Balancing Act is a program for investigating concepts related to equality and inequality. It has three main environments - Teeter Totter, Number Balance, and Scale. The investigations are designed to be used with manipulative devices. Students can work individually or in small groups. The program includes both beginning and advanced levels appropriate for students in grades 4-8. Investigations involve estimation, addition and subtraction with whole numbers, integers, fractions, and decimals.
To begin investigating in Balancing Act, the user selects an environment from a menu. The user interacts with the selected environment using tools pictured on the side of the window and can select an additional window called the Tutor, which appears as a floating notebook. Without the assistance of this on-screen tutor or a teacher, initiating the mathematical explorations is difficult.
Each environment is intended to model the use of a physical device. For example, in Teeter Totter, the user clicks on the "Jack" icon, and a window appears in which Jack is holding some objects. The number of objects can be changed by clicking on an arrow bar or using the eraser tool. When different quantities are placed on the two sides of the Teeter Totter, the relationship between them is shown by whether the Teeter Totter balances. The user also has the option to display the relationship with text or as a numeric equation. The software does not display a gradual change in the position of the Teeter Totter as the relationship between the quantities changes.
Number Balance and Scale also use the concept of balance to represent the relationship between different quantities. Although the representations show a correct mathematical relationship, the devices do not model the graduated change that would occur with the actual physical devices. The fact that the software does not show graduated changes encourages the user to make random guesses instead of trying and adjusting choices after appropriately delineated feedback.
These reviewers were also uncomfortable with the way the Teeter Totter environment models negative quantities. The user must accept the notion of "negative weight" as represented by a character who is pulled upward by helium balloons.
We also question whether this computer environment should be used by young students to model the concept of weight. The learner is asked to compare the weight of a pictured object with that of cubes that represent grams. Some of the objects include a puppy, lion, horse, and frog. The relationships between the objects and the cubes are not based on the understandings that the student brings to the learning environment. The weights assigned to the pictured characters seem to be arbitrarily assigned rather than based on the actual weights of animals or toy animals.
The software does not meet the goals described in the accompanying written materials, nor is it truly a manipulative environment. Because the feedback is not graduated, the weights of the objects are not realistic, and the negative numbers are poorly represented, these reviewers cannot recommend this software in its present form. - Julie Sarama and Sally Roberts, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202.
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|Title Annotation:||Software Review|
|Author:||Sarama, Julie; Martin, Sara|
|Publication:||Teaching Children Mathematics|
|Date:||Sep 1, 1997|
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