What ten-year-old can resist a mystery that combines greed, corruption, and submarines, even if it does throw in a little math? Aimed at children grades 4 to 7, Math Mysteries: Measurements is a fun way to get students interested in problem-solving. The characters are intriguing, and the animation is nicely done.
The title comes as two separate CD-ROMs: one for teacher-led classroom work, and one for single-student play. Both begin with the student listening to a character describe a problem. The student chooses which sentences to copy onto the mathpad, a notepad with calculation buttons, for later use in computation. This method forces the student to listen carefully and think about the problem.
The heart of the series lies in the single-player mystery that takes place on a ship and on an underwater station. All the math problems follow the themes of water and marine biology, and students must complete a set of a half-dozen to a dozen problems before progressing. The program would be much stronger and more engaging, however, if the problems built on one another and if the questions were directly related to the mystery itself.
The math pad only works by copying and pasting from the original sentences. The student must create each arithmetic step and solve it in order to get the next number. The main advantage of this process is that the teacher can see all the work, but the process also interferes with visualization of the entire problem. There is no way for a student who might have done the step in his or her head to simply type in the answer.
The interface for the classroom CD-ROM can be disorienting. The tab buttons are not navigational aides but rather an indicator of which step the class is completing. The teacher cannot use the tabs to move forward or backward to previous steps. However, once a teacher has gone through the program a few times, it is easy enough to use.
On our first test system, an iBook with 32MB of physical RAM and 32MB more of virtual RAM, the QuickTime movies were often slow and jerky. The program was unable to load the ending series, thus leaving us with an unsolved mystery. When we copied our small game file and moved to a system with more RAM, we were finally able to complete the mystery. However, after hours of entertainment, the deus ex machina was unsatisfying.