Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 10, NO. 4 / APRIL 1984 / PAGE 81

Six microcourses in elementary science. (evaluation) David H. Ahl.

Spectrum Software has released six elementary science learning packages. Each microcourse is designed to guide student observations of science materials or pictures. The computer basically is used to channel the learning sequence.

The philosophy of the designers is clearly stated on the top of Spectrum's brochure, "There are no games; we have enough faith in children and their teachers to believe that there are still greater pleasures to be derived from solid learning." The Microcourse Format

Each program contains three or four lessons consisting of approximately 75 questions in total. The answers to the multiple choice questions can be inferred through observing the accompanying material or illustrated cards. If a question is answered correctly on the first try, the screen displays a congratulatory message (check mark, winking face, "Good Job, Dave," or an animated "Nice Going").

Should the student require two or three attempts to answer, the program responds with a statement that reinforces the idea being developed.

The last "lesson" is actually a review test, the results of which are automatically stored on the disk for later review by a teacher.

All of the microcourses have been tested with students, both individually and in a classroom setting.

The six courses available are:

* Tracks. Footprints and tracks of eight animals.

* Rocks. Properties, identity, and uses of 18 rocks and minerals.

* Dinosaurs. Structure, size, and diet of 15 dinosaurs.

* Coins. Designs, composition, grading, and value of coins.

* Teeth. Types of teeth, animal and human teeth, skull X-rays, and dental care.

* Metrics. Significance of metric system, measurements. Rocks Microcourse

We tried four of the microcourses and found them to be substantially similar. Hence, we are describing the Rocks program as typical.

The basic package comes with a disk (or cassette tape) with the lessons, and an eight-page Teacher's Guide ($18). However, we also obtained the kit of materials ($35) which includes a plastic box with 18 rocks and minerals, porcelain streak plate, three hardness test squares, and set of rock name cards.

Loading instructions for the disk are on the disk jacket--a thoughtful touch. Once loaded, the program asks with what question you wish to begin; this allows you to break the lesson and come back to it later.

The first lesson consists of 27 questions and covers the properties of rocks and minerals. Questions 1 through 16 could be answered by simply observing and examining the 18 rock samples. The next three questions required the use of the streak plate (some rocks leave a streak or line when drawn across the plate, while others do not). The last eight questions required the use of the hardness squares (plastic, steel, and glass). Most rocks will scratch one or more of the plates; the number of plates that a rock scratches is, for the purposes of this lesson, it hardness rating.

A running score on all the questions answered is shown at the bottom of the screen. After all the questions have been answered correctly, a summary, which lists the seven properties the student should now know about rocks, is presented.

Lesson 2 deals with rock names. It uses a clever algorithm to help you determine the name of each rock. Basically, you must answer three of four questions about the properties of the rock you wish to identify, and the program will then tell you its name.

Lesson 3 consists of 25 questions about the uses of rocks. Most of the questions can be answered correctly by using either the information presented by the program or your own common sense. Finally, Lesson 4 presents 20 review questions, some of which are easy and straightforward, and others of which require you to really know your rocks. For example, you must be able to identify four rocks and know most of their properties to answer question 64:

Which rock is most like rose quartz? a. obsidian b. sandstone c. anthracite

Each of the first three lessons takes about 30 minutes to complete, and the review test takes about 15 to 20 minutes. We found the package to be interesting and motivating.

The Teacher's Guide contains information on the properties, identities, and uses of rocks as well as eight suggested classroom activities on rocks and minerals. Prices and Information

All six microcourses are available for the Apple on disk, and all but Tracks and Dinosaurs are available for the TRS-80 Model III on tape or disk. Coins is also available on tape for the Atari.

The microcourses are priced as follows: Rocks $18 Set of materials 35 Coins 18 (Set of 13 coins, magnifier, magnet) 26 Metrics 28 Teeth (inc. 6 cards) 38 Dinosaurs 37 Tracks (inc. 10 cards) 43

Products: Rocks (computer program)