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Even very young children can profit from such exercises. At the Nordstom Elementary School in Morgan Hill, Calif., a suburb of San Jose, Colin Devenish, 7, is working with a classmate on the arithmetic drill, honing his skills in addition and subtraction. Unlike youngsters doing such drilling in the past, Colin seems to be enjoying himself enormously. Why? "Because," he replies mischievously within earshot of his teacher, "the computer doesn't yell."
Computers, operated only by touching a few buttons, are also remarkably effective devices for educating the handicapped. At the California School for the Deaf in Fremont, Rhonda Revera, 16, has worked with computers for five years, studying every subject from fractions to spelling. Rhonda offers a paean to the machine in sign language: "Computer makes me remember. It is fast, easy and better than writing on paper."
Still another important use of computers is as a remedial tool. At Manhattan's P.S. 118, Lewis Stewart has not only improved his command of the language with his work on computers, but has also prepared practice exercises for classmates with even more serious reading problems. One is a spelling drill with a special incentive built into it: if all the answers are correct, a video game pops onto the screen as a reward. When one youngster worked his way through the drill, even classroom hecklers were impressed. Said one: "Hey, Old Wentworth's getting better."
More entertaining and demanding are think tank-type strategy games like Geography Search, which launches competing teams on a Columbus-like voyage of exploration. They must make their way across the Atlantic, taking into account currents and winds, finding then" longitude and latitude by means of star patterns and the length of a shadow thrown by a stick at high noon (methods that worked for Columbus, after all), and coping with such unforeseen perils as an outbreak of scurvy, an attack by pirates and a tropical storm. Only shrewd planning, wise choices and cooperative action ensure survival. The simulated voyage becomes uncannily real to the participants. Says the game's creator, Thomas Snyder, 31, who heads Computer Learning Connection, Inc., of Cambridge, Mass.: "When they get near the end and the computer finally shows them another ship near by, they act as if they had actually spotted a ship at sea."
Until a few years ago, the few computers available in secondary schools were essentially "dumb" terminals linked by telephone lines to a large, centrally located machine that served a variety of users through an arrangement called time sharing. All the courseware was stored in the big computer's powerful memory, which could be tapped at will by students and teachers. The most successful example of such a systemand the one still used by Wisconsin's Chippewa