Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 9, NO. 10 / OCTOBER 1983 / PAGE 44

Centurion educational computers: ten grapefruit-sized computers provide drill and practice on everything from math to English. (evaluation) David H. Ahl.

When is a computer not a computer? When it is a Centurion Digitor, Versator, or Alphator. While these devices are called computers, and presumably have microprocessors inside, they cannot be programmed in Basic and function solely as educational drill and practice devices. In this role, they do an exceedingly good job.

Centurion manufactures ten different computers in all, four for mathematics, five for language skills, and one for generalized drill in any subject area. We tok a close look at Skillmaster, the top of the line mathematics device, and Versator, the generalized drill device. Most of our observations and conclusions will apply to all ten devices. Skillmaster

To begin with, Skillmaster doesn't look like a computer. It is 8" in diameter, made of white plastic, and shaped a bit like a partially hollowed-out cantaloupe with keys. The keys are like those on a desk calculator (0 to 9, four arithmetic functions, and five keys for programming the u nit). In addition, it has two slide switches over the keypad. A green LED display shows up to eight 1/4" high numbers or symbols.

When Skillmaster is turned on (the power switch is in the rear), a short "program" must be entered before it will do anything. This consists of pressing R (reset machine), P (to start program), one of four mode keys (sequential, standard, semi-automatic, or automatic), an arithmetic operation or mixed operations key, and G (to go). Semi-automatic and automatic mode also require the desired response time (1 to 9 seconds) allowed to answer each problem to be entered.

Prior to entering this program, the two slide switches should have been set. You set the grade level (0-3, 4-6, 7-9, or 0-9), while the other selects the number of problems to be presented (10, 25, 50, or 100).

These initial operations should probably be performed by a teacher or parent. From here on, it is all in the hands of the child.

The display shows a problem and the child must enter the answer. If it is correct, a smiling LED face blinks to the right of the completed program. In standard, sequential, or semi-automatic mode, the child must then press the green G button to got to the next problem. In automatic mode, the next problem is presented as soon as the selected response time has elapsed, although in all cases a problem must be answered correctly before the machine will go on to the next one.

Indeed, Skillmaster will never display the wrong answer. If the problem is 3 + 2 and the child enters 4, Skillmaster will display 5 with a frowning face. When the child enters 5, the face changes to a smile. According to the instruction booklet, "Seeing the right answer gives you a chance to learn and eliminates wasteful guesswork."

At the end of a set of problems, Sjillmaster displays the total number of problems that were correct on the first try. In addition, pressing the T key displays the elapsed time taken to complete the problem set.

We found Skillmaster to be quite motivational, ast least as far as anything to do with arithmetic drill and practice, which most kids regard as pretty dull, can be. As far as teh timed response modes, kids found teh semi-automatic mode less confusing than the fully automatic mode.

A slight limitation to Skillmaster is that all problems must be in the form:

XX operation X = XX

Thus 11+7 is okay, but not 7+11. Also, no answer can be over two digits. Actually, these points are moot, since the largest addition problem in the machine is 9+9; the largest substraction problem, 18-9; multiplication, 9X9; and division, 81/9.

An excellent aspect of the Digitor products is the outstanding instruction booklet and optional ancillary material. The included 32-page "Learning Guide" contains complete instructions on how to use the machine, learning objectives, rationale of the design, and 16 reproducible masters of activities which complement the use of the machine. Complete instructions are provided fro the use of each activity in conjunction with the machine.

Available at extra cost are grade level packets which include appropriate management materials. These include a 16-page management guide, set of 12 pre/post tests with answer keys, class profile folder, individual student completion records, a student scheduling wall chart, and a student progress wall chart. All the individual materials are in the form of reproducible masters.

The products in the Digitor series are :

* Drillmaster (10 random mixed problems, grades 5+) $139.50

* Superdrill (25 random mixed problems with timing, Grades 5+) $159.50

* Tutor (programmable with timing, gradesK-4) $179.50

* Skillmaster (programmable with timing, grades K-9) $199.50

*Grade level packets, $8.70 to $13.25 each. Versator

Versator is a device for presenting a wide variety of educational exercises. The majority are variations on the drill and practice theme, but some go a bit beyond it.

