There are many, many educational products available for home use. Unfortunately, most of them seem to have been created without a strong design model created either by or with the help of educators first. As a result, software such as Math Workshop tends to be put together with a "this is what we think kids need to learn, and how they need to learn it" feel.
The fact that this product is supposed to cover ages 6 through 12 is a dead give-away as soon as one looks at the box. Yes, there are three difficulty levels, but how is a parent supposed to know which difficulty level corresponds with which age? A better way to do it would be to have the child input his or her age in the sign in screen and have the program decide what level of problems is necessary. Not only that, but the difficulty buttons are accessible on every screen. There should be a restricted area where parents can set up a child's profile which the child can't access; that way, a child who is 11 or 12 can't breeze through all the problems on the lowest difficulty level and fool the parent into thinking that the child is excelling in the program.
Not that parents should lock their kids down to the computer for x hours per day and make them feel like they're in school, but any program such as this one should have a way to accurately tell parents how well their kids are doing and where they need reinforcement.
There are other problems with Math Workshop as well. A major one is the lack of instructions when a child enters one of the areas of the workshop. Even I had trouble figuring out what to do, especially in the Rhythm Shop. There is a help button, but all that does is bring in Poly, the main character, who tells you to click on something so she can explain it to you. I want complete instructions on how to do the task before getting the option to click on various items to see what they do.
Another big problem is that there are too many activities of the same type. There are a few which all involve putting pieces on a board to fill in a picture as an exercise on spatial relationships. A little variation would have been nice.
The animations are fun and rewarding, although there is no ultimate prize beyond the certificates which can be printed out. Yes, achievement should be its own reward, but all parents know that something tangible (such as earning points to play bonus games) is always good. The sound and graphics are also adequate, although the math puns (the main character's full name is Poly Gonzales; get it?) are a bit much, especially in the user's guide. More focus on real educational value as opposed to cutesyness would have done this program a world of good.
Graphics: They're not terrible, but they're not super exciting either. The animations are fun, though.
Sound: Lots of little fun things here.
Enjoyment: Kids will like it, but the inability to match the difficulty levels to the student's age may make the problems either way too easy or way too hard.
Replay Value: To be honest, I don't see much here to sustain kids' attention once they've seen all there is to do.
People who downloaded Math Workshop have also downloaded:
Madeline And The Magnificent Puppet Show, Math Rescue, Math for the Real World, Math Blaster Episode 2: Secret of the Lost City, Magic School Bus Explores the Human Body, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? CD-ROM, Mario Teaches Typing, Carmen Sandiego: Word Detective
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