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School Software

I'm a high school teacher in Cortland, N.Y. One of the things I use my Mac for is to help me do my grading, and to help me prepare things for class. Two programs my school has bought upon my recommendation are Grade Machine, by Misty City Software, and CrossMaster, by Focus Development Corp. I'll talk about each of them briefly.

Grade Machine by
Misty City Software
10921 129th Place
Kirkland, WA 98033

Price: 79.95, coupon price 69.95 (you can also get this price by mentioning an ad in Teacher Magazine). Department and school licenses are available and are based on staff size.

I've used three grade managing programs: Apple's freebie which comes bundled with "Educator's HyperCard," Teacher's Rollbook from Current Class Productions, and Misty City's Grade Machine. I have found that Grade Machine has the most versatility and produces the best reports.

One thing that I looked for in a grading program was the ability to separate my grades into different categories, tests, quizzes, and homework, for instance, and then have the program calculate grades based on a weight that I give to each category. Grade Machine does this. It also allows me to give a weight to any assignment within a category, so that I can count any assignment at a higher weight than another. Teacher's Rollbook 2.2 and Educator's HyperCard do not do this, perhaps because these programs are not written by teachers.

You put each class into its own file. Then when you want to print out reports, you choose a "style" for that particular report. The "styles" are essentially a report template - they do not alter the class file in any way but only manipulate the data for printing. For example, I have three styles: bulletin board style, individual style and report card style. The bulletin board style prints a report with all grades for all assignments. It prints sideways, and only includes ID numbers, no names. I post this in my class each Monday. The individual style prints a report for the student to look at with his/her parents. It lists all assignments and the associated grade, and also includes category and overall grade. The report card style is for my use. It prints category grades for all the kids, and also prints a class average and final grade for each student.

Grade Machine will also print out attendance charts with the students names and a blank grid listing the days of the week for about 8 weeks. It can be used to keep track of attendance. Attendance is not kept with the class file, but is done separately on paper. I have used a program called Teacher's Rollbook which includes an attendance feature. However I find this to be some useless since I don't, nor do many other teachers, have a computer at my desk. This attendance sheet could also be used to manually record grades for later entry into the Mac. It provides a nice grid with the kids names and small boxes for each student.

I find Grade Machine to be very helpful. I can print reports for any student or parent who asks for one. The styles allow me to keep a "setup" for each type of report I like to print, so I don't have to constantly change this every time I use it. This program will work for college professors, as well as high school teachers. You specify the grading scale to use, whether it be letter (A,B,C,D,F), grade point (3.0, 4.0, etc.) or just out of 100 like most high schools do.

Misty City's customer service is excellent. I called them on Easter expecting to have to leave a message. The guy who wrote the program answered and basted his turkey as he spoke with me about a question I had. Our school bought a department license for $130, and there are school licenses available too. Misty City also has IBM and Apple II versions of the program if you are at a mixed platform site as is the case at many schools.

I give it 7.5 penguins. I think the program is easy to use and fairly well arranged. It does take a little digging to figure out how to get at some of the more "sexy" features. It will give a lot of information if you want it: class averages, standard deviations, graphs of just about anything and more info than you might even need.

The second program I am reviewing is CrossMaster, by Focus Development.

Focus Development
903 SW 43rd St. #202
Fargo, N.D. 58103

Price: $79.00

This program will do two things: allow you to write crossword puzzles, and allow you to solve them on the Mac. I generally use them for the former and not the latter.

I use all my crossword puzzles for the kids I teach. I have eighth graders and they eat them up! I take questions from material I've covered and then put them into a crossword puzzle. About thirty questions will take the kids 40 minute to do. I often make puzzles for test review.

To create a crossword puzzle, you enter clues and answers into CrossMaster's editor. After entering all the words you tell the program to generate the puzzle, a task which takes about 3 seconds. You can also have the program read a word list from any word processor, as long as it was saved as a text file.

A puzzle can be anywhere from five to thirty rows, and five to thirty columns. The program allows you set many things such as the location of the puzzle on the printed page, the number of clue columns, the font for clues, the shading of the puzzle, the name of the title and many other items.

If you are the sort that just likes to solve the puzzles right away, you can solve puzzles on the screen, without having to print out a hard copy. The program will optionally beep if you put in the wrong word. I tend not to use this because I prepare puzzles for class and I don't have a Mac for each student! :-)

I've found one big drawback to this program. Some of the fonts are set to Geneva, especially the title fonts. I use a Hewlett-Packard DeskWriter, and since Geneva is not one of the resident fonts, it doesn't print out well. [Though TrueType might help here. -Adam] Overall I find it easy to use and easy to customize your puzzles so that they look good.

There is a page layout feature which allows you to set a bunch of things. You can set the positioning of the puzzle grid on the page - top, bottom, center, top-left, top-right - etc. You can also tell the program how many rows of clues you want. I usually play with a bunch of combinations of clue columns to try to get the puzzle on one page so I don't have to duplicate extra pages for the kids. If you have too many clues, it will put them on a second page.

I give it 7.5 penguins. I've used CrossWord Magic, a competing product, a few times and I would rate CrossMaster higher for two reasons. The most important reason is that you can do a lot of the layout features with CrossMaster that you can't do with Crossword Magic. You also can't set the puzzle grid size in Crossword Magic as you can with CrossMaster. This is important because it allows you to make really nice puzzles where a lot of the answers intersect. Crossword Magic sets the size and sometimes the puzzles come out one answer on the left, and one answer on the right, instead of a nice compact puzzle.

On a final note, the Grade Machine developer will accept purchase orders from school districts, while the CrossMaster developer will not.

Information from:
Kieran O'Connor -- oconnor@snycorva.bitnet


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