If math is so fun, Judge Sandra Dozier wants to know why no one ever stays in on Saturday night to balance their checkbook.
Brain power to the rescue!
PBS is trying to make math fun with a cartoon series about three kids named Matt, Jackie, and Inez, who live in the real world but help the world of Cyberspace through their virtual contact, Motherboard. Whenever there is trouble, she alerts them and brings them in to help. In the computer world, they have a guide named Digit, a robotic bird who defected from Hacker's camp in order to help the adventurers. Hacker is a terrible villain that everyone in the cyber world knows and hates. Along with his two henchmen, Buzz and Delete, he is always cooking up or carrying out some awful scheme.
At the end of each episode is a live-action segment featuring Harry or Bianca, the hosts of the show, demonstrating how mathematics are used in real life.
There are three episodes on this volume, each about 22 minutes long:
• "Starlight Night"
• "Snow Day to Be Exact"
• "A Time to Cook"
Usually, if you say the words "making math fun" you may as well say "boring the socks off you." The good news is that Cyberchase isn't boring. The bad news is that, although the show insists that it is for kids aged 8-12, the problems are a little too simplistic for older kids—math problems are broken down to the bare essentials and explained with excruciating slowness. For instance, in "Starlight Night," when Matt is trying to figure out the problem of getting the workers to sit at tables, first he takes two rectangular tables and pushes them together so they make a square, then sits six robots around each point. Hello? As a 12-year-old, I would have been screaming at the screen, "It's a rectangular table, you dope! Put two along each side!"
Also, the live-action hosts are a little obvious about the fact that they are talking to little kids. I hate watching adults pretend that they can't figure something out when you know they can, and I doubt there are many 8- to 12-year-olds who buy this, either. This is a show that will probably appeal to the under-eight crowd more than the intended audience.
That said, Cyberchase manages to entertain without sermonizing too much on the math-is-used-for-everything message. Although the kids do use math, they manage to make it interesting. I especially liked the "Snow Day to Be Exact" episode, which showed kids how to estimate things like distance and volume. For instance, at the beginning of the episode, Inez knows that she needs 200 jelly beans in order to make her cookies, so she is counting her jarful of jelly beans one by one. Her cat interrupts her, and she has to start all over. Very time consuming! But by the end of the episode Inez has learned that she can count the jelly beans along the bottom, then count up, and multiply to get an idea of how many she has. 250 is her best guess—plenty of jelly beans to make the cookies, and have a few while she is baking.
Chrisopher Lloyd (as Hacker) and Gilbert Gottfried (as Digit) lend their voices to the animation, which is simple but nice looking. The other voice acting is generally good, although a little heavy on trying to make goofy characters—again, the type of thing that appeals to a younger age group. The DVD transfer is clean and bright, and shows off this recent series well, as does the sound transfer. The extras include a five-minute segment with creator-director Larry Jacobs as he talks about the origin of Digit and shows the audience how to draw him. Next is a two-minute segment of bloopers and outtakes from the live-action segment, and a sing-along version of the show's theme, with karaoke-style lyrics printed on the screen. The games extra is DVD-rom content and web links to online games.
At just three episodes per volume, there is only about an hour of programming here, and the live-action segments can be a little cheesy (especially if Harry is involved), but as math "edutainment" goes, I've seen worse. Still, parents might want to rent before they buy to make sure that the learning opportunities are appropriate for the age range of their kids.
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