This suite of programs is intended for both school and home user and comes on three separate discs, categorised by age range. Attractively packaged, it has instant eye-catching appeal. All the programs are colourful and simple to understand and operate regardless of the experience of the adult involved or the age of the children. It is refreshing to find that the age range label actually correlated with the children exposed to it - the Under-6 programs being especially welcome as software for reception classes requiring a minimum of teacher interaction is very rare.
These particular programs were used easily by children unfamiliar with micros and only in their second week at school, leaving Miss to do other things - usually involving paint.
The cursor in this first set of programs takes the form of an appealing teddy bear. He rewards correct responses with an amusing caper and the accompanying music is neither irritating nor too long.
There are eight programs for each age range, all adaptable to different abilities. It is also possible for you to set the skill level - although this seemed to be rather hit or miss - as well as the choice of adding your own words for use in some programs.
But what are the programs about? The all-time favourite of the reception class was undoubtedly Teddy Count. Various numbers of Teddies parade around the screen leaving the child to identify their number - very simple and extremely useful. A wrong response results in the Teddies lining up to be counted and stepping forward one by one. If you still cannot count them, they are counted for you.
Running a close second came Teddy Bear Picnic - a simple case of guiding Teddy through a maze using the arrow keys until he is successfully reunited with his food. Colour Train was very popular - a train chugs around a varying sized track towards differently coloured stations. Hit the spacebar when the colour of the station matches that of the train.
Also included is Find the Mole. With five sizes of molehill numbered proportionately the child must pick the one which hides Mr. Mole. If he is in a smaller hole the word <i>lower</i> appears on the screen, should he be lurking in a larger hole <i>higher</i> is the prompt. The teachers seemed to enjoy this more than their children. Pick a Letter tests lower case letter recognition and spelling. Using the cursor keys Teddy must be guided to the correct letter which is picked up and returned to the relevant space.
Spell the Word is a version of Hangman, but with the addition of pictures as clues. It would have been even better by keeping to one vowel sound and just three letter words, as it tends to jump around in phonic terms and random words were occasionally repeated in close succession. It was necessary to provide the children with a written list of words to stem the flow of "How do you spell..." queries.
Shape Snap is another simple exercise. Shapes appear and if they are different you press any key except for the spacebar which you use if they're the same. Getting the match right makes them flash along with the congratulatory tune. They flash in different colours, which means that they no longer match - a little confusing for some of the younger children.
The only program which was not used in school - but will probably find its niche at home - is Write a Letter, which is a very simple text editor. But it still has the age old problem of a keyboard in capitals and the screen in lowercase. This can often lead to children not understanding the connection between their actions and the end result. If feel that this particular program would have been more at home on the 6-8 year olds disc.
This next age group's cursor is an endearing frog which behaves in the same way as did Teddy. Number Train replaces Colour Train and is basically the same except that at each station passengers alight and board asking the children to input the new number of travellers. The picnic becomes a Maths Maze full of robots posing mathematical alculations and Hangman becomes Caterpillar. Losing its pictures you must answer correctly or the apple will be eaten by the hungry grub.
Shopping is a very simple problem exercise requiring little reading skill - given a shopping list and a row of four shops, you must guide your frog into the correct one for each item. Packing tackles another program - an assortment of shapes must be fitted into a rectangle.
Treasure Hunt goes into coordinates and a warmer or colder technique to let children locate buried treasure on an island which has been overdrawn by a grid. My one criticism is that it has letters rather than numbers on one axis - although this can be a plus for children starting to use coordinates.
A nice tables game called Number Jump encourages the children to make the frog leap across the screen, landing on multiples of a specified number.
Finally on this disc is Bounce: I found it difficult to achieve the correct blend of coordination and logical thinking it required. The idea is to bounce a ball off the wall in such a way that it avoids obstacles. The angle of the initial throw can be changed as well as the starting position. It sounds simple but I found it fiendishly difficult.
The Over-8s disc is intrinscially different in that the first seven games all provide a keyword - if completed - and this is used in the last program on the disc. Again you can see that some of the games are progressions from earlier discs- Build a Bridge from Packing, Passage of Guardians from Maths Maze.
Build a Bridge is more complicated than its predecessor in that triangular shapes may need to be turned over the correct placing. In Passage of Guardians you are asked to solve anagrams instead of sums - some are very difficult. However, it also suffers from a too frequent repetition of certain words. Unicorn combines a simple maze/coordination game with the old fox/hen/corn conundrum. This one took the children quite a long time to solve.
Logic Doors had my brightest fourth year juniors stumped for quite some time. A maze game requiring careful mapping is made deviously difficult by the introduction of one-way doors which are different colours on each side. Furthermore, to gain a keyword it is necessary to play a second time using the keys. This is much more difficult, as the route needs to be planned in advance to make sure you have all the necessary keys to finish.
Souvenirs, on the other hand, was refreshingly simple. Your task is to travel to various European countries, spending money in each one and returning with a souvenir from each. This nice introduction to geography requires some idea of how to work out simple ratios.
Code Boxes involves something which few primary schools cover: Binary. This really stretched the eldest and after a lot of guesswork plus trial and error they worked out how 10 equals two and 100 is four.
The penultimate challenge is Mystery Machine, with knobs to turn, levers to pull and a key. All are coloured and must be moved in the correct order, while the instructions are in code. But by now the whole class were dab hands at problem solving and soon had everything operated.
Last comes Escape, yet another maze with horrifying memories of Logic Doors. Again, careful mapping is needed. Here is where you must use the collected keywords, but beware of backtracking, as words can only be used once. Respond with the correct keyword at each stage and you have finished - rather an anti-climax, but only because there was no more to do.
The children - and staff - found Fun School 2 great educational entertainment. It's a must for anyone with children and a BBC Micro.
The true test of educational software is pupil reaction: Fun School 2 will take some beating simply because all ages and abilities are challenged and, most importantly, they enjoyed the games. These programs have becomes the number one choice in our school with both teachers and pupils. All I can add is here's looking forward to Fun School 3.