The glamour goes to the games, but at last week's Electronic Entertainment Expo conference, companies advocating learning made their presence known as well. Without loud music or spokesmodels, education companies showed products that take advantage of the horsepower in today's desktops and showed support for the Mac with plenty of simultaneous releases.
Just because a title is meant to teach doesn't mean it has to boring. For example, Disney Interactive's ( http://www.disneyinteractive.com ) $29.99 Magic Artist 2, due in August, lets children explore their creative side. This cool drawing and painting tool features 3-D effects, an animated image spray, and the ability to create simple animations using key frames. This program will be fun for anyone who wants to draw and paint with their Mac, regardless of age.
A new company, Kutoka ( http://www.kutoka.com ), uses 3-D graphics similar to those you see in most entertainment games, but not common in edutainment titles. Mia: The Search for Grandma's Remedy is a fun, story-based adventure that stresses reading and writing skills for kids 6 to 8 years old. The company will follow this release with science, math, and arts titles. Awesome graphics come at a minor cost, of course. The game requires a PowerPC-based Mac, unlike many education titles that still run on the -040 models.
Besides improvements in the look of applications, more CD-ROMs are integrating the Web into their curriculum. It's the logical extension of the computer learning experience: keep content fresh and you'll keep a child's attention, thereby teaching them more.
Edmark's ( http://www.edmark.com ) Thinking Things series will have weekly puzzles that can be accessed via their site. The series concentrates on developing analytical and creative thinking skills, with problems like navigating through a town, analyzing missing elements, predicting outcomes, and communicating through a mixture of words and pictures. The four titles --"All Around FrippleTown," "Toony the Loon's Lagoon," "Galactic Brain Busters," and "Sky Island Mysteries"-- will ship June 7.
Many companies are following Apple's push for simultaneous releases. The Learning Company ( http://www.learningco.com ), which started off the show with the news of a merger with Mattel, announced more than 20 new education and edutainment titles, most of which are Mac-compatible. Highlights included the third version of its popular Kid Pix Studio, for creating multimedia art with sound and animation; Carmen Sandiego's ThinkQuick Challenge, which turns the familiar Carmen Sandiego mystery adventures into a game show format; and several Princeton Review titles aimed at high school and older audiences.
Concentrating on the younger set, IBM ( http://www.ibm.com/pc/athome/ ) will release the six-part Brain Quest series this fall. Each of the $19.95 CD-ROMs focuses on a single grade (from first through sixth), using trivia questions to move kids through a story, while building necessary learning skills. IBM will also ship Crayola Creation Station, an arts and crafts title for ages 5-10.
Besides Magic Artist 2, Disney Interactive plans to release several edutainment games. For kids who can't get enough of Buzz Lightyear, Toy Story 2, with 6 games and activities that develop strategy and problem solving skills, ships in November. The Winnie the Pooh Toddler, Preschool, and Kindergarten series uses the familiar bear and other characters from the books to engage and teach children in an event-based CD-ROM.
DK Interactive Learning ( http://www.dk.com ) said it intends to make a large push back into the education software field. One of the new titles it will release, Building Blocks Toddler, teaches letters, numbers, and analytical skills, while providing parents with explanations of how each activity aids in learning. My First Amazing Science Explorer answers many of those questions that kids ask, including that eternal parent-puzzler, "why is the sky blue?" Kids can explore the world with activities, or parents can go right to the q-and-a section for quick answers to questions. Pinball Science, out this July, builds science knowledge through constructing pinball games component by component. Kids acquire parts by answering questions.
Those are just a handful of the educational CD-ROMS coming out this summer and fall. Macworld will be looking at some of these products and more in our annual Back to School guide, coming out in our October issue.