Software Reviews: 3-D Atlas 97 and America Rock

Clifford T. Bennett and Kara Dawson

3-D Atlas 97


3D Atlas 97
Courseware Ratings
5 = excellent, 4 = very good, 3 = good, 2 = fair, 1 = poor

General Quality of Content 4
General Instructional Quality 3
General Technical Quality 3
Social Studies Knowledge 4
Social Studies Skills 3
Values 3
Average Rating 3.3

Producer
Creative Wonders
595 Penobscott
Redwood City, CA 94063
(1-800-505-6133)

Requirements
3D Atlas 97 is available for Macintosh and Windows-based computers. Macintosh requirements include System 7.1 or later, 8 MB RAM, 13-inch monitor or larger, a double-speed CD-ROM drive and a mouse. Windows requirements include Windows 3.1 or higher, 8 MB RAM, double-speed CD-ROM drive, Windows Sound Card and a mouse.

Cost/Policies
3D Atlas 97 is sold in single units, lab packs or through Creative Wonders site license program. Single units are $69.95/Teacher’s Edition. Lab packs are $149.95 for five CD-ROMs. Site licenses range from $20 to $24 per CD-ROM, depending on the number of work stations located at the school.


3D Atlas 97 is a reference CD-ROM which includes information relating to geography, climate, environmental issues, cultures, economies and much more. The intended audience is grades five and up. A “Country Postcard” for every country in the world is included in the package, as are numerous video documentaries, satellite images ,and photographs.

Description and Features
3D Atlas 97 users may choose from three main globes when exploring this package—the Environmental Globe, the Physical Globe, and the Political Globe. The globes are zoomable, and specified areas can be examined more closely using the mouse. Teachers can choose to display information such as grid lines, country names, city names, mountains, ocean depths, rivers, and volcanoes on each globe. Teachers can also select from a listing of every country in the world to receive information relating to one of the three types of globes.
In addition to the three main globes, users can choose (1) “timelapse globes,” which illustrate numerous topics including changes in the atmosphere, biosphere, and continental drift over time, (2) non-zoomable globes, which show different characteristics of the Earth including the Earth’s crust and tectonic plates; and (3) the “globe clock,” which shows the angle of the sun’s rays at any date and time anywhere in the world.
3D Atlas 97 offers an opportunity to take three dimensional flight simulations over four major mountain ranges. Users can take videographic tours of the major biomes, six major cities, and eleven ways humans have and continue to impact the Earth. Timelapse videos allow users to see various changes over time, including sea level rise and urbanization in Cairo. Users can also access a wealth of statistics about every country in the world and view them in chart or table format. Other features of 3D Atlas 97 include the ability to measure distances and to save map pins, which are equivalent to place holders or bookmarks. This package also includes a game entitled “Around the World” in which the object is to earn enough air miles to circumnavigate the world by answering trivia questions correctly.

Content
In addition to the content mentioned above, the following statistics are available for every country in the world:

General Evaluation
Quality of Content
The wealth and diversity of content in this package lends itself well to interdisciplinary teaching and learning. Social studies teachers could easily relate their subject matter to other content areas and collaborate with colleagues to plan units that use information in the package.
While the content is very diverse, the overall reading level appears to be higher than a fifth grade level. Some of the text also seems to be too small to promote comfortable reading. Teachers will need to carefully select text that is appropriate for their students. Some of the videos and most of the photographs are appropriate for use in lower grades as well.
Teachers should be aware that some of the content may not be appropriate for their students. For example, there is information about the number of known abortions performed in each country and the availability of contraceptives.

General Instructional Quality
No specific objectives for this CD-ROM are outlined in the teacher’s manual; however, 20 learning activities are included. Because of the large amount of information available in this CD, these activities undoubtedly only touch the tip of the iceberg. To take full advantage of the content available, teachers will have to rely on their ability to integrate this resource into their curriculum. Likewise, because of the large amount of content, teachers will need to spend some time familiarizing themselves with the package before they can make sound decisions about how it can be used in their classroom.

General Technical Quality
The icon interface is not intuitive, and teachers will need to take time to explain how students can navigate the package. Once technically-sophisticated students have learned how to navigate the package, they should be able to do so with limited teacher assistance. Less sophisticated students may not be able to master the complexities of the interface without teacher assistance.
The presentation of the statistics in this package appears to be less than ideal. The key which appears to the left of the globe uses colors that are often indistinguishable, and the numbers on the key are in white, making them difficult to read when certain colors from the key are in the background. When selecting certain statistics, the globe disappears and a message appears telling the user that he/she must select a line graph. However, there is no prompting about how to do this.
The graphics in this package are impressive, and the ability to zoom in on certain areas of the globe is a positive feature of the design. Another positive feature is the quality of the videos and photographs.

Social Studies Evaluation
Social Studies Knowledge
This package is replete with factual knowledge. Students may learn everything from the locations of cities, countries, rivers, and mountain ranges to country flags and the number of automobiles in a particular country. It is safe to say that all social studies educators can find some factual knowledge related to their curriculum; however, the lack of an intuitive interface may hamper students’ abilities to find the factual information they are looking for.

Social Studies Skills
The skills that can be promoted by using this software are limitless. With teacher assistance students can develop many social studies skills, such as:

The lack of an intuitive interface and the readability of the text may influence whether students are actually able to develop these skills using this resource.

Values
Values are not inherently obvious in the content; however, teachers can foster the development of important ideas and values using this software. For example, by comparing and contrasting country statistics, students can think about social issues such as public health, governmental policies, distribution and consumption of resources, and environmental policies as they relate to specific instructional strategies.

