capsule review

ThemeWeavers: Nature and ThemeWeavers: Animals

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Creativity isn't usually the term that springs to mind when you think of worksheets, but Edmark's ThemeWeavers series may surprise you. This electronic worksheet-creation tool brings out the sculptor in teachers who want custom worksheets to compliment their lessons. Designed for preschool through second grade, ThemeWeavers doesn't deliver the comprehensive sets of drills that you get with some children's software, but it does give you an impressive amount of control over the content.

What Goes into a Worksheet

ThemeWeavers: Nature and ThemeWeavers: Animals each include about 50 templates organized into subjects such as language arts, math, science, and social studies. Although each template contains a few sample problems to get you started, you'll have to provide almost all of the content yourself. It's easy to modify the worksheets: simply select one of the stickers -- fun premade images of alligators in hightops, snakes wearing hats, plants, and more -- and drag it onto the worksheet. You can change the background to different scenes or colors by clicking on an icon, and add instructions using the Type tool. The only limitation is in the software's graphics tools -- you can draw only a few basic shapes such as squares and triangles, and you cannot import your own graphics, a feature that would be desirable for inserting real-life images such as photos of animals and nature.

The final result is an electronic worksheet that features a colorful illustrated scene, such as a beach or a snowy hillside. At the top of the worksheet are written instructions telling students what problem to solve. If students don't read yet or simply learn better by listening, they can click on an ear icon (the Listen button) to hear the instructions read aloud. Then students respond to the problem by typing in an answer, speaking it into a microphone, or dragging the appropriate stickers to and from the worksheet. For instance, one sample math template shows a beach with nothing on it except a palm tree and instructions to put seven chairs on the beach, and then remove four. At the bottom is a box in which the student types in how many chairs remain.

One advantage of electronic worksheets is that they're more fun for students than the traditional paper versions. The program provides over three hundred stickers, giving students a good amount of variety. For instance, in one counting activity, students choose which animals to drag onto a polar ice-cap scene and whether to put them on the ground, on floating bits of ice, or underwater. In addition, many stickers include motion and sound, so when you click on one of them, it dances, snorts, or paws the ground.

Lesson Planning

Edmark presents the worksheets as a compliment to theme-based teaching. For instance, if your class is studying the water cycle, you can use a worksheet that graphs the weather to teach children how to make graphs. To promote theme-based use of the worksheets, the bundled teacher's guide contains about ten pages of lesson ideas that encourage hands-on learning. In the suggested experiments and investigations, students use real-world data, such as weather in their hometown or insects in their own backyards.

The biggest drawback to this program is that it requires much more of the teacher's time than most automated children's education software. If Edmark were to provide teachers with a set of customizable worksheets already complete with problems, ThemeWeavers would be a significantly more competitive solution. Although its unique content-creation capabilities can be empowering for teachers, the option to customize preexisting worksheets, rather than the necessity to create them, would give time- and money-strapped teachers a more compelling reason to choose ThemeWeavers over less-expensive education software or even traditional paper worksheets made with SimpleText and clip art. However, Edmark did create a forum for teachers to potentially share their work online. (At press time, about a dozen shared worksheets were posted on the site;

Teachers will not only spend a lot of time creating the worksheets but also spend a bit of time correcting them. Just like their paper counterparts, electronic worksheets need to be corrected individually; unlike most automated children's programs, these worksheets can't check answers or track progress, so students don't get immediate feedback about their answers. It's up to the students to save or print out their work, and it's up to the teacher or another student to check it over. However, sacrificing automatic feedback for the great degree of control over worksheet content may be worthwhile.

Weave Your Own Worksheets: You can design your own worksheets using a combination of drawing tools and bundled images.
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