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Review CornerSoftware
Earobics Step 2
Rating: Rating
The Bottom Line
Earobics Step 2 is an engaging and pleasantly challenging set of activities that effectively teaches kids important auditory and language skills. Benefits include improved reading, spelling, and language comprehension. This program is well-designed and suitable for children of varying skill levels and needs.
Award
Ages: 7-10  Subject: Reading/Pre-Reading/Spelling  Brand: Cognitive Concepts
Review Sections: Product Overview  Entertainment Value  Technically Speaking  Design  Skills Covered  Replayability  Educational Value  Dollar Value
 
 
image Product Overview
Earobics Step 2 teaches kids auditory processing skills and phonemic awareness just like the first title in the series (Earobics Step 1 — see our review) except it is targeted for an older group of kids (aged 7-10). Through 5 activities hosted by friendly characters, kids learn crucial skills that will facilitate reading, spelling, and comprehension. The unique yet important emphasis on auditory exercises is characteristic of the Earobics programs.

The multilevel activities are as follows:

  • Calling All Engines challenges the player to listen carefully to the spoken sequence of sounds, then to repeat that sequence by clicking on the windows of a building — the idea is that they are helping the Firefighter to put out fires. For example, kids listen to the sequence 2, 1, 8, 9, 3, then click on these numbers from the 9 numbered windows of the building in the correct sequence.
  • In Paint by Penguin, kids help the Penguin host to paint by listening to the sound patterns and clicking on the mouse the correct number of times. As players advance, they must not only identify the number of sounds they hear, but also associate colors with the different sounds and reproduce the sequences. Things also become more challenging when the length and complexity of the patterns are varied.
  • Pesky Parrots requires kids to listen to the parrots speaking parts of words (syllables or sounds) and must put these sounds together to form words — they choose from a number of pictures. Later, a missing syllable or sound is filled in to make a new word.
  • Hippos are playing basketball in Hippo Hoops, and kids help their hippo hero get baskets when they identify words that are not the same in a sequence, whether or not they hear a particular sound in a word, and where they heard the sound (beginning, middle, end).
  • Duck Luck (pictured above) is a carnival game in which players must identify the duck that says a word that contains a given sound (example, "oy"), and identify words when sounds or syllables are taken away.

At sign-in, the player can select one of 3 difficulty levels (beginning, intermediate, or advanced) for the program. There is a Progress Chart that players see in between activities. Here, empty columns of circles fill up one by one as segments of each activity are successfully completed. I have found that kids can be very motivated to play the games in order to fill these circles with color.

Each activity is linear, meaning that kids must complete each exercise in a systematic fashion. As a result, players will not advance to higher levels until the basic skills of the lower levels are mastered.

Earobics Step 2 provides essential and valuable exercises that you simply will not find in any other program (except, of course, in Step 1). It is filled with smart features. Now, players can cut short the characters' new instructions simply by clicking the mouse. However, the actual sounds kids must listen to in order to do the activities cannot be clicked through, for obvious reasons. More importantly, adaptive training is incorporated into the program, which means that levels automatically increase or decrease according to the performance of the child.

The attention to details as well as the care put into the game is totally evident every step of the way. Various learning variables (such as word length, quantity of visual cues, the time between sounds, etc.) are controlled to create appropriate challenges. Computer-generated speech is used in order to emphasize subtleties of spoken language, but it is gradually phased out as a child progresses.

At any time, kids can click on the speaker icon to hear the sound repeated, and they can pause a game in progress to take a break. Special 3D animations occur at the end of rounds that were completed with a success rate of 80% or higher. Although the animations are well done, there are not a lot of them. This was done intentionally so as to limit the amount of visual distractions in the game. Our child testers really enjoyed challenging themselves with this program, and had no complaints.

This program is being used in its professional format (Earobics Pro Plus) by educators, speech pathologists, and learning disabilities specialists, and it isn't hard to see why. Observing the activities and watching kids play them will prove just how well done and effective they are. While Pro Plus contains more detailed progress reports, allows more students, and features improved customization, the activities are identical, and parents should only need to buy the less expensive home version. The adaptive learning technology does the professional work for the kids by automatically adjusting levels. It's really quite clever.

As I mentioned in my review for Earobics Step 1 designed for kids aged 4-7, it wasn't until watching the Earobics games that I recognized the serious lack of auditory skills development exercises in most learn-to-read programs on the market. Both titles demonstrate the effectiveness of computer software to develop skills that are normally difficult to teach in the home environment.

Technically Speaking
Minimum requirements are a Pentium, Windows 95, 24 Mb RAM, and 4X CD ROM. Mac users require at least a 68040/33 with 24 Mb RAM, System 7.1 or higher, and at least 4X CD ROM.

The program installs very easily, and the graphics are well done with 3D characters and animations.

Skills Covered
auditory attention, phonics, phoneme and word discrimination, auditory memory, sequential memory, phoneme identification, onset-rime segmentation, recognition of sound in word, word beginnings, word endings, rhyming, sound-symbol correspondence, phoneme & syllable synthesis, word closure, insertion and deletion of phonemes, auditory figure-ground discrimination (focusing on sounds in the presence of background noise), language comprehension

Educational Value
Its focus on auditory development is totally comprehensive. Any child working through this program will benefit from the highly educational activities.

Entertainment Value
Success brings a short animation and colorful circles filling up one-by-one on the Games Menu. The challenge of the exercises themselves seems to be a big motivator for children using the program.

Design
There are a number of smart features in the program, including adaptive training which automatically adjusts the levels according to performance. Instructions can be cut short after the initial one, and kids choose from 3 difficulty levels.

Replayability
There are a tremendous amount of levels to the program (each activity contains 3 general difficulty levels plus anywhere from 60 to 168 levels of gameplay) that will keep kids busy and challenged for a long time.

Dollar Value
The home version is $59 US, and as mentioned in our Earobics Step 1 review, the benefits of using this original game far outweigh the costs. The home version is totally adequate and presents the exact same activities as the professional version, which means that you can bring a professional program into your home at a fraction of the cost. (The professional version is meant for teachers and language specialists, and contains more advanced progress report capabilities and customization features that are not necessary for home use).

Released: 1998
Note: Earobics Step 1 is also available, and covers similar skills as Earobics Step 2, but is designed for children aged 4-7. Both titles are available for professional use (Earobics Pro Plus) for $299 US. See our review of Earobics Step 1 by clicking here. Earobics Step 2 covers the same skills at more challenging levels and also incorporates language comprehension exercises.