Many quality software packages are produced each year. Some are produced by well-known companies and others are published by software companies focusing on a single product.

Go to ALA's Children's Great Interactive Software List. Browse the list of past software winners. Do you recognize the winners? Learn to Play Chess 2 is one recent winner.

Learn to Play ChessOver the past several years there's been a huge turnover in instructional software publishing. Companies have been bought, sold, and rearranged. Although many companies distribute software, very few producers remain. Many newer companies such as Brighter Minds Media are focusing on popular characters such as Bob the Builder.

You'll find that many software packages provide online resources, tools and lessons to go with their software. For instance, Tool Factory contains many online materials.

You'll find exciting electronic materials for children and young adults across subject areas and grade levels.

eye means readRead Taking Computers Out of the Corner: Making Technology Work in the Classroom by Melanie Kuhn in Reading Online (April 2001, Vol. 4, Issue 9) and Connecting a Computer Center to Themes, Literature, and Kindergartners' Literacy Needs by Linda D. Labbo and Linda Sprague,
with M. Kristiina Montero and George Font in Reading Online (July 2001, Vol. 4, Issue 1).

bobRead the following materials on this page related to electronic databases for children and young adults:


Electronic Materials on CD & DVD

Freddi Fish BoxWhen computers first became popular as educational tools, many of the instructional resources were simple drill programs designed to help students practice skills such as math or spelling. Instructional software has evolved to include sophisticated simulations and problem-solving software.

The problem solving series Freddi Fish (shown on right) by Humongous Entertainment focuses on the adventures of a supersleuth fish who explores underwater caves, canyons, and reefs while solving problems.

Today, many companies provide their software as a download rather than on CD or DVD. For instance, Crazy Machines is a game involving creating machines. Like many of the new software packages, it's downloaded from the Internet to your hard drive. Updates are available online as well as a demo.

Think about how these resources might be integrated into your library. For instance in the public library, parents often ask for ways to help their children with study skills and academic skills. Mastering Elementary School from Weekly Reader and others in the WR Learning System series help children with school success.

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Tutorials present step-by-step instruction teaching new concepts. They are designed to provide new information along with examples and nonexamples of concepts. In addition, practice and feedback is often incorporated into the program. Tutorials work well when introducing new concepts, reviewing difficult ideas, or providing enrichment

Essay Express from Fablevision helps young people learn to create short essays through a series of fun activities. Download a free trial to see how it works.


Some tutorials are linear. In other words, they provide the same information and examples to all learners in a predetermined order. Sometimes called "electronic pageturners" they don't address the needs of individual students. On the other hand, branching software provides alternative paths through the program. Each student receives that instruction he

Mavis Beacon BoxThe strength of tutorials lies in their consistency and accuracy. They allow students to work at their own pace and provide individualized practice and feedback which is difficult to do in the traditional classroom environment.

Typing software such as the popular Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing from the Learning Company is a great example of popular tutorial software.

eye means readRead Kids and Keyboarding. Compare some of the reviews. What are the key issues related to keyboarding, children, and young adults?

You've probably seen tutorials for applications software. These packages take new users step-by-step through all the skills needed to use the software. Many new computers come with tutorials to get you started using the technology.

Rosetta StoneCoin Critters and Clock Shop by Nordic Software are intended to provide this type of instruction in learning to use money and read the clock. The computer is patient. Many packages will provide a student with endless examples and practice to assist the student in learning the concept. For example, the Rosetta series and Instant Immersion software provides basic language instruction.

Tutorials are available on many other topics such as music instruction and personal improvement.

Think about both formal and information learning situations. For instance, many young people like to learn sign language on their own.


When selecting tutorials consider the instructional strategies incorporated into the program. Ask yourself:

It can be confusing for a student to learn one approach on the computer and be expected to demonstrate a different technique in class. Is the software a good use of instructional time in your classroom?

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Practice Programs

Drill and practice software was the first widespread application of computers in the classroom. Other than fancier "bells and whistles", many of today's approaches have changed very little since the 1960s. Knowledge Adventure is well-known for their traditional drill and practice software. The Jumpstart series focuses on age-appropriate levels that allow children to progress at their own pace. Reading and Math Blasters are intended to reinforce concepts and allow opportunities for students to practice.

Sunburst was one of the first educational software companies. In Sunburst's Key Skills for Math: Basic Number Concepts (see graphic below), students develop number sense, prepare for basic operations and measurement challenges, and receive reports on their progress.

Key Skills for Math: Basic Number Concepts

Go to Sunburst.

