Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 113 / OCTOBER 1989 / PAGE 114


Batter up! Add the excitement of baseball to student drill-and-practice sessions Alt Star Drill from Tom Snyder Productions. With attractive graphics and a Trivial Pursuit approach to questions, the program tests knowledge while it involves the whole class in the review.

A baseball motif, complete with humorous statistics, home runs, and pop flies, provides entertainment while the computer keeps score. Players on each team take turns at bat, answering questions you enter into the program's database. The possibility of a hit keeps the team in the outfield ready to answer at the crack of a bat. To get a hit, a student must answer a question correctly. Quick answers earn triples and home runs. Errors hurt the whole team. Just as in real life, it's teamwork that makes the game enjoyable.

The real power of this program lies in the multilevel statistics it maintains on each player. As each student comes to bat, the program displays a personal statistic. The statistics range from simple batting averages to RBI rankings on a team. As in every good drill and practice, everyone gets positive feedback. And if a particular player hasn't gotten a question right for a while, the program doesn't report a bad statistic—it improves the odds of getting one right by asking a previous question.

Drill questions must be selected carefully. It's the challenging questions that make the game fun. To keep All Star Drill exciting, teams should have about a 300 batting average. Keeping the students' morale up when they are missing two out of three questions may be difficult, but the program's attractive graphic, sense of competition, and positive feedback make a big difference.

Where does the drill material come from? This program is designed as a review tool for material students have already covered in class. Before letting the kids onto the field, you must design your own multiple-choice or short-answer questions and input them into the program. While the multiple-choice format is more difficult for a teacher or a parent to design, it makes for the most exciting play. An excellent review strategy would have individual students design question disks for each other, or classes could challenge one another.

All Star Drill's question editor is straightforward, but it has some irritating limitations. Questions are identified only by number, and there is no way to see which numbers have already been used or to match questions with numbers without printing or manually going through the entire file. Also, the input routines in All Star Drill are inconsistent. ESC accepts changes in one mode, and puts a strange character on the screen in another. Even worse, it's impossible to edit a question without retyping the entire entry.

Teacher controls on timing would be very helpful as well. Students have 20 seconds to respond to a short-answer question and 30 seconds to pick the right answer to a multiple-choice question, regardless of difficulty, subject matter, or previous scores. Questions are always asked in the same order, with no way to handicap a better player. This makes it difficult to have a fair game between a parent and a child unless the rules are modified manually, perhaps requiring the parent to deliberately miss every other question.

All Star Drill is best used in a classroom. With a teacher experienced in running review sessions of this type, the program will provide the score-keeping facility needed to keep the game moving. Teachers who don't have a bank of short, open-ended or multiple-choice questions available must either purchase one of the pre-made question disks or be prepared to spend significant amounts of time writing, testing, and typing in questions. If you're a busy parent searching for an easy-to-use drill-and-practice program for your children, look elsewhere. There are other programs available that arc more suitable for home use and which will give you better drill-and-practice value for the money.