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Children's Software Review of:
Thinkin’ Things
Sky Island Mysteries 
Ages 8-12 

From the February, 2000 issue of PC Alamode Magazine
by Rose Lynn Saenger
Commander Stage here; I will explain your assignment as we arrive at Sky Island. The Sky Island festival is well underway but some tricksters are trying to ruin the fun. It is up to you and Joe Cluestoe to stop them. With this opening statement I found myself on Sky Island with such problems as the Mystery of the Stopped Clock, the Mystery of the Stone Switch A-roo, the Mystery of the Great Fripple Grab and the Mystery of the Orange River Gulp. With help from Joe Cluestoe, I must find and study the clues and solve the mysteries. 

But first, I must tell you more about the software, its manufacturer and the system requirements. This program (like Galactic Brain Benders reviewed in November, 99) is for ages 8-12, but there are also Thinkin’ Things programs available for ages 4-8. Edmark is a division of IBM and has been producing software to ‘Ignite the Curious Mind’ for 25 years. Edmark has a very complete line of software for children / students starting as young as 2 years and going even through adults. Two very good product catalogs come in the shipping box. Most of their programs, like this one, can be installed either on a Windows operating system or on a Macintosh. An added plus is that this software has an unbelievable 30-day money back guarantee including taxes. However, they do not pay shipping costs. 

At the Edmark web site there are free samples, special offers, special offers for teachers and a link to Dear Parents. I went to the ‘Dear Parents’ site and was impressed with the letter that they have for parents. They also have questions and answers and a myriad of topics for parents to explore from school subjects to learning styles to pre-schoolers and computers to other topics. This surely is the first page that a parent should investigate before buying software for their child. In addition to all the educational software, Edmark sells a "Touchwindow" that would be ideal for the pre-schooler that has not developed the fine motor skills to use the keyboard or mouse. The Touchwindow is a portable touch screen that attaches easily to the computer monitor to provide direct touch for young children and individuals with special needs. Unfortunately, I could not find the price for the "Touchwindow". 

System Requirements are Win 95/98, 486, Pentium or better, 66MHz or faster recommended, 7 MB free space on hard drive, 8 MB RAM 16 MB recommended, 640x480 monitor, 256 or more colors, 2X or faster CD-ROM, Windows-compatible sound card. A minimal amount of information is installed on the hard disk because this program runs off of the CD-ROM. I chose to install the full 7 MB although it is possible to install this program using just 1 MB of hard disk space. I closed "Spell Catcher"(an across the system spell checker) because, since it constantly runs in the background, it tends to run major interference with this type of program. 

This program is composed of 5 different windows. Sky Island or the Navigation window is the ‘home page’ to which you repeatedly return in order to change windows, to exit or to return to Clue Central. Other windows include Clue Central, which presents the mystery and records the clues in order to reach a solution to the mystery. You view and review clues from snapshots, notes and tapes to search for suspects. Each suspect is a caricature with wildly colored skin and hair and fun, silly yet appropriate names. You then select attributes of the suspect and check your suspicions. It is very thought provoking and one of the most important learning opportunities is the ability to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information. You also learn to discard the irrelevant information. Being quite a fan of Perry Mason and James Bond (O.K., so my age shows) I considered pursuing sleuthing once I had gotten the concept of what to do with the information that I had gathered in Clue Central. 

Airshow Isle is the location where you develop and program an airshow. It is necessary to identify, analyze, synthesize, manage and apply information. You also learn how to prioritize and sequence tasks and manage resources efficiently. This activity provides its own rewards. After carefully planning and checking the flight log, the airplanes perform an air show. A really neat reward for a job well done. 

Stadium Isle presents you with the opportunity to arrange seating for the Fripples so that they may enjoy the game. You are presented with a typical stadium and then a written problem about the seating. You are told what needs to be accomplished so that everyone can enjoy the game and then you must place the Fripples in the most advantageous seats. This window of Sky Island Mysteries does a lot towards strengthening observation and analysis skills. It also, in a subtle way, teaches you to think carefully before acting. In Stadium Isle, it is never necessary to click on "check it" because if your solution is wrong, you are told immediately. If you were correct, a very personable little centipede comes out and lets out a flock of butterflies or balloons or a plane goes by with a congratulatory flag or . . . I’ll let you get the software and find out what else. 

Rebus Isle uses the Rebus Puzzle (using pictures, sounds, and graphics to form words) to solve riddles, silly sentences and fun facts. This ‘Isle’ is a very fun way to improve language skills. It really sharpens phonic skills and improves spelling because it will not accept a word unless it is spelled correctly, yet it frequently uses the phonetic sound rather than correct spelling to present the potential word. 

Airshow Isle, Stadium Isle and Rebus Isle are the locations where you gather the clues to solve the mystery presented in Clue Central. It is possible to gather all the clues at one ‘Isle’ or you may go to each ‘Isle’ to gather one or more clues. When you have solved enough puzzles to complete a clue our little centipede comes out with a little sign that says ‘clue’. There is also a clue counter that shows how many clues have been found and how many still need to be uncovered. When you have found all the clues, it is time to go back to Clue Central and replay all the clues to solve the mystery. 

Parents are able to control how their child uses this software by going to ‘Adult Options’. By hitting contol+Alt+A at the main menu page, parents can go to preferences and allow or disallow volume, exiting, saving, and recording. In the grow slides settings, the level of difficulty can be set for each of the four activity choices.  It is possible for the parent to view the topics for each ‘isle at each level of difficulty, which enables the parent to set some goals for their child. If more than one child enjoys these activities, the parent can create different settings for each child. 

I strongly recommend Edmark’s educational software for children. I can see where some if the things that are taught in this software may well be the basis for what children pursue as adults. The cost of Sky Island Mysteries and most other Edmark Software is $29.95. It can be purchased from their web site <www.edmark.com> or Edmark Corporation, 6727 185th Ave. NE, P.O. Box 97021, Redmond, WA. 98073-9721; telephone: 1-800-320-8379.  I also found Edmark Software at Office Depot as well as at CompUSA. Surprising to me, I did not find Edmark software at Office Max. 
The in-town stores also have a price of $29.95 on most Edmark software. 


Rose Lynn Saenger is a retired educator