Outwardly, Versator is similar to Digitor except that it has a cartridge slot in the top, and the keyboard is perfectly blank. Upon turning on the power, the 14-character , green, dot matrix display lights up with "hello" and a smiling face at the right. Pressing any part of the flat keyboard membrane causes Versator to display "insert module."

Mastery Learning Modules are the solid state programs for Versator.

Without one of these $59.50 modules, the machine can do nothing. Each module comes in a vinyl booklet that contains a four-page Learning Guide, a keyboard overlay, and a plug-in module. When the module is inserted, Versator reads, "apply keyboard."

You then use the top five pressure-sensitive spots to progbram Versator. This starts with the operating mode. STUDY repeats each problem until it is answered correctly. TEST does not repeat problems. TRANSMIT and RECEIVE allow two Versator units to up- and down-load programs between them.

The SUBJECT key selects from the one or two subjects on a module and LESSON selects a set of problems within the subject.

Response Mode can be standard (self-paced), semi-automatic (timed response but user presses Go for additional problems), automatic (timed responses and problem presentation), manual (used with word lists), and tachistoscopic (words presented in "flash" form for 1/60th to 3 second intervals).

The Problem Set key allows you to choose 10, 20, or 30 problems. For those modes requiring a response time (or tach time), it is now specified.

AS with Digitor, it is recommended that a parent or teacher help out entering the above steps.

There are currently over 50 mastery modules available. The majority are in the areas of reading, language arts, and spelling, although nine are available in mathematics and four in science. We tried four modules: Identifying Affixes and Compound Words, Spelling Demons and Unscramble, Mixed Math Exercises, and Systems of the Body I. Each of these could be a feature review, so we will have to limit outselves to some general comments.

All the modules are very thorough and present the material at a controlled step-by-step pace. The learning objectivs are clearly stated although we would have liked to see a suggested grade level or range of grades for the module.

The instructions were generally clear although some parts were not as clear as they might have been. This was particularly true with modules that required something to be marked with the underline symbol.

Since the correct answer to most problems requires several keystrokes which must, of course, be executed in the proper order, we found that most users did not like the pressure of the timed modes; they became nervous and flustered. Thus, we recomend the use of the self-paced modes; these keep track of elapsed response time but users seem to feel more relaxed and tend to score higher.

Of the four modules we tried, the science one, "Systems of the Body" was the least satisfactory. It has the most complicated keyboard overlay and the sparse four pages of instructions did not give us enough backgrond to understand the problems fully. The guide mentions several related textbooks, at least one of which is probably necessary for using this module successfully.

Subject to the limitation of presenting word problesm in a maximum of 14 letters, Versator is a nice compact learning device. However, at $299.50 plus $59.50 for each module it wouldn't be difficult to spend $1500 or more in short order. Whether or not it is worth that much, you will have to decide for yourself, but it is certaintly worth a look. Other Products

Centurion also produces five Alphator products. Alphamster presents drill on vowel sounds, consonant blends, compound words, affixes, syllabication, letter matching, and ordering. For grades K-5, Alphamaster costs $359.50. Similar products are Alphatutor I for grades K-3 and Alphatutor II for grades 3-5 ($299.50 each). Alphaspell provides drill in spelling-related skills and costs $359.50 while Alphadrill provides continuing development of vocabulary skills in the upper elementary grades ($319.50).

For more information, contact Centurion Industries, 167 Constitution Dr., Menlo Park, CA 94025.

Products: Centurion Digitor (computer)
Centurion Versator (computer)
Centurion Alphator (computer)
Centurion Skillmaster (computer)
Centurion Tutor (computer)
Centurion Alphamaster (computer)
Centurion Alphatutor I (computer)
Centurion Alphatutor II (computer)
Centurion Alphaspell (computer)
Centurion Alphadrill (computer)