ZX Computing

Spectrum Lessons
By Softlee Systems
Spectrum 48K

Published in ZX Computing #21

Mike Edmunds looks at some more educational software

Spectrum Lessons

Mike Edmunds looks at some more educational software

Software houses specialising in educational software seem to have been off on their summer holidays for a while so there has been very little in terms of new releases for this issue. However, talking of sun, several rays of software hope *have* appeared and are on review this issue.

Happy Holidays

At last programmers have woken up to the fact that educational offerings deserve the same high quality as software for the games enthusiast. Quality, high-resolution graphics, good use of colour and sound appear to be essential for arcade-type games but, until recently educational programs have, on the whole, fallen far short of those standards. Teachers and parents are becoming increasingly wary of 'educational' tags and today's software needs to be educationally sound, capable of wide usage across the curriculum, capable of supporting associated activities and, most of all, be good value for money.

This month's offerings go at least partway to satisfying these criteria, so, without further ado get out your buckets and spades and let's go for a 'Day at the Seaside'.

This seasonal contribution is part of Softlee's 'See-Hear' system. The idea is not entirely new to the Spectrum but is an exciting development for educational users. Softlee's system uses a stereo tape - one track providing the program, the other giving the audio soundtrack.

Loading this program was not easy, requiring a stereo output and careful volume setting, but, using the special lead supplied and hacing set up the headphones we can begin. The child (or children if you have multiple phones facility) listens to the soundtrack and responds to cues supplied both on the tape itself and within the program. The age level is 5+ and the soundtrack story is delightful for children of that age. The graphics are also impressive, illustrating the story and rewarding the correct spelling that the program requires.

Flashcards and word writing aids are included with the program, but although the whole package is well put together and simple to use it has a rather limited value used on its own. Described as an aid 'to beginning spelling' it can only run through the 21 given words in the order that they appear on the soundtrack. No variation is possible. It is useful for reinforcing the given words but it would have far more value used as a stimulus for the younger child to undertake some kind of topic work. Oral and language work are obvious follow-ups.

A great idea, superbly implemented but of limited educational value as a 'stand alone' program. (Also rather pricey!) Worth considering as a topic and for younger children.

King Tut

Having spent some time digging in the sand, how about a search for King Tut's treasure while you're at it? Under the Mirrorsoft banner comes a double package of 'Educational Arcade Action for 5-11 year olds', King Tut's Treasure and The Count being the titles written by Soft Option.

These programs are designed to give Maths practice and skill reinforcement over a wide level of abilities, using arcade-format. As well as developing maths skills, these programs call for a logical approach and simple mapping ability.

King Tut provides five options, ranging from shape matching to the matching of fractions with their decimal equivalent. A choice of objects, speed and number of hazards is also available to the teacher. Movement is via keyboard or joystick and the aim of the game is to guide your nicely animated archaeologist, Professor Diggins, around an ancient ruin. Equipped only with a metal detector (which emits a tone to indicate a 'find') you must discover the hidden treasure. As well as the necessary mapping, there are various nasties zipping around which you will have to avoid if you are ever to gain the final reward!

In The Count, a search of Dracula's Castle is necessary before you meet and destroy the Count himself. All is not that easy however, as various maths problems have to be solved along the way. Counting, and the four Rules are covered with Easy and Hard options setting the number of problems.

Both games are superb in terms of graphics and colour and the problems seem ideally suited to the target age range. Given the fact that the pair of programs are available together for £7.95, they represent good value for money and a long awaited move toward higher educational programs. (A cause which, so far, has only been taken up by relatively few software houses!)

Look To The Sky!

Finally, after a day of sun, sand and excitement how about an evening stargazing?

From Skysoft comes a complication of programs on astronomy. The programs, tried and tested by teachers, are available from a main menu, with additional starmaps and constellations which can be loaded in. The options cover a perpetual calendar, a star tracker, options to view the moon's phases, paths of planets and satellites, the track of Halley's Comet, together with viewing the moons of Mars, satellites of Jupiter, rings of Saturn, planetary ephemeris, etc, etc.

The whole compilation is extremely thorough and, although the documentation is rather limited, there are on-screen explanations if required. The options are much too detailed to do justice to here, suffice it to say that this is one of the best programs of its type that I have seen. With monitor output it's almost like sitting in The London Planetarium!

The quality of colour, graphics and overall presentation is excellent (the text layout has been designed using 'Letset' by Eclipse) and the capabilities of the Spectrum have been fully utilised. The Starmap option in particular is first class, including seasonal changes. An additional plus is the ability to print out the display.

No indication of age-range is given, but for the more able junior child through to the experienced astronomer I cannot see a better value program becoming available for the Spectrum (even though it has one spelling mistake!). At £3.95 it represents outstanding value. Wholeheartedly recommended by someone who, as yet, cannot tell Regulus from Capella!

In conclusion, I think that this month's programs typify the sort of material that many teachers with Spectrums have been searching for. If Summer or even Autumn days should happen to be wet, then power up your computer and settle down with some of these programs.

Mike Edmunds

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