Technology & Learning's 1998-99 Home Learning Software Awards

Article excerpt

Attention Parents!

Looking for some great bets in software for the whole family? On these pages we are happy to present to you this year's Home Learning winners. Each title was chosen after an extensive test-drive by four or more kids of the appropriate age under the supervision of Marianne Cotter, an experienced educational software reviewer and managing editor of Knowledge Management magazine.

Ages 3-6

Ready for Math With Pooh

Early math activities are nestled into a delightful garden deep in Pooh's 100 Acre Wood in this colorful and appealing title. Here, children will find all the characters they're familiar with from Milne's classic printed series, including Eeyore, Tigger, Rabbit, and Piglet. Young testers were also motivated by the verbal encouragement and animated rewards liberally sprinkled throughout the games. The program includes seven rich learning environment that reinforce such basic skills as counting, ordinal numbers, patterns and sequencing, sorting and classifying objects, and beginning addition and subtraction.

Macintosh and Windows CD. $35. (Disney Interactive, 500 S. Buena Vista St., Burbank, CA 91521; 800-900-9234)

Ages 6-9

MathQuest With Aladdin

Familiarity with the movie and recognizable celebrity voices are only a couple of the elements that will engage kids in this wonderful math adventure game. Children explore Agrabah, the Magic Carnival, and the Floating Pyramid to solve more than 18 challenging puzzles that will save the town from the evil genie, Bizarrah. Along the way they work on geometry skill via mosaic puzzles, add and subtract to rebuild temple pillars, and use logic skills to navigate the colorful environment. And "game" is definitely the operative word here. Math skills are integrated so seamlessly into the action that the learning is completely transparent.

Macintosh and Windows CD. $35. (Disney Interactive)

ClueFinders' Third Grade Adventures

A mystery adventure involving an ancient monster hidden somewhere in the heart of the jungle keeps kids interested and moving in this cartoon-style animated program. With a broad range of activities that support a full year of learning in math, language arts, science, geography and problem solving, this product offers variety and a good long play life. Four levels of difficulty ensure that children remain challenged throughout the 24 games and activities. The kid-caper appeal of Clue Finders really struck a chord with young testers.

Macintosh and Windows CD. $29.95 (The Learning Company, One Athenaeum St., Cambridge, MA 02142; 800-685-6322)

Schoolhouse Rock: 3rd & 4th Grade Essentials

Kids latch on to this program's mission quickly and enthusiastically: They must raise enough money to help a rock group get to its concert on time. This goal is accomplished by playing through two discs worth of skill-reinforcing games that span two years' worth of core-curriculum topics, including math, social studies, science and language arts. They can also stop along the way to watch the Schoolhouse Rock videos they'll be familiar with from TV. Over 80 printable games, tricks, experiments and puzzles are included.

Macintosh and windows CD. $34.95. (The Learning Company)

Kid Pix Studio Deluxe

Kid Pix Studio has become a staple in children's creative computing. While the program has always been great for quick and easy results, the deluxe edition has new features for larger projects, such as slide shows with recorded sound that will continue to appeal to kids as they get older. Even as the program expands in depth, the toolbars continue to be simple to decipher and easy to apply. The number of options and sheer fun of working in this program endlessly amused our test kids.

Macintosh and Windows CD. $34.95. (The Learning Company)

Ages 9 and up

Carmen Sandiego Math Detective

One of the strongest titles in our Home Learning entries, this new iteration in the popular series challenges kids to foil Carmen's plot to shrink Mount Everest, the Grand Canyon and other famous landmarks. Twelve adventures provide opportunities for practice in essential math skill such as addition and subtraction and converting decimals to fractions, and also offer chances for players to work with word problems and a variety of geometry skills. Student testers found this lively program compelling for its great characters, game-like activities and its high-quality TV-style environment. Included in the title are over 250 different activities.

Macintosh and Windows CD. $34.95. (The Learning Company)

Make-a-Map 3D

This product succeeds with kids by taking on a limited subject--mapping--and exploring it at several levels with fun activities and creative simulations. Kids especially love the drive-through and map-making simulations and willingly learn to follow maps to destinations, give accurate directions, and make maps of their own. Eventually, they learn to map out their own neighborhood and drive through it in a 3-D simulation. The geography activities were another favorite with testers, who found them relevant in the context of vacation planning.

Macintosh and Windows CD. $29.95. (Panasonic, 4701 Patrick Henry Dr., Ste. 1601, Santa Clara, CA 95054; 888-PANAKID)

An Odyssey of Discovery: Exploring Numbers

Intended as a supplement to math curriculum materials, Exploring Numbers tested well as a home product. The five interactive activities (Rational/Power Reader, Classifier, Prime Encoder, Operation Zap and Mystic Sorter) cover such key math topics as scientific notation, prime numbers, and comparing and ordering integers, yet each plays like a game and kids stick with them to get the payoff. For instance, in Prime Encoder, users identify prime numbers up to 100 and use them to encode and decode secret messages. In the Classifier, they define the five classifications of real numbers to reveal a fractal puzzle. Exploring Numbers does a wonderful job of helping kids develop reasoning skills by encouraging them to think creatively and imaginatively about numbers.

Macintosh and Windows CD. $39. (Pierian Spring Software, 5200 S.W. Macadam Ave., Ste. 570, Portland, OR 97201; 800-472-8578)

Digital Chisel 3

From the interactive tutorial to creating real projects, Digital Chisel 3 is a self-contained, easily mastered Web authoring kit that kids can use to create their own Web sites. Intended as a classroom project tool, the tutorial is easily completed independently. Tool functions are clear and explanations easily accessed throughout the program. A separate media collection disc provides a generous library of lively graphics, animations, and sounds that will keep kids from taking unescorted Internet scouting missions to find graphics. This title provides a creative comfort zone between writing HTML code and the too-simplistic authoring tools that some ISPs offer.

Windows CD. $199. (Pierian Spring Software)

All ages

Xpeditions (www.nationalgeographic.com)

This Web site tested well with kids in several age groups. The Kids link on the home page took primary-aged youngsters to an area with activities that ranged from matching games to e-mail penpals. Older children went to the Expedition Hall, a virtual hands-on museum where they explored the physical world and its inhabitants. All the exhibits are interactive, allowing kids (and adults) to actively participate in learning within a variety of "real life" contexts. A section on volcanoes, for instance, linked to the U.S. Geological Survey, allowing two child-testers to send an e-mail to a geologist asking about a possible eruption at Mammoth Lake, where their families vacation.

Internet product. Free. (National Geographic, P.O. Box 10597, Des Moines, IA 50340-0597; 800-368-2728)

Ask Asia (www.asiasociety.org) K-12

This site is devoted to the culture and history of Asian countries, something many kids might not gravitate to naturally, but once they're on the site the activities draw them in. Take the Vietnam Challenge for example; a tricycle race involving many U.S. war veterans who have returned to Vietnam for the first time. A map routes the racers' course and you can click on many locations to follow the racers, hear what they have to say, learn about the cities, towns and countryside, and explore the significance of these places during the Vietnam War. If that's a bit advanced for your child, an Adult-free zone has an activity center with Asian-oriented games like origami that can be played online or downloaded.

Internet product. Free. (Asia Society, 725 Park Ave., New York, NY 10021; 212-327-9293)

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