Software evaluation Zoombinis

Logical journey of the Zoombinis is a CD-ROM educational software game designed to help students explore and apply fundamental principles of logic, problem solving and data analysis. In this game there are 12 puzzles, each with four levels of difficulty. The puzzles are open-ended and offer a myriad of possible routes, which lead to a final outcome. The accompanying Teachers booklet suggests that this game can be incorporated with other mediums and formats. Related activity programs are provided in the Tutorial folder, along with Transparencies, discussion outlines, Artwork and templates.

The software is an integral part of a broader, classroom oriented educational learning program, facilitating the Principles of Effective Learning and Teaching (1994) as prescribed by the Department of Education Queensland. Logical Journey of the Zoombinis gameplay is based on the Zoombini characters’ attributes or features (variations in hair, eyes, nose, and feet), as well as other attributes of other characters and objects in the program. In order to solve the various puzzles, students must look carefully at the attributes to find patterns and functional relationships among these attributes.

In the course of assembling their features, and sending the peace loving Zoombinis on their way to a new land to start a new life, students must explore several important mathematical concepts. The puzzles in the game are organised along four different trails. Each trail contains unique problems that focus on related mathematical problems. One of the puzzles, for example, Pizza Pass involves the student needing to figure out the combination of toppings on a pizza before being allowed access by the pizza eating Tree Trolls, to the next puzzle.

Using logic and the understanding of the evidence (the rejected pizzas), the correct combination rewards the student with an immediate and humorously animated encouragement to proceed on to another puzzle. Each puzzle then, focuses on different areas such as Logical relationships; groupings & comparing information Strategic thinking; linking information and problem solving Organisation; graphing and mapping information and Algebraic thinking; sorting, comparing and associating variables

After successfully sending 16 Zoombinis to the new Zoombiniville a new building appears. The student then must repeatedly return to Zoombini Isle for more Zoombinis in order to complete the new township. Principles of Effective Learning and Teaching In 1989, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics [USA] published the Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics. The logical journey of the Zoombinis software complies with these standards which call for a shift towards a broader approach to mathematics instruction.

Open ended problems, mathematical reasoning and other subject areas and disciplines, including communication and language, are integrated with the more traditional mathematics curriculum as part of the NCTM (USA) standard. The Department of Education Queensland (Australia) 1994 utilizes five key Principles of Effective Learning and Teaching and provide a criteria to which this software game relates, based on Australian interpretation of effective learning and teaching.

The five key principles, which are relevant to all areas of education including mathematics and logic, emphasize the understanding of the learner, provides for active construction of meaning, ensures a supportive and challenging environment, builds worthwhile learning partnerships, and shapes and responds to social and cultural contexts. This software game appears to satisfy these requirements. This software identifies features of the learners past and present experiences, utilizing the assumption that certain cognitive levels have been reached.

Most of the presentation of this software is set in animated 3-dimensional presentation, and is a familiar format for children in the grades 3 to 8. Items such as pizzas, Mud pies, rafts, frogs and more, assume a prior interest and familiarity level. Learners construct meaning when they challenge their own knowledge and understanding and are able to explore the unknown with certain elements of open mindedness and critical reflection. This software encourages a range of thinking processes including divergent, convergent, lateral, critical and creative thinking.

The “Zoombinis” software Teachers guide focuses on the NCTM approach to active construction of meaning by emphasizing the ‘ scientific thinking process’. Observing, communicating, comparing, categorizing, relating, inferring and applying, are aspects of effective learning and teaching which allow the student to take their share of responsibility for learning. This software encourages the analysis of patterns, sequences, and lateral thinking in relation to this approach using logico-mathematical processes required inherently for the solution of each puzzle.

Supportive and Challenging Environment; The animation and almost three-dimensional artwork of this game has all the characteristics of an arcade game complete with the challenge of interpreting maps, crossing dangerous bridges, riding on old underground mining trolley’s, operating ‘ mirror machines’ and contributing to the creation of a new fantasy land called Zoombiniville. Within the 12 puzzles the supportive encouragement of the commentator only expresses positive outcomes to each problem. Even those Zoombinis who are sometimes left behind, are reassured of success at a later stage.

The student empathizes with the harmless and likable characters and is soon lost in the fantasy world, motivating them to assist in the construction of the new Zambini world. There are no time limits and at the end of each attempt, arriving at Zoombiniville, the stage can be saved at any time. There are many instances in this software, which allow for co-operative and group effort. The teaching guide stresses the compatibility of this game to classroom application and encourages the use of large screen monitors or multiple screen group sessions.

When used in pairs or as groups the benefit is that students are encouraged to discuss their problems solving strategies and to work cooperatively. Included are two tutorial activities aimed to introduce the program to students and also additional resources, tutorials, activities and reproducibles intended for teacher, student discussion. Shaping and Response to Social and Cultural Contexts The fact that this game is about a totally fictional world, with non-human, non-earth like, magical beings puts into context a cultural neutrality prevalent throughout the quest for the solution; the new Zoombiniville.

There is an almost undetectable Gender difference between the attributes of each character, and no human based racial or cultural inference. However, the analogous predicament of the Zoombinis as an oppressed, peace loving and harmless community forced to flee from the lazy, greedy and dominant partners ‘the Bloats’, is a story line parallel to many true life and dramatized scenarios. This game could offer a view of optimism towards the notion of ‘ good triumphant over bad or evil’ in its simplest sense.

The undesignated sex and Gender roles in this software hopefully enhances the notion of equality and non-polarized concepts of male and female stereotypes in the context of an adventure or its simulation. These notions of equality are also evident in the attributes and features of each character. Some are wearing spectacles, others have one central eye, some have no feet whilst others have propeller’s extruding from their bodies, and some are featured with bright pink shoes on their feet.

The almost random element of this visual cocktail of images also neutralizes any cause to determine which, if any, Zoombini has any advantage or disadvantage in the quest. Computer and video games software are often seen as dynamic and interesting to students because of what Malone [1984, cited in King, 1998] calls, three important elements; challenge, fantasy and curiosity. Logical Journey of the Zoombinis challenges the student to conceptualize solutions to problems, which lead to further problems and then to a final goal. The concept includes helping the Zoombini community to successfully start a new life.

Focusing on that goal the player is challenged at each puzzle stage to maneuver up to 16 Zoombinis at a time. Although the final outcome, or goal, remains fixed, the ongoing completion of the puzzles proceeds onto more difficult levels. In this way the problems can match the competency and aptitude of the student, and the challenge remains meaningful. This maintains self-esteem and confidence as the game proceeds. The world of the Zoombinis is fantasy. It is extrinsic fantasy because it is unrelated to the concept being taught.

In this software as well, there are the dark caves, ruins, riddles, and of course the task of evading or fighting the ‘evil doer’ and finding the ‘treasure’ or the new land, both of which offer ‘hope’ to in this case the honest, peaceloving and harmless characters called ‘Zoombinis’. It is the fantasy element, which assists in the reinforcement of learning by enhancing the sensory levels of curiosity based motivation. It is the fluctuation between ‘unknown’ factors arising at each puzzle stage in this software, which assists in motivating the student into figuring out the solution.

There are many instances in this game where the relationships between patterns, sequences or attributes continually change. Each time the player passes through, there are variations of animation, which maintain interest and curiosity. This is sensory curiosity and is aroused by audio and visual effects, which enhance the fantasy. Cognitive curiosity is also aroused here as the search for logical relationships is pursued. In this software the main learning theories underpinnings this game are based on Vygotsky’s social Constructivism approach which places emphasis on the social context of learning.

However there are situations within this game revealing elements of the Behaviorist approach, which uses occasional reinforcement by repetition and reward and also the Piagetian cognitive constructivist approach which emphasizes the need for students to become active participants in their own learning. The cognitive constructivist theory would be more relevant if the student played this game in a solitary environment, however Broderbund designed this game for use in classroom application and relies heavily on teacher and student interaction confirming the social constructivist outlook.

This software is presented as a CD-ROM in a folder that explains installation of program, basic instructions, operation directions and teachers guide. This guide includes other supportive resources aimed at facilitating the learning process related to this game and is presented as complete educational package software, including materials for classroom activities. The program is easy to operate and, despite its occasional slowness, allows the student to work at their own pace and level, providing that the teacher is able to monitor and scaffold the students learning process.


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