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Tabletop Jr.

Tabletop Jr. is a program for exploring data, graphics, and logic. Designed for students in grades K-6, it can be used by individuals, small groups, or entire classes.

To begin exploring in Tabletop Jr., the user opens a "construction panel," from which attributes are chosen. For example, the opening sets of objects, called Snoods, is a cartoon set of characters that have different types of hair, eyes, noses, and feet, which are represented pictorially, one row for each attribute. When one of each attribute is chosen and a Snood is named, it can be moved onto the tabletop.

Once several Snoods are made, they can be dragged, duplicated, hidden in the "shed," and stored out of the way in the yard. An environmentally correct recycling bin is offered in lieu of a trash-can icon.

Things become even more interesting when choosing from a menu and sorting in various ways. For example, with "bunch up," a rule button appears. When the rule is "Free," unrestricted sorting is permitted. When the rule button is clicked and an attribute chosen (e.g., the "hair row"), the Snoods automatically move together, sorting themselves by that attribute. If one of a group is moved, the rest move to stay with the object.

Sorting choices include bunching, structuring the objects by axes (row and column matrices), using loops (Venn diagrams), linking in a "chain" determined by a rule dealing with the number of shared attributes, tiling (placing objects in a pattern of rectangular or hexagonal cells with a rule as in linking), or "stacking up" (making a pictograph). For each sort, objects can be moved but only in the logical constraints set up with the sort.

Options are given to sort automatically or manually. What for? To choose manual sorting, specify a rule for two intersecting loops, sort the objects, and finally set the option back to automatic sorting to have the computer run a "check." Choosing this option will hide the rules so that one student might specify rules, hide them after the objects sorted automatically, and challenge a peer to guess the rules. One can also set preferences for having all words in English or Spanish and for controlling sound effects.

The Snoods are only one of the sets of objects. Many sets are built in, including stick figures, clocks, attribute shapes, and data people. For some data sets, such as the Snoods, a selection must be made for each attribute. For others, such as the data people, required (color) and optional (number and hat-or-no-hat) attributes are available. The pizza objects were a favorite with fifth graders with whom I field-tested the program.

What if the users wish to graph their own data? A set of objects, such as the data people, can be tailored. Unfortunately, one cannot choose from a large set of pictures or draw to create personal objects. Each object can be named, which was a popular option with the field-test students, although they found it frustrating to be limited to nine letters and to be unable to use arrow keys and the like to edit the name. One bug emerged: Several objects with nine-letter names ending with "k" left a trail of double dots when moved.

A few other trivial complaints were lodged. On several computers, the installer repeatedly claimed that not enough memory was available, although it was. The program might better begin with a File Open dialogue box; having to make a menu choice for the first action a child takes seems a bit obscure. Macintosh-aware students were hindered by the two-click "lazy menus." That option can be turned off, but it is on by default. Similarly, the lack of double-clicking options for certain selections slowed the interaction with program but does simply the interface.

These are minor matters. Tabletop Jr. is an excellent program with a well-thought-out structure. The developer considered even small details; for example, if switching to a different plot, the program remembers how the objects were arranged if the user returns to the initial plot. Generally, the movements of the objects are intelligently performed. Creating, editing, and changing data were intuitive in most situations. The documentation is complete and well written. Included are many worthwhile off- and on-computer activities. Tabletop Jr. is recommended for exploring data, graphics, and logic in the elementary school. - D. C.
COPYRIGHT 1996 National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Inc.
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Title Annotation:Software Review
Publication:Teaching Children Mathematics
Article Type:Evaluation
Date:Sep 1, 1996
Words:721
Previous Article:Math Workshop.
Next Article:Assessment Standards for School Mathematics.
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