Grasping basic concepts in math and science requires a certain amount of drill as well as plenty of opportunity to explore and experiment. This set of four titles, originally published by Edmark, provides children with the chance to do just that. Children are immersed in a wide range of activities, from building circuits and exploring the solar system to understanding fractions and reviewing multiplication tables. For the most part, this package encourages children to learn through hands-on experimentation rather than through rote memorization.
With the exception of MindTwister Math, these CD-ROMs essentially act as virtual laboratories in which children can explore abstract concepts in a concrete and visual manner. They work with realistic models and experiment as a means of truly understanding and applying fundamental concepts.
In the Thinkin Science Zap! disc, for example, children work in three different labselectricity, light, and soundwith the ultimate goal of rebuilding these important components in order to direct music concerts. In the Light Lab, they use mirrors to reflect lasers in order to hatch eggs in a series of progressively more challenging puzzles. These help children to develop predictive skills and a strong understanding of optics at the same time. Kids can read up on any of the featured science topics in the programs Sci-Clopedia section, which features accessible language for the target audience.
More science learning is found in Space Academy GX-1, where kids visit three different stations. Each module is designed to allow players to explore different elements of space and gravity. One of the programs simulations, for example, allows children to explore the effects of adjusting the relative positions of Earth, the sun, and the moon in order to learn about phases of the moon, seasons, and night and day.
Mighty Math Calculating Crew has a superhero theme and features plenty of opportunities to learn about math concepts commonly encountered in grades 36. The money math activity incorporates a number of math concepts like decimals, place value, equivalencies, and basic math operations. In another activity, kids work with a number line in order to visualize math operations and fractions. The relationship between division and multiplication is explored as well, and an introduction to geometry is found in the programs 3D Lab.
"Grow slides" are available in each of the above programs. These slides are designed to advance difficulty levels automatically as children complete their experiments and goals. New variables are gradually introduced to the activities. Children can opt to adjust difficulty levels manually, and parents can refer to the grow slides for a quick take on their childs progress. Activities can be played in either of two modes, allowing kids to simply explore and experiment in the labs in an open-ended fashion or to follow a sequence of directed exercises.
The fourth program, MindTwister Math, is a little different in its focus. This program zooms in on third- and fourth-grade math curricula and is designed for children to review and reinforce math facts. Mental math facts are drilled in a game format that can be played alone or with friends.
Many of the activities in this set teach practical skills, so dont be surprised if, after spending some time with Thinkin Science Zap!, your child is able to tell you how the circuitry in a flashlight works or is even able to fix it. Most activities provide children with visual and concrete tools to explore virtual worlds in simulations that would be difficult to recreate away from the computer.
Our fourth-grade tester was pleased with the programs. He enjoyed the opportunity to further explore and expand upon many of the science lessons he had encountered in school.
Minimum system requirements are Windows 95/98/ME, Pentium or faster, 16 MB RAM, 2X CD-ROM, and 70 MB free disc space. Mac users require a Power PC (604e or better is recommended), System 7.5.6 or higher, 16 MB RAM, 2X CD-ROM, and 40 MB of free disc space.
Multiplication, division, addition, subtraction, fractions, geometry, money math, math word problems, decimals, place value, equivalencies, light and sound, planets, the solar system, astronomy, electricity, gravity, optics, mechanics, scientific thinking, logic, and problem solving.
As children solve problems and experiment with various tools and models, they gain a stronger understanding of math and science concepts. This set truly takes advantage of technology to offer children simulations that help them to visualize concepts that might otherwise be abstract or difficult to understand.
The programs characters, for the most part, are not very memorable or especially charming. However, the activities hold much appeal for children who enjoy solving problems. Kids who love to experiment and who want to know how things work will find the set particularly engaging.
The programs in this set are all well designed. Difficulty levels automatically advance and can be adjusted manually if desired. Most activities can be explored in a free-form manner or in question-and-answer mode.
Loads of content and overall goals will keep budding scientists and mathematicians busy learning for some time. The activities presented not only cover a lot of ground but also grow with a childs developing abilities.
This program is very reasonably priced at a suggested retail price of $29.95 US.
Reviewed: June 2001