rock and land use. There is also an automatic grid and contours facility. All these are easily accessible from the Claris toolbar. The package also includes a set of Ordnance Survey symbols.

Travaillons (Pounds 29.95) is for those learning French. The templates enable the users to obtain accented characters relatively easily. There is a restricted dictionary of 1,000 words which can be added to and some appropriate graphic images.

Kid Data (Pounds 24.95) is a rich lucky bag of information-handling activities that make imaginative use of Claris. The screens are attractive and the tasks are relevant. Fairy Stories (Pounds 24.95) for early years uses information-handling activities based around stories such as Snow White and Hansel and Gretel, and are very well done.

Lawrenceville Press, recognising that most people are unhappy with the manuals supplied with software, have produced books to remedy the situation and to set the material into an educational context. An Introduction To Computing Using ClarisWorks 2 is well produced. In addition to the material on graphics, word processing, databases and spreadsheets that you would expect, there are sections on keyboarding skills, the Macintosh system, the Internet, the social and ethical consequences of computers and networks.

To complement the book there is the teacher's pack containing discs, overhead transparencies, worksheets, tests and assignments.

The material is aimed at older pupils but teachers in primary schools would also gain a great deal. Most people who work with ClarisWorks on the Macintosh would find this material invaluable.

There is a great deal to choose from here. Get ClarisWorks 3; you won't be disappointed. If you are hesitant, then add on EasyWorks to see how it all functions. After that you can, if you choose judiciously, turn a PC or a Macintosh into a very rich and stimulating learning environment for young children.

Claris stand 221, Lawrenceville Press - stand 808, Northwest Semerc - stands SN12a and SN13, TAG Developments - stand 166.

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