- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 1, 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.

Children ages 4 to 6 will love climbing aboard the Number Train for a fully narrated, interactive journey into mathematics.

The program was developed using standards set by the Information Communications Technology Standards Board a European initiative to aid educators in creating an environment that will help young people living and learning in a rapidly changing, technological world. It contains 21 practical and mental math activities, all narrated by the delightful and very, very British Murphy Mouse.

Each of the seven math topics covered has three levels, with each topic represented by a variety of common and not-so-common characters. For example, place values recognizing numerals is taught by the Scruffy Growlers, a group of friendly basketball-playing monsters that not only teach children how to identify numbers, but also show how they are written.

At the first level, children work on numbers from zero to 20. Level 2 helps children understand what each digit represents, and Level 3 continues the lessons on reading numerals and being able to take a number, such as 14, and break it into two numbers 10 and 4.

A familiar activity found at Level 3 involves working with a "patchwork quilt" of numbers, four across and four down. Children must answer a series of questions, and with each correct response, another piece of the patchwork is removed. Answer all questions correctly, and a picture is revealed.

In addition to helping users recognize, write and combine numbers, the Scruffy Growlers also help familiarize them with the mathematical vocabulary, including words such as "digit," "tens," "units" and "ones."

Another very clever learning game teaches the concept of addition by adding groups. The program presents the Bluenotes, a lineup of singers. Murphy Mouse highlights some of them and asks the player to click on the number of Bluenotes in that group. He then highlights the next set, asking the player to count the singers again.

While playing any activity, if the child chooses a wrong answer, Murphy encourages the player to try again. Miss the right answer twice, and Murphy demonstrates the correct answer, or during the Bluenotes game, helps the player count the number of singers onstage.

Other activities found along the Number Train include learning to put numbers into correct order with the Beach Bunnies; learning to recognize odd and even numbers with a couple of dancing amphibians, the Fandango Frogs; counting by two with Poppy Penguin; and practicing addition with Esme Elephant and subtraction with the Drippy Ducks.

Supporting each of the interactive CD-ROM activities are printed resource sheets that reinforce all on-screen challenges.

Number Train comes packaged in an engaging format with plenty of adorable characters to introduce mathematics, and the software provides a powerful teaching tool that will work equally well within a classroom curriculum or as a home-schooling companion.

The program can be used within small groups, as lap ware or, for the more advanced student, as a self-directed learning aid. Progress reports are reflected on a record-keeping screen that tracks the activities each pupil has completed. It does not, however, assess how the child performed, just that he or she completed a specific task.

Number Train, Sherston Software Limited, distributed by Tool Factory, $59.99, hybrid for Mac or PC 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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