Real Romans digital time traveller

TAG and English Heritage
14.99 Acorn, Apple MAC or PC

Reviewed by Peter Jarrett

This CD-ROM is the first in the series of 'Digital Time Traveller interactive, history resources'. It comes with clear loading instructions, sensibly printed inside the hard-back book that accompanies it.

The program consists of visits to three different Roman sites, chosen to give good variation: Housesteads a fort on Hadrian's Wall, Wroxeter, a Roman town and Lullingstone Villa in Kent. Each site has lots of information and site plans, as well as glorious photographs, and gives the option of exploring the site or having a guided tour. I was surprised that the printed text didn't match the spoken word, it was rather difficult trying to concentrate on both at once.

In essence this is two resources rolled into one. There is a heap of information about each site both on the CD-ROM and in the book. The book is particularly useful as the information on CD-ROM is sometimes pitched at a level difficult for many younger Key Stage 2 children to cope with. This was trialed with Year 3 children who also found the on-screen font somewhat small. Additionally the book is packed with appealing, child friendly images, cartoon figures and bubble speech.

Navigation is easy, by means of a panel of symbols, greyed out if unavailable. These include information, audio clips, plans and museum exhibits. There is also a facility to travel through time courtesy of a clock symbol. The hands turn either clockwise or counterclockwise depending upon whether you are going back or forwards in time. Each plan has a small compass to indicate the direction you are facing; useful in enabling the explorer to build a mental image of the site.

In addition there are sections for activities and reference material. The reference material is very impressive. There is a file of clip art on the CD-ROM, easily accessible thanks to the clear instructions in the book. I am no IT expert, but even I was able to locate and open the pictures and maps. These can be scaled, copied and pasted into a word processing program on any of the three platforms. Some of the pictures are photos of parts of the sites or museum exhibits, others are cartoon characters, giving all the children some stimulus for writing, although the youngest may need help with the IT skills.

The children particularly enjoyed the activities. There are six in all on the CD-ROM (and different ones in the book); a jigsaw, mosaics, a cookery section, a Latin crossword, knucklebones and writing home. There is bound to be something here to appeal to everyone. My own class loved the ready-made mosaics this give plenty of scope for extension work in symmetry. The jigsaw was a challenge, but good for encouraging children to persevere! I was less enthusiastic about the writing home section, although I suspect this had more to do with the screen layout rather than the activity itself, and the Roman eating was less of an activity than a recipe book. The knuckle-bones activity has mathematical potential too. Having said this, with some imagination, all of these could provide worthwhile learning activities for children. This is the crux of the program. Teachers must not fall into the trap of thinking they can load the CD-ROM and leave the children to it. To make sure that the potential for learning is maximised teachers must be willing to spend a few hours familiarising themselves with the content of the program, and devising appropriate tasks for their pupils to do while using it.

All in all this program gives a real feel for Roman life in Britain. It is excellent value for money, a wonderful source of information for teachers and children alike.

Peter Jarrett is a Year 3 teacher at St Peter's C of E Junior School, Harborne, Birmingham


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