A&B Computing

The Music Box
By Selective
BBC Model B

Published in A&B Computing 2.07

The Music Box

The Music Box is the first in a series of adventure style programs specifically designed for children in the 8-14 age range. The package consists of two main programs, which aim to reinforce two mathematical concepts in an adventure format, and is accompanied by teacher's notes with program information and ideas for further work plus two maps, which can be photocopied for the children to use with the programs. The quality of the reprographics gives a "cottage industry" air to the package.

Perhaps it was intended that the maps should look like sketchmaps made by the adventurer - if that were the case, at least they should have been reproduced on white paper to assist the photocopying process! Don't let that put you off, because the quality of the information is satisfactory and the program itself well worth a closer look.

The introductory program, setting the scene, can be used with a large group, even the whole class. It engendered, with some encouragement, a great deal of discussion and argument, and would have lent itself to creative writing even at that early stage. The delightful introductory music caused considerable interest, and set several children off in search of a program which enabled them to compose their own theme tunes.

The children are sent on a quest for two keys - the first to be found in the Wild West by using bearings, and the second on a Desert Island by using compass points. Some might consider the two settings somewhat strange bedfellows. Passwords are given at different parts of Music Box, so that they may be bypassed when the children return to the program at a later date. Because they will need to solve the adventures over several visits to the computer, no random elements have been included. This allows children to plan their future moves based on their past experiences.

The first adventure, the Wild West, proved to be easier to work than I first anticipated. To gain maximum benefit from the program children need to have a reasonable working knowledge of angles, but some children without this joined the groups. They were able to follow the progress and offer other skills, such as plain commonsense, simple reasoning or even a plodding thoroughness. The children had a great deal of fun with the program and were inspired to go away and research their journey.

They were particularly keen to find out about Indian customs, totem poles and headdresses and were encouraged to find out about the Wild West terrain and climate, and also about the search for gold in the 19th century. While the teacher's notes suggested that the children should complete a bearings grid prior to using the program, this appeared to be tantamount to working out the sum when the answer was already known, so I encouraged them to estimate the bearings first then measure if their answer was insufficiently accurate, and make up their grid - including both answers. This enabled me to see if their understanding of the concept was increasing with the use of the program.

In the second program, the group have been transported in time onto a sailing ship which lies off a desert island. One of the island's ports holds the missing key, but it can only be saved by trading for it. Visits to most of the ports are required in order to carry out the trading required. The shape of the island is unknown, and one of the tasks is to make a map of the island, with the locations of the ports, using the information received. Make sure you read the screen instructions and the notes carefully before you let any group start their adventure otherwise you might think that 3W2N is a particular grid reference rather than a move from the present position. My first group took some time to realise that the starting point - somewhere SE of the island - was marked by a cross on their grid.

Some groups religiously set about the task of drawing the shape of the island. They were aided by views of the eight adjacent squares to the one they move to, and were able to climb to the crow's nest to look 2km away in a direction of their choice. The craftier ones made a few short cuts. They worked out that they did not need to draw out the shape of the whole island but just find the positions of the ports and each one's trading facilities. Armed with this information, they circumnavigated the island very widely, popping in and out of the ports on the way. It achieved the same end and obviously reinforced their knowledge of compass points as intended.

The older children found it quite a fascinating exercise in logical thinking and group participation. It did, however, fall a little flat for them when, armed with their keys and passwords, they eventually gained access to the musical box, only to find a poem on a scroll from Uncle Silas, which they didn't understand! Is this the link with the next adventure I wonder, or am I too being slow on the uptake?

Des Thomas

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