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 Math & Reading Excelerator Grades 1-2 Rating:
 The Bottom Line This set of 4 programs provides age-appropriate opportunities for reinforcing and practicing foundational skills. It is especially strong in math and Spanish as a second language.
Ages: 6-8   Subject: Math/Foreign Language/Reading   Brand: Topics Entertainment
 Review Sections: Product Overview  Technically Speaking  Skills Covered  Educational Value  Entertainment Value  Design  Replayability  Dollar Value

Product Overview
There are four strong titles in this bundle of programs designed to build foundational academic skills for children in first and second grade. The following programs are included:
• Math 1-2
• GeoSafari Knowledge Pad Math: Addition & Subtraction
• Test Success: Reading & Math
• Help Me 2 Learn: Spanish with Phonics

Math 1-2 was originally published by Schoolzone Interactive and packaged with a companion print workbook. The workbook is not included in Math & Reading Excelerator, but children will not miss it. This CD-ROM features only three main activities, which doesn't sound like enough, but each activity is strong and features a number of game variations and academic content levels. The Bean Works activity stands out as a unique way for children to explore place value and to grasp the rather difficult concept of regrouping. Players drag beans into containers labeled "ones", "tens", and "hundreds" according to requests. Parents or children can select from 10 levels. On the first level, kids place beans in containers to demonstrate numbers up to 99, and level two involves working with numbers up to 999. As levels advance, children add numbers together and determine the sum, and regrouping comes into play. For example, on level 6, children are given the number 19 (with one green bean in the tens container and nine green beans in the ones container) and must add 7 pink beans in order to arrive at a sum. In this case, kids need to regroup, and the visual nature of the activity supports an excellent demonstration of the concept.

Another activity involves blasting funny objects at asteroids labeled with the correct answers. Players work with six different math subjects, such as basic geometric shapes, fractions, addition, and subtraction. Some strategy is involved in this activity because the asteroids move around the spaceship in different rings. On one level, children have to match an illustration with a corresponding numerical fraction. The final activity, Swamp Hop, involves moving across a swamp and answering math questions one stepping stone at a time. These include work with skip counting, addition, and subtraction at varying levels of difficulty. The goal of each activity is to earn a reward part of a creature-making machine. This program is good, although it would have been better if there was an automatic leveling system.

GeoSafari Knowledge Pad Math: Addition & Subtraction is fashioned after the Geosafari Knowledge Pad electronic learning toy. With this CD-ROM, children practice a variety of math skills that go above and beyond addition and subtraction. This program is best for children in second grade. It suffers from a lack of voiced instructions and is too challenging for most first graders. See our full review of this program.

Before playing the third program in the set, we thought SchoolZone's Test Success: Reading & Math would be designed to give parents a heads-up on their child's progress. There are no progress reports in this program. In fact, the learning environment is errorless. What Test Success does is help children become comfortable with the idea of taking multiple-choice tests. Children select either of the two broad subjects, Math and Reading, and then a subtopic, such as Classification, Counting, or Vocabulary. They must answer a series of multiple-choice questions by clicking on ovals beside the correct answers. If children's choices are correct, the oval fills with color. Incorrect answers get no reaction whatsoever. An example question found in the Time and Money section reads: "Click on the oval under the greatest amount of money". Children are given the choice of two pennies, two dimes, two nickels, and a nickel and a penny.

The idea behind Test Success is rather original. It is not designed to let parents know how their children are doing in math and reading. Instead, children are told such things as "Tests can be fun when you know how to take them", and are encouraged to get acquainted with the whole concept of test-taking.

The fourth program is a unique offering as well. Spanish with Phonics is a structured program that teaches Spanish basics to young children in a step-by-step manner. It is filled with basic vocabulary and is excellent for both teaching and reinforcing the Spanish alphabet, numbers, days of the week, common greetings, weather words, basic spelling, animal names, colors, and more. Children work their way through each chapter, generally beginning with a lesson followed by a reinforcement activity or two. For example, the first lesson of the game is an introduction to the Spanish alphabet and the names of the letters. After viewing the lesson, children click on each letter in the Talking Spanish Alphabet activity to hear it pronounced three ways (by a man, woman, and child). Then children learn the letter sounds, after which they complete an alphabet dot-to-dot activity. Later, when children are introduced to Spanish number words, they are able to click on individual letters of words that are spelled phonetically to hear the letter sounds, or hear a sight word pronounced.

The Super Star system employed in this game works quite well: children earn either Silver or Gold stars for their efforts in each activity. Even one slip-up yields a Silver, but children can redo the activity until they earn Gold. This process is actually very motivating. The structured learning environment is great for classrooms as well as home learning environments.

Although the "double billing" goes to both math and reading, this set is actually strongest in skill-building activities that focus on math and Spanish as a second lanaguage.

Technically Speaking
Minimum system requirements are Windows 95 and higher including XP, Pentium 200 MHz (Pentium II 300 recommended), 32 MB RAM (64 MB recommended), and 4X CD-ROM (8X recommended). Mac users require a PowerPC 200 MHz or faster, System OS 8.1 or later, including OSX, 32 MB RAM (64 MB recommended), and 4X CD-ROM (8X recommended). The program requires 80 MB of hard drive space.

Skills Covered
Addition, subtraction, skip counting, math problems, patterning, shapes, fractions, place value, addition with regrouping, logic, shapes, early geometry, fractions, telling time, money math, classification and sorting, measurement, comparisons, vocabulary, following directions, Spanish vocabulary.

Educational Value
The programs offer a wide variety of skill-building activities in math, some of which are quite creative. Both first and second graders will find some challenge in the two main math programs in the set. It is difficult to find a program like Spanish with Phonics for young children—it covers the basics very well. Although these programs can never replace print workbooks, they do provide fun settings for supplementing school learning at home.

Entertainment Value
All of the programs in the set require some commitment from children, but they feature rather engaging settings. They make a pleasant change of pace from print workbooks.

Design
There are four separate programs bundled together in this set, and each is fairly well-designed. Although children will likely need some help understanding the less intuitive icons, many will be able to play independently for the most part. The Addition & Subtraction program is best for strong readers—it is unfortunate that it doesn't offer the option for audio instructions.

Replayability
Although none of the individual programs in the set has more than average replay value on its own, the package as a whole offers plenty of varied content.

Dollar Value
The program carries a suggested retail price of approximately \$19.99 US.

Released: 2003
Reviewed: April 2003