Although some software provides instruction in addition to practice, it is not intended to replace traditional instruction. Instead, it is intended to support classroom instruction. The strength of these programs is their ability to provide endless practice and immediate feedback to meet the individual needs of students.

Reader RabbitMuch of the new software for young children provides fun situations, modeling, and corrective feedback. Many of the situations let students explore for answers rather than being posed with traditional multiple choice questions on the screen. For example, the Reader Rabbit series (shown on left) by The Learning Company is a popular way to teach and reinforce early reading and math concepts. Students search for words that begin with the "s" sound and listen to and read stories.

A popular series by Edmark provides students with a positive environment to explore early learning concepts. The subject specific series includes Bailey’s Book House , Millie’s Math House, Sammy’s Science House, and Trudy’s Time and Place House. The Zurk series by Soleil Software featuring titles related to a rainforest and Alaskan safari are also popular.

Go to Edmark from Riverdeep. Explore some of the software such as Bailey's Book House, Millie's Math House, Sammy's Science House, Trudy's Time & Place, Thinkin' Science, and Thinkin' Things. Try some of their free downloads.

Many software packages help students practice for exams. For example, the Excel@ series helps students perform well on standardized test. The Kaplan and Princeton Review series provides help preparing for the SAT, GMAT, LSAT, and GRE.

You’ll find much of this software in the areas of math, language arts, reading, and foreign language where practice and repetition is important in mastery learning. A growing number of companies are provide integrated learning systems that include testing, standards-aligned software, lesson places, and management systems.

An increasing number of games are being produced for hand-held devices such as the Nintendo DS. Many of these involve opportunities for practice.


Before selecting this type of approach to learning, make certain the program fits your philosophy of teaching. Ask yourself:

You’ll find both effective and ineffective drill and practice software. Look for the quality of the feedback. Ask yourself:

When evaluating practice software, be aware of the screen layout. This is particularly important in spelling and math problems. Ask yourself:

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Simulations and Gaming

Simulations help students apply their skills to "real life" situations by providing an environment to manipulate variables, examine relationships, and make decisions. This software is generally used after initial instruction as part of application, review, or remediation.

Virtual Business and Virtual History are a suite of simulations from Knowledge Matters. Watch a Flash-based Video Introduction to see an example on the topic of Ancient Egypt.

In software such as World of Goo, young people "drag and drop the living, squirming, animated citizens of the World of Goo to build towers, bridges and all manner of living creations as you help these playful denizens explore their world."

In Edmark's Virtual Lab series, students explore topics such as light and electricity. It provides them with examples and activities, problems to solve, an encyclopedia of information, and lots of tools. The key to an effective simulation is a high level of interaction and a sense of participation in "real life" activities.

Many simulations places users in a particular time or place. For instance in 1701 AD by Aspyr Media, users participate in the golden age of exploration in the 17th and 18th centuries by building, trading, exploring, and declaring battles on land and sea.

Image from 1701 A.D.

Oregon Trail BoxThe Learning Company's series of social studies simulations are long-time favorites including Oregon Trail (shown on right), Yukon Trail, African Trail, and Amazon Trail. With teacher guided activities, these packages can give students a sense for what life was like in an earlier time. In Figure 5-14a, a student using the Oregon Trail package is selecting supplies for their trip. While working through the simulation, students might write a biography of one of the characters, explore information about historical locations along the trail, or write Westward III: Gold Rush, users travel to Northern California to participate in the Gold Rush.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to send students to the corner of the room to “play” on the computer rather than provide specific guidance in using the simulation. Much of the value of the software is lost without teacher direction.

Go to Learning Company from Riverdeep. Explore the popular titles including Carmen Sandiego, KidPix, StarFlyers, Reader Rabbit, Zoombinis, Scooby-Do. Mavis Beacon, Oregon Trail, and Cluefinders.

The Sim series by Electronic Arts, best known for SimCity, provides challenges in particular environments such as the human body and the world of ants. Civilization by Infogrames Entertainment provides an entire world for students to create and manage.

Go to the Sims from Electronic Arts. Explore the many Sims software options.

Simulations can be used to prepare students for a field trip or real experiment. For example, Operation Frog by Scholastic is a well-known frog dissection simulation that teachers use to prepare their students for the lab situation.

Magic School Bus BoxWhile some simulations have a specific “mission” to accomplish, others are intended to help students explore a particular situation or environment. The Magic School Bus series by Microsoft lets students explore under the ocean, in the human body, or through the solar system. The Oceans edition is shown on the left. The Cluefinders series challenges students to complete adventures in reading, math, geography, and science.

