INDEX BY: Edition / Title
General Purpose
KS1/2 and above
Windows PC

Essential Tools for Primary I.T. Capability
CDROM published jointly by Logotron and SEMERC
149 plus VAT (single user licence)

Essential Tools for Primary I.T. Capability

Logotron and SEMERC, two heavyweights in the field of educational software, have combined to produce a bundle of applications under the banner of Essential Tools for Primary I.T. Capability. Five packages have been brought together on a single CDROM: Dazzle, My World, TextEase, Junior PinPoint and SuperLogo. Some, if not all, of the software may already be familiar to readers.

Dazzle is a painting and drawing package that is accessible to both very young (key stage 1) children and older pupils. Its flexibility lies partly in the tool and menu bars being configurable, allowing a larger range of buttons to be brought into play in response to the user's demands and capability. This feature is quite impressive, although some of the tools that might be left out of simpler configurations, such as those for the stamp or symmetry, in practice provide effects that would appeal to younger children. In the end Dazzle is not an unduly complicated application, even when all the tools have been brought into play. In fact, it is to a large extent the intuitiveness of the package that makes it so successful.

Most teachers will have encountered My World. The principle involved is essentially that of fuzzy felt: screens are developed by clicking on picture elements and placing, or moving, them as required. Some sixteen screens are provided in Essential Tools; these range from the straightforward - Goldilocks and sorting fruit - which would be appropriate for key stage 1 children, to a group of modern foreign language themes, presumably aimed at an older key stage 2 audience or beyond. SEMERC offer a large range of supplementary screens, sometimes on highly specific topics such as designing a Tudor house or an Egyptian temple, which make useful additions to the My World inventory in a particular classroom.

It is interesting that TextEase has been included in the bundle rather than Logotron's own PenDown. Possibly the rationale was simply a matter of balance between the software providers, with TextEase originating with Softease Limited, a separate company with links to SEMERC. Whether PenDown or TextEase was the chosen word processor, either application provides a wealth of opportunities for the primary classroom. TextEase is positioned as having desktop publishing capability, and this is a fair claim. Graphics are handled easily, and text can be entered anywhere on the page simply by clicking. Drawings can be written directly over text, while the text itself can be enhanced with colour, borders and shadows. Yet at the same time key word processing attributes such as headers and footers, page numbers and tabs may be implemented. There is also a spelling checker that prompts the user with alternatives to words that are not recognised. It is a pity that the edition of TextEase provided in Essential Tools is not the most up to date, following the recent release of version 4.2, which provides additional resources such as HTML output, grouping and a right click spell checker.

Junior PinPoint is an excellent data-handling package. It takes a little effort to understand, and would not be recommended for use by younger children without substantial adult support (probably to the extent of preparing the data structure), but for older pupils it more than repays the investment of time needed to understand how it works. The critical feature of Junior PinPoint is that fields are generated by the application at the same time as a questionnaire is produced. For children - and even older users (there is an advanced version, PinPoint 2, that is used in secondary and higher education) [Editors note: and PP3 a professional version too]- this design demands that questions are framed in a way that will prompt responses that can be subjected to useful quantitative analysis. For example, in preparing the question, "What is your eye colour?" the option of providing a multiple-choice answer, rather than leaving the question open-ended, will be offered. If this is taken, respondents will then have to fit their replies into the predetermined categories of the researcher. Furthermore, a presentable questionnaire evolves from the process. This so intrigued an "A" level student I was teaching that he designed a front end for Excel based on the same principle!

The creative potential provided by Logo has long been recognised by educationalists, and no company in this country has done more for the development of Logo software than Logotron. In the Essential Tools bundle SuperLogo is the version offered. This is a relatively recent (1996) alternative to the more established Logos, such as WinLogo, also from Logotron, with which readers might be more familiar. It has a number of attractive individual characteristics too. There are only two windows, and a much less complicated tool bar than on WinLogo. Editing of procedures is effected within the text window, with a dialog box appearing to query any syntax errors. The cursor is not moved manually within this window, but earlier commands may be retrieved by using the arrow keys on the keyboard in a way reminiscent of 'doskey'. The default turtle is a bit cumbersome, but there are readily accessible alternatives and SuperLogo comes with a companion, Megapaint that enables the user to customise the turtle's appearance.

SuperLogo sits well with the other Essential Tools. The five applications are undoubtedly outstanding examples of primary software, and for any teacher starting to equip a class computer from scratch the bundle, listed at 149 for a single user licence, 299 for five users, will be hard to beat. However the deal clearly becomes less attractive if one or more of the applications have already been purchased. Individually they cost between 40 and 50 each. The compilation of the five applications on a single CDROM may be a little more convenient, but they are not integrated in any real sense. Buttons on the opening screen of the CDROM lead to the individual set-up programs, and these vary in the demands they make of the user (though none is difficult). Similarly the original paper manuals have been provided, and these again show variation in the degree of support they provide. In keeping with the applications themselves, however, all are of a very high standard. Ultimately the decision may be a financial one, but if you are short of key software, Essential Tools reasonably justifies the claim of its name.

Jonathan Allen
Oxford Brookes University