PLATO Test Packs with Prescriptions
[PLATO Learning (952) 832-1460, Grades 2-11]
PLATO Test Packs is a powerful, technology-rich tool which enables teachers to effectively assess students' needs in order to target appropriate assignments in reading/language arts and mathematics (grades 2-11). With the Test Packs, teachers can periodically check student progress with three cumulative, comparable test forms for each grade (pre-test, mid-test and post-test).
The pre-test is the assessment phase, where a well-designed interface allows the student to choose from multiple-choice answers in a fixed-benchmark test. The child can opt to save the test and continue later, or click the 'grade test' button to view the score.
Assignments (prescriptions) are then compiled to address specific areas identified by the test. We reviewed 10th grade reading/language arts and mathematics, and the art, audio, animation and text used to present the comprehensive lessons were impressive.
Instruct - The modules, e.g., "Making inferences about expository text," are divided into tutorial, application, mastery test and homework. "Vocabulary for expository text 9A" included an effective vocabulary builder, and "Reading expository text 9A" provided important practice. The PLATO instructional modules contain rigorous instruction, and are an excellent remediation solution for students.
I SPY Mystery
[Scholastic (212) 343-6100, ages 6/up]
I SPY Mystery is the latest release in the popular I SPY series, and capitalizes on the human love for puzzle solving. Advertised for ages 6-10, it will likely captivate parents as well, especially if this software is their first exposure to I SPY. Combining detailed and lushly colored graphics, animation and sound effects, each puzzle (several per mystery) successfully engages the player who is attempting to find clues and finally reach the solution. There are 13 different mysteries; solution generally requires multiple passes through the puzzles to find additional necessary objects - a nice touch of complexity. Words with several meanings are used creatively to challenge reasoning (e.g., is a bat a flying creature or a baseball tool?). A particularly amusing detail is a puzzle that allows multiple magnifications. For people who are visual and love detail, there's plenty to enjoy. Children who have trouble reading will find the voice-over helpful.
Only one disappointment is sometimes expressed: Users familiar with previous releases of the I SPY series comment that most of the puzzles are taken directly from previous I SPY titles, and wish for new material. Another small quibble is that some of the riddles may be too challenging for younger players - but an older assistant can smooth the way.
Overall, this is an excellent learning tool, encouraging problem solving, logic, language development and visual discrimination; all in service of a natural human drive to discover the solution to a "mystery." Clearly a winner!
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