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Children's Software Review of:
Thinkin’ Things 
Galactic Brain Benders 

From the November, 1999 issue of PC Alamode Magazine
by Rose Lynn Saenger

 
Welcome Earthlings to the Thinkin’ Space Outpost. We need your brain-power to help solve these Galactic Brain Benders. With this statement, my Inner Child came out to explore and discovered a wonderful, colorful world full of excitement. 

I have always believed that the most important skill that we can teach young minds is the ability to think things through and solve a problem or make decisions based on logical reasoning. Consequently, I was really happy to get the opportunity to review software developed to teach children to think. This program is for ages 8-12, but there are also Thinkin’ Things programs available for ages 4-8. Edmark is a division of IBM and has been producing software to "Ignite the Curious Mind" for 25 years. Edmark has a very complete line of software for children/students starting as young as 2 years and going even through adult. Two very good product catalogs come in the shipping box. Most of their programs, like this one, can be installed either on a Windows operating system or on a Macintosh. An added plus is that this software has an unbelievable 30-day money back guarantee including taxes. However, they do not pay shipping costs. 

System Requirements are Win 95/98, Pentium or better, 66MHz or faster, 12 MB free space on hard drive, 16 MB RAM, 640x480 monitor, 2X or faster CD-ROM. A minimal amount of information is installed on the hard disk because this program runs off of the CD-ROM. I discovered one thing that I had not read in the installation instructions the first time that I played Galactic Brain Benders. I had to close Spell Catcher because it ran major interference with this program. 

At the Edmark web site (www.edmark.com) home page, there are free samples, special offers, special offers for teachers and a link to Dear Parents. I went to the "Dear Parents" site and was impressed with the letter that they have for parents. They also have questions and answers and a myriad of topics for parents to explore from school subjects to learning styles to pre-schoolers and computers to other topics. This surely is the first page that a parent should investigate before buying software for their child. In addition to all the educational software, Edmark sells a "Touchwindow" that would be ideal for the pre-schooler that has not developed the fine motor skills to use the keyboard or mouse. 

Parents are able to control how their child uses this software by going to "Adult Options". By hitting contol+Alt+A at the main menu page, parents can go to preferences and allow or disallow volume, exiting, saving, and recording. In the activity settings, level of difficulty can be set for three of the four activity choices with a review being the final choice for each one. 

Now on to the fun things: Thinkin’ Things is a very colorful program with delightful characters. It is nearly all pictures and icons, which makes it fun and easy. The first section that I opened is Stocktopus who is a purple octopus stockbroker who guides the child as he/she trades objects to achieve "portfolio" goals. There also is a moose in Canada, a panda in China, a parrot in Brazil, and a koala in Australia. When you make a decision, then the appropriate "person" in that country asks if you want to trade and you have the option to say yes or no. The manual lists all of the leaning opportunities that exist in this game and I will not re-list them. Two of the more important ones are deductive and inductive reasoning and utilizing information to make decisions. 

Half Time: clicking this "game" opened up a football field with the players leaving the field for half time. My start was to click on coach to see what I could find out about what to do. Thus opened a tutorial that went through a half time program and showed the user what each button does. This is the "game" that teaches programming skills, but even more, it teaches the need to plan your actions in order to accomplish a task. It is particularly interesting to note that by planning, writing and executing simple programs, children strengthen their ability to think both sequentially and spatially. Half Time has five pages of the manual devoted to it, including how parents can emphasize and re-enforce what the program teaches. 

Fripple Place is a really fun section. The manual lists six opportunities for learning with this game/activity. I had a ball with it and as I got into the more advanced areas I made real mistakes. The most important thing about the Fripples is that the player must not only read carefully, but also must utilize information from other curriculum areas (such as directions) and place the Fripples according to specific instructions. The more advanced sections require careful reading and making decisions by what is written and what is inferred. This was the area where I had to be more careful in my reading. If a mistake is made, as I did, the program gives you a chance to correct it and if you are still wrong, it shows you which ones are wrong. This section of Galactic Brain Benders has strengthened my critical thinking skills and inference skills. Fripple Place is far and away my favorite activity in this software. As it progresses in difficulty it is more of a puzzle and a great deal more fun. 

Photo Twister uses graphical tools to apply special effects to photos. The program provides approximately 42 beautiful pictures of nature, people, and places that can be manipulated. It also provides 22 different ways to change the pictures. A tiny green creature that is called a twister and has a single "photo-editing tool" represents each effect. Clicking on the twister will cause him to jump into the photo and perform special effects. It appears that the effects are performed in the same location (that is bottom center, upper right, left center, dead center, etc.) on each of the pictures. At least I was not able to choose where I wanted to put the effect as one does with photo editing software. "Photo Twister was created to exercise, strengthen, expand and nurture visual thinking skills." Each of the 22 tiny green twisters performs a different special effect that will change the picture from rotating to skewing to layers. Again, Edmark lists the learning opportunities for your child with this game. I believe that the 11 to 12 year old who masters the "twisters" will be able to readily move on to regular photo editing software. 

Carving Blox is a building game that explores the principles of physics. Children can explore how different surfaces affect gravity, friction, motion, and inertia. They can form a hypothesis, plan and do the experiment, and arrive at a conclusion. 

A tour or how-to is a part of each activity of this software. Sometimes, it is in the form of an exploratory button and sometimes it is someone speaking to you. 

I strongly recommend Edmark's educational software for children. I can see where some if the things that are taught in this software may well be the basis for what children pursue as adults. The cost of Galactic Brain Benders and most other Edmark Software is $29.95. It can be purchased from their web site. I also found Edmark Software at Office Depot as well as at CompUSA. The in-town stores also have a price of $29.95 on most Edmark software. 


Rose Lynn Saenger, a retired educator, can be reached at karlyn@flash.net