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Bee-Bot software: Lesson Activities 1 and 2, and Shell Designer; In The Picture Quizmaker software Review by Dr. Anne Margaret Wright

Focus Educational Software Ltd
PO Box 52 Truro Cornwall [England]
TR1 1ZJ
+44 (0) 1872 241672
http://www.focuseducational.com

Who wouldn't love a cute little bee zooming around a mat, solving puzzles with your help? Focus Educational Software Ltd. created Bee-Bot Lesson: Activities 1 and 2, and Shell Designer, with the purpose of providing primary and middle school students with a fun way to learn directional language, visual-spatial skills, programming, and problem-solving skills through a variety of activities. Bee-Bot is the star of the show with his black stripes and cute bee face. The basic idea is to have the child maneuver Bee-Bot around a mat (or picture), and arrive at the destination. He can go forward, backward, turn right, turn left, or pause, each in one-space intervals. Each activity has a colorful mat, and directions about where Bee-Bot needs to go to complete that activity. Some activities are very easy and straightforward, like counting how many objects are shown, and moving the Bee-Bot forward that many spaces on a numbered mat. Some are more complicated, such as maneuvering him around a mat of a town, stopping and pausing at different places in the town. Some even have obstacles to avoid. Each mat has several activities, so the child can progress as their skill increases.

There are many options for viewing the mat, such as leaving it flat or in 3D, rotating it, zooming in or out, and even seeing things from Bee-Bot's perspective as he moves around the board. The child can program and watch each move step-by-step, or program all of the moves before trying the sequence - which is much more challenging. You can also print the sequence and mat, in order to check the student's work. There is an online Bee-Bot Learning Centre with some helpful videos, explaining some of the fundamentals of the programs. The two Lesson Activity programs are identical, except for the activities themselves. There is also a shell designer, where you can change how the Bee-Bot looks. The Shell Designer is included in the two Lesson Activity programs, so you would not need to buy this separately. You can use a variety of graphics, or design your own, and can change them in many different ways to give your Bee-Bot his own special look. Don't tell your students they are actually learning quite a bit through this activity; just let them enjoy it! You can also make your own mats and activities, such as using a map as a mat, and having students move Bee-Bot to different cities or states, etc.

My seven-year-old son, Zechariah, helped me test the Bee-Bot programs. I was glad that I had played with it a bit before introducing the concept, as it was a little hard to figure out at first. While not incredibly intuitive, it was simple to use once we got the hang of the controls. With a little guidance, he was able to figure out most of the controls and activities. My little scientist went to work, testing what would happen if he did this, or that, and watching the results, always adjusting as he went. You could practically see the wheels spinning in his fertile little mind! He completed the easier activities quickly, but had to think carefully for some of the harder projects. He loved making new shells for Bee-Bot with many creative patterns and shapes. These are great programs that could be very helpful for homeschoolers who want a creative way to practice a wide variety of skills.

Focus Educational Software Ltd. also created In The Picture Quizmaker to help teachers and parents label photos or diagrams. The process is very simple: start with a graphic or diagram, and click on the appropriate areas to add labels. For example, in the Editor program, start with a picture of the human skeleton. For each bone that you want the student to review, click and add a label with the bone's name. Save when completed, and the student can open the file in the Viewer program, where they can complete the activity but not make changes. The student clicks on each blank label and chooses the correct answer from a pull-down menu. The program is very easy to use, although not terribly powerful. For example, it does not record the student's answers for the teacher to evaluate later, which would be very helpful. The possible uses are nearly endless. You could make diagrams for science, maps for geography, time lines for history, etc. Students could create their own labeled graphics, which would be an excellent learning activity. In The Picture Quizmaker provides a very simple way to accomplish a very clever activity.

Product Review by Dr. Anne Margaret Wright, Senior Product Reviewer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, January, 2012

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