Magazine article Technology & Learning

No Lab Coat Required: Contraptions and Chemistry Are Fair Game in These Two Science Software Sequels for Middle and High School Students. (Picks of the Month)

Magazine article Technology & Learning

No Lab Coat Required: Contraptions and Chemistry Are Fair Game in These Two Science Software Sequels for Middle and High School Students. (Picks of the Month)

Article excerpt

The two mechanical and chemical engineering programs reviewed this month--The Incredible Machine: Even More Contraptions from Sierra and Chemicus from Viva Media/ Tivola--combine high-end computer graphics with learning activities that are interactive, intriguing, and a whole lot of fun.

Even the driest scientific principles prove compelling to students when presented within the richly rendered computer environments of these unique problem-solving games. And although these programs are not intended as a formal introduction to the core science curriculum, they should serve well as a complement to middle and high school physics and chemistry classes.

The Incredible Machine: Even More Contraptions


The latest in Sierra's Incredible Machine series, Even More Contraptions provides a new set of Rube Goldberg-style puzzles that challenge kids' engineering skills. Players take on the role of inventors out to earn a degree in "Contraptology" by solving unique puzzles. Each puzzle presents the user with a number of parts and dictates a simple task, such as lighting a lamp, shooting off a series of strategically placed rockets, or getting a number of bouncing balls into the same box. Students must use the given materials, which might include such items as tipsy-trailers, ropes, or pulleys, to construct a simple machine that achieves the goal. Because many of the puzzles have multiple possible solutions, ingenuity and creativity are encouraged.

An optional tutorial shows the process for creating successful contraptions and helps players develop the skills to move on through four levels of play, from easy to expert. For example, in the tutorial Aladdin's Fire, players are shown how to light two different Aladdin's lamps using a ball, flashlight, magnifying glass, ramp, candle, and tower.

Once students have completed a puzzle, the "Professor" narrator congratulates them, and they are rewarded with a round of applause. Additional options include re-do, save, and activity tracking.

As players become more comfortable with the game, they can design and conduct their own thought experiments by programming certain parts to behave contrary to known laws of physics. Players can also alter gravity and change air pressure to simulate conditions in outer space.

While the sounds and colors of Even More Contraptions are geared toward an elementary school audience, the unique challenges and opportunity for exploration make the game challenging for middle and even high school students.

Chemicus: Journey to the Other Side

(Viva Media/Tivola)

In this intriguing, Myst-style role-playing game--the sequel to Tivola's Physicus--a chemistry buff named Richard has been wrongly accused of taking the molecule that provides the parallel world of Chemicus with energy. Without an energy source, the infrastructure of Chemicus is breaking down, and its inhabitants are holding Richard hostage until players can fix the damage.

As in any role-playing game, players are asked to explore Chemicus, finding and using certain tools to restore order in the realm. For example, players collect "knowledge chips" which cover such topics as substances and their properties, to use as references.

Success in this game depends on getting the city's energy systems back up and running, fixing broken machinery, and manufacturing substances needed for survival of the realm. To do this, players must use the information on the knowledge chips, create maps of Chemicus, collect and manipulate objects, and apply their knowledge of chemistry to the production of new substances. …

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