Technological advances have run rampant as consumers find themselves out-of-date soon after purchasing the latest state-of-the-art computer equipment. Computer software products have become a burgeoning multi-million dollar business with the weekly release of new titles. As the author of a technology review column in Social Studies Review and a technology judge for the National Parenting Publication Awards, I am frequently asked what resources I use to keep up with the latest and greatest software. Following is a selection of some of my favorite print resources. You may also want to explore the online resources recommended in the Media Corner of this issue.
Newsletters and Guides
Childrens Software Revue is a practical newsletter for educators and parents using computers with children ages 3 to 10. Software reviews are given a 1 to 5 star rating based on child testing and reviewer evaluations. Each review contains a summary of the programs strengths, weaknesses, and educational value, in addition to ordering information and hardware requirements. Any company is welcome to submit a product for review, and there is no charge for this service. These reviews tend to be more objective than the glossy technology magazine reviews which rely upon advertiser support. I have found them to be timely and reliable. Also included are Software News and Hardware News columns which are especially helpful for their listing of new releases. The price of $24 per year includes six issues.
Warren Buckleitner, editor of Childrens Software Revue, also publishes the High/Scope Buyers Guide to Childrens Software 1993 Edition ($19.95). This ninth annual survey of computer programs for children ages 3 to 7 has over 280 pages of software descriptions and ratings (on user friendliness, educational value, and instructional design). Over 500 program evaluations are included, many from previous reviews in addition to the six Best Early Childhood Software awards for 1993. This guide provides an excellent way to save time and money when selecting computer programs for young children. However, few of the selections and none of the recent award winners have an exclusive focus on social studies. The next edition is scheduled for publication in 1995.
Childrens Software is a joint project of Childrens Software Press and the Department of Computing in Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Although this quarterly newsletter is designed for parents, it is just as useful for classroom teachers who want objective reviews of the latest software. Each issue features a high interest theme such as keyboarding, interactive CD-ROM encyclopedias, or creativity. The leading contenders in the field are reviewed and compared according to their features and prices, and new products are described in the Lookouts Nest. This easy-to-read newsletter does not overwhelm the reader with lists of hardware requirements, and it includes a handy Guide to Publishers (telephone numbers and addresses). Subscriptions are $15 per year for four issues.
The EPIE Institute is a non-profit, consumer-supported agency which provides objective information about software programs in their publication, The Latest and Best of TESS (The Educational Software Selector) 1993 ($19.95). One advantage of this publication is that it includes a social sciences section with over 160 resources. Although many of the software
and CD-ROM programs are geared to the secondary level, all of the favorites for the elementary grades are also included. The Best programs are selected from among thousands of software programs reviewed in recent years while the Latest programs include the more recent reviews and some so recent that they could not be reviewed by press time. The actual review is not included, only a reference to the publication where a review was published. There is, however, a helpful review code of + (positive), ? (neutral or mixed), or (negative). The 1994 edition, not published in print form, is available only on MS-DOS CD-ROM. The Macintosh CD-ROM version will be available sometime in 1995.
Magazine Favorites for Technology Reviews
Many periodicals ranging from professional journals to glossy hi-tech entertainment magazines are now available to give you advice on how to spend your limited budget for software. Of course this journal, Social Studies and the Young Learner, is my favorite source! But three additional journals whose entire focus is on technology in the schools are very helpful as well.
I asked four of my technology friends what journal they would recommend as a resource for teachers and all four said, Electronic LearningThe Magazine for Technology and School Change. This easy-to-read, practical magazine is filled with software reviews, information on emerging technologies, and updates on new products. The November/December 1994 issue provides a handy guide to multimedia, complete with definitions of buzzwords, estimated hardware costs, and a buyers guide for upgrading your old computer. The research article, Teaching Visual Literacy, points out that since the advent of the hit movie Forrest Gump, we need to understand that images are constructed. We must help students to ask Who made this image and for what purpose? In its 14th year of publication, Electronic Learning received a 1994 Distinguished Achievement Award for Excellence in Educational Publishing. Published eight times a year by Scholastic Inc., the subscription rate is $23.95, although a coupon in each issue offers a special price of $14.95.
Multimedia Schools describes itself as a Practical Journal of Multimedia, CD-ROM, On-Line and Internet in K-12. Premiered in mid-1994, each issue includes feature articles and many reviews of CDs and software titles, with a nice selection of elementary products written by practitioners in the field. The Product Roundup section includes a compilation of excerpts of the key findings of product evaluations from major computing magazines. This glossy magazine offers many informative articles, however, the price is high at $38 for five issues.
