Masterword (Wordshark 1-3). (evaluation)
An outstanding program, from a company with the improbable name of the Perfection Form Company, is Masterword, a vocabulary series in three packages.
Just the appearance of Masterword is enough to inspire confidence; the cloth covered, small format looseleaf binders are a subdued beige with blue lettering. Inside, we find professionally typeset manuals on heavy stock with lots of screen illustrations.
The product virtually radiates competence--so much so that I was almost afraid to boot the program, fearing yet another occasion to warn readers against judging books by their covers. But no, this series proved to be as competent as it looked.
The three Masterword packages are subtitled Wordshark 1, 2, and 3. Although the words in each package are assigned difficulty levels from 1 to 4, there seems to be very little variation in difficulty among the packages. Suffice it to say that if you like Wordshark 1, you will probably want to augment it with the additional words in Wordshark 2 and 3.
Each disk presents 11 lessons of seven words each. Each lesson offers four activities using those seven words. The first activity on the menu is Showcase, a simple matter of choosing the correct definition from a list of three. If you choose incorrectly, you get a hint and a second try. Wrong again? You get a second hint and a third try. At the end of the exercise, the program tells you how many words you defined correctly on the first, second, and third try.
The second activity, Synonyms and Antonyms, is one of the best vocabulary exercises I have seen in a computer program. At the top of the screen you see a list of words among which are a synonym and an antonym for each world in your study list. The bottom half of the screen displays the word in the lesson and space in which to type the synonym and antonym of each. Each word can be used only once, but if you type one in and later discover that it goes better with another word, you can correct it before the score is calculated. This is an excellent format, because it pushes you to learn more than just the definition.
Analogies is the third activity in each lesson. Here you see 10 words at the top of the screen. You must choose from the list the words that best complete the analogy sentences that appear below: PLEAD is to BEG as ABUNDANT is to to . Although the analogies are very simple (synonyms and antonyms only), this, too, is a valuable exercise.
Acrostics, the last activity in the lesson, is intended to "develop a familiarity with the master words through reinforcement of letter sequencing." Well, maybe. Inserting the words into the acrostic pattern blanks is moderately challenging, but, in my opinion, of limited educational value.
The Gradebook disk allows the teacher or parent to check on the progress of the students using the program. You can check the performance of the entire class on a given lesson, a single student on a given lesson, or a single student on all lessons.
The documentation, as mentioned above, is very well done. In addition to being attractively and accurately presented, the information is complete almost to a fault; on page 4 you are advised to "carefully remove the appropriate Masterword diskette from its protective envelope." At the end of the general instruction section, the manual includes a list of the words on the disk, along with definitions, synonyms, antonyms, and completed acrostics.
Masterword scores well on all the criteria we apply to educational software: the educational material is worthwhile, the documentation is complete and attractive, and the program itself is well executed. At $59.95 for an individual package and $159.95 for all three, the price is quite reasonable for a school and not beyond the reach of most computer-using families.
Products: Masterword (computer program)