The ABC's of TI software: four educational software packages. (evaluation) Sherrie Van Tyle.
Many buyers of low-cost computers select the TI 99/4A because of Texas Instruments' reputation for superior educational software. Does the software help a child develop reading and arithmetic skills, or does it merely dress up ordinary drills in colorful graphics and charming music? Let's have a look. Early Learning Fun
Early Learning Fun from Texas instruments offers drills in numbers, shapes, sorting, and the alphabet for children ages three to six.
The child will need a parent's help to follow the on-screen instructions and to become familiar with the computer keyboard. During the drills, the child matches the letter or number on the screen with the letter or number on the keyboard. The spacebar is used only to repeat a drill; the zero key tells the computer to go on to the next drill.
The exercises are arranged from the easiest--number and shape recognition--to more difficult drills in sorting and the alphabet. The drills are arranged to reinforce one another. For example, in the first set, a number appears on-screen for the child to match; the second set reverses the drill, asking the child to pick a number, which then appears on screen.
If the child presses the correct number, a series of musical notes chimes, and a matching number of brightly colored shapes appears. If the child's response is wrong, a deep tone sounds, and the child must try again until he finds the correct number. No score is kept.
According to the instructions, during the number drill the child "learns that the numeric symbol ... represents a concrete quantity of things," The shapes that accompany the numbers are two-dimensional. Although a child may recognize the shape of the number 2, he may need tangible examples to understand the idea of two. You could, for example, group a set of blocks near the computer in increments up to 10 and have the child pick up the appropriate number of blocks.
The sorting drill sharpens cognitive skills. The child, presented with four shapes, must pick out the one that is unlike the rest and press the number next to that shape. This is more difficult than matching shapes and takes time to master.
During the alphabet drill, you may want to help the child think of other words that begin with the same letter. Vowels, of course, have several different sounds each. Phonic flash cards could be used to supplement the alphabet drill.
Early Learning Fun delivers the fun it promises. On his own, a child enjoys the music and graphics and becomes acquainted with the computer. If the parent and child play together, with the addition of concrete examples and phonic practice, the software becomes educational. Beginning Grammar
beginning Grammar from Texas Instruments introduces the parts of speech to children in grades two to five. Children must be familiar with the computer keyboard because the drills use a combination of the spacebar, numbers, and letters.
Seven of the eight parts of speech are defined and presented in the drills (interjections are omitted). The prepositions and conjunctions, however, are combined in one drill; this confuses a child. The definition of a pronoun as a word that "relates a noun or pronoun to another word in the sentence" is too vague, especially when a conjunction is defined as a word that "joins words or groups of words together."
The definitions of nouns, verbs, pronouns, and adverbs are straightforward. A child learns shortcuts quickly -- many adverbs end in ly and conjunctions are easily memorized in a rhyme, "and, or, but, nor." A parent or teacher can give specific examples of how prepositional phrases work in a sentence or act them out for the child: in a box, out the door, and under the chair.
Graphics are used cleverly: adjectives are displayed on a restaurant menu; adverbs on a theater marquee. Verbs are lifted off the screen. For nouns, the child moves the word selected by the computer into one of four slots: person, place, thing, or not a noun.
As in Early Learning Fun, the computer responds to a wrong answer with a low sound; for a correct answer, a short tune plays. Scoring is understated; a correct answer is worth one point, and the score is totaled in a small box at the lower right of the screen.
If the child hesitates for more than 30 seconds, the computer flashes a help screen that asks if he wants to see the instructions, redo the drill, or continue. Most children learn quickly where the AID key is. When the child is searching for the keys to type a word, the help screen merely interrupts and irritates.
Few elementary students are skilled touch typists, but in Beginning Grammar, the child must shift between the spacebar, letters, and numbers to enter answers. Presumably, the spacebar could have been used throughout the program. If the child types a wrong letter, however, the low tone sounds and the space for the letter remains blank. After two wrong answers, the computer points out the correct response.
