Math Can be Fun-- Honest!

by David Anderson and Alan Zisman (c) 1999. First published in Toronto Computes, January 1999

Microsoft Arthur?s Math Carnival? $34.95
Microsoft My Personal Tutor?1st and 2nd Grade-- $44.95

Got a 5-8 year old? Microsoft wants him or her to have fun while learning at home.

Arthur?s Math Carnival is one of several titles featuring the characters of the popular Marc Brown story books, designed to give lots of positive reinforcement to the young learner.

Like the Actimates series,featuring Barney, this collection can be used along with interactive stuffed toys?in this case, Arthur or his sister D.W. The dolls have enough electronics inside to sink a battleship, and the cost is fairly stiff at approximately $149 Canadian for the doll and accompanying radio-frequency adapter.

But the doll is not required to make use of this software. The program consists of a well-engineered menu, which is a clickable picture of various characters and personalities from the numerous Marc Brown stories (also available as Broderbund Talking Book CD-ROMs). The game offers five levels of difficulty, user defined. The animation and sound is outstanding throughout the activities.

The programmers were thoughtful enough to give the child or parent total control of the ever-present chatter that usually boils out of the speakers with software like this. All it takes is one click of the mouse, and the vocal track stops dead, except for the ambient sounds of the carnival in the background.

Did I forget to say this was a math game based on activities children might encounter at a carnival? For example, your children can find a hidden treasure by using their spatial awareness abilities, as the clues to the location of the treasure tell you how far to move to find the spot. Fewest moves to the treasure are rewarded. There is a wide array of basic facts drills and simple equations, such as 15 divided by 3. Expect more educational titles featuring Arthur and D. W.

Microsoft has produced another helpful series for the home educational library. The Grade 1-2 Edition of My Personal Tutor follows up on last year?s Pre-School & Kindergarten edition. This version?s programs include Turru?s Daring Sea Quest, for thinking skills, Sky?s Space Station Voyage, for early math skills, and Sam?s Hide and Seek Adventure, for early reading activities. All three games keep track of the player?s score, and the records can be printed upon request, showing the skill areas tried, number correct, and percentages.

While each game is installed and run separately, all (like the presechool version) feature Professor P. T. Presto, the personal tutor, always waiting at the edge of the screen to ofer helpful hints.

The games are beautifully designed to engage the minds of 5, 6, and 7-year-olds, with just the right mixture of music, animation, effects, and rewards.  And for the relief of all parents, the games contain no violence or destruction.

 Try  both with children aged 5 to 8, and don?t be surprised to see big sister or brother stealing a turn at the Math Carnival or with the Personal Tutor.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan