In the context of astronomy, Math & the Cosmos addresses topics in math such geometry, trigonometry, graphing, solving equations and scientific notation. Students watch and listen to example problems for each topic, try problems on their own, learn why such math problems have a useful purpose in astronomy, and take a test in each subject area. For example, students see why an understanding of sinusoidal graphs is relevant to studying the variable brightness of stars. Along with the math, students learn about topics such as the constellations, the nature of comets and the precession of the earth.

Users choose topics and assessments from a main menu. They can also refer to a glossary of terms and to web sites associated with the topics of the program. The software includes simulations of galaxies, the solar system, and relationships between the earth and other stars.

Educational Value

Math & the Cosmos provides a reasonable review for students studying math. For example, a teacher might use the software as a supplement for weak students to review scientific notation and to have them realize that it is a convenient short-hand notation when astronomers discuss distances associated with times such as a light year.

Though the material is interdisciplinary, it is not presented in an innovative way. The problems look as if they come from textbook examples, and the voice-overs resemble a lecture. The problem-solving techniques are not exceptionally creative or clear, so this material will only suffice as review, not as a conceptual introduction.

Kid Appeal

Teachers could use Math & the Cosmos to expose students to topics in math and science such as the shape of the constellations and how to calculate the distance between the earth and a star. Families might give this software to middle- or high-school students who are interested in, or need review in, math or astronomy.

Though the CD covers interesting material, it does not provide students with much opportunity for creative thought. For example, the program does not encourage students to independently discover the applications of math topics though it could accomplish this by presenting students with raw data, which they then tried to analyze. As a result of the minimal opportunities for critical thinking, students may be quickly bored with this software because it reviews material in a traditional, though interdisciplinary, way.

Ease of Use / Install

Math & the Cosmos is simple to install and navigate. A user simply needs to follow the set-up instructions that appear on the computer screen. The main menu describes the lessons on the CD, and a user can choose a lesson by clicking on the appropriate icon.

Best for... / Bottom-Line

Math & the Cosmos is best for middle- and high-school students who need to review topics in math or have a particular interest in astronomy. The material in the CD is not exceptionally deep, though it is broad, so a student with aptitude in science and math may not be captured by the software for long.

PC:
95/98/2000/ME/XP/NT; 650 MB - full install, 5 MB - partial install, 16 MB RAM, 800x600 display resolution, Sound Blaster compatible sound card, printer, access to the Internet (optional). Available in single, network versions, or lab packs.