Multimedia CD-Rom can motivate and stimulate children. As such it can provide teachers with an interesting tool to help learning in science. But how can we use it?

About the technology

CD-Rom (Compact Disc Read Only Memory) is a form of computer information storage. CD-Rom discs store text, photographs and animation as well as sound. ROM stands for read-only memory. It means that the computer can read the information on the disc and, like a music CD, it cannot be changed or recorded over.

A vast amount of information can be stored on one disc, for example 2000 photographic images or over half an hour of video can be stored. That information would more than fill a typical blue-plastic floppy disc six hundred times over. The idea of having so much information in the same place is obvious attraction in education.

Using CD-Rom to obtain information

The high capacity of CD-Rom provides children with access to a great mass of information. At the extremes that could be from a few books to a couple of hundred volumes. Simply having access to so much can be encouraging and contrasts with the notion of visiting a library and coming back empty-handed. However, there are skills to be learned - not just searching and finding, but also selecting and rejecting.

CD-Rom programs may also have tools that allow children to search in new ways. For example, they might search a CD-Rom of the chemical elements to see how an element reacts with water. They could search for a whole group of elements and see how they react too and they could quickly build up an impression of how the elements fit into a reactivity series. In other words, unlike a regular reference book, the computer helps by cutting across the chapters and allowing children to look to patterns in the information.

Using CD-Rom for browsing

CD-Rom discs store pictures and words. They frequently also have animation, video and spoken commentary, so the discs can present information in a way that pupils can find interesting and helpful. For example, in a disc about the body they might look at the heart, see how the blood flows, hear the heart sounds and have difficult words pronounced or explained to them.

Children are attracted to and enjoy browsing this information. Like a book they will flip through the pages. Like a video they will fast forward as their interest takes them. It's not so surprising to find CD-Rom software in the school library or at a science club. Unlike a textbook, the information here is something pupils enjoy.

Using CD-Rom to investigate

Children can investigate science on the computer. Using a disc on the solar system they might watch the planets go round the sun or watch the moons go round their planets. More than this, they can play with time - speeding it up to watch a whole month of moon shapes appears over a few minutes.

They can also shift their viewpoint and sit on the moon and watch how the earth moves, or sit on another planet and watch the moon go round the earth.

This is an example of a computer-based model. Such models have existed since long before CD-Rom appeared, but the large storage capacity of CD-Rom allows some very real or graphical models to be produced.

These models, are clearly of value - especially where they provide access to something as inaccessible as space .

The best place for a CD-Rom title?

The question of whether a CD-Rom is good is easily clouded by the visual appeal of the software. The criteria for judging a CD-Rom are a broad set of requirements. They might include the quality of the material, ease of use, the language, the level and so on.

But one also needs to consider a key point: software which is excellent for use at home might not be so successful in the classroom. And software intended for the classroom, might not be as good in the school library. So worth thinking about is whether the software will be most useful in the home, the school library or the classroom.

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