|REPORT CARD |
|Overall Rating:||4 Stars|
|Ease of Use:||A|
Company: Knowledge Matters, Inc., 85 Woodland Drive, Florence, MA 01062. Phone: (413) 587-9917; Fax: (413) 584-8485; Internet: www.knowledgematters.com.
Price: $195—Five-user license. $395—Lab license. $595—Site license.
Audience: Middle school, grades 5-8.
Format: CD-ROM with instructor's manual.
Minimum System Requirements: A computer with a 500 MHz processor, 128 MB RAM, 50 MB hard disk space, Windows 98/NT/2000/Me/XP or Mac OSX 10.3 or later, SVGA display, CD-ROM drive, and an Internet connection and browser.
The browser should be Flash-enabled; a free download is available at www.Adobe.com. The Flash plug-in is used with training videos available online.
Description: Virtual History - Ancient Egypt is a computer simulation designed to allow students to experience life in the Egypt of 4,000 years ago. The program enables a student to take on the role of a village leader who must help provide the basic needs of food, protection, and shelter for the population. As the simulation proceeds, additional tasks and industries are added, such as mining, boat building, and pyramid construction. The program is accompanied by built-in assessments.
Installation: The CD-ROM prompts the user in the installation process. A three-character activation code is required; the code accompanies the manual. This code also can be obtained online. I had no difficulties installing the software. Installation Rating: A
Content/Features: Virtual History - Ancient Egypt is a three-level computer simulation that allows a student to become the leader of a village located along the Nile River in Egypt's early days. The program is intended for a week's use at the end of a unit of study on Ancient Egypt. The materials in the simulation and the accompanying teacher's manual are keyed to state standards and provide activities in social studies, reading, and language arts.
Student decisions made in the simulation determine the fate of the village and its villagers. To begin, the student is assigned tasks and must garner the workers and materials needed to meet the required goals, or risk killing all of the residents of the village.
The virtual leader must secure food through fishing efforts, as well as planting and harvesting grain. In addition, bricks must be made to build houses. As each task begins, the student is presented with a short reading followed by a three-question quiz. The simulation can't be continued until the student answers the questions correctly; the answers are taken directly from the readings.
After success at level one, the student is challenged in the next level to maintain two separate villages as the society expands. The second village has the added features of copper mines, trading possibilities, and boat building, as well as efforts related to the continued basic needs of food and shelter. Level two also requires the student to build a fort to protect the village inhabitants from attacks by marauding neighbors. At this level, the readings and quizzes continue to form a part of the simulation.
Level three marks the expansion of the society once again and introduces pyramid building, quarrying, papermaking, and a scriptorium where scribes prepare documents. The activities of feeding, sheltering, and protecting the inhabitants are also continued in level three.
In total, there are eight three-question quizzes per level of simulation. Users must get all three of the quiz answers correct before they are able to resume the simulation. Misspellings will result in wrong answers on the quizzes.
The information is engaging and relevant to the task at hand. A reading and quiz about field irrigation, for example, would occur just as a student selects that task for one of the villagers.
The question screen pops up in front of the text. Students may answer by moving the questions up and down on the screen and scanning through the reading material. At the end of each simulation level, a longer automatically graded test appears. This test can be saved or printed. Most of the questions are at a recall level.
The simulation itself is quite motivating, but it is not easy to keep a village alive. The tutorial and the tips in the teacher's manual were a great help to this reviewer in getting through level one.
Each time a village fails, the user must replay the simulation. The same readings and quizzes appear for each screen. After three times over the same ground, however, users won't need to read the screen. The single-word recall answers for the quizzes will have been memorized.
The instructor's manual offers lesson plans for the week-long simulation model, pre- and post-simulation activities, tips for aiding students as they work, teaching suggestions, quiz materials, reflection questions for student responses, and assessment rubrics.
The manual includes thought questions to be used at the end of the simulation. These reflective questions ask how the students met the challenges of survival for the village and compare and contrast the students' simulation experiences with their reading and research prior to using the simulation. The questions are accompanied by suggested Web links for additional research. Content/Features Rating: A
Ease of Use: The program offers a tutorial that walks students through each level of the simulation, screen by screen. The tutorial provides hints for sequencing events during the simulation and suggests strategies for completing tasks. This material may be reached at any time in any level by clicking on the Help menu.
In addition, a training video is available online. This video is quite helpful in providing a quick overview of the entire simulation.
Overall, the interface of the program is clean and the menu bar is uncluttered. Programs can be saved and worked on again at a later time. The tips in the teacher's manual for moving from level to level are very valuable for alleviating the frustration that can occur when a user kills off a village for the second or third time. Ease of Use Rating: A
Product Support: The training video at the Knowledge Matters Web site is very helpful. Technical support is available by phone from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, eastern standard time. Support is also available by email. Product Support Rating: A
Recommendation: Virtual History - Ancient Egypt provides an interactive way for students to review and end a unit of study about Ancient Egypt. The simulation is very appropriate for middle school students.
The program provides a good understanding of the importance of the Nile River to the Ancient Egyptians and focuses student attention on the importance of food supplies in ancient times. The publisher suggests that the program should be used in a one-week unit at the end of a study of Ancient Egypt. This is an appropriate use of the simulation.
It would be best to walk the whole class through the tutorial before students work individually. Working in pairs is recommended for ELL students and students with learning difficulties. The readings are not difficult, but they are not narrated.
As an added experience, students could keep a written diary of their daily reflections on the simple things and/or the difficulties they faced in maintaining their village during the simulation. They could even write as if they were the Pharaoh.
Virtual History - Ancient Egypt offers students a modern game milieu in which to study an ancient culture. The experiences that the simulation provides would be a wonderfully enriching addition to any study of Ancient Egypt. Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Alice Kurtz, 5/6 grade teacher, Irving B. Weber School, Iowa City, IA.