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Reviews

Calvert School's
King Arthur Through the Ages

(CD-ROM w / book)
104 Tuscany Rd.
Baltimore, MD 21210

We love this CD-ROM adventure into medieval times! One of us has always been interested in the Arthurian legend and one of us is a medieval fanatic -- Legos, costumes, weapons, everything! So, we sat down at our computer expecting an interesting program about Arthur and England in this rich historical period . . . did we get a surprise!

"Arthur" is not merely interesting -- it is enthralling -- as captivating as one of Merlin's spells! The CD is divided into seven sections: Tales of Arthur, Readings From Arthur, Arthur Through History, Arthur's World, Picturing Arthur, The Land of Arthur, and Quest For the Grail. There are beautiful maps of Britain, showing ruins, cathedrals, battlefields, fortresses, etc., in an overlay style so you can pop up a sidebar photograph of a ruined fortress as you are reading the text describing it!

In Arthur's World is a written history of Arthurian England including a pronunciation guide of place names, character names and other items -- books of lore, etc., with the pronunciation and other narrations performed by Welsh actors. (One needs assistance in pronouncing all of those www's, nnn's & ggg's!) The other five sections are in this same format, describing knighthood, lady hood, etc. with stunning pictorial accompaniment. The last section, Quest for the Grail is a game which tests the players' knowledge of either the legend of Arthur or the actual history! You are allowed to choose legend or history at each advancing level of Quest. The player may also choose from three degrees of difficulty: Page, Squire or Knight, a feature which makes the game playable a number of times with-out repeating the extensive material.

This program is offered by Calvert School, Baltimore in their 5th Grade Curriculum.
-Michael & Lennon


"Around the world in 80 hours" is what you can do with this fantastic state-of-the-art geography resource globe! We are completely enthralled with Odyssey. Within the first week of receiving it, we have learned a zillion geography facts that we find useful, especially with all of the changes occurring with the splintering of the Soviet Union and European bloc countries.

Odyssey
(The World's First Atlasphere)

Explore Technologies, Inc.
P. O. Box 2579
Santa Clara, CA 95055-2579
(888) 456-2343
$399.00 plus tax

Odyssey unit is a standard, full-color, size globe _____" in circumference, with all 119* countries of the world. The globe is built into a stand which contains a keypad and a sensing "pointing wand" held in a pen-type holder for storage. The Odyssey has an AC adapter but also runs on a battery which is supplied. A variety of information cartridges are available for Odyssey and at this time (8/98) 5 are being offered free when you purchase the Atlasphere.

To use the Odyssey, you pop a cartridge into its compartment on the side of the base, pick up the wand and point it to anywhere on the globe. A recorded voice will tell you something about that area, depending upon the cartridge you have in. For example, the Metropolis cartridge contains information on over 500 world cities including weather! Metropolis also contains two capitol-finding games that up to 8 people can play. Each player takes a turn at identifying capitals with the wand in a limited time which the "voice" asks for. It is a great way for a family to play and learn. Other features include: Finding the distance between two land points, hearing an example of a country's music, type of government, population, date of independence, etc, etc. It would take an entire page to describe in detail this fantastic learning machine.

The brochure we received with it states that coming soon will be offered graphic overlays for the globe's exterior and reference cartridges. This product dispenses with the need for a globe and a book-style world atlas, as it provides a much truer image, being spherical and can tell you about countries you wouldn't even notice on a regular globe. The price tag would seem expensive, but once you realize how many geography materials you are replacing with it and how many years of fun and education you can extract from such an ingenious device, its price is reasonable or even inexpensive. If you calculate that even your five-year-old can play the country-finding games until s/he is 13 to 15, that is only about $39 per year. If Lennon is any indication of how well a 10-year-old can learn about geography, he absorbed the information right away. (Mom and Dad learned a considerable number of things too.) He knows more about the physical world from a few hours of playing three cartridges' of games with Odyssey than he would have learned in six months of book work! His comment is summed up into one phrase "It's great!" That's enough to convince us of Odyssey's worth!
-Mary, Michael & Lennon


Stars & Stories
Wildridge Software
Wildridge Farm Road
Box 61
Newark, VT 05871
(888) 244-4379
$89.95 (CD-ROM)

This title is the first unit of a forthcoming entire curriculum program, A Bigger World™ created by Lawrence Bailey Bangs, who resides in Vermont with his wife, Joan. Lawrence taught physics at the Univ. of Mass and Williams College prior to founding Wildridge Academy, where he homeschooled all 5 of his children 30 years ago. Attendees of The Link Conferences may be familiar with Mr. & Mrs. Bangs who were vendors and workshop presenters.

