## Using **Operation
Neptune** in a school
setting

by
Alan Zisman (c) 2004

Printer
Friendly
Version

**Operation
Neptune **is
a classic educational
math game for ages 9-14 from The Learning Company with DOS, Windows,
and
Mac versions. Developed in the late 1980s/early 1990s, it doesn't
require
much in the way of hardware. The plot is that an alien space ship has
crashed
in the ocean; you are on a mini-submarine, travelling around the ocen
floor
searching for pieces of debris, and returning them to your underwater
mothership.

Along
the way, you are
asked to solve math
problems of relevance to your mission: adjusting ballast, locating
objects
from longitude and latitude, speed problems, food supply, and more. All
problems are written as word problems; an on-screen calculator is
included
and can be used as needed. Some problems involve reading a chart.

*(Note:
Operation
Neptune is no longer
listed on The Learning Company's website; a Google search will find
many
vendors still selling it. My school purchased multiple copies of the
program
on CD for CDN$5 each from Vancouver BC retailer ***Multimedia
Technologies**
(http://www.softwarebc.com).

One
practical issue with
the game: the
game automatically saves when players exit the program; I haven't found
a way to control where it saves to-- it always saves onto the local
computer
even though it may have been installed across a network. That means
that
in a computer lab setting, students need to return to the same computer
each time. It also means that if schools are using software that
'locks'
the local computer hard drive (our district uses Deep Freeze: http://www.faronics.com/main.asp)
that
software
needs to turned off -- a tedious process on multiple
systems
-- in order to allow the game to be saved.

There
are often problems
using educational
software designed for home use ('edutainment') in a school setting:
students
will see it as fun, and rush through (or turn off) the learning
components.
Operation Neptune doesn't include the ability to turn off the math
problems.
In order to have students be more accountable for their work, I ask
students
to write down each problem they do in the following format:

**Problem
Type:
______________________**

**Math
Calculation:
____________________**

**Answer
Entered:
____________________**

**Correct?
________**

I
print up sheets and
sheets of these.

As
well, one of the goals
at my school
this year is to encourage oral language related to math. To help with
this
goal, I divide students into groups of 2-3, so that they can talk
amongst
themselves about the math problems.

When
students are first
signing onto the
game, they are asked to choose a level: *Voyager*
or *Expert*.
Problems get progressively harder as they continue; each game has 5
levels.
The Voyager game includes some problems involving fractions in the
latter levels of the game. The Expert
game assumes familiarity with decimals and percentages.

Students
may need an
introduction to some
aspects of the on-screen calculator. In particular, many students need
to learn to use the asterix key (*) for multiplication and the slash
key
(/) for division. As well, the calculator includes buttons labelled **Negative**
and **Fraction**. Pressing the Negative key prior to
typing a
number
makes that a negative number, which will be useful in some of the
problems
involving a thermometer. As the name suggests, the Fraction key is used
to indicate a fraction, rather than a division. Type " 1 / 2" and the
calculator
will display "0.5". Type "Fraction 1 / 2" and the calculator will
display
"1/2". To display the mixed number "2 1/2", type "2" then "Fraction 1 /
2".

Another
problem for
students outside the
USA (like mine) are that the program uses US measurements. In some
cases,
this is no big deal-- students can do the same operations whether the
thermometer
measures degrees F or degrees C. But some other problems assume that
students
can convert between feet and inches (remember, 12 inches to a foot) or
feet and yards (3 feet to a yard). And 8 cups to a pint, 2 pints to a
quart, 4 quarts to a gallon. And I suspect even most US students
don't know that there are six feet to a fathom! (I print a sheet with
these conversions and leave it on the board).

Luckily,
if students make
a mistake on
a word problem, they get a second chance while a help screen is
visible. Many students, however, need to practice reading the help
screen carefully!

I've
identified 27
different problem types
at the beginning "Voyager" level, with the Expert level adding several
more problem types as well as more complex versions of the of the
Voyager-level
problems.

In
order to help my
students (and cut down
on kids barraging me with questions), I've made posters illustrating
samples
of each problem type, with a brief description of how to solve it. I
ask
students to check the posters before coming to me for help.At
harder levels, these problems include patterns using fractions, often
with different denominators).At harder levels, these problems include
patterns using fractions, often with different denominators).At harder
levels, these problems include patterns using fractions, often with
different denominators).At harder levels, these problems include
patterns using fractions, often with different denominators).At harder
levels, these problems include patterns using fractions, often with
different denominators).At harder
levels, these problems include patterns using fractions, often with
different denominators).At harder levels, these problems include
patterns using fractions, often with different denominators).

(On a
Windows system, you
can copy a screen
to the clipboard by pressing the **PrtScn** key, which
then allows
you
to paste the image into any graphics-friendly program, including most
word
processors. Then you can print it out. On Macs, you can get a
screen-capture
saved to the hard drive by pressing Command+Option+Shift+3).

I am
including the screen
captures and
descriptions on the following pages:

Next
Page->