Why do societies build walls? This simple question defies simple explanation, but to the creators of Edmark's Talking Walls series, it's the right question for getting kids to start thinking critically about the world around them.
Talking Walls and its sequel, Talking Walls: The Stories Continue, make famous walls around the world a starting point for learning about historical events and different world cultures. The programs are based on the critically-acclaimed children's book of the same name, which is included with the software. From the Berlin Wall to the Peace Lines of Belfast to the cave paintings of Aborigines in Australia, each landmark featured has an important story to tell. Talking Walls presents these stories, elegantly transferred onto CD-ROM, with additional resources available at a click of the mouse.
Each "page" of Talking Walls introduces a specific wall with two or three prosaic paragraphs that are accompanied by impressively rendered hand-drafted illustrations. Kids can click on the Read button in the navigation bar and hear the text read aloud. Essential vocabulary words are highlighted in green so that when clicked on, their definition is instantly visible.
When ready to learn more, users can click on the Beyond the Walls button, which delivers a new screen presenting a variety of additional educational resources. These include background materials on the Muslim faith, photographs of Nelson Mandela, historical news footage of the Berlin Wall coming down, a narrated video tour of Angel Island, and more. The program also includes bibliographies for in-depth investigation. However, background information isn't equal in scope for every topic; parents and teachers should be prepared to answer questions from curious-minded kids. Finally, users can connect to the Talking Walls Web site for more information.
One of the most outstanding features of Talking Walls is the enclosed teacher's guide. The guide offers original and worthwhile activities and provocative and challenging discussion questions for each of the readings. Extensive lists of relevant books and Web sites are included for each topic so parents and teachers can either research for themselves or recommend additional resources to young learners. The teacher's guide is so incredibly well researched and insightful, it is perhaps better developed than the CD-ROM itself. This is the program's shortcoming: that it doesn't better integrate the book and CD-ROM into a more interactive product.