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The Blobs

By Charles G. Doe - Posted Sep 1, 2004
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REPORT CARD
Overall Rating:4 Stars
Installation:A
Content/Features: A-
Ease of Use: A-
Product Support:A

 
Company: Tool Factory, Inc, 1929 Dorset Hill Road, East Dorset, VT 05253; Phone: 800/220-8386; E-mail: orders@toolfactory.com; Internet: http://www.toolfactory.com.
 
Price: $40--single copy; $120--lab 5-pack; $200--lab 10-pack; $400--lab 25-pack.
 
Audience: The developer recommends ages 3 to 5. The program will work with a K-1 audience; pre-schoolers with computer experience will benefit from it as well. At the first grade level, the program may be most useful as a remedial program.
 
Format: CD-ROM: animation, audio.
 
Minimum System Requirements: The program, for Windows systems only, requires a Pentium Multimedia PC, 16 MB RAM, Windows 95, SGVA, 800 x 600 resolution, and an 8x CD player. Since sound is an essential component of this program, a SoundBlaster or compatible sound card is required. Some Windows XP users may experience problems using The Blobs.
 
Description: The Blobs, an interactive animated program with narration by Jane Horrocks, helps students learn basic number, letter, color, and beginning word skills.
 
Reviewer Comments:
 
Installation: I installed the program on a newer Windows computer with Windows ME and experienced no problems at all. The program can be installed on individual computers to operate with or without the CD-ROM. Once installed from the CD that will "autoplay," the program will begin by using the icon installed in the program menu or by inserting the CD.
The program runs best in 256 bit color and it will offer to change your computer to that setting. Newer computers usually run with a higher setting and the program runs just fine this way. If you elect to set your monitor to 256 bit color, keep in mind that the program doesn't change your computer back when you exit. Installation Rating: A
 
Content/Features: The Blobs is a charming program that is very clearly British (even the audio narration has a clear accent). The program was developed in Wales by the Productive Play Company; both Welsh and U.K. English versions are available.
The Blobs is based on a popular British children's television series. That sort of connection always motivates kids to try a book or computer program. However, it's not essential for U.S. students to have seen the television show--the computer program has its own appeal, with its bright colors and pleasant narration, and doesn't really need the television program as motivation.
Beginning the program, children enter Paintbox Land, where most of the inhabitants and many of the shapes are made of drops, spots, splats, and splashes of bright primary colors. The beginning screen contains buttons for four games, the narrator, and the exit button. Students can always click on the narrator for instructions.
The first game is called Everyone's Gone Ghostly White! The four main blobs have lost their colors and children try to restore them, using a paintbrush and clicking an on-screen rainbow to change colors. A "print" button appears here and children can click it to print out images of the four main characters that can be colored by hand.
The Inky Black's Magic Numbers activity features a witch stirring a cauldron with numbers in the background. Children can run their cursor over the numbers to hear them spoken. They can also click on a number to see what appears in Inky Black's (the Witch's) magic cauldron. The number of objects always matches the selected number. Children can click on Inky Black and she'll suggest numbers for them to click on. The numbers and shapes can be printed for matching.
Royal Blue's Picture Puzzle has a secret picture hidden behind a patterned screen. Students click on the patterns until the picture, with accompanying music and simple animation, is revealed.
Poppy Red's Paintpot Alphabet works with letters and their sounds. The sound of the letters are spoken when the cursor is moved over them. Clicking on the letters will cause them to pop up in one of the light blue circles at the bottom of the screen and a picture with that sound will appear. The letters and pictures can be printed for later use.
Occasionally, the differences between U.K. and American English may cause some new learning opportunities. One activity includes an eraser that the narrator calls a "rubber." Generally, though, that sort of difference is very minor.
The four activities are very basic. Their simplicity makes them just challenging enough to be interesting without being too difficult for the targeted age group. Some students, however, may tire of the activities quickly.
The program's excellent instructions are provided by narration. Reading skills are not required to operate the program.
The very basic animation seems two-dimensional, however, young users can find really complicated sound and animation to be a little confusing. The two-dimensional effect lends to the primary look and feel of The Blobs. That primary "look and feel," along with the pleasant music and narration, will, I think, make the program more appealing to--and effective with--younger children. Content/Features Rating: A-
 
Ease of Use: The Blobs is easy to use, with fairly intuitive operation and clear verbal instructions that help students learn the program. Students may need a little help getting started. The installation provides a good help program, but that isn't available directly from the software program, and there are no on-screen word prompts. Ease of Use Rating: A-
 
Product Support: Technical support is available via e-mail at support@toolfactory.com. Help is also provided on a program installed on the computer during installation and in a small leaflet that accompanies the program. Product Support Rating: A
 
Recommendation: The Blobs is a well-designed and interesting program that would be excellent as a school classroom instructional supplement or for use at home. Highly Recommended.
 
Reviewer: Charles Doe, Media Specialist, Hastings Area Schools, Central Elementary School, 509 S. Broadway, Hastings, MI 49058; 616/948-4423; charliegd@yahoo.com.
 


 
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