by Ellen Farr

SUBJECT AREA: Science and technology reference – simple machines to digital technologies

PUBLISHER: Dorling Kindersley Interactive

COST: $29.95 consumer version; $59.95 school version


DESCRIPTION: The New Way Things Work is an interactive reference source designed to investigate the nuts and bolts of everyday machines and mechanisms. With the assistance of an animated woolly mammoth, the user can explore how machines work, learn applicable scientific principles, discover the historical context of inventions, and become acquainted with inventors. Detailed illustration, audio/video clips, humor and animation add interest to the informative scientific explanations.

The program is organized in a very logical manner, making navigation easy. To learn about a specific machine, users visit the Machines A-Z picture index. Sub-categories within this index include: Principles, History, and Inventors. The Warehouse stores an assortment of machines and mechanisms. Clicking on any object opens a short movie in which the author explains how the object works. When the clip concludes, the user can choose to learn more about the object by selecting Machine, Principle, History or Inventor (fig. 1).

Figure 1

One of the key features of The New Way Things Work is that each screen has active links to other categories. Researching a submarine, for example, from the Machine index (fig. 2) not

Figure 2

only gives the user a detailed, labeled, cut-away drawing that illustrates how a submarine works, but it also leads the user directly to the principles of floating and its inventor Cornelius Drebble. Clicking on the History button directs the user to a timeline. By selecting See Also, the user is given a list of related machines. Clicking on a choice leads the user to that machine’s explanation.

Animated demonstrations are another attractive feature. In the case of the submarine, clicking "dive" activates a demonstration of the written explanation. Also, highlighted words are active vocabulary links; selecting one provides a definition.

Explorers can test their knowledge at the Mammoth School. Certificates at the Master, Expert and Genius level are earned by correctly answering questions on scientific principles. Help on difficult questions is available by choosing Research Answers. This activates a screen on which answers can be found without closing the test. Program users can also keep track of their progress by visiting the Log Book.

STRENGTHS: The New Way Things Work is an extensive resource and provides information on hundreds of scientific principles, materials and properties. The multi-sensory approach appeals to visual, audiory and literal learners. Fun graphics, animation, sound bytes and movie clips substantiate written explanations but are not so overwhelming that they are a distraction.

The program also has excellent record-keeping capabilities. By visiting the Log Book a teacher can find out how many and which screens a student has visited and determine test scores. The program provides information on the latest technologies. In the Digital Domain, users can learn how cell phones, global positioning systems and automatic teller machines work, to name a few. Students can make comparisons between cutting-edge and historical inventions by visiting this category.

In the Options category, students can print specific screens, stationery or postcards, download screen savers, or watch entertaining Mammoth movies.

WEAKNESSES: A speech output feature for all text within the program would be a benefit for weak readers. Depending on the age of the user, the tests can be difficult. Researching the answers can provide a learning experience for test-takers, but it can frustrate some users. Test questions are fill-in-the-blank, and the answer field is sensitive to correct spelling. Therefore, a student who know the correct answer but does not spell it correctly would be marked as incorrect. A spell check feature would be helpful.

SUMMARY: This is an outstanding educational program that is easy and fun to use. It answers the question "how does it work?" without being pedantic. Young children will enjoy watching the animations and listening to the explanations; older children will discover that it is a great starting point for science projects and reports. Teachers will appreciate the fluidity and preciseness with which abstract principles are explained. The New Way Things Work is an affordable and useful addition to both home and school software collections.

Ellen Farr is a graduate student in the Educational Technology Program at The College of New Jersey.


Back to Index ..