Technology and Learning has been a favorite of many teachers for over fifteen years. The Picks
of the Month column is one of the most useful with extensive reviews of new products written by technology consultants and classroom teachers. Informative articles, product comparisons, and hardware information all contribute to the success of this journal which publishes eight issues per year for $24. Ask about their special $12 price for first-time subscribers.
While relaxing at home, you can browse through the pages of catalogs highlighting the latest in software and multimedia products. Many companies offer substantial savings off the retail price. All you have to do is call the toll-free 800 telephone numbers listed below and ask to be put on the mailing list. The key is to find software that will support your curricular goals, not supplant them. Keep in mind that the catalogs offer many products but do not include reviews of their educational value. Remember to inquire about previewing opportunities, return policies, and hardware specifications before you order.
Zenger Media, a division of Social Studies School Service, offers the best selection of technology products for the social studies classroom. Videos, laserdiscs, software, and CD-ROMs are all included in their catalog. Because this catalog focuses on the secondary level curriculum, also ask for the Social Studies School Service K-6 and/or the Grades 4-8 catalogs. These include many types of teacher resources, including technology, and the extensive product descriptions are very helpful.
Another catalog with a wide selection of social studies multimedia products is published by the Educational Software Institute. It is available for $12. It contains specific, detailed ordering information for a wide range of software.
If you are specifically interested in laserdiscs, one of the most complete product lines is available from Laser Learning Technologies.
One of the most popular sources for educational software and technology at a discount price is Educational Resources. Call and ask for a catalog or their new K-12 preview CD-ROM. This great innovation allows you to preview more than 100 top-selling educational titles before you buy. Demonstrations, trial versions and information on a wide variety of products are available at your fingertips. You can search for products by title, grade level, or subject categories such as social studies. The pricetag is an affordable $5.95 plus $3 shipping and handling. Over 100,000 copies were mailed free to schools and districts throughout North America, so check around for an available copy before you order yours. Currently the preview CD-ROM is only available in the Macintosh format, however an MS-DOS version is expected early in 1995.
A wide selection of multimedia educational software is now available. The challenge is to maximize the curricular connection with the best available resources at the best price. There is no one resource to accomplish this. Educators need to carefully read the most objective reviews of new products and then search for the best price from several sources. Educational newsletters, professional journals, and catalogs from companies that specialize in technology products are listed here to assist you in this challenging but exciting task.
Buckleitner, W. (1994). 1993 High/ Scope Buyers Guide to Childrens Software. High/Scope Press, 600 N. River Street, Ypsilanti, MI 48198-2898 (313) 485-2000. ISBN# 0-929816-53-6. $19.95.
Childrens Software, Childrens Software Press, 720 Kuhlman Houston, TX 77024 (713) 467-8686. Quarterly. $15.
Childrens Software Revue, 520 North Adams Street, Ypsilanti, MI. 48197 482, (313) 480-0040.
6 issues per year. $24.
Educational Resources, 1550 Executive Drive, Elgin, IL 60123 (800) 624-2926.
Educational Software Institute, 4213 South 94th Street, Omaha, NE 68127 (800) 955-5570
Electronic Learning, P.O. Box 5397, Boulder, CO 80322-3797, (800) 544-2917. 8 issues per year. $23.95. Ask about the $14.95 special.
Laser Learning Technologies, Inc., 120 Lakeside Avenue, Suite 240, Seattle, WA 98122-6552
Learning Services, P.O. Box 10636, Eugene, OR 97440-2636
MultiMedia Schools, Online Inc., 462 Danbury Road, Wilton, CT 06897-2126, (800) 248-8466.
5 issues per year $38.
Social Studies Review, a journal
of the California Council for
the Social Studies 1255 Vista Grande, Millbrae, CA 94030.
Technology and Learning, 330 Progress Road, Dayton, OH 45449. 8 issues per year. $24. Special price of $12 for new subscribers.
The Latest and Best of TESS (The Educational Software Selector), (1993 Edition). Hampton Bays, NY: Educational Products Information Exchange (EPIE). $19.95 includes shipping and handling. ISBN# 0-916087-16-6. The CD-ROM version is available for $125 plus $2.50 shipping and handling. If your state is a member of the Consortium for Improving Software Selection, the CD-ROM price is only $12.50. Telephone (516) 728-9100 for information.
Zenger Media, 10200 Jefferson Blvd., P.O. Box 802, Culver City, CA 90232-0802, (800) 421-4246.
About the Author
Dr. Priscilla H. Porter, Assistant Professor of Education at California State University, Dominguez Hills, teaches courses
in social studies education and is co-director of the Dominguez Hills site of the California History-Social Science Project.