Discovery software; an educational giant makes a big splash in the software pool. (evaluation) Betsy Staples.
When I was a child, my parents were strict about eating meals together at the dining room table. On those occasions when my parents were not at home, however, we children were accorded the great treat of eating in the family room. At those times, I always reached for a volume of the World Book Encyclopedia and spent my solitary meal perusing the pages and assimilating painlessly all sorts of useful and not so useful information.
Imagine, then, my delight at discovering an entire new line of educational software from my old friends at World Book.
Discovery Software sets new standards for consistency and continuity in a line of educational software. The professional educators at World Book spent four years analyzing the areas in which children need the most help and incorporating their more than 60 years of experience into a software series that addresses those needs in a thoroughly competent and beguiling manner.
The sturdily boxed packages come in sets of seven programs for each of three age levels: preschool (ages 3 to 5), primary (ages 6 to 10), and intermediate (age 10 and up). The format of the individual programs and the controls for moving about within the programs are totally consistent within a given level. In the primary set, for example, each program begins by asking the child "Do you want sound?" He makes either the YES or NO flash by pressing the spacebar. When the appropriate word is flashing, he presses ENTER to register his choice.
The preliminaries out of the way, he sees a menu that represents graphically all the games on the disk. Again, he chooses, using a combination of spacebar and ENTER. At any point, he can return to the picture menu by pressing ESC. The other levels are similarly consistent with increasingly complex commands and controls.
The preschool level packages feature between six and eight different games each. Most of the packages in the primary level offer between one and four activities, with those that have only one basic activity offering multiple difficulty levels. The intermediate level packages typically consist of one basic activity, ranging from arithmetic practice to a simulation of life in early America. Some also feature review sections and/or multiple difficulty levels.
The documentation for the entire series is exemplary. Each package comes with a 24-page User's Information and Activity Guide, which begins with a note to grown-ups, parents, or users (depending on the age level) and instructions for getting started. After the first game, however, our playtesters never needed to refer to those instructions; the consistency and simplicity of the activities made it possible for them to figure out what they needed to know very quickly.
The remaining pages of each Guide are, perhaps, the most valuable part of the package; they describe non-computer activities and projects the child can do to augment his understanding of the concepts practiced on the computer. These activities complement the programs and provide expert guidance for parents and teachers. And World Book even provides an educational objective for each section.
The preschool level features Pockets, a kangaroo in basketball sneakers.
Packages in this set include: Come Play with Pockets, which offers practice of visual memory skills; Pockets Goes on Vacation, which offers practice in identifying positional relationships; Happy Birthday, Pockets, which offers practice in visual discrimination; Pockets Leads the Parade, which offers practice in pattern recognition; Pockets Goes to the Carnival, which offers practice in one-to-one correspondence and counting; Pockets Goes on a Picnic, which offers practice in making associations; and Pockets and her New Sneakers, in which Pockets abandons her basketball sneakers to provide practice in classification by color, shape, and size.
The games in this set are very simple, but even after many hours of play, our playtesters still show no signs of boredom.
The programs in the primary level set offer practice in a wide range of skills: Mighty Math features review of basic arithmetic skills at varying levels of difficulty. Space Port features practice of visual memory skills at varying levels of difficulty. Word Player features practice in vocabulary building and offers a create-your-own-stories option. How Things Work features review of how tools can be used to make work easier. Take Me North features practice in using cardinal directions, and in using map reading skills. A-mazing Words features spelling review at varying levels of difficulty, "beginning at the primary grades and useful through high school." And Plot-a-Point features practice in the use of number lines and the plotting of coordinates.
The only gaffe we noted in the Discovery Software series appeared in How Things Work. In this game, the child must choose which of three basic tools will solve a problem pictured on the screen. The fourth option is a box filled with question marks. If the child selects the question marks, he is returned to the "information section where he can find out more about machines." Unfortunately, he is not allowed to return to the problem to test his knowledge. Our playtesters found this frustrating.
Again, the range of skills and difficulty is wide, and I found myself fascinated by some of the activities--especially in Run for President, a social studies program featuring review of geography facts about the U.S. and review of U.S. state facts, and Settling America, a simulation featuring practice in decision-making and review of facts about everyday life in early America.
Other programs in the set include: WhizCalc I, an arithmetic skills program featuring practice of basic arithmetic operations with nine levels of difficulty; WhizCalc II, an arithmetic comprehension program featuring practice in solving arithmetic word problems and exposure to a junior spreadsheet; Spellbound, a critical thinking skills review program featuring verbal analogies and four levels of difficulty; Fast Break, a punctuation skills review program featuring explanation of commonly used punctuation marks and practice in using punctuation marks in context; and Data Hurdles, a data use skills review program featuring three levels of difficulty, ten data manipulation skill segments, and onscreen tutorial skill reviews.
The only thing that really bothered me about the Discovery Software series is, unfortunately, a characteristic of the only machine on which the software currently runs. The process of copying DOS onto the program disk using the single-drive of the PCjr can only be described as torture. I did, however, discover that a four-year-old can be taught to load DOS separately and type AUTOEXEC.
It is obvious that the people at World Book invested a great deal of time and effort in their Discovery Software. The programs are well thought out, competently executed, and pedagogically sound.
Choose the one that reviews an area in which your child needs practice, or buy the whole set--you won't go wrong with software from one of the best known names in American education.
Products: Discovery Software (computer program)