## Learning curve

### Introduction

When I was in middle school, a lesson that involved watching the telly was a right result. If any of our teachers had wheeled out a computer as part of a class, they’d probably have needed a mop and bucket to cope with our excitement – and a forklift truck to carry the machine. For today’s schoolkids, PC-based lessons are as commonplace as Pokemon cards – so it’s down to the software to both absorb and excite them. Sherston Software has released three new educational titles designed for schoolroom use. The weightiest of these is Reading Zone, an interactive title designed to help Year 6 pupils’ understanding of different reading skills. These include definitions, information-retrieval, argument, comprehension, spelling and grammar. The lessons are conducted by Shlek, an alien who is stranded in space because all his files have been translated into English. He relies on the pupil’s help to sort through these files and identify the correct answers. I can imagine this approach being absorbing for children, even though many of the lessons will tax them. It’s the Holy Grail of any learning tool: fun but effective. Reading Zone also has a teacher’s section, which allows lessons to be logged and marked. It does have a glitch, though. When it comes to clicking on an answer from a list of alternatives, the text-highlighting function is out of kilter – making it difficult to determine exactly which option has been selected. I can just hear it now: “But teacher, that’s the one I tried to select!” It needs sorting. Hide and Reveal is much better value than Random Numbers, and is designed to hone pupils’ analytical and hypothesizing skills. It does this by creating sequences of numbers, equations, symbols, shapes and patterns. Each member of the sequence is revealed from behind a card – the aim being for pupils to guess the next in line. Random Numbers, though, is something of a white elephant. It can generate randomly any class of number – fractions, integers, natural – using an array of cutesy graphics to reveal them. Apart from being great for classroom games of bingo! I can’t see the point. Random Numbers’ most useful tool – creating sequences of numbers – is already covered by Hide and Reveal.