Monday, December 01, 2008

Learn to Read with Starfall

I was just searching for educational games that might help my 2 1/2 year old son Orion recognize letters and their sounds a little more consistently. I stumbled upon Starfall and started playing some of the A, B, C games and I now realize that I know some elementary teachers that use it. Although it is somewhat excruciating and dull for me to play the games, I think that they would be engaging to a beginning reader.

In the alphabet game, the letters of the alphabet appear on ordered blocks. The child can click on the letter they would like to learn about and then are presented with both the uppercase and lowercase letter while experiencing a word that starts with that letter. For example, the letter 'H' is introduced with the sound and image of a horn. Once a letter has been presented, the sound it makes is made and then animated words that start with that letter and sound are shown. The words are said aloud by either adult or child voices. After several words are sounded out with the initial letter, the child is given a game to play. The progression through a letter activity seems appropriate and engaging.

There are a number of more advanced games where children can practice phonics as they read a story. My husband and I will definitely be using this site with our son.

Heidi Thibodeau AKA Heidi Beezley

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Triage Trainer - Morbid Yet Clearly Useful

A company called TruSim is developing a serious game for the purpose of training health care workers that are the first responders in the case of a violent disaster. The gamer interacts with a three dimensional environment where the camera views the world through the eyes of the first responder. As the player walks through the world, they encounter debris, injured people with visible wounds of various types, etc. The graphics and imagery are realistic enough to make the squeamish uncomfortable as they move through the environment.

When an injury is encountered, the player can perform an examination and then must decide whether the patient is in urgent need of attention or not. If an injured party is well enough, the player should ask them to walk to the ambulance crew. If the injury is more serious, the player should begin treatment.

The player must make decisions constantly. For example, when the player decides to perform an examination, they must decide the level of examination they will perform since some examinations take longer than others. Once the examination is complete, the player must tag the injured party as to level of priority with four options available ranging from priority 1 (immediate treatment) to priority 4 (deceased).

Article in Government Technology

I guess I can count myself one of the squeamish because the prototype video demonstration below is a little tough for me to watch. There is constant alarming noises such as sirens, moaning, etc. and it is a little unnerving seeing bodies littering the streets even in a simulation. Despite that, the game is compelling and seems like it will achieve its educational goals quite well once it is released.

Heidi Thibodeau AKA Heidi Beezley

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Itzabitza - Creativity & Reading in a Drawing Program

A small Seattle-based company called Sabi has recently teamed up with Microsoft to develop an interactive drawing/reading program called Itzabitza for the Microsoft platform. The game is unique because of its ability to recognize drawings and create interactions with the drawings that have been created.

The goal of this educational egame is to inspire creativity and promote reading in target audience of children ages 4+. As children draw, their drawings come to life. The program is able to recognize what has been drawn with the help of a drawing recognition program incorporated into the game called Living Ink. Because the game can recognize what has been drawn, the characters in the game can interact with it in natural ways. So for example, if a child is asked to draw a house, the computer will recognize the various elements that compose the house that is drawn and insert interactive components. A door and windows will appear, and once they have appeared, they can be opened. If the child draws doors, windows, or chimneys for example, the program recognizes them and uses them in the story. The characters can enter the house that has just been drawn by the child, climb the stairs, and be visible in the window on the second floor.

Children play the game by initiating quests. Each quest will prompt them to move or to draw. When they draw, their drawings become a part of the story. Part of the motivation, in addition to seeing your artwork incorporated in a story, is that you can only proceed to the next quest, or story line, after you have received enough stars. This unlocks the next quest.

The game has received high praise as an enticing way to inspire kids to read. Words, when they appear are clickable and can be read aloud. As the child begins playing, words will appear that will begin the quest. Once a child chooses a word, the child is prompted to do something related to that word.

More info.
Itzabitza Website
The Itzabitza Blog
Itzabitza Video Demo - Highly recommend the demo video. It's pretty amazing.

Heidi Thibodeau AKA Heidi Beezley

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Ant War Game

I learned all about how to build a successful ant colony by playing the Ant War Game.  This game has you first pick which type of ant colony you would like to develop. It gives you a brief description of your ant species to choose from (leaf cutter, harvester, weaver, carpenter or fire).   From there you establish how much of your colony you want to do the different activities. The grandfather ant will give you tips on what you should be increasing or decreasing.

Once you have decided how to distribute your forces, clicking on the "go" button takes you to your ant hill.  Here you will see how your choices have played out for you. You will earn or lose points as seen at the bottom of the screen. Again on this screen grandpa ant gives you more advice on what you should be doing to create the best aunt colony.

I found the game to be very simple. My daughter, age 8, was  interested in playing once she saw the game.  The only thing that I would like to see improved in the game is the instruction. There is no "help" or "how to play". I see that there are other screen shots in the game of the ants going to war, but I have no idea how far I have to be in the game to go to war.  There is also a store that I can purchase things with the gems I have earned, but I don't know
 what everything is.  Even looking at the screen where I decide how to distribute the forces of the colony, I can't tell what all the graphics represent.  It would be helpful if as I scroll over them, there was text that tells me what it is.  I would also like a screen prior to the game being started that gives me a chance to read the objective of the game and how to play.

This game could very well be used in a classroom to teach students about the different species of ants.  In addition it could be used to show how ants increase their colony size and what their predators are.  I think kids would be receptive to playing it, and I think they could play it many times since the game offers such variety with the various species of ants and the choices you can make.

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