Three of the best

With lessons, resources and assessment on sets of three CD-Roms, this is KS3-4 covered, writes Chris Drage

You can be forgiven if you have not heard of Birchfield Interactive. This small, diligent software company based in South Wales has been more concerned with producing some of the best ICT resources for key stage 3-4 students than shouting about it.

With a portfolio of 187 software titles covering 14 curriculum subjects you may further be forgiven for assuming that quantity, not quality, is Birchfield's goal. Not a bit of it. Here's software that is guaranteed to enhance both learning and teaching, with total support of interactive, personalised learning. Indeed it's the company's Version 3 (triple CD-Rom software) that has really got me excited.

The three CD-Roms cover teaching material, lesson resources and assessment for your chosen subject. The material CD-Rom comprises prepared lessons that combine curriculum content, animations, narration and activities. Complementing a variety of teaching methods, the information can be presented via an interactive whiteboard for whole class participation, or on individual PCs.

The structured part of the software employs three-dimensional animations, sounds and narrated text to convey the topic information. With individuals logging in, the software can mark and display progress.

Answers are saved so they can be accessed at a later date, either to be amended or to be marked by the teacher. Throughout the software there are various drag and drop exercises; the challenge being to try and complete these activities in as few attempts as possible.

The second CD-Rom, Lesson Resources, contains a library of digital resources from the main program software (on the first CD-Rom), including animations, images, text and video clips.

You can export components into PowerPoint and other applications to create your own lessons and worksheets. This is also an ideal tool to encourage students' thinking and creativity by allowing them to create presentations.

The third CD-Rom carries the assessment tools, which generate reports from the progress of logged-in users through the zones on the first CD-Rom. All results can be displayed in graphs and charts and can be exported to Excel if required. As activities are assessed and recorded, teachers are able to identify strengths and weaknesses in order to personalise students' learning more effectively.

With Version 3, Birchfield has everything covered. Using an interactive whiteboard, the teacher can be a controller, with all the benefits that entails. Similarly, allowing students to take control, to demonstrate to a group or class, will promote confidence and involve them in the learning process.

On the other hand, when using individual machines, students can work through the materials at differentiated rates. And teachers will welcome the opportunity the resources CD provides to develop tailored materials.

Birchfield software is offered with a full-user site licence (starting at pound;149.95) as standard - this allows a school to install the software on a network or on as many computers as required, including on teachers'

home computers.

So often we are disappointed by the quality of software on offer to KS3-4. However, this is just right: pacey, innovative and interactive.

Birchfield Interactive Version 3

Triple CD-Rom pack covering teaching material, lesson resources and assessment for any of Birchfield's 14 curriculum areas

Price: from pound;149.95

The Media Centre Culverhouse Cross Cardiff CF5 6XJ

Tel: 02920 597 000 Fax: 02920 599 456

Fitness for purpose *****

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