Players ride with the famous Ms. Frizzle on her "Magic School Bus" as she takes her class on a fieldtrip to a Volcano Observation Station. While there, kids learn about volcanoes by exploring three experiments, four activities, three multi-leveled games, and several short videos. This interactive environment is also "erupting" with facts about volcanoes.
Virtual experiments allow kids to create their own volcanoes by choosing one of three kinds of gas to combine with one of three kinds of lava. The software then shows an animated result of the chosen combination and explains about the kind of eruption that occurred.
One of the four activities allows children to choose from a variety of stickers of plants, trees, and buildings to place on the mountainside of a dormant volcano. The fertile soil quickly produces a thriving ecosystem. If kids want a barren mountainside again, they can cause the volcano to erupt.
Budding volcanologists liked the three multi-leveled games. Children enjoyed playing "Rub a Dub Sub", a game where they navigate a submarine to avoid red lava, black smokers, underwater chimneys, and sea creatures. But, kid-testers were particularly drawn to "Operation Rescue", a game that parallels real life. Kids race to place barriers to redirect the flow of virtual lava headed toward houses and cars. The firefighters on Mount Etna are performing similar work as they construct ditches and stone dikes to control the lava flows.
While Volcano Adventure Activity Center is interactive and fun to play, it doesn't have a storyline to motivate children to explore. They need to be self-directed and interested in learning about volcanoes. Some previous titles in this software series offered written summaries - here the only way to see the information in written form is to turn on the "closed caption" option.
After signing in and designing a "Lava License" - a picture ID with user-defined, wacky features - kids are taken to the bus and greeted by teacher extraordinaire, Ms. Frizzle. Here, they can explore the many "clickables" that either lead them to activities or teach them a thing or two about volcanoes. Outside of the bus, class members host more games to play and offer interesting information bytes.
Some of the activities offered take the form of educational experiments. In one, children make their own volcano by playing with two variables - the thickness of the magma, and the amount of gas - then watch how their volcano erupts. In another, kids compare different types of real-world volcanoes (like St. Helens and Mauna Loa) by taking a closer look at their features, including lava flow, sound, and ash.
Short volcano videos show lava flow and underwater smoke, and a map features 10 "clickable" volcanoes from around the world that offer important characteristics of each. The life of a volcano is demonstrated in another activity. Children can follow the stages and see how a volcano is formed and develops and, finally, what happens when it erupts.
Creativity activities allow kids to explore volcanoes in a more casual manner. Children use stickers to bring a volcanic wasteland back to life with greenery and housing. When they want to start over with a clean slate, they can do so with a blast - a volcanic one, of course!
Games include picture puzzles featuring stunning photographs of volcanoes that need to be pieced back together and an arcade-style game that plays much like Frogger, only players lead the school bus across a lava flow by strategically hopping onto logs and rescuing animals along the way for bonus points. In Rub-a-Dub Sub, kids navigate a submarine, collect rocks, and dodge assorted obstacles including heat vents and lava. Yet another fast-paced game entitled Operation Rescue requires children to guide lava down the mountain and away from the town using concrete blocks.
In comparison with the other titles in the Magic School Bus Activity Center series, Volcano Adventure seems to have more games. However, our testers missed the game show-style quizzes that appear in the previous titles in the series.
This program is fun and interesting for a time, but kids with a genuine interest in the subject will do best with the game. Because the program is rather open-ended and is missing an overall goal, children can easily avoid the educational tidbits in favor of the arcade-style games.
Children learn about the features and characteristics of volcanoes from around the world. They explore the life of a volcano, its components, the effects it has, and the tools seismologists use.
Many general science programs on the market cover broad subject matter and often give children only a superficial look at various topics. This series zeroes in on specific topics and does an excellent job of exploring these in depth. Volcano Adventure presents plenty of age-appropriate information and allows kids to do some experimenting in order to gather a deeper understanding of volcanoes. However, because the game lacks an overall goal, some children might skip the more educational portions of the program and head straight for the games.
Ms. Frizzle's trademark puns along with bright graphics and plenty of fast-paced games keep the program fairly spirited.
This program is thoughtfully designed and especially easy to use. Where appropriate, the CD-ROM employs multiple levels of difficulty and the arcade games feature increasing levels of challenging game-play. Closed-captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing is easy to turn on and off.
Though the program is enjoyable and educational, we expect average replay value. While there is adequate variety of activities, the program lacks a mission or goal to motivate children to benefit from all the information offered.
The Bottom Line
Through games and simple experiments, children learn plenty of facts about volcanoes in this cheerful and well-designed activity center. Though it is easy to bypass much of the program's educational content, kids with a sincere interest in the subject matter will benefit from this title's abundant learning opportunities.
People who downloaded Magic School Bus Volcano Adventure have also downloaded:
Magic School Bus Explores Inside the Earth, Magic School Bus Discovers Flight, Magic School Bus Lands on Mars, Magic School Bus Explores the Solar System, Magic School Bus Explores the Human Body, Disney's Mickey Saves the Day: 3D Adventure, Oregon Trail Deluxe, LEGO: Legoland
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