Conclusion
As with most reference software, this package is intended to be an archive of information rather than an instructional tool. Used as a stand-alone application, students will gain few benefits. However, used in conjunction with other class activities, this resource can help extend instruction by presenting information and multimodal learning tools unavailable without technology.
We believe this CD-ROM would be a valuable addition to school libraries and classrooms where teachers/ librarians are interested in taking the time necessary to enhance instruction using this resource. When placed in the hands of an unprepared student, this resource may lead to frustration and bad attitudes toward computer-based information technologies.

America Rock


America Rock
Courseware Ratings

5 = excellent, 4 = very good, 3 = good, 2 = fair, 1 = poor

General Quality of Content 2
General Instructional Quality 2
General Technical Quality 4
Social Studies Knowledge 3
Social Studies Skills 2
Values 2
Average Rating 2.5

Producer
Creative Wonders
595 Penobscott
Redwood City, CA 94063
(1-800-505-6133)

Requirements
America Rock is available for Macintosh and Windows-based computers. Macintosh requirements include System 7.1 or later, 8 MB RAM, 13-inch monitor or larger, a double-speed CD-ROM drive and a mouse. Windows requirements include Windows 3.1 or higher, 8 MB RAM, double-speed CD-ROM drive, Windows Sound Card and a mouse.

Support Materials
The teacher’s materials include the America Rock CD and a teacher’s guide with suggested classroom uses and activities.

Cost/Policies
America Rock is sold in: single units, lab packs or through Creative Wonders site license program. Single units are $59.95/Teacher’s Edition. Lab packs are $139.95 for five CD-ROMs. Site licenses range from $20 to $24 per CD-ROM, depending on the number of work stations located at the school.



America Rock combines the popular ABC-TV Schoolhouse Rock series with interactive multimedia activities focusing on American history, geography and social studies for students in grades three through eight.

Description and Features
America Rock has many components but is best classified as gaming software. The mission of this game is to help “Bil#148; (an animated character of the “I’m Just a Bil#148; Schoolhouse Rock video) become a law. At the beginning of the game, students may choose one of five pre-drafted bills or create their own.
In order for “Bil#148; to become a law, students must win five games which they are able to choose as they maneuver the mouse over the American landscape scenes. Students are able to choose one of three levels of play (Beginners, Intermediate, and Advanced) and one or two players for each game. Students acquire tools (stored in a backpack) necessary to help “Bil#148; become a law as they win the games. After winning all five games, they earn the right to click on Capitol Hill in the American landscape scenes and try to make “Bil#148; into a law.

Content
Students are required to win the following five games in order to move to the final game in which “Bil#148; may become a law.

General Evaluation
Quality of Content
Content in this package is mostly accurate. However, several inaccuracies were noted. In “Elbow Room,” students are told that they can’t build railroad tracks through the protected forests; however, the first railroads pre-date protected forests. In “I’m Just a ‘Bill,’” there are some content weaknesses in portraying how a bill becomes a law. Students must first win five unrelated games just to earn the right to play “I’m Just a ‘Bill.’” While this may symbolize the many steps needed for a bill to become a law, the metaphor is weak at best. The final game in which “Bil#148; may become a law mixes realistic with unrealistic problems. For example, the bill is stuck in the same spot on the game board until it is voted on by the House of Representatives (signified by a roll of four or better). While this dilemma is grounded in reality, the bill also gets stapled to a tax form, eaten by termites, stuck in traffic, and chased by a dog. These unrealistic problems seem to muddy the educational value of the activity.

General Instructional Quality
This package could be used effectively in whole-class or small group lessons; however, this will only happen via concerted efforts by the teacher. As a stand-alone application, students will enjoy playing the games but will gain little educationally-relevant knowledge, skills, or values. The diversity of the games makes it more feasible to use this package over the course of a school year rather than as a one- or two-day activity. The inclusion of ten Schoolhouse Rock videos adds to the instructional quality of the package.

General Technical Quality
The graphic design of this package is impressive. The tool bar provides easy-to-use buttons that help students navigate each game, and the package seems to run at a reasonable speed on a modest computer. However, it may be difficult for students to identify which areas of the American Landscape they should click on to begin games. We suggest teachers examine the graphics as well as the educational values before considering this package for adoption.

Social Studies Evaluation
Social Studies Knowledge
Students can acquire many valuable facts from this software package; however, they will not acquire social studies concepts or generalizations without teacher guidance. Factual knowledge includes state trivia (“Know Your States”), geographic locations (“Know Your States” and “Melting Pot”), inventors and inventions (“Mother Necessity”), and American Revolution battle information (“Shot Heard ‘Round the World”).

Social Studies Skills
Literal, interpretive, and analytical skills may be fostered through this package with teacher facilitation. However, few social studies skills will be developed if this package is used as a stand-alone application. For example, in “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” students may be asked to consider the reasons that American and British soldiers were fighting by listening to what the soldiers say as they are moved from space to space. Without teacher prompting students will only focus on the goal of the game which is to move all the soldiers to the opposite corner faster than the opponent.

Values
Patriotism (“Shot Heard ‘Round the World”) and cultural diversity (“Melting Pot”) could be addressed when using this software. Again, teacher guidance would be necessary.

Conclusion
This software will undoubtedly be a student favorite because of the appealing graphics and sound. The package could easily be used to keep students busy for hours, but without teacher guidance there will be few educational gains.
Teachers willing to take the time and effort can develop lesson plans that incorporate this package. If this software is currently in a school building, we would encourage teachers to explore the different activities found in the teacher’s guide as well as to construct activities of their own. However, if purchasing decisions are about to be made, we would recommend that the package be examined for its educational value relative to instructional goals.

Clifford T. Bennett is the coordinator of the Social Studies Education program area in the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. Kara Dawson is manager of the Curry Center for Technology and Teacher Education at the University of Virginia.

©1998 National Council for the Social Studies. All rights reserved.