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Super Star Phonics CD-ROMs: Phonics 1a, Phonics 2b, Language Arts 3b, and Games of Math 3 Review by Donna Campos

Help Me 2 Learn Company
12033 4th Street, Suite 3
Yucaipa, CA 92399
800-460-7001
http://www.helpme2learn.com/

These four programs are part of a series that works toward the goals of phonics mastery, increased language arts understanding, and mastery of multiplication. The first four Phonics programs in the series are appropriate for pre-kindergarten to fifth grade (including special needs students). Phonics 1a offers an excellent foundation for learning phonics, covering the short and long vowel sounds, word sounds, vocabulary building, "y" as a vowel, reading, and exposure to over 600 words. Phonics 1b and 2a cover additional phonics concepts, and then Phonics 2b covers syllables, R-controlled vowels, vowel spellings, three-letter blends, ending blends, regular & irregular plurals, complete sentences, and letter writing. (Also available are Phonics 3a and Phonics 3b, which present more advanced phonics along with language arts for grades three through six and above.) The Language Arts Review programs offer older students additional help learning fundamental language arts skills. Language Arts Review 3b (included in this review) is appropriate for grades seven through twelve and on to adult; it covers nouns and pronouns, adjectives and verbs, writing a paragraph, types of literature, subject-verb agreement, verb tense, punctuation and capitalization, spelling strategies, and reading comprehension. The Game of Math 3 program is appropriate for third graders and above. Designed to supplement reading skills, language arts, and mathematics, the various Super Star programs offer remedial help to older students, practice for students at any level, and an engaging presentation of subject matter with testing using a variety of games and activities.

Installation of the programs is easily accomplished, and the CD-ROMs are not required after the initial installation, allowing students to freely use computers without fumbling with a disc at each sitting. Vibrant colors, friendly child characters, and interesting activities and games are used throughout all of the programs to enhance the child's involvement and level of interest. A Teachers and Parents area allows you to monitor progress, and there is also a "Progress" button that allows students to see their progress visually represented on a certificate. Students earn gold stars on their certificate by mastering the material, and the certificate can be printed if you wish. Along the bottom of the screen in almost all areas, there are Back, Menu, Exit, Help, and Next buttons available to easily move throughout the program. Often higher levels are not available until earlier levels are mastered, but they are visible in a shaded area to entice students to work harder to gain access to them. Requiring students to give correct answers in order to play specific activities or games, the Super Star programs offer encouragement, positive reinforcement, and step-by-step "coaching" so that children learn the material. All programs encourage students to become a "Super Star" in the represented educational area, rewarding them with Certificates with Gold Stars at the end.

The Phonics 1a program presents all five vowels, each with multiple smaller sections to complete or watch as words are presented. The child is able to scroll over letters and listen to each sound, and my son kept saying, "It's fun listening to the sounds." Be aware that when the child reaches the games they need to pass to progress, the words stay in the same position. So if your child memorizes easily, repeated attempts will yield correct responses even if they do not know the material. Because this is a program for early readers and remedial students, I was disappointed that it did not offer verbal examples during testing. It says find the "short 'a' sound" or "long 'a' sound" rather than making the sounds. Students who have already learned phonics and vowel rules do not necessarily have to know or read the words, as many can be correctly chosen by knowledge of the silent 'e' rule alone. The various games for learning include puzzles, game shows, and more, and are quite fun, as are the many catchy songs presenting information. Our son finished this entire program in a little more than a week. He is a delayed reader but had begun to read just before use of the program. The programs are predominately games, they were a lot of fun and he enjoyed them. The information is well presented, but I would definitely use these as support material rather than expecting a child to actually learn to read while using these programs. We suggest using them as a reward for more traditional methods for learning to read.

The Super Star Language Arts Review 3b with sports program includes sections for "Literature," "Writing a Paragraph," "Grammar 1-Nouns, Pronouns, Adjectives, and Verbs," "Grammar 2-Subject Verb Agreement," "Punctuation and Capitalization," "Spelling Strategies," "Reading Comprehension Strategies," and "Review Games." Also included are a "Pre-Test and Post-Test" and a section for "Parents and Teachers." On-screen instructions are fairly easy to follow, but they do require good reading ability as few things are audibly presented. The program includes fantasy and creative games alongside traditional sports games children will be familiar with. The user is "training for a competition" but is also encouraged to have fun. The "Learn the Words" section verbalizes words and sentences and offers definitions. There is a reference to Judy Blume, and there may be additional comments or information I was unable to screen, so I would encourage parents to work through the program with their children (or at least be in the room in a supervisory capacity). The reading comprehension stories are verbalized rather than written, requiring students to practice good auditory skills. Then the questions and multiple-choice answers are displayed, with the question verbalized. One nice addition would be a parent/teacher section that listed, at the minimum, titles of all the reading pieces used in the program--or even better, an exclusion option if you preferred your child NOT do any particular literary piece. Overall, we did not find any objectionable work in Language Arts Review 3b. It is very enjoyable, and it will challenge good readers to understand fully what they are reading. The earning of Gold Medals and ability to track progress will keep children working toward the goal of learning. Even though this program is for older students, the tracking of progress is still important, and the games require critical thinking skills that older students will appreciate as they play. Our family will enjoy this program immensely, as it offers a wealth of information in a fun and engaging package.

The Super Star Games of Math 3 program will be enjoyed by all age groups over third grade, and it could be utilized by younger students comfortable with multiplication skills. The program begins with three options; a Beginning level with multiplication facts 2x10 and below, an Intermediate level with 5x10 and below, and an Advanced level with 7x10 and below. A "Pre-Test and Post-Test" are available, along with menus with various options. The Beginning level Home Run Derby demonstrates multiplication as addition, making the concept easier to understand, while higher levels present standard multiplication problems. Sections include Home Run Derby (multiplication with no time limit), Long Jump (multiplication with a time limit), Blowing Balloons (word problems), Slam Dunk (negatives/decimals), Downhill Ski (patterns), Bowling for Bugs (algebra), and Multiplication Practice. Twelve sections are included within each of the six games and more difficult levels cannot be played until previous levels are nearing mastery. The Progress Page is excellent, as it shows the number of plays, time played, number of questions answered, and overall percentage of those correct. This information is an incredible help to parents as they track progress, monitor possible frustration level, and plan for additional mathematics work accordingly. I wish more companies offered such straightforward tracking of a student's work so that parents could stay better informed. This is also an excellent choice for placing older children in a supervisory capacity during computer use by younger children. Both age groups will enjoy the activities, and older children will gain reinforcement as younger children learn basic mastery.

The various Super Star computer programs are an excellent value considering the wealth of information contained. Families will be comfortable knowing the games are truly educational. Parents should periodically monitor the use of the programs, as many children know how to outsmart games and avoid the educational aspects we desire for them. These games do an excellent job of balancing work with fun; children work through a problem or question, then enjoy playing a portion of the game, work another problem, then play a little more of the game, etc. The process is an easy one, and children will enjoy themselves while learning. Games are creative and well designed. Throughout all four programs we never ran into computer-based difficulty of any kind. The Super Star programs will be enjoyed by children of all ages, as they cover a broad range of ages and abilities, which we appreciate.

Product review by Donna Campos, Senior Product Reviewer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, August 2008

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