- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 24, 2002

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.

No familiar friends or clever games are found in Mind Power: High School Math, just a flood of numerical concepts contained in a six-CD set.

Presentations on basic math, algebra I, algebra II, geometry, trigonometry and calculus come to life through a combination of text, audio explanations, multimedia trials and step-by-step animations. When a student completes the set, he or she will have maneuvered through a minefield of more than 3,300 practice problems covering 200 areas of mathematics.

Each disc's opening screen reveals the subjects covered; click on a subject to view a set of topics. As students 13 years old and older pick from the daunting set of topics, they will enter such worlds as absolute zero, complementary identities, quadratic equations and the Pythagorean theorem.

More screens follow, presenting mind-boggling concepts in a rather dry manner. Eventually, users will end up at a 10-question multiple-choice quiz.

The program is full of facts, but I found it to be lacking in style. Monotone narration, which can be found by clicking on any "step-by-step" icon, relays an explanation with a few slide-show-like visuals but will not keep junior awake unless he is in panic mode, cramming for an upcoming exam. I understand that not everything in the world can be bursting with bright colors and sound effects, but unless the student is completely serious about learning the finer points of calculus or statistics, he or she may have a hard time staying motivated in this basic environment.

I did appreciate that every page includes an encyclopedic reference "math facts" icon, which provided hundreds of applicable words, formulas and rules for each subject explored.

Although the Mind Power series will never take the place of my hysterical 11th-grade trigonometry teacher, the depth and range of mathematics covered should give the future engineer or nanotechnology specialist in the family an edge in plodding through high school.

Mind Power: High School Math, Riverdeep, $29.99, Hybrid for PC and Macintosh systems.

A band of determined heroes return to their decimated homeland to save a species and restore ecological order in Zoombinis Island Odyssey. Those cute, customizable blue spheres are back for a third time to take children on a colorful adventure while sneaking in some lessons on physics, astronomy, mathematics and genetics.

Children 8 years old and older will learn about Venn diagrams, gear ratios and planetary movement as they solve seven puzzles offering three appropriately titled levels of action: not so hard; oh so hard; and very, very hard.

The fun begins in the usual Zoombini way, as the player creates 12 buddies to go on the harrowing expedition with a simple click on hairstyles, eyes and lower appendages. The games range from dropping boulders in a Rube Goldberg-type device to launching eager Zoombinis onto a cliff to cracking hieroglyphic codes to genetically altering the zerbles species for survival.

A soothing narrator explains directions and encourages players while a pleasant musical score and slick-looking animated style keep junior wanting to stretch his brain cells in this challenging but very satisfying title.

Zoombinis Island Odyssey, The Learning Co., $19.99, Hybrid for PC and Macintosh 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, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail ([email protected]).

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