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Building Thinking Skills Level 1 (CD-ROM), Mathematical Reasoning Level C, Language Smarts Level C, Thinker Doodles: Think, Draw, & Color Review by Kathy Gelzer

Doug and Linda Brumbaugh
Judy Wilson Goddard
Elaine Heller
PO Box 1610
Seaside, CA 93955-1610

This assortment of products from The Critical Thinking Company helps students sharpen their thinking skills in a variety of subject areas.

Building Thinking Skills Level 1, for second and third graders, has ten levels. Each level has about three activities with multiple games each. "Five cognitive skills are developed in this software: describing, finding similarities and differences, sequencing, classifying, and forming analogies" in the areas of language, math, and science. The first five levels are figural, and the last five are verbal.

You can play the game in practice or adventure mode. Practice mode enables you to hop around from level to level. Adventure mode requires you to pass each level before advancing to the next. After passing each level, you earn fun printables (such as a word search puzzle, coloring page, or certificate of achievement). Only in adventure mode can you rescue Dr. Cognito, which is your mission. This objective is not at all an overarching part of the software game. In fact, it is so minor one could easily ignore it or even miss it. I don't think this is a drawback at all.

The vehicle used is a building with ten floors accessed via elevator. The different levels are: the lobby, research library, security, lab, factory, nature room, aquarium, animal bathhouse, study rooms, and the art exhibit. Here is an idea of one of the floors: the nature room is a conference room containing nature images as wall art. Leaf icons and gentle rain sounds make up the background. The graphics and sounds are pleasant, not busy or noisy.

A "PDA" icon in the lower left corner of the screen gives you options: having the sound on or off, choosing one of three difficulty levels, and seeing the floor plan of the room. The games require careful observation and listening skills, especially the more difficult ones. Each activity is introduced with simultaneous verbal, written, and visual instructions, benefiting a variety of learning styles.

Mathematical Reasoning Level C, for second graders, is a big, colorful workbook with activities pages divided by color into roughly 40-page sections. There is no explanation of what distinguishes one section from another, but the implication is that these are eight graduated levels. Topics covered are numbers and operations, introductory algebra, measurement, geometry, and data analysis and probability.

It is suggested that the book be completed in order, unless a student has a strong desire to do pages in another section. The skills spiral through each level, providing lots of review while introducing a more advanced aspect. An NCTM Standards chart, mathematical definitions, and answers are all included.

Language Smarts Level C, also for grade two, is another big, colorful workbook covering basic English skills. Concepts taught include following directions, articles, helping verbs, singular and plural, synonyms, antonyms, and much, much more. Some unusual topics are covered: mnemonics, palindromes, deductive reasoning (grid logic puzzles), and number-word expression. Literary terms are discussed as well as the mechanics of writing.

Both of these workbooks can be used as your core curriculum or as a supplement. However, if these are used as the main curriculum, you will need to provide some additional instruction as there is very little text in these books.

Thinker Doodles, for grades 2 through 4, is a 44-page "complete the drawing" book, where half of an animal is shown and the child is to draw the other half or the mirror image. The book is divided into four parts: front views of animals, more detailed front views of animals, front and back views of animals, and more detailed front and back views of animals.

My 9-year-old daughter had some comments regarding this book. The printed halves of the animals are comprised of both thick and thin black lines, which was confusing. Some of the thick lines are printed as thin lines on the half the student is to complete. Is she supposed to leave them as they are or thicken them up?

My daughter thought the rear views of the animals were a bit inappropriate and not as interesting a perspective. She also thought Thinker Doodles would be too difficult for second graders to do.

A quality logic and thinking skills curriculum for young elementary children can be difficult for parents to locate. These products from The Critical Thinking Company are challenging and fun and may just fit the bill for your child.  

Product review by Kathy Gelzer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, September 2008