EduCalc And NoteCard Maker
Karen G. McCullough
Requirements: Commodore 64 or 128 (in 64 mode) with a disk drive; Apple II-series computer with at least 64K RAM and a disk drive; or an IBM PC/PCjr with a disk drive. The Apple version was reviewed.
Recent attempts to teach computer literacy have focused on familiarizing students with the software tools commonly used on personal computers. To assist that effort, Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc. has released two programs: EduCalc and NoteCard Maker. Each is a simplified version of a popular type of software for personal computers and is aimed at junior to senior high school students.
EduCalc is a spreadsheet—a stripped-down, bare-bones version of programs like VisiCalc, Multiplan, and Lotus 1-2-3. Spreadsheets allow computers to perform sophisticated mathematical operations on large quantities of numbers. As with all spreadsheets, EduCalc lets you enter numbers, mathematical formulas, or text in rows and columns on the screen. Each piece of information is stored in a cell identified by a letter for the column and a number for the row. The numbers entered into the cells can be manipulated in various ways by other cells containing formulas. The result of a particular operation is displayed in that formula's cell.
EduCalc includes a tutorial which serves as an excellent introduction to spreadsheets in general as well as to EduCalc. It's simple, clear, and should make novices comfortable with the program in 15 to 20 minutes. A practice template lets you experiment with the program. Unlike more powerful spread-sheets intended for professional business applications, EduCalc is extremely easy to use. Menus guide you through lists of options, and various functions are displayed on the screen along with advice on using them. The program does a good job of protecting you against errors.
But there's a price for that simplicity. Where EduCalc is friendly to novice users, it may frustrate those who become more experienced with it. The program structure is rigid—there are no shortcuts.
For example, to enter a formula to add up a column of numbers, you choose Enter from the Tool menu, move the highlighted cursor to the cell where the results are to be displayed, choose Formula from the Entry menu, and press S for sum. Then you move the cursor to the first cell of the column to be totaled, press RETURN, move the cursor to the last cell of the column, and press RETURN again. It sounds easy and logical, but it's also frustratingly time-consuming if the column is 40 figures long.
There are other limitations as well. Only mathematical operations can be performed—there are no logical or lookup functions. And you can't jump directly to a specific cell on the spread-sheet—you must move there with the cursor. That can be very slow on a large sheet, because the program redraws the screen each time the cursor moves off the edge.
The EduCalc manual could use larger print, an index, and better explanations. For example, when you're saving a spreadsheet on disk for the first time, the manual says the program should ask if you want to initialize the disk. But the program doesn't. Fortunately my disk was already initialized, so I had no problem reloading the spreadsheet.
A Quick Organizer
NoteCard Maker is a simplified database manager program. As its name implies, NoteCard Maker is intended to help students collect and organize information, especially when writing reports or term papers. It transforms the screen into a series of electronic note and bibliography cards. After entering information onto the cards, students can search for specific items or sort them in various ways.
The tutorial that comes with Note-Card Maker is just as effective as EduCalc's. Most junior high school students will be comfortable with the program after 20 minutes' work. And if they forget what to do at any point while entering information, they can simply press CTRL-A to bring up a screenful of advice.
The process of entering information and editing the cards is simple and straightforward, and once the cards are created, there are plenty of options for using them. Both notecards and bibliography cards can be searched, sorted, viewed on screen, and listed on a printer.
Like EduCalc, NoteCard Maker's main drawback is rigid structure. There are only three options for file size, and the size can't be changed once the file is created. Nor can you alter the format of the cards or bibliographic information. Also, NoteCard Maker lets you create a duplicate file without warning that a file of the same name already exists.
Both EduCalc and NoteCard Maker are excellent programs for introducing students or novices to spreadsheets and database managers. They also may be the solution if you need a simple spreadsheet or database without a lot of complex commands. For these purposes, both programs are effective tools.
Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc.
95 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016
$59.95 (NoteCard Maker)