A&B Computing1st January 1984
Published in A&B Computing 1.05
Number Balance/Count On/Bearings/Prisms
These four programs are the first offerings from a new software house which intends to specialise in Educational Software. This is a growing market and it is important to realise that some programs are written with theidea of being used in schools, others for use in the home.
This means that a piece of software written for one may not have the features required by the other. There is no doubt about it that these programs are meant for school use and include features which would not be required in the home such as printouts of the results of each child using the program.
It is also very important that programs aided at young children should be very robust and not crash at the first mistake made. There is a great deal of error trapping included in these programs but they are still not very robust unfortunately. In each of the programs I found errors; some serious, others less so. There were so many errors that it is difficult to believe that they have been properly tested at all. I will mention them as I cover the various programs in detail.
Number Balance gives practice in number bonds (sums of the 3 + 3 = 6 variety) which are very important as children begin to progress in maths. The idea is that you have to balance a program (e.g. 3 + 5) with its answer (8!!) and that is the answer given is correct then the balance is made. The balance is drawn on the screen and either balances or not depending on the answer given.
The program is reasonable and does what is expected that the nmber 0 causes problems; the program regularly shows 0 as "heavier" than, say, 3 + 5! Another problem common to the first three programs is that the printout routine doesn't work properly and, in this case, stops the program with a "Variable Not Found" error.
Count On gives practice in the important skill of starting from one number, counting in so many and the finding the final number. The program has very little to interest the child however, and I would prefer to see children learning this skill by using Board games like Snakes & Ladders (yes, this is one of the reasons for young children playing 'games' at school). The problems with this program are that the program "hangs" if the printer option is selected, and there are errors in the correction routine, e.g. "Wrong answe" is one of the messages!
Bearings is meant for an older age range that the programs above (10+) and gives practice in estimation of angles (so many degrees), bearings (answers must be a three number format eg. 090) and headings (answers usng compass bearings). I find it rather strange that one of the features is angles *over* 360 degrees. How does one explain the utility of that to a child?
The printer routine this time causes an error message to be produced.
The final program Prisms gives problems in area and volume calculation. The screen features a drawing of the prism selected, but this has no scaling involved, so that a prism with its radius larger than its length has the same picture as one with its radius smaller than its length. This bears no relation to reality and could confuse a hesitant child. The screen presentation is also very cluttered and uses abbreviatins such as V. and T.S.A. which may not be easily understood.
Overall it is hard to recommend any of these programs as they currently stand. There are just too many, admittedly minor but irritating, problems still to be resolved. If they are corrected then their utility is still not certain, as I am convinced most of the things they try to do, can be better done by other, perhaps more traditional, methods.