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'JumpStart' Is Light-Years Ahead of 'Buzz'

February 15, 2001|JINNY GUDMUNDSEN | jinny@choosingchildrenssoftware.com

Though Buzz Lightyear may have moving parts, Frankie the Dog has all the right moves. Frankie and Buzz are stars of two software titles on the market for first-graders. Much to Buzz's chagrin, Frankie's "JumpStart 1st Grade Deluxe" flies circles around Disney's "Buzz Lightyear 1st Grade."

"Buzz Lightyear 1st Grade" provides a sound academic workout but has flaws that will frustrate children. By contrast, "JumpStart 1st Grade Deluxe" is more fun, more educational and more kid friendly.

'Buzz Lightyear 1st Grade'

This software transports children to the world of the "Toy Story" movies. It opens in Andy's room with Buzz Lightyear inviting players to check out Andy's "really great stuff."

Andy and Woody are off at Cowboy Camp, but many of the movie's favorite characters are still in the room. Children will find eight activities and a place to print materials for exploring off the computer. The activities include: using Lennie the binoculars to scan for objects that fit a certain description, synchronizing Andy's digital clock with his wall clock and steering Jessie the Cowgirl's car around a track to collect numbers in sequence. Other activities cover beginning reading, math, geography and music.

These eight activities present grade-appropriate material and use typically awesome Disney-caliber graphics and animations. Six use Active Leveling Advantage, a form of adaptive-learning technology that tracks answers and automatically adjusts the level of difficulty depending on how the child answers.

Although these activities are grade appropriate and some are fun at first, "Buzz Lightyear 1st Grade" has several programming weaknesses that affect the child's overall experience. The first is that there is no sign-in. So, every time children play an activity, they must start on the easiest level and work their way up.

The second flaw is that there is no story line or motivational system to keep children coming back. Because the activities are not strong enough to keep children interested for an extended time, it won't be long before Buzz is sitting on the shelf. The third flaw is that several of the animations in "Buzz Lightyear 1st Grade" repeat and cannot be interrupted. Good programming lets a child click through repetitive sequences.

The last flaw relates to the reading activities. In first grade, most children are just learning to read. Any reading activity in which words are read aloud to the child should highlight those words as they are read. In "Buzz Lightyear," the words are not highlighted.

'JumpStart 1st Grade Deluxe'

In this two-CD-ROM title, kids join Frankie the Dog and his JumpStart pals on a series of treasure hunts. Children earn clues by playing educational games. In this upgraded "deluxe" version, the activities on the first CD are the same as on "JumpStart 1st Grade 2000." However, there is a new second CD called "Around the World," which takes children on global adventures and, in the process, teaches them about geography and other cultures.

On the first CD, there are 12 activities in and around the schoolhouse, plus a series of treasure hunts. The activities include math (addition, subtraction, fractions and measuring), telling time, reading comprehension, parts of speech, phonics, spelling, science, art and music.

Most are unusual and fun. For example, the spelling activity takes place in a soup bowl. Players help Sarge, the lunchroom supervisor, arrange noodle letters to spell words. The activities covering time and parts of speech might be too difficult for first-graders.

Activities have three levels of difficulty that automatically progress but are easy to adjust manually.

On the second CD, children go on global adventures and, in the process, learn about world geography and other cultures. The travel games to get to various countries are pure arcade, and the learning occurs only upon arriving at a country.

"JumpStart 1st Grade" works so well because it has a sound story line and it presents a tremendous amount of learning (much more than in "Buzz Lightyear 1st Grade") in an engaging manner. Of all the first-grade titles, this is my top pick for grade-specific software.

*

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

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The Skinny

"Buzz Lightyear 1st Grade"

Price: $20

Ages: 5 to 7

Platform: PC/Mac

System requirements: On the PC, a Pentium 166 with 32 MB of RAM and 60 MB of available hard disk space. On the Mac, iMac or G3, 233 MHz or better, System 8.1 through 9.0, 32 MB of RAM and 60 MB of free hard disk space.

Publisher: Disney Interactive

The good: Awesome graphics and grade-appropriate activities

The bad: Lots, including no tracking of child's participation, no story line, no reward system and repetitive animations

The bottom line: Buzz is hip, but this first-grade title isn't

*

"JumpStart 1st Grade Deluxe"

Price: $20

Ages: 5 to 7

Platform: PC/Mac

System requirements: On the PC, a Pentium 133 with 32 MB of RAM and 35 MB of available hard disk space. On the Mac, iMac, G3 or above; System 8.1 or later, 32 MB of RAM and 32 MB of free hard disk space.

Publisher: Knowledge Adventure

The good: Engaging story line that encompasses a tremendous amount of learning

The bad: Some material is too hard

The bottom line: Best first-grade title on the market

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