Is adding fractions more fun when the reward is a big bag of gold? The answer is yes when it comes to Math Mysteries: Fractions and Math Mysteries: Advanced Fractions, two education programs for grades 4 through 7. These programs successfully introduce students to the concepts behind fractions and develop students' listening and analytical skills. However, these programs don't claim to drill computational lessons. Instead, their purpose is to make you listen to story problems and translate them into math problems.
Math Mysteries: Fractions covers the addition, subtraction, and multiplication of fractions, while Math Mysteries: Advanced Fractions includes the division of fractions and slightly longer computations.
Both programs tell interesting stories with simple but appealing images. Fractions takes place in an old gold-mining town where the townspeople are suffering from gold fever. Advanced Fractions takes place on a tropical island where the volcano is about to blow and the natives are at odds with each other. The more math problems you help them solve, the closer you get to discovering the gold or escaping the volcano.
As you listen to a character talk, you identify and copy down the key points by clicking the Grab A Note button. Then you figure out the math problem--which isn't always in the form of a question--and perform the calculations on the Math Pad. The Math Pad performs basic calculations such as adding and subtracting, but it also offers functions that many students will wish they could find on their calculator, such as Simplify and Common Denominator. Bypassing the computational work keeps the action moving along, but it doesn't teach students how to solve complex problems on their own. If you answer a problem incorrectly, the program simply tells you that you got it wrong, with no explanation. If you're stumped, however, you can refer to the Hint area.
Both programs include a single-player version and a classroom version for solving the questions with a larger group. The two versions are identical except that the classroom version doesn't rely on a story line to link the problems.
Macworld's Buying Advice
As complements to a full lesson plan that includes computational drills, Math Mysteries: Fractions and Math Mysteries: Advanced Fractions are valuable teaching tools that are sure to be a student's favorite part of math class. Although the $80 price tag is targeted at classrooms and computer labs, the game can work well for independent learners, too.It All Adds Up: A character gives clues to a math problem in her story.It Doesn't Compute: You'll use the Math Pad on every problem, but as a result, you won't exercise basic computational skills.