Beginning Grammar is a more entertaining way to learn the parts of speech than to diagram sentences. If the parent or teacher considers it an introduction and provides further explanation, especially of the exceptions to the rules, the drills ae worthwhile. Despite its shortcomings, children enjoy working with the parts of speech in Beginning Grammar. Addition and Subtraction 2
Additiona and Substraction 2 from Texas Instruments was developed by Scott, Foresman and Company. The drills, for elementary students, are arranged in nine sets, starting with a review of numbers 0 to 18.
The drills are structured carefully; addition of numbers horizontally is followed by addition vertically; then three numbers are added horizontally. To go on to the next set, the child must answer 80% of the problems correctly.
Each drill starts with a tutorial. Along with the problem, the appropriate number of colored bars and objects are displayed on screen. When the numerals are added in the problem, the bars and the objects combine too. For young children, the concrete examples are important for them to understand what addition and subtraction mean, and the child may ask for another example. With larger numbers, the screen grows too crowded, however. The bars are small and difficult to count.
To enter an answer, the child presses the number keys. If the answer is wrong, the computer places a red x over the answer. The message "try again" appears. If the child answers incorrectly a second time, the computer provides the right number.
The rewards for correct answers are ingenious graphics: an airplane tows a "way to go" sign across the top of the screen, a train chugs along the bottom, and a car inches ahead on a two-lane highway. A short tune accompanies the graphics.
Level nine is a review of the addition and subtraction skills the child has learned. If the child answers at least 20 of the 24 problems correctly, he goes on to Extra for Experts, which approaches elementary algebra in skill.
In sum, Addition and Subtraction 2 is well designed to sharpen arithmetic skills in young children. if the child works his way through the nine sets, he will have mastered elementary addition and subtraction. Alligator Mix
Alligator Mix from Texas Instruments was developed by Jerry Chaffin and Bill Maxwell of the University of Kansas. Alligator Mix is an arcade-style drill in addition and subtraction for children ages 5 to 12.
The game is set in a swamp populated by alligaotrs and apples. The object is to solve the addition or subtraction problem that appears in the apple, matching it with the solution that appears on the alligator's body. If the answer matches, the child opens the alligator's mouth by pressing the spacebar or the fire button on the joystick. If the answer on the alligator is wrong, the child does nothing; the apple disappears. The child scores points either way.
If three problems are solved correctly, the eyes of the alligators surface; for four correct answers, the head appears; for five right, another alligator pokes his head up. Each time, the alligators appear closer to the center of the screen, shortening the time available to solve the problem in the apple. A total of five alligators may be in the swamp at one time.
If the child lets the alligator eat an apple that does not match the solution or if he fails to open the animal's mouth for a correct solution, a miss is tallied at the bottom of the screen.
When the child misses too often, the alligators do not surface as quickly. Three missed problems in a set and the child must start a new set of problems on the alligators vanish, the game ends, and the scoreboard appears.
The game is preset for skill level seven, which is too advanced for most young children, for problems using numbers 0 to 9, and for two minutes of play. After the title screen, the skill level can be set from one to nine by pressing AID. At level one, the child has about seven seconds to solve the problem before the apple reaches the allicators.
If the child wants to use joysticks, this choice must be entered on the options screen. The game plays better with the joysticks. For young children, limiting the range of problems to numbers 0 to 3 makes it less frustrating.
Adults enjoy Alligator Mix because of its arcade-style play. The instructions say the child learns essential mathematical principles while he plays. To enjoy the game, however, he must understand the concepts of addition and subtraction. The game makes a reptitious drills fun, but the child is merely practicing skills he already has. Of the four TI software packages reviewed here, only Alligator Mix misses the educational mark.
Products: Early Learning Fun (computer program)
Beginning Grammar (computer program)
Addition and Substraction 2 (computer program)
Alligator Mix (computer program)