Instructional software are computer programs designed to deliver instruction or assist with the delivery or student mastery of information. There are five distinct types of instructional software, though a great deal of software available today is a combination of types. Regardless, teachers must always take care to analyze software to ensure it supports their specific needs.
The five types of software are:
1. Drill and Practice – Programs in which students work problems and receive immediate feedback, letting them know whether they got a problem right or wrong, before moving on to the next. Flash cards, fill-in charts, and branching drills are examples of drill and practice software.
- Example for use in 6th grade Social Studies class: Quizlet.com. Quizlet is a website that provides students with learning tools, such as flashcards. This is useful for vocabulary practice for each chapter/unit of study.
2. Tutorials – Programs that provide and entire unit of study, enabling students to move at their own pace through the material and learn independently. They are similar to a teacher’s classroom instruction.
- Example for use in 6th grade Social Studies class: KhanAcademy.org. Khan Academy offers many units of study on a variety of topics in all curricular area. Students can move through the units on their own, at their own page. It tracks how many skills have been mastered as you progress.
3. Simulations – Programs that provide computerized models of a real or imagined system. Simulations allow students to experience and interact with things they might not be able to in real life due to safety concerns, funds, time, etc.
- Example for use in 6th grade Social Studies class: Lascaux: A Visit to the Cave. This is an interactive simulation allows students to virtually visit the historic cave at Lascaux, France, which is home to some of the world’s most well-preserved ancient cave paintings. Students can control the speed and direction of their movement through the cave, and can also stop and zoom to examine specific paintings in detail.
4. Instructional Games – Programs that use games to teach or reinforce content. Examples are interactive quiz games like Jeopardy, role-playing based games in which you must solve problems to move through virtual challenges and worlds, etc.
- Example for use in 6th grade Social Studies class: Kahoot! Kahoot is a game show style website where students compete against each other to correctly answer questions in the fastest amount of time. Immediate, individualized feedback is given after each question and the leaderboard and ranking is displayed to encourage competition.
5. Problem-Solving Software – Programs designed to teach problem solving skills, both content-specific and in general, by providing complex problem solving situations.
- Example for use in 6th grade Social Studies class: Ziggurat Building Challenge. This site from the British Museum provides information about ancient Mesopotamian ziggurats, then has an interactive challenge in which students must divide their workers between different jobs to balance the workload and accomplish the task.
Sixth grade social studies curriculum covers ancient civilizations, from early human development, through Mesopotamia, Egypt, ancient China and India, through ancient Greece. Obviously, students are unable to visit and experience these places in real life, so instructional software can help provide meaningful, interactive experiences to help students gain a deeper understanding of the cultures. Many of these places don’t exist in the world anymore, and using software, students can actually “visit” places as if traveling back in time in a way they never have been able to prior to this technology.