By Chris Drage
Finding any software for early years children to help develop ICT skills is challenging. Most falls into the ‘edutainment’ camp which tends to disguise any real development of creativity and skills. Or it demands too much from the learner. However, Just2easy Infant Tools (JIT) addresses the balance and gets it just right.
JIT is a set of seven online software tools – Write, Paint, Turtle (right), Chart, Pictogram, Animate, and Mix – specifically designed for younger learners. It has a colourful and friendly feel which appeals to nursery through to lower primary pupils and it encourages children to create on the web in an enjoyable and stimulating way, progressing at their own pace.
A standard format for each tool means each one is easy to master and provides a very appealing way to interact online.
Write is a very accessible writing tool for creating simple stories and for exploring words. It has a range of age-appropriate word banks and colourful background templates to help support younger learners.
Paint positively encourages children to paint freely with different sizes, colours and fills. Here, shapes and stamps are easily selected as well as colourful template backgrounds and pictures from a picture bank. If children can't read and write it will save their files as icons of their images, dispensing with the need for filenames at a stroke. A radical innovation.
Turtle encourages children to explore the initial concepts of direction and sequencing. They can design their own 'turtle' and plan a route for it to follow. A range of lovely nursery rhymes and adventure templates are also included which should inspire even the most reluctant learners.
Chart introduces line, block, pie and bar charts. Children can enter numbers, produce simple surveys and work with a variety of charts. They can compare their results by mixing a variety of charts on the same page and see each chart change instantly as the numbers in the table are changed – a lovely introduction to data-handling.
Pictogram too, is another simple means of introducing data-handling. Children can pick from a range of topics such as favourite fruits, colours or pets, then just click the buttons to add or take away the relevant pictures. They can even draw their own pictures to go with their pictograms; a great way to reinforce counting with the whole class or a group using an interactive whiteboard.
It is a natural progression for children to draw a character in Paint, then animate it to make it dance, jump, grow or bounce. Animate is simple stop-frame animation tool for producing basic animations. There’s a good range of characters and backgrounds in the picture bank to assist and stimulate, and children will love transforming their pictures into mini-movies using this creativity tool.
With Mix, teachers can select suitable templates to suit individual abilities and it is possible to produce a workbook and showcase a child’s work. The Paint, Turtle, Chart, Pictogram and Animate tools can be combined (as many as required) into the book using the templates and you have a ready-made selection of evidence to show, keep, add to and look through as work develops.
As JIT is a completely online resource and able to integrate with any learning platform, it is e-safe and children can securely share and publish their work on the web and access it at school and at home too. There’s no CD-Rom or network installation to worry about so teachers can concentrate fully on the children’s projects rather than ICT infrastructure.
Being fully Shibboleth (single sign-on) compliant, compiling evidence of work, personalising and accessing the software securely is a necessity, making collaboration and sharing of work a reality. It is not surprising that The London Grid for Learning has adopted JIT as one of its software resources for London’s schools. As Bob Usher, content manager at London Grid for Learning points out, "Our investment in the JIT tools was a direct result of seeing a new product that fully understood the needs of the intended user. The interface is clear and intuitive; we particularly liked the way in which saving and retrieving files works for the younger user. Some of the individual tools really have a broad potential to be used in a range of contexts.
"We encourage key stage 2 teachers and children to use the Chart feature to manage data display, even though it is targeted at younger children. However, it is the Mix tool that allows a child to join together their creations that really sparked our interest. Having invested in both the JIT tools for foundation and key stage 1, and J2E for key stages 2, 3 and 4, we know we have a comprehensive selection of innovative online tools that can be used in a wide variety of contexts to suit many different aspects of the curriculum."
The only minor shortcoming might be progression – where do the children go when they have ‘exhausted’ the tools in JIT? It would be ideal if there were a similar range of tools for children to progress on to after JIT. Perhaps a suite based around the excellent Just2Easy? How about it J2E? Or am I being a little picky?
As it stands JIT is a superb resource for its target audience. Considerable thought has gone into this software and it shows in features like not having to type in a filename to save a document, (perfect for younger users) and thumbnail images of the saved files that appear in the 'Load a file' window instead of filenames. Similarly, the degree of flexibility within the range of tools encourages personalisation and development and even caters for gifted and talented children. JIT is software that every nursery school or reception class should have in their armoury of ICT resources. (Those of you in London should check out your free access to it through the London Grid for Learning via http://jit.lgfl.net.)
Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose 5
Ease of use 5
Value for money 5
Just2easy Infant Tools (JIT)
Set of online creative software tools for young learners – Write, Paint, Turtle, Chart, Pictogram, Animate, and Mix – that can be used individually or together.
Subscription prices work out at 50p per pupil per year: up to 100 pupils £50 a year, £100 for two years, £150 for three years. Schools can try JIT free of charge for 30 days.
Just2easy, Crowtrees, Bradley, Ashbourne DE6 1PG.
Tel: 01335 370579
Fax: 01335 851792
Chris Drage, a former teacher, is a consultant and journalist covering learning with ICT