Although simulations can be fun, they are often overused. In most cases, simulations should be used as a culminating activity after students have basic skills in the concepts being addressed in the software. Otherwise it is difficult for them to make informed decisions during the program. Without background skills, the simulation may become a game rather than a meaningful learning experience.

Many of the producer websites have resources for educators. For example Firaxis Games has an Educator's Exchange. Sid Meier’s Railroads (below left) has an an easy-to-understand business simulation for people who like railroads.


When selecting simulations, consider activities that are difficult to duplicate in the classroom other ways. For example, activities that involve dangerous situations, time consuming processes, spending money, or "impossible" projects like an interstellar

There are many types of simulations. Physical simulations involve students in using objects or machines such as microscopes or airplanes. Procedural simulations involve a series of actions or steps such as medical diagnosis or frog dissection. Situational simulations involve critical incidents within particular settings such as interactions with customers. Process simulations involve decisionmaking skills related to topics such as economics, genetics, or geology. Students must choose among alternative paths.


When selecting simulations consider the amount of time you have to dedicate to the program. Some simulations can be time-consuming if done well. Also consider the grouping of students. Ask yourself:

Ask yourself about the content of the simulation.

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Problem Solving

Problem-solving software is intended to assist students in developing skills related to making effective decisions. Although similar to a simulation, more emphasis is placed on reasoning, logic,

Zoombinis BoxThe Zoombinis series (shown on left) by The Learning Company focuses on critical, logic and mathematical thinking skills.

In the I Spy series by Scholastic, young learners go on adventures and become critical observers.

Go to Scholastic. Notice their wide variety of learning software. Also, check out the software area by grade levels.

Problem solving software generally involves a set of procedures to accomplish some type of goal. Students may identify a problem, plan an approach, gather information, develop strategies, test hypotheses, and develop plans of action during the program. In most cases, the program focuses on a core set of principles or strategies. For example, the Thinkin’ series by Edmark contains thought-provoking activities for young children. Users try to repeat a series of sounds. They can also create a series of sounds and try the patterns in the dark. The Thinkin' Science program focuses on problem solving in science. Look for features that let the child or the teacher vary the level of difficulty. Teachers can choose by level or topic.

Decisions decisionsAlthough some of these packages are content specific, others are general problem-solving tools. For example, Tom Snyder Productions has a series of programs called Science Seekers that deal with realistic concerns, interests, and problems facing young people such as the environment. A series called Decisions Decisions focus on social issues and dilemmas.

Go to Tom Snyder Productions from Scholastic. Try one of their trials for Science Seekers. Notice that resources are provided both online and on CD.

Many of the instructional programs combine instructional activities with games, simulations, and adventures. The Mighty Math series from Edmark has themes such as construction with Calculating Crew and animals with Zoo Zillions. Math Workshop by Broderbund contains practice activities as well as problem solving environments.

One thing to watch for in educational software is the appeal to individual children. Many programs use the child's name in the program. In some software, children select whether they would like to play with a male or female playmate. Some use fictional creatures rather than human children as their main characters, so it isn't possible to tell the race or gender. It is hoped that this will make all children feel comfortable relating to the characters.


When selecting problem solving software, consider your educational objectives. Ask yourself:


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Beyond learning resources, much of the software for children and young adults falls into the category of edutainment or gaming.

BachThink about ways to incorporate software into popular library topics. For instance, combine the software Chessmaster from Ubisoft with books and videos about chess. Think about popular topics such as cooking. Cooking Mama is educational software for many computer and game station formats. Combine it with cook books, videos, and live library demonstrations. Music is another topic that bridges education and entertainment. Discover Bach is great multigenerational software providing games, activities, audio, and audio materials.

Keep in mind that many of the new software programs are developed for gaming stations and hand held devices rather than home computers. Before purchasing these games, be sure that you explore different types of players to determine whether there's enough interest. For instance, the wii format is gaining support. Again, look for book and game connections such as Goosebumps. You can purchase Goosebumps games for PlayStation 2, Nintendo DS, wii and others.

Also look for movie connections. However keep in mind that the popularity of movie characters may be long or short. LucasArts has produces software and games based on popular movie characters such as Lego Indiana Jones that combines the movie and the love of Lego.

Go to Electronic Arts. Explore the range of popular electronic games for children and young adults.

Go to Legacy Interactive. Check out games based on TV shows. Check out Zoo Vet for kids.

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Proceed to App Resources.

Adapted with permission from Chapter 5 in Lamb, A. (2006). Building Treehouses for Learning: Technology in Today's Classroom, Fourth Edition.

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