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social studies software
This program, reminiscent of the classic Oregon Trail, invites the user to travel back in time and experience first hand the historical race that led to the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. Aided by hosts Jack and Sarah, the user leads a team of men across some of the country's most dangerous terrain to their final destination in Promontory, Utah. Students can choose to lead the Central Pacific Railroad and travel east from Sacramento following the shorter, but more mountainous route, or they can lead the Union Pacific Railroad and travel west from Omaha taking the longer, flatter route. The first company to reach Promontory wins the coveted 'Golden Spike'.
To achieve their goal, users must make careful plans and wise decisions. They must overcome natural disasters, deal with railroad employees and local inhabitants, and even dodge real-life outlaws who steal the Golden Spike and attempt to sabotage the railroad. It's a worthy adventure, made all the more exciting because of its actual historical significance.
Once students have chosen which of the two competing railroads they will lead, they can begin a mission. Missions involve laying track to build the railroad, saving the railroad from sabotage-bent outlaws, or capturing (and interrogating) an outlaw.
For each section of railroad that is built, students receive a set amount of money from the government. This money is used for everything from laying track to building bridges and blasting mountains. As they build, students make decisions that effect the financial status of their companies. If their decisions are incorrect, they go bankrupt and must start building the section again. This process can be frustrating, but it also allows kids to learn from their mistakes.
Intermingled with railroad building assignments, are missions to save the railroad and capture the treasonous outlaws. Although generally less educational and more arcade-like than railroad construction, these missions involve actual historical 'bad guys' and plenty of interesting information about them is provided.
In addition to the knowledge gained through missions, kids can learn about the history of the day, and the towns and peoples encountered along the way, and see actual historical photographs.
This is not, however, to say that the program lacks appeal. In general, our testers agreed that program graphics are nicely done, and activities are interesting and well-varied. The program is fun for older users, without being overly childish, and it is the kind of program that can grow with a child. Finally, train enthusiasts of all ages and genders will enjoy the theme, as will history buffs who get a chance to relive an exciting time in history.
Trans-Con! is not simple to use, and may require practice and experimentation to master. Our testers reported countless failed missions, and bankruptcies. "I had to start lots of missions again," reported one tester, "but I knew what to do differently the second time, so I didn't mind."
Explicit help for each of the 'Saving the Railroad' and 'Capturing the Outlaws' missions is provided in the program's onscreen 'Train of Thought Journal'. These step-by-step written instructions are invaluable, especially for the fledgling user.
PC: Windows 95/98, Pentium 90 MHz or faster cpu, 50 MB hard drive space, 16 MB RