CeePrompt! Computer Connection

Back to school? PCs can make great study tools

by Cathi Schuler

If you're one of those people currently engaging in the annual ritual of "Back to School" activities, don't neglect your personal computer needs in your checklist. After all, you did purchase that expensive system with educational goals as a priority, didn't you? Hard to remember sometimes since Myst, Doom II, and other really cool games, seem to be the software applications of choice in many households.

Student PC users tend to balk at using the computer to independently produce homework and school reports for one reason: a lack of keyboard skills. Though very proficient using mice to navigate their games, kids generally lack the dexterity, speed and accuracy required to produce documents with ease. For this reason, a basic keyboard application is a must for any household with student users.

Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing and Typing Tutor 6 are both excellent products that offer structured, interactive lessons for typing. For the younger user, Mario Teaches Typing and Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing for Kids both offer typing instruction in a cartoon environment that can keep even the shortest attention span captive.

Learning to type is much like learning a musical instrument and requires repetition and practice. Even 15 minutes, three to four times a week, will produce positive results. A little adult supervision is needed, however, to insure students use proper fingering and don't race through the exercises with dueling index fingers.

To type a report or create a document, students need a word processing application, such as WordPerfect, Word, or Works. Remember that Windows comes with its own word processor called Write, located in the Accessories group. This "applet" (mini- application) is quite appropriate for the younger PC user since it is very basic and easy to use. One drawback of Write: No spell checker!

Research and referencing for school projects can be easily accomplished with the personal computer thanks to CD-ROM collections and online services. For CD-ROM users, Microsoft Encarta and Microsoft Bookshelf are basic requirements for research and reference. These two products together offer a 29- volume encyclopedia, world atlas, world almanac, dictionary, thesaurus, timelines of world history and much more, including over 8,000 pictures, charts and maps.

Major online services offer a wide variety of academic and educational features from simple research to help with the college S.A.T. America Online has a abundance of educational tools in their Reference Desk (keyword: reference) and also in the Academic Assistance Center (keyword: homework). Students can use Compton's Encyclopedia or search back issues of periodicals such as Time and National Geographic. Online help from professional teachers is also available for questions on homework or research projects.

Prodigy also offers a myriad of research and reference tools, including its own service, Homework Helper. Despite a juvenile- looking interface, this is a powerful search and retrieval service that responds to simple questions, such as "Who was Beethoven", or searches on keywords to return complete articles and reference materials on a particular topic. Homework Helper then rates the articles, as to which ones are better and even zeros in on the "Best Parts" of an article for ease in scanning through many documents. This is a fee based service, costing $9.95 per month.

Of course the Internet and World Wide Web offer a wealth of resources too vast to cover in one column, but a good website with a list of resources catering to kids is http://www.clark.net/pub/journalism/kid.html From this website you can contact over 50 anchors including NASA, the Franklin Institute of Science, or check out a virtual frog dissection at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Our local Stockton-San Joaquin Public Library can also be accessed via your computer modem. Dial 937-7323 and type in LIBRARY as your user name when the connection is made. You can search the stacks and see what's available from home before you trek to the library to check out a book.

Start this academic year out on the right foot and encourage your student to use the PC as much as possible for homework, notes, reports and research. It is a powerful educational tool that can enhance your child's learning.

Feedback? E-Mail cschuler@ceeprompt.com

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