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Building Thinking Skills, Level 1 (CD-ROM) Review by Donna Campos

PO Box 1610
Seaside, CA 93955-1610

Building Thinking Skills is a single CD-ROM created to develop higher-order thinking skills in such areas as Similarities and Differences, Analogies, Antonyms and Synonyms, Spatial Awareness, Vocabulary Development, and Map Reading, just to name a few. The Level 1 disc is suggested for grades two and three and is titled "Underground Rescue Adventure." Students progress through ten levels as they try to "rescue Dr. Cognito and restore order to the lab." In total the program offers 38 activities and more than 800 questions. The adjustable difficulty levels maximize learning and minimize frustration. The self-grading program saves games that are not completed. The CD-ROM is both Windows and Mac compatible, and once installed, it runs on the computer without the disc being required. No additional materials are necessary.

The program can be used by any student who has access to a computer. The ten levels can be played in one of two modes; Practice mode allows the user to skip around and investigate the levels and activities, while the Adventure mode requires completion of the levels in order. The Adventure mode also offers Rewards when levels are completed, such as a printable certificate, a picture to print and color, and a word search game to play. Both modes track each student's progress.

A cartoon scenario at the beginning reveals that Dr. Cognito is missing and that the student can help free her by completing activities on the various floors of the building. The ten floors are Lobby/Arcade, Research Library, Security, Lab, Factory, Nature Rooms, Aquarium, Animal Bath House, Study Rooms, and Art Exhibit. These ten floors translate into the following activity areas: describing shapes, figural similarities and differences, figural sequences, figural classifications, figural analogies, describing things, verbal similarities and differences, verbal sequences, verbal classifications, and verbal analogies. Clicking the "Floor Plan" button reveals completed areas in green and incomplete areas in red. Students are guided throughout the game via instructions from Dr. Cognito. The instructions are spoken as well as written out, and a student can hear them repeated as often as needed. The actual questions, however, are not verbalized.

After answering a question, the student must click the "check" button in order to check the accuracy of the answer and to gain credit for the question. If the "check" button is not clicked, no credit is given. A student could work through an entire level of activities without gaining any credit if he or she failed to use the self-check feature. We found this program to be more difficult than its proclaimed second and third grade level. However, most students could find it beneficial if they work closely with a teacher or older student mentor. Students will need to be reading at a solidly intermediate level or higher in order to accurately follow the instructions.

Unfortunately, we found many typos and misprints in the questions as well as the instructions. There were discrepancies between the written and the spoken words in the instructions. It is unfortunate that a program encouraging higher thinking skills has so many errors, including some that would affect a child's understanding. Some errors would certainly bring giggles, such as an "r" being missed in the word "burgers." We missed some cues when activities changed because sometimes the instructions were automatically verbalized and sometimes they weren't unless you "clicked" the button to hear them. The instructions themselves were often very wordy and a little too lengthy for most younger students. At times, some activities moved a little too quickly for our preference; for instance, the word cards flashed far too quickly in one of the bath house games. The Art Exhibit included artwork pieces placed over verbal analogies, but the artwork in no way represented the wording or intent of the analogy. Since the art was used only for the sake of the title "Art Exhibit," we thought it was distracting to have the pictures within the activity at all. Several other activities required real precision when using the mouse to move items into position, absolute accuracy in the order in which answers were given, and exact phrasing when typing in answers. Though these requirements may promote the sort of learning that the program is working toward, they might also be a source of frustration for many students.

Although we loved the possibilities and the extensive learning activities within Building Thinking Skills, we wish more time and thought had been taken prior to its final presentation. It could be an excellent learning tool if a student were to use it alongside an adult or an older student, but the typos and missing words prohibit it from being used by a student alone. We plan to enjoy this program as it has value in its more than 38 activities, but it will require supervision. Purchase this program with the understanding that you will need to enjoy it along with your student!

Product review by Donna Campos, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, May 2007