Stars & Stories has 13 different sections covering: Constellations, Myths, Distance, Scientific Notation, Trigonometry, Angles, Graphing, Motion, Slide Show, Glossary, Progress Report, S&S Challenge final test and Surf the Stars (suggested web sites & Internet access). It is a great astronomy program! It not only has beautiful graphics, but as you'd expect from a good teacher, it has a clear, intelligent trigonometry section, explaining the measurement of angles and calculations which I could never have understood in high school. The Angles and Distance sections tell you what to do with your new-found knowledge of trig -- calculate distance of stars from earth! No one asks more of higher math than for it to mean something in practical applications, such as the above-mentioned distance calc or celestial navigation used by sailors and aviators. Stars & Stories gives the insight into these processes against a background of beautiful sky graphics and attention-riveting fun than any high school math teacher I ever knew.

Parts II and III of A Bigger World™ series, Mathematics & Music, and Architecture & Physics, are in the finishing stages, available at the end of ‘98 or early ‘99, and I can't wait to see them. I'll bet they are fantastic! This is yet another great CD-rom to add to your curriculum library to use for years to come!
-Michael Leppert


Draw Today
Steven Golden & Assoc.
217 Ferry St.
Easton, PA 18042
(800) 552-3729 - www.artskills.com
DT21-$49.95
DT22-$34.95
DT23-$17.95

Draw Today is a great, complete beginning drawing kit created and produced by Steven Golden, a former marketing director for Binney & Smith, the Crayola makers. He has developed a wonderful program for teaching nearly any beginner how to draw using charcoal. The company's philosophy is "You must learn to draw before you can do anything. Drawing is the gateway skill to art." He carries this through in his product.

The basic kit (DT21), which could be a bit advanced for very young children, comes complete with a 75-minute instructional video, detailing the processes to follow from simple silhouette to complex black & white images like John Lennon (a favorite here), Mark Twain, and other luminaries. The kit includes a charcoal stick, charcoal pencils, 3 types of erasers, blending sticks, 2 sizes of textured drawing paper, grids, squint sheets and a 60-page book including 25 images to draw -- everything you need to begin learning to draw.

Steven believes in using charcoal because it is a "forgiving" medium, allowing beginners to get past the anxiety of making a mistake which mars the piece forever. The video is clear, perfectly paced and very well done. Each step is explained and demonstrated without belaboring a point. The use of the artist's grid, squint sheets and preparing the surface is demonstrated with each project and we progressed through the first 3 exercises and found our results equal to our expectations. We could actually copy the images using Steven's technique! With practice, one could become very adept at drawing in this fashion.

The program progresses through 2 value pictures (black & white); 3 value (black, white & gray); 4 value (lots of gray) and finally, your own subjects! You can use any photograph to draw a portrait from. (To progress to portraits in real life, they teach the use of the DaVinci trellis grid in an advanced course.) Michelle Golden, who helps run the company, is very enthusiastic, knowledgeable and told me they really like homeschoolers, and offer sets designed to help parents with multiple children to avoid needless expense in using Draw Today. Once you have the basic set with the video, you can purchase the basic set without the video for $34.95, and if purchasing more than one kit at a time, 2 for $24.95. (A money-back guarantee is cheerfully offered, as well.)

Golden & Assoc. also are de-veloping an entire art series including Paint Today, Sculpt Today, Sketch Today and a Color course -- How To See, Mix & Match colors.

The bottom line is that the Golden Company's goal is to make children & adults be successful in art to at least gain a lifelong hobby; so they make sure their program works. They are onto a great thing!
-Michael & Lennon


Virtual Knowledge
Reading Success Test K-4

800/301-9545
200 Highland Ave.
Needham, MA 02194
www.VirtualKnowledge.com

This is one of those products that was really hard to review because my tester -- Lennon thought it was so much fun that I had to almost do it myself to get a real feel for what it was all about. In all seriousness, if you are homeschooling and want to test your child for whatever reason, this is a really fun and inexpensive way to do it.

The test is a comprehensive test of all reading skills. What is covered on the test is the type of material that might be covered on a standard test that a child might be given at school. That might turn off some homeschoolers but if you have never measured your childrens' reading skills in the many areas that this program covers and wish to do so -- try it! It's fun! And they won't even know that they are being tested -- there is a "Parents' Only" feature that allows only you access to the results.

The skills covered are: Phonic awareness, Visual matching (this would be for a younger child), Listening Comprehension, Basic Reading Concepts, Phonetic Analysis, where the child is tested with consonant combinations such as the difference between ghost and rough, for example. Spelling is also tested along with Cap-italization, Punctuation and many other skills. The graphics and music are excellent. The program also has a number of games that are not "dumbed down" in the computer sense, so that if the child were allowed to play them, the program could be used as a learning tool as well.
-Mary Leppert

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