Personal Computer News


School For Software

Author: Peter Worlock
Publisher: Chalksoft
Machine: Spectrum 48K

 
Published in Personal Computer News #016

Learning can be fun. Colin Cohen teaches himself educational software for the BBC micro.

School For Software

Learning can be fun. Colin Cohen teaches himself educational software for the BBC Micro.

Games should be fun, and these days it seems that the same can be said of education. With so many Beebs going into schools it is not surprising that educational software is now becoming available, some of it even suitable for pre-school children. So I and my pre-school daughter sat down to test-drive a handful of lessons.

I was very impressed by the Chalksoft offerings. All of its programs have been debugged on real kids and have been written by a combination of teachers and programmers to meet a real educational need.

Reversals

Because they are intended for use by children, the ESCAPE and BREAK keys are trapped. It is therefore difficult to end a program, though you do have the choice at each stage of deleting or finishing. The company guarantees that all its tapes will load - and to my astonishment I loaded five tapes in a row with not a single lost block.

The programs are prepared for the 48K Spectrum, Vic 20 and 32K BBC.

All the programs are interactive and adequately self-documenting, though for the first two a hard copy is also supplied, along with some useful ideas for their use in teaching.

Letters

Reversals

Letters and Capital Letters are very similar. The use of colour is good, but after a time the sound gets on your nerves. Happily you are given the choice of turning it off.

Each of the nine programs on two cassettes takes a group of letters. The child can choose a letter from the group and it is drawn in colour on the full screen. Left to its own devices the letter is deleted after 30 seconds and redrawn in a new colour. Alternatively a new letter from the group of similar or dissimilar designs is drawn, either on a clear screen or over the previous letter so that the child can see the similarities/differences. It would be nice if all the programs could be loaded at once so that one could switch between them, but with only 32K...

Puncman

Puncman is a delightful variation of the arcade-type game that sets out to teach punctuation. There is a choice of short stories which are written on the screen in Mode 7 characters.

Reversals

Once there Nosher comes out and gobbles the capitals (replacing them with lower case) and the punctuation. The child then uses the cursor keys to steer Puncman round the screen to replace them. There is a choice of stories and the punctuation gets progressively more complex. The game is best on a monitor as in Mode 7 not all the characters are clearly differentiated on a colour TV.

Reversals

Reversals is for children with reading problems: a short story is displayed (again in Mode 7) and a seagull flies around reversing some key letters. The child has to move another gull around and replace the reversed letter with the correct version. Even more than Puncman a monitor is needed.

The programs are very difficult to stop other than by CTRL/SHIFT/BREAK.

Like Chalksoft, GTM encourages users to get into its programs to change them and even gives instructions in Wordbuild and Smiler how to do it.

Smiler

Smiler gives a choice of three-letter words and the child has to fill in the missing letter. A sad or similing face is produced by a right or wrong choice. Interactivity is taken as far as recording incorrect responses and saying "you have tried [letter] before".

This sort of program needs to be 100 per cent accurate and Smiler is not. Even for the three-letter words the data statements are not complete so that real words (say, cop and fop) result in a visit from Sidney Sad rather than Sammy Smiler.

The game would need considerable supervision as the instructions are much more difficult than the words of the tests. There is a choice of sound or no sound.

Wordbuild

Wordbuild produces a series of letters in alpha order from which words have to be made. There is a choice of levels of difficulty (even easy four letter combinations are hard) and a choice of word-subject groups. Control is mainly from the arrow and RETURN keys - and their response rate is surprisingly slowed by the program.

The correct ordering of the letters results in parts of a house being built and a score is maintained while building is in progress.

This program is difficult and boring at the same time.

High Flyer

High Flyer is a very long program - about six minutes to load. It is based on 22 sets of homophones (words that sound alike, but are spelled differently). The child is given a choice of the two spellings and has to decide which one is needed to fill a gap in the sentence at the top of the screen.

The "come on" is at the bottom of the screen - a plane flying from London to Paris. If you get the correct answers you make it, while too many wrong answers use up fuel and you plunge into the sea.

Early One

Early One is one of a series for young readers from H&H Software, all of whose tapes I had trouble loading.

Pictures of objects such as a cot are displayed. Then the child steers the cursor along an alphabet until it is below the initial letter of the word illustrated. Later, the child must pick the middle, then last letter, and finally whole words. A raspberry sound greets wrong choices, and two points are given for getting it right first time.

With supervision a bright five-year-old can work it out, but it would be better if the letter keys were used. The real problem is the quality of the graphics. Neither my daughter nor I could fathom what some of the pictures were. And we were equally foxed by another section of the game, where more crude pictures must be matched with similarly crude sound versions of nursery thymes. We recognised hardly any.

Peter WorlockColin Cohen

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