Thursday, April 23, 2009

Computer Games

Okay, so now for something completely different.  I’m having a miserable week, so I thought I’d post some things about computer games -- especially one that I have really enjoyed including as part of our school.

The Amazing Brain Train (the link is to the Mac version at Big Fish Games, the PC version is linked on that page) is something that I have made a required part of school for all four of the boys.  Not that they always follow through, of course, but it is something they are supposed to be doing for 10 or so minutes a day.

The premise of the game is pretty silly, and my 6th grader pretty much rolls his eyes at the hokiness of it.  You are sent on various missions to really silly animals, which requires you to drive along the tracks to visit the various homes.  In order to fuel your “brain train” you need to play assorted mini-games.  This is the part that is great.  

There are five categories of games, with three games per category.  Some are really easy, some are far more challenging, and of course, which is which is going to vary from one person to another.  I find the Pond Sum (a math game) to be incredibly simple, but I struggle with Cosmic Cube (a spatial awareness type game).

What I like is that my kids are being presented with the games randomly, so they get to do the “easy” ones mixed in with the ones they find challenging.  And there are a lot of “trophies” to earn... I have about 2/3 of them myself.  The trophies I am missing do encourage me to push a bit harder in the areas I find challenging.

One thing I both like and don’t like is that the puzzles always start at the easiest level, and progressively get harder.  That is fantastic for my younger children, but it is a bit frustrating for my older two, and for me.  I want to be able to push a little harder, instead of trying to race through the easy levels to get to the level that does stretch my brain... just as the time runs out.  I wish there was some option to have the puzzles start a little tougher, I guess.

So, what do I mean by that?  Let’s talk about one that I can describe in words.  One of the games that I struggle with is a bit like a shell game.  You have two animals, facing in whatever direction (front, back, right, left).  You click, and boxes are put over them.  One or both boxes is rotated, one box is in the spotlight, and you have to identify which direction the critter is now facing.  The boxes are then lifted up, and it tells you if you were right or wrong.

The first time, neither box is rotated.  You just need to remember which direction the animals faced initially.  Then, one box moves 1/4 turn and you have to id where that animal faces.  Eventually, the boxes will both move (1/4 turn at a time) 2-3 times, in either or both directions, and you don’t know which box will be spotlighted.  If you do well, you’ll get a third animal.  I assume eventually you get a fourth one too... I may have done that once.

In this game, I find the two box part to be very easy.  But I struggle once there are three to keep track of.  Since the game only goes for something less than a minute, I usually only get 2-3 times with three boxes.  I’d love to be able to start there.

Other games have the player running a mouse through a maze, figuring out what a spinning 3-dimensional object would look like in 2-dimension (another one I’m not great at!), drawing a line to separate two types of animals from each other, fitting animal pieces into a puzzle, or playing a game like Rush Hour, where you have to slide the various pieces around to make it so the professor can get to his birthday cake.

There are other modes of play besides the game one.  The Practice mode does give you a choice to do it untimed, which addresses my above concern -- but practice mode isn’t as much fun as game mode.  There is also a test mode, which I really like.  

The best part, of course, is that my kids think they are getting away with something -- you know, getting to play games and call it school.  And I like that it is making them stretch those brain muscles a bit.

If you do decide to go purchase this, I would recommend getting at least two games...hmmm, well, the pricing changed since last I looked... it used to be the same price to get two as it was to get one.  They do run specials, and there is likely to be a Mother’s Day one at some point (last year, it was 40% off a single game).  And all the games let you download and try it for an hour for free.  

Let me know if you want other recommendations.  It is much easier to find educational titles for the PC games than the Mac.  And do it as a subscription... you spend less that way, and you just need to cancel at the appropriate time.

Tess commented on the old blog:

I am so sorry you are having a miserable week!  This sounds great.  I think I'll check it out.  And I love the picture!!!!

-Thursday, April 23, 2009 - 05:28 PM

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