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New Teachers Online: How-To Articles: Use New Technology to Reinforce Instruction

Selecting Grade-Appropriate Software
Rand Briggs

The selection of grade-appropriate computer software involves very much the same process as textbook selection in most districts. Most school districts have a set process by which they choose and approve textbooks for use by their students. Issues that are examined generally include the following:

  • Readability
  • Appropriate vocabulary level
  • Supporting teacher materials
  • Gender/multicultural presentation
  • Durability

In the not too distant past, teachers were often left to their own devices when it came to selecting computer software for their students. Not only was the selection limited, but the software was generally fairly expensive and often not very attractive to the student. Thankfully, time has changed this situation. Although the software remains expensive, the range of choices and their attractiveness to the students has greatly increased.

With this increase in the range of choices, given the budgetary constraints most of us must work within, it is important to be thoughtful when examining software for possible inclusion into your program. In most cases, your district probably already has a software selection and adoption process. Some of the questions that are listed below may fall within their adoption process. I t may also be true that some of the items listed below will not be included in your district's software adoption policy. But my experience is that they are helpful guidelines, and they might also cause you to come up with additional questions of your own. These are questions that I ask when I look at new software for my students:

  • Are the graphics appropriate and interesting to the students?
  • Is the information presented accurate?
  • Is the program easy to use?
  • Does the program provide feedback to the student?
  • Does the program supplement material presented in your class?
  • Will it run on your computers?
  • Does it require speakers, a CD-ROM, or other additional hardware?
  • Will students tire of it easily, or does it provide new levels of difficulty?
  • Is it heavily text based (students generally avoid this type of software)?
  • Does it have an aspect of entertainment (puzzle, storyline, action, or activity)? Students are generally more attracted to this form of presentation.
  • What does it cost per copy?
  • Is a site license available and will this be more economical?
  • How many copies of the program will you need?
  • Can two students effectively share a copy of the program and work on it together?
  • Does it present new information, expand on (broaden) current information, or remediate to improve student understanding?
  • Does it provide an intellectual challenge for your students at their level (or within the range of abilities of your students)?
  • Finally, and I think this is perhaps the most important question to ask when looking at software-
    Does it make learning boring, or does it make it more fun?

These questions aren't the only ones you can ask, but they have kept me from buying software that just sits on the shelf. They also serve to remind me that just because I think a program is great, that doesn't necessarily mean that my students will!


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