Apple Educational Games
Sheila Cory, Chapel Hill, NC
If you are either a teacher or a parent of young children and have access to an Apple II + computer with 48K and a disk drive, there is some software available that you should know about. Produced by The Learning Company, it's specifically designed for preschool and elementary-school youngsters.
This review covers three packages of programs. The first, Juggles' Rainbow, is designed for children aged three to six. The second, Bumble Games, is for ages four to ten, and the third, Bumble Plot, eight to thirteen. All three packages are well designed, and the sequence of the material progresses logically.
Juggles' Rainbow is a welcome addition to the small amount of good software for the preschool, kindergarten, and first grade set. Frequently, teachers of very young children are left out when computers are discussed in faculty meetings or workshops, and feel that there's not much that can be done with the computer for children who don't yet have reading skills. It takes great sensitivity to the particular qualities of children of this age to produce software that is interesting, challenging without being too difficult, and educationally sound. Juggles' Rainbow shows this sensitivity.
Juggles' Rainbow consists of three programs for children, and one program for teachers or parents. The children's programs are Juggles' Rainbow (the name is used for the entire package and for one of the programs within the package), Juggles' Butterfly, and Juggles' Windmill. The adults' program, called The Big Question Mark, allows the setting of options such as whether sound should be included in the program, whether the child should be given picture and word or just word clues, and gives instructions for dividing the keyboard into halves and quarters for some of the exercises.
Juggles' Rainbow is designed to reinforce the teaching of the concepts of above and below. The program divides the keyboard into an upper and a lower section with a blue strip of cardboard that is provided with the diskette. A blue line appears on the screen. Children find that when they depress a key below the keyboard divider, a colorful vertical line appears below the blue screen line, and when a key is depressed above the keyboard divider, a colorful line appears above the screen line.
The next segment of this program prompts the user to depress keys above and below the keyboard divider to color in outlined bars above and below the blue screen line. The third segment allows the child to apply his skill with above and below to create a colorful rainbow.
Juggles' Butterfly reinforces the concepts of left and right. Again the keyboard is divided with a provided blue strip, but this time the division is in a vertical direction, creating a left and right section of the keyboard. The program works basically the same way as Juggles' Rainbow, but the final segment allows the child to create a marvelous butterfly by applying color to the right and left sides of the butterfly body as keys to the right or left of the keyboard divider are depressed.
Juggles' Windmill takes the learning one step further by having the child depress keys above (or below) the horizontal keyboard divider and to the left (or right) of the vertical divider. The culmination of this activity is the creation of a windmill that would delight a very young child.
Luring our four-year-old visitor, Christopher, away from his LEGO project to try out these programs was difficult, but they quickly absorbed him. This was not only his first opportunity to use the programs, but was also his first time using a computer. A good deal of adult guidance was needed to help him figure out what he was supposed to do, and to extend the learning. This program could make ideal use of a classroom volunteer or older child whose role would be to talk through the concepts, exclaim over the results, and guide the discoveries made using the computer.
One problem Christopher had was keeping the cardboard keyboard dividers in place. I recommend that a piece of heavy blue yarn be used instead of the cardboard. The yarn could be placed between the second and third rows of the keyboard, rather than over the third row as suggested in the manual, and the yarn could be securely taped in place at each end. A similar procedure could be used for the vertical keyboard divider. Christopher's interest in the activity lasted about ten minutes, giving him time to get through Juggles' Rainbow and begin Juggles' Butterfly. His enjoyment of the activity was evident when he asked me if he could play the rainbow game again before he went home.
Bumble Games introduces the delightful Bumble, who is the central character in all of the programs in Bumble Games and Bumble Plot. The learning objective in Bumble Games is to teach the graphing of positive numbers. Some of the concepts covered are also covered in the MECC (Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium) game of Hurkle. The Bumble Games diskette contains six programs, each one progressively more sophisticated. The sequence is excellent, extending the learning by a small degree with each successive game.
The program Find Your Number begins the sequence by giving practice in finding a number between zero and five that Bumble has secretly chosen. The child is shown a horizontal or a vertical number line with the numbers zero to five on it, and makes a guess. Bumble responds with a left or right arrow in the case of a horizontal number line, and an up or down arrow in the case of a vertical number line, indicating whether the next number guessed should be more or less than the present guess. The horizontal and vertical number lines begin preparing children for an X and Y axis that they'll see in a later program. When the number is guessed, the child gets a colorful display of the number, accompanied by tones representing the number. If two children want to play this game, Bumble will select two numbers.
Find the Bumble introduces a four-by-four grid, cleverly differentiating the X and Y axes by labeling one with letters and one with numbers. Bumble hides in one of the boxes formed by the grid, and the child must find Bumble by naming the coordinates of his box. Bumble is very helpful, telling the child to pick bigger or smaller numbers for the Y axis, and letters to the left or to the right for the X axis. When Bumble is found, his friendly, bigger-than-life image appears on the screen.
Butterfly Hunt has Bumble out searching for his lost butterfly. This game works very much like Find the Bumble, but a slightly larger grid prepares the child for the next game, Visit From Space.
Visit From Space introduces the idea that the intersection of two lines in a grid can be named by using a number on the bottom of the grid and one at the side. In this game, both X and Y axes are labeled with numbers. The object of the game is for the child to find Bumble's cousin who has flown in from outer space and is hiding in his spaceship somewhere on the grid. Very clear graphic and written clues help the child learn to locate exactly the intersection he wants to guess. When the spaceship is finally found, it zooms across the screen, making appropriate outer-space noises!
Tic Tac Toe is a game for two players, similar to the more conventional tic tac toe. The idea is for the child to get four markers in a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal line before his or her opponent does. The game screen consists of a five-by-five grid, and a marker is placed by naming the coordinates of the desired position.
The board is somewhat confusing to the beginning player; it would be helpful for the teacher to make a similar board on a transparency and use the over-head projector to play the game a few times with the whole class before children begin to play the game on the computer. The game does give excellent practice in naming points on a grid. It is just different enough from tic tac toe to be interesting.
Bumble Dots extends the grid to ten-by-ten. In this game, Bumble helps the child draw dot-to-dot pictures. A dot appears on the grid, and the child is asked to name it. When the first dot is successfully named, a second dot appears, and when that is successfully named, a line is drawn to connect the dots. This procedure continues until a whole picture is drawn.
The child can also make his own picture by naming coordinates for Bumble to connect. Bumble first asks the child how many dots will be in his picture. Since this is difficult for a child to ascertain in advance, it would be helpful if the teacher had the children first draw a picture using three to nine dots on a piece of graph paper, and then bring that picture to the computer when their turn comes. Children would then be all set to answer Bumble's question about the number of dots needed for the picture. The Learning Company, in developing this program, recognized the fact that generations of children have loved dot-to-dot pictures, and that a natural progression of learning can take place by tapping into this love.
Bumble Plot extends the learning about grids to include negative numbers. It consists of five programs, again carefully sequenced to take the child comfortably through the steps culminating with naming points on a ten-by-ten grid where negative numbers are used and the 0,0 point is in the middle. The sequence starts with Trap and Guess, where the child tries to trap Bumble's secret number on a minus three to plus three horizontal or vertical number line. Bumblebug has Bumble hopping around on a grid; the object is to set traps for him to jump into! In Hidden Treasure, the child searches for invisible treasures on a ten-by-ten grid with negative numbers. I found a ship's anchor, a diamond ring, a friendly octopus, and a golden crown! Children would enjoy a worksheet where they could show what they found and where they found it when they played the game. These worksheets could be displayed on the bulletin board above the computer.
Bumble Art is similar to Bumble Dots, but contains negative numbers in the grid. The most action-packed game of the series is Roadblock. The object of this game is to build roadblocks to surround the bank robber before he gets away. This, of course, all takes place on a minus-five by plus-five grid, providing wonderful practice in the skills that have been developed through all of the other games.
All three of the packages reviewed here share some very positive qualities. They all contain excellent graphics; they use sound appropriately to enhance the learning or entertainment value of the program, and sound can be turned off if it provides a distraction in the classroom. The programs are very user friendly, take all kinds of input without bombing, give the user excellent prompts, and have very carefully formatted screen displays.
Manuals are well illustrated and appealing. Each one gives instructions on how to load the diskette and a little information about each program. It would have been very useful to have included suggestions for teachers about things to talk about before each program, and appropriate worksheets for follow-up activities.
The company will send you a set of activity cards for free when you send back the owner registration card. This card also entitles you to purchase a backup diskette for $12. No teacher should ever use software in the classroom without having a backup diskette.
I suspect that schools that purchase software from The Learning Company will have a new little character joining Snoopy and The Cat In The Hat in adorning their bulletin boards. Bumble has great personal appeal and represents software that is both educationally sound and fun to use.
Juggles' Rainbow ($45)
Bumble Games ($60)
Bumble Plot ($60)
The Learning Co.
4370 Alpine Road
Portola Valley, CA 94025