Many of today's kids use computers as soon as their little hands can hold a mouse. From Web surfing to writing term papers, keyboarding is now a way of life. Unfortunately, so are keyboard-related injuries as young hands are glued to the keys, sometimes for hours at a time.
You can't keep the hands off the keys, but you can point them in the right direction. This month, we examine five keyboarding programs that use a combination of drills, video clips, and arcade-style games to teach kids how to type. All (except for Read, Write, and Type) assume basic reading skills, and, with the exception of Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing 16, are geared for the beginner set. All of the programs also use timed tests and have animated hands demonstrating correct fingering on-screen. In addition, all allow teachers some degree of customization and the ability to track students' progress on-screen and in print.
Type to Learn 3
Welcome to Mission Control, where students, guided by Father Time, easily navigate through a series of lessons, practices, reviews, and activities. Their goal? To master typing skills and complete a series of time-travel missions.
Each of the 25 lessons starts with a Home Row Review that reminds typists of proper posture and hand positioning, and also a checkpoint review of previous lessons. Students then move on to new material; an average of two keys are introduced per lesson. Like the other programs in this review, on-screen fingers demonstrate hand positioning, but in Type to Learn 3, the hands don't move, the keys darken to indicate which key should be pressed. If a student mistypes, the hands demonstrate correct technique, and the missed letter is voiced.
Type to Learn 3 has simple, short lessons and activities, which some students will not find engaging; however, brevity could be a real plus as it encourages students to keep time traveling and complete more missions. The program also has an unscored Play and Practice mode for demonstrations and quick practice.
Geography and history lessons sneak in through the program's typing games. For example, in the game Windshield Typers, students type a sequence correctly to reveal a hidden picture of a historical site (such as the Egyptian pyramids or Versailles) and explanatory text. They might also see a Sioux Indian village, circa 1750, with a caption about "present-day" South Dakota, where "the men hunt wild animals and the women take care of the children and decorate clothing with beads."
When a student completes Type to Learn's timed activity Key Figures, a historical figure appears, accompanied by a short biography.
Other activities include a Dictation Station, Warp Speed for longer practice, and a fill-in-the-blank Typeline. There is also the Notebook, a mini-word processor where students print, save, spell check, and format their own texts with their choice of fonts, sizes, and styles.
As students zip through time, they can see their progress and high scores by clicking on the Charts button on the main menu. Each lesson/mission is dated, and the chart lists accuracy and words per minute percentages for every mission completed. Charts are printable and data can be imported or exported.
Teachers also have extensive options outlined in a comprehensive and easy-to-understand guide. This allows them to customize the program for individuals or whole classes. Other options include controlling size of the text and vocabulary level, and automatic goal adjustment. The program can also be adapted to text-only for increased accessibility.
Typing Instructor for Kids
Typing Instructor for Kids takes students on a touch-type journey to Typer Island, where they travel through five lands on the ground, under the sea, and in the air seeking their ultimate destination: the Castle. Along the way, they earn treasures by completing lessons, drills, and tests. Once they visit all the lands and demonstrate mastery of these skills they can enter the Castle Gates and become ruler of the realm.
But even kings need to master the basics, so before young travelers can begin their quest they learn proper posture and hand placement on the keyboard from their guides, Toby (a boy) and Lafitte (his parrot). Students can also choose to view a scripted tour of the island.
Navigation is easy once you understand that each land has its own corresponding game, and that keyboarders have to master the lesson before earning the right to play a game. For example, in the Old West, students learn the home keys and proper fingering, and if they attain the WPM goal they set, they are treated to a game of bug zapping in Izzy's Oasis. After completing each lesson, learners can take a "game break" and choose one game to play one time. Otherwise, typists can only play the game corresponding to the area of the island they are on. Additionally, students have to complete the activities in one land before going on to another.
Step-by-step instruction with guiding hands demonstrating the correct keys take students through hundreds of lessons and tests on their royal road to the Castle. Once they arrive, there are more lessons, a cool bonus game, and some other surprises.
The program can track results for 10 students, and after every lesson, players get instant feedback on speed and accuracy as well as a performance assessment for each key, finger, hand, and row. They are also encouraged to up the ante and increase their WPM goal. Music is available, but selections are short, and therefore looped; an annoyance that may or may not bother kids.
There is a lot happening on Typer Island, and focused students will have fun taking lessons and playing the colorful, well-conceived games. One drawback, though, is that they have to reach the Castle before they have the run of the realm and total access to the games. The road to proficiency is a long one, and young kids may lose patience, as they have to keep taking lessons until they pass them, and they can't play the games until they do.
Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing Version 16
At 16, Mavis Beacon looks and sounds better than ever with her freshly updated user interface, improved resolution, and enhanced voice-over clarity.
Adding to her makeover are 20 additional custom lessons and a design template allowing teachers to import, export, and modify content. There are also 20 new practice lessons, including new HTML documents — handy for Web designing and editing. In all of the more than 150 lessons, students can choose settings and music to suit their mood (though music lovers beware: Mavis' idea of rock and reggae may differ from yours).
On-screen hands guide learners through the lessons, providing an error sound for each mistake.
Step into Mavis' domain, and the first thing you notice is a sleek full-screen classroom and a big board with a personalized welcome. Everything is well-laid out and easy to navigate. Just roll your mouse over the computer and a "Would you like to take a lesson?" pop-up appears accompanied by Mavis' voice. Pop-ups with voice also appear over a software box (gaming area) and doorway (media center), the other two areas of Mavis' domain.
Back in the classroom, lessons are conducted on full screen. Mavis is a patient teacher and an excellent guide. She is also a hard taskmaster: she sets goals for WPM according to age, so students who want to learn at a beginning typist's pace will have to join the 11-and-under set.
As users type, accuracy and speed gauges track progress, and after each lesson, Mavis reports on WPM accuracy. When students want a break from standard keyboard lessons, they can opt to practice a particular skill or take a lesson in game format instead.
Game enthusiasts can test their speed, accuracy, and rhythm with 10 arcade-like games, including one for practicing on the 10-key numeric keypad. Some are more engaging than others — such as the Creature Lab, where students type words under DNA strands corresponding to different animals, creating some amazing hybrid critters — and a few can be amazingly quick — for example, one typo in Penguin Crossing and the penguin on the ice floe gets it.
Other features include motivating speed tests, colorful progress reports, and dictation practice — all designed for students eight and above. Mavis also offers enhanced Adaptive Response Technology, which continually monitors progress, automatically adjusting the lessons to provide ongoing challenges. Another plus is that Mavis has grown with the times and now provides typing instructions and Quick Help files in both Spanish and English.
But Mavis is not just fun and games. To help students practice safe keyboarding, the program's Media Center has ergonomic videos and checklists. The center also has links to online resources and accessible online help via Adobe Acrobat.
Read, Write, and Type Learning System
Since we reviewed this program in our April 2000 issue, it has been updated with enhanced teacher tools and supplemental materials. The lessons, however, maintain their unique, multisensory approach to integrating basic skills with keyboarding strokes.
Children are systematically introduced to a total of 40 speech sounds in 10 levels by colorful animated characters. Two helping hands, Lefty and Right Way, guide students through a series of activities to rescue the Storytellers (animated letters with names that start with the sound of the key, as in "Ann the Ant") from a nasty rhyming virus named Vexor. Through the activities, students identify letter sounds as beginning, middle, and ending; practice typing blended sounds, words, and short phrases; and type the names of pictures. Teachers should note that finger placement is not shown during all the activities, so if the goal is proper typing skills, this will have to be reinforced throughout the program.
The program also includes an area to practice speed typing and a mock e-mail client that allows students to "send" letters and "receive" one of 84 stories, written by children all over the world and edited only for spelling, in reply. Extensive help and instruction is also available in Spanish, making this an invaluable tool for ESL instruction.
To help young typists with hand positioning, the program provides stickers for the D and K keys plus extra stickers for storytelling. There are also easy-to-read books, a complete scope and sequence, and a practice keyboard included in the RW&T Learning System package. Also, an exceptional flipbook User's Guide walks students through the lessons and provides tips for teachers, including a class mastery chart, lesson plans, and step-by-step instructions for guiding a class through the exercises.
A second CD included with the program, Spaceship Challenge, provides stimulating games to improve phonemic awareness, reading comprehension, and spelling. The program also includes reports for individual or class progress, as well as 40 printable RW&T stories and clip art of the RW&T characters to illustrate students' compositions.
Who you gonna call when Coach Qwerty is imprisoned and the Interplanetary Extreme Typing Pentathlon is in danger? JumpStarters! Get ready for fun and games as young typists flex their fingers in this comprehensive and colorful space-themed program.
Missions begin in the Keyboarding Training Center. From there, typists can take a lesson, play a game, and eventually rescue the coach. Of course, rescuing requires speed and accuracy, so before starting out, keyboarders watch movie clips to check their posture and finger placement and take a diagnostic test to determine their base typing ability. JumpStart then automatically adjusts the program to match the abilities of individual users and assigns a WPM goal for each of the seven locks holding Coach Qwerty. Every time a level is mastered, students earn a power card, open a lock, and help the coach (and the team) breathe a little easier.
Students can continue to build proficiency while participating in five extreme sporting events, including rock climbing, skateboarding, soccer, and snowboarding. For challenge and variety, students can adjust the difficulty level.
But kids only in it for the games will soon lose their strength and have to go back to the training center for a recharge (more lessons). The games are a nice breather, especially Cliff Hangers, but in general, the program could use more game variety, and the constant barrage of encouraging phrases wears thin.
Students can win gold, silver, and bronze medals for games played in JumpStart Typing.
Designed for kids ages 7-10, JumpStart Typing is easy to use, with over 30 timed typing lessons that use color-coded keys and animated computer hands to demonstrate correct typing technique. Students receive feedback and reports, in line or bar chart form, assessing speed and accuracy on all keys and on individual hands. Such options as speed and degree of difficulty can be changed on the games, but you can't apply changes to the keyboard. This would not be an issue, except all the lessons require two spaces between sentences. This is not the norm, and in addition to slowing typists down, it could potentially impact their typing when they are on their own.
Jamie Keller is an educational therapist and experienced classroom and movie-set teacher in Berkeley, Calif., and other locations.