Sunday, July 14, 2013

Mayan Mysteries {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

Dig-it Games Logo photo dig-it-games-logo_zps61887cb9.png

I search out new games to introduce to my kids in the hopes that they'll have so much fun that they want to continue playing outside of our assigned school times. Whenever I find a new game, I have high hopes that we'll enjoy playing it so much that it won't even seem like learning.

Mayan Mysteries by Dig-It! Games is an online game that challenges student to stop a looter who is digging up ancient Maya sites. Along the way, the student archaeologists analyze artifacts, explore the Mayan calendar, use the Mayan mathematics system, and more.

Dig-it Games On-line App photo dig-itgames-mayanmysteries_zps7a4409ab.jpeg

I was impressed with both the computer graphics and the amount of information covered throughout this game. For each archaelogical area, the student reads (or listens to) general information about that particular area or about a particular aspects of Mayan culture. Following the passages (up to three screens long), the student answers a few multiple choice questions. In other areas, the player must matches Mayan glyphs to their English translations to decode messages. As the game progresses, the players must identify locations on maps, find the date using a Mayan calendar, and learn how to use the Mayan base-20 mathematical system.

Brennan, my twelve-year-old, was not thrilled about playing this game. Perhaps I am partially to blame for his grumpy attitude. I told him I had a "really fun computer game" for him to try. In his mind, he defines a fun computer game as one with lots of action and/or the opportunity to build a new mansion in an imaginary world. He was not necessarily interested in a computer simulation that included reading passages in order to answer questions or deciphering Mayan glyphs to find new clues. My mistake was in calling it a game and allowing him to form an expectation that it would be similar to the games he choses to play in his free time.

In my house, Mayan Mysteries is better described as an educational computer activity -- an online history lesson with some game-like activities included. Would Brennan chose this game over reading a few chapters in a textbook about Mayan culture? Probably. Would he learn as much by playing the game? Definitely. Will he retain the information he learned playing Mayan Mysteries? Probably more so than he would have if he had simply read a book covering the same information.

As an educational activity, Mayan Mysteries does a great job of presenting information about Mayan cultures in an engaging manner. It could also be used as a way of providing additional reading comprehension practice for students. (Note: there is a feature that allows the passages to be read aloud to the student and therefore it's possible for a struggling reader to still practice comprehension skills such as remembering the main points of an article.)

Mayan Mysteries requires the student to be able to comprehend information written at roughly a middle school grade level (6th-8th grade). Younger students with good reading and comprehension skills may be able to play the game as well. A single-user license to download the game costs $21.99, and they offer a lengthy demonstration game that you can play for free. Dig-It! also sells an iPad version of Mayan Mysteries and Roman Town which we reviewed last year.

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