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Children's Software Review of:
Magic School Bus Science Adventures

 

Larry Grosskopf is a Clinical Psychologist at the San Antonio State Hospital,with interests in computers and technology. He and Marta have two children,daughter Zoë, age 9, and son Jackson, age 7. For questions, contact him via e-mail

From the May, 2003 issue of PC Alamode Magazine

If you have young children or have followed children's books, software or even children's cartoons over the last several years, you may be familiar with the Ms. Frizzle and the Magic School Bus characters. The Magic School Bus series of books were written by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen and published by Scholastic, Inc. The software programs included in this review are based on their book characters and these Bonus Packs are marketed by Microsoft. However, this appears to be a joint venture between Scholastic and Microsoft. There are 3 CD's in Volume I and 3 different products in Volume II. In this review, I will cover the programs in both volumes of these "Bonus Packs". 

The computer system needs to have a 133 MHz Pentium or greater processor, Windows 95, 98 or Windows NT Workstation version 4.0 or later operating system. You will also need a minimum of 16-32 MB of RAM, an SVGA monitor, a 16-bit sound card, and a 4X speed CD-ROM drive. There are some differences in video, audio or other requirements for the individual programs, which is due to the differences in the years that each of them were published. Solar System was produced in 1994, Dinosaurs and Inside the Earth were in 1996, Rainforest was 1997, Animals in 1999 and Bugs in 2000. In reviewing all of these programs, it was quite interesting to see how the bus, the classroom and even the characters changed over time. 

Volume I
Magic School Bus Explores: Animals, Bugs and the Rainforest These products are designed to introduce students in the first through fourth grades to the concepts of science. For the uninitiated, Ms. Frizzle is the teacher in an elementary class at Walkerville Elementary and when they take field trips, they use the Magic School Bus. This bus is aptly named because it can "transform" and fly or go underwater or into outer space, in short, it can do most anything and go most anywhere. If you have children between 6 and 10, you need to at least try one of these programs. You never know what kind of scientific adventure you and they might experience. These programs provide great educational value while attempting to make science more fun for kids. 

With Animals, the primary emphasis is on learning about animals, including facts about them and where they live. In one game on this CD, you have to travel to different places to find animals that do not belong in that particular environment. Once you ship them back to their correct environment, you are rewarded with verbal praise from Ms. Frizzle and you receive a Certificate that you can print out to keep. 
Animals Screen

For the Bugs CD, the students have lost insects from each of their terrariums. The task is to go out and find out where each lost bug is located, catch it and return it to the classroom. Inside the bus, there are several activities and games the player can participate in such as the morphing machine which lets you select one of the students in the class and morph the student into one of several different insects. There are reports that offer information about several aspects of bug behavior. There are several different environments and locations for you to select from and explore, all the while learning more about insects and their world. 
Bugs Screen

In the Costa Rican Rainforest, the task is to learn about the ecosystems, animals and habitats of the forest. There are several activities and games where you can hear the sounds or see up close pictures of creatures that live there. One fun activity is the Escaping Monkey Game, in which you have to help the monkey swing from branch to branch without being caught by the eagle predator. In the rainforest, you learn about three levels of the forest, the Understory, Treefall Gap and the Canopy. 
Rainforest Screen

Volume II
Magic School Bus Explores: - Inside the Earth, the Age of Dinosaurs and the Solar System Beginning the next exploration, we are going to take a quick peek at Inside the Earth. On this CD, you learn lots of stuff about rocks, such as how they are grown, how crystals develop and what happens at a subterranean level of the earth to form canyons, faults and a variety of rocks in the earth's surface and deep below the surface. One very informative feature is the recipes you can concoct to make rocks, which helps you understand how minerals and rocks are formed. Informational reports are readily accessible simply by clicking on one of the note pages found in the main classroom. 
Minerals and Rocks Screen

With the Age of Dinosaurs, you not only get to go to unique places, you also get to take a trip back in time to the era when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Ms. Frizzle has a photo album of dinosaurs, but wait, oh no, some of the photos are missing. Your task in this program, should you choose to accept it, is to go back in time to one of the different dinosaur eras and then to take a picture of a specific dinosaur to replace the missing album picture. You are provided clues in the way of information about the dinosaur, where it lived and in what era it existed. For those of you reading this who have newer systems, you will need to pay attention to the suggested settings in order to make the photo taking process work in this program or else it will crash the program. What I did using Windows XP settings, was to set compatibility to run at 640 x 480 screen resolution and 256 colors. This is necessary because some of these programs have been around for some years and were designed and developed before the newer, higher resolutions and greater color depths were commonplace. 
Dinosaurs Screen

Finally, the last CD in the set takes us to visit the stars, and I don't mean a trip to see anyone's Hollywood home. In the main classroom, posted on the wall are reports on each of the planets and the moon, plus a report by Ms. Frizzle on the Solar System. Clicking on one of these reports on the wall takes you to an informative screen that provides more details about the planet in question. Another task you can participate in is to find Ms. Frizzle, as she is lost somewhere on one of the planets. You take the bus and travel to the various planets in search of her, gleaning tidbits of information about each planet you visit. 

Summary
The Magic School Bus takes what some people consider dull, boring science learning tasks and transforms them into fun. These programs are fairly basic, as they should be since they target the elementary age group. Science facts are woven into the fabric of the games and learning is the ultimate goal of these software programs. Consider investing in one of these programs if you want to see some elevated interest in science from your school aged child. While they are older progPlanets Screenrams, per se, they still are quality edutainment titles and I would recommend them for elementary aged children. Plus, they all worked on my 1.33 GHz Athlon computer. I have not seen these packages in local retail stores but several sites online carry them. Prices ranged from as low as $19.95 each at microsoft.com to $19.99 at amazon.com to $24.95 at chumbo.com. At these prices, you are getting good bang for your buck.


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