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Cross Country USA 2 and Cross Country USA Photo Safari, School Version Review by Donna Campos

Ingenuity Works Inc.
325 Howe St, Suite 407
Vancouver, BC V6C 1Z7 Canada

Cross Country USA 2 and Cross Country USA Photo Safari are two computer games on CD-R om that we received as a bundle for this review. The School Version is available for download to a single computer, while Lab Versions allow you to download to up to five computers. Installation includes registration of the product, which took us approximately five minutes on an older computer with mediocre available storage. Cross Country USA 2 is appropriate for grades 4 and above, while Cross Country USA Photo Safari is appropriate for grades 1 to 3. There are no workbook style materials, but a map of the United States is included inside the CD case. The games help children learn geography, map skills, use of a compass, trip planning, decision making skills, and some financial planning as they choose to stop and eat, stay in hotels, and travel as economically as possible according to gas pricing and more. Access to a computer is necessary to successfully run and use the programs.

Both programs entail obtaining items while "driving" an 18-wheeler across the country. The user must determine the route that best allows him to gather the appropriate products and then travel to those cities and complete the scenario. The program comes with 31 included scenarios, but custom scenarios can be designed to focus on a particular list of items to obtain. The game is played through a virtual truck cab; the computer screen presents the view from the driver's seat. A "laptop" to the right of the driver's seat allows the user to access all necessary information to follow the route correctly and successfully reach destinations; it also provides great information about the various locations. A detailed map can be opened in the program to reveal particular cities; there the user can read about commodities found in the city, when the city was founded, local universities, and more. Detailed information about each area (population, location by longitude/latitude, time zone, lodging tax, food tax, average summer temperature, average winter temperature, etc.) helps the user better plan future trips. Information for the individual states is also included (state flower, state bird, population, capital, nickname, area in square miles, climate code, and fuel tax). The truck "cab" includes a seatbelt, a cell phone, a compass, lights, and windshield wipers that each need to be clicked on for use. Students who do not use lights in the dark or windshield wipers during rain or snow or who do not stop to use chains in the snow will likely incur accidents and damage accordingly. (The handy little cell phone allows you to call a tow truck when necessary.) Be wary of speeding, as the appearance of the police is automatic--as our son found out after being curious and pushing the limits.

In Cross Country USA 2, the scenarios require students to acquire various commodities. The available commodities are aircraft parts, apples, beef, beer, books, cameras, cars, chemicals, clothing, coal, computers, copper, corn, cotton, fertilizer, furniture, glass, gold, granite, hogs, iron, jewelry, lead, leather, lumber, maple syrup, marble, milk, molybdenum, natural gas, oil, oranges, paper, peanuts, pineapples, potatoes, rice, rubber, salt, seafood, sheep, silver, soybeans, steel, sulfur, textiles, tobacco, uranium, vegetables, wheat, wine, wool, and zinc--quite a large list! A country map on the laptop shows the United States with cities marked. When you click on a commodity, all the cities with that commodity are highlighted. The student must decide which cities to visit (and in what order) to make his journey as productive as possible and make the best use of time. A time zone list is on the right beneath the map, and students must pay attention to this important aspect to use their time most effectively. Otherwise, they might reach a place of business only to find that it is in a different time zone and is not yet open. Players begin with a starting balance of $10,000, and expenses are automatically accumulated. Tracked expenses include food cost, fuel/ferry cost, lodging cost, mishap cost, ticket cost, truck lease, and commodity income. A Travel Log records stops, expenses, time, and date as well as accidents, flat tires, or other events. The Help section provides information on such things as choosing a direction using a compass, pausing the program, saving and opening the games, printing travel logs, loading scenarios, and deleting games.

We really enjoyed the photo album feature. It includes a list of visited cities, and you simply click to view corresponding pictures and information, postcards from various national parks or monuments, and commodity pictures with informative text. It is important to direct students to read the additional information available in the program, or they will easily miss it. The postcards include a "handwritten" message on the back side, providing a true-to-life feel. Another nice feature is the Scenario Creator, which is only available in the school version. We felt the higher price was completely justified in order to have access to this great tool. The Scenario Creator allows you to choose a starting city, commodities, and ending city, as well as a bonus commodity. You simply create the scenario and then name it with an appropriate file name.

Cross Country USA Photo Safari is much like Cross Country USA 2 but with a focus on animals rather than commodities. It is designed for children in grades 1 to 4, but older children will enjoy it as well. Children will still learn a great deal about the United States, locations of cities, use of the compass, trip planning, and decision making skills, all while learning about various animals and their habitats. We loved the photos of animals and really enjoyed collecting postcards along the way. I would definitely begin younger children with the Photo Safari and use USA 2 as they get older, not only because the programs are designed for use in this order, but because younger children are far more interested in animals than commodities. An additional benefit was the cross-reference pages provided as PDFs; they list animals by the locations they live in all across the country. We incorporated this as an excellent extension tool by color-coding maps according to where various animals lived. This simple activity solidified the information for our children and helped make the Cross Country programs a wonderful part of our geography and social studies curriculum. Also, do not miss the "Fun & Games" tab on the Ingenuity Works website. It includes 11 free games and reading activities that can be enjoyed online. These little extras are a nice find and some great fun for students.

Use of these programs would easily enhance a variety of homeschool approaches. We used them as a supplement as our homeschool is very eclectic. I used the program myself, had my 12-year-old use it, and guided my 6-year-old through Photo Safari. Consequences are built in as your student learns to wear a seat belt, pay attention to weather, and adjust accordingly. The program includes appropriate sounds, such as the clicking of the seat belt, cell phone sounds, and of course the sound of the big truck engine. The sounds can become monotonous if you use the program often, but they add to the overall "feel" of the program, and most kids will enjoy them.

The game is a little frustrating when you are getting started and figuring things out, but it only takes a couple of tow truck visits due to windshield wipers or headlights not being on before the user pays better attention. More upsetting to me was that the first listed commodity on our very first trip was beer; I found this very disappointing in a game created for children. Other commodities for our first trip were clothing, rubber, paper, cameras, steel, and a bonus for picking up granite. My son wished he could have customized his truck with color, detailing, etc. However, the program doesn't provide that option.

My children have an uncle who is a truck driver, so this program fulfilled their curiosity about what their uncle does while also improving their map skills. My 12-year-old loves maps but struggled with recalling locations and understanding where we live in relation to where his grown sisters and grandparents live. After a few scenarios of Cross Country USA 2, he was easily recalling places he virtually visited, products found there, and even parks he ran across along the way. I did encourage him to stop and check the city and state information consistently and even assigned a brief written description of a few destinations, which definitely helped him recall facts. We also worked through the travel log after a trip to identify ways he could shave time and/or cost off of future trips. These Cross Country programs definitely have educational value across a broad range of ages and work easily with a variety of learning styles and curriculum types. I think they would be a great addition for families seeking to excite students about travel across the United States in an engaging way.

Product review by Donna Campos, Senior Product Reviewer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, December 2011