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Kids Take Journey to Its Logical End

February 01, 2001|JINNY GUDMUNDSEN | jinny@choosingchildrenssoftware.com

Computer software can help teach mathematical reasoning and logic to children by allowing kids to experiment and putting them in control of their learning, as the Learning Co. and Lucas Learning have shown with two excellent titles.

In the Learning Co.'s "Logical Journey of the Zoombinis Deluxe," children go on a quest and play mathematical logic games. In Lucas Learning's "Star Wars Pit Droids," children learn logic and math by solving a series of puzzles starring the amusing but relentless Pit Droids from "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace."

'Logical Journey of the Zoombinis Deluxe'

This award-winning title has been around for several years and is a favorite of many teachers and children. Players rescue groups of creatures called Zoombinis and lead them on treks to find a new home. While on the journey, players pass through such exotic places as the Mountains of Despair and the Deep, Dark Forest.

Children recruit Zoombinis by selecting desired attributes--such as eyes, nose, feet and hairstyle--and then lead them in groups of 16 on the treks. Diversity within a group of Zoombinis affects game play.

One of the first challenges children face is helping their Zoombinis cross the bridges of the Allergic Cliffs. Each cliff is allergic to certain Zoombini attributes and sneezes when a Zoombini with that attribute starts across its bridge. A sneeze is powerful enough to send the Zoombini back across the bridge. Children must develop a hypothesis about which cliff is allergic to which Zoombinis and then test the theory until all the Zoombinis are across the bridges.

Another challenge adored by kid testers involves the very hungry and very demanding Pizza-Eating Tree Trolls. These trolls have a Pizza Machine in their midst, but they don't know how to use it. Players experiment with the machine and serve pizzas to the trolls to discover which trolls like which toppings on their pizzas. Each is very particular. Serve a troll a pizza that it likes and it will step out of the way and let the Zoombinis pass.

By the time children play all the puzzles and become heroes to the Zoombinis, they will have explored comparing, grouping, graphing, sorting and algebraic thinking. Because the puzzles automatically progress through four levels of difficulty, children eventually hit puzzles that are quite challenging.

When this happens, switch to the practice mode so that players can experiment without losing Zoombinis. Another way of handling the tough problems is to solve the puzzles as a group activity--a great way to spend time with the kids.

'Star Wars Pit Droids'

This puzzler features the hilarious antics of cute robots known as Podrace Pit Droids. Here's the setup: Watto, the Toydarian junk dealer, has just acquired a huge shipment of Pit Droids. He challenges the player to move 144 droids from the transport ship through eight locations on Tatooine to the Podrace Arena.

Moving droids requires solving a series of puzzles using spatial mathematical logic skills. Puzzles start with Pit Droids being launched onto a grid made up of hundreds of individual tiles. The key to solving a puzzle is to figure out how to make a given droid move in the right direction so it finds the correct exit.

Players get an arsenal of tiles to place on the grid. For example, placing a blue arrow in front of a blue Pit Droid turns it in the direction the arrow points. Testing hypotheses and trying multiple solutions are the keys to success.

There is a lot to like about "Pit Droids." It provides a laboratory in which children can experiment with math concepts such as set theory, geometric and spatial relationships, ratios and functions. It boasts an excellent set of tutorials and help. In addition to the game's 300 preprogrammed puzzles, children can design their own.

But "Pit Droids" has two weaknesses. First, it's a one-pony show with a single type of puzzle. Second, the puzzles can get so hard that they become frustrating.

The Skinny

"Logical Journey of the Zoombinis"

Price: $15

Ages: 9 and older

Platform: PC/Mac

System requirements: On the PC, a 486, 33 MHz with 8 MB of RAM and 3 MB of available hard disk space. On the Mac, a 68030 processor, 25 MHz with 8 MB of RAM and 1 MB of available hard disk space.

Publisher: The Learning Co.

The good: Fun quest with logical and mathematical thinking

The bad: Problems can be frustrating

Bottom line: A fabulous way to explore logical thinking

"Star Wars Pit Droids"

Price: $20

Ages: 9 and older

Platform: PC/Mac

System requirements: On the PC, Pentium 166 with 32 MB of RAM and 200 MB of available hard disk space. On the Mac, 200 Power PC 603e, 132-MHz Power PC 604 or any G3 processor with Mac OS 7.6 or higher, 32 MB of RAM and 200 MB of available hard disk space.

Publisher: Lucas Learning

The good: Mind-bending puzzles

The bad: Not much else to do

Bottom line: Great mathematical mind-benders

*

Jinny Gudmundsen is editor of Choosing Children's Software magazine.

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