- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 5, 2004

In a world of violent video games, where dexterity of the thumb and index finger is infinitely more important than the flexing of the cerebrum, there must be a place for children and their parents to interact and actually learn something from that overpriced multimedia computer/gaming system. Take a deep breath and enter the ROMper Room, where learning is a four-letter word cool.

Educators can add some powerful software weapons to their ongoing battle to teach word useage and mathematics, thanks to a couple of easy-to-use homework creators.

First, Crossword Factory 3 creates customized puzzles with a few clicks of the mouse. The handy interface uses word lists combined with clues to randomly generate the standard across-and-down, boxed presentations suitable for printing or e-mailing to students in various graphics formats.

Teachers begin by either creating their own word list from 65,000 possibilities or selecting from a predetermined topic, including “Rulers of the Past” (requiring knowledge of dates), “Active Lifestyle” (sports words) or “See the World” (famous landmarks).

All clues can be edited to accommodate students’ comprehension levels, and an art element and humorous riddle or quotation can be thrown into the finished product.

Then a click on the Generate icon displays a ready-to-solve puzzle that can be further refined by font choices, adding areas where the child can print his or her name and the date, word color and even box size.

As an important, free benefit, owners of the software also can download an additional 20 lists on such topics as “Synonyms” (636 word pairs), “Periodic Table of the Elements” (25 words) and “Animal Scientific Names” (100 word pairs) to further enhance a wide range of lesson plans.

Next, Mathematics Worksheet Factory Deluxe lives up to its name by offering 60 randomly generated types of printable homework activities to hone knowledge of core number concepts, including addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

Covering areas to appeal from kindergartners to 10th-graders, the simple interface allows the user to click and choose from 13 subtopics, including time, money, geometry, percentages, fractions, measurements and graphing to quickly display and customize a set of problems.

The program is not as flexible as Crossword Factory 3, but it does allow color variations, the placement of those inspirational quotations and riddles at the top of an assignment, the ability to add equation templates, and a wide degree of numerical manipulations to satisfy any educator’s requirements.

Mathematics Worksheet Factory Deluxe ($49.99 for single users license) and Crossword Factory 3 ($29.99 for single users license), Schoolhouse Technologies (www.schoolhousetech.com), for Windows 98/Me/NT4/2000/XP operating systems.

ROMper Room is a column devoted to finding the best of multimedia edutainment. Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

DOUBLE DELIGHT

Here are two multimedia or entertainment items to try:

• Wise-Crackin’ Shrek, by Hasbro, stand-alone product, three AA batteries included, $29.99. Children looking for another friend can converse with a new buddy who blends gassy comments with friendly repartee. Of course, this 17-inch-tall, plush ogre comes from Dreamworks’ smoldering sequel to its 2001 Academy Award-winning cartoon.

Tykes just squeeze his tummy to wake him up, ask him a question, such as “Are you hungry?” or “Will you sing a song?” and through the magic of voice-recognition technology, he responds with a witty line or belts out the burpiest of tunes. First saying “I love you” or “onions” determines whether his mood will be sour or sweet during the discussions.

• Shrek 2, by Activision for Xbox, PlayStation 2 and GameCube, $39.99. The latest film featuring the animated green ogre has been perfectly adapted into the world of console entertainment. Up to four friends can work together in this humorous third-person adventure.

The title makes perfect fodder for the family as children and parents choose to be represented by Shrek, Fiona, Gingerbread Man, Puss in Boots or Lil Red, who then cooperatively free dwarves, collect items, stew chickens and bash giant slugs while striving to reach the kingdom of Far Far Away.

Along the way, each character displays a certain set of combat moves crucial to solving puzzles and dispatching enemies, including Fiona’s ability to slow time and Shrek’s destructive belly-flop.

They also get to show their bravery in a solo challenge tailored to some of their special attributes — for example, Dragon must quickly fly through a complicated maze reminiscent of Luke Skywalker’s quest to destroy the Death Star in “Star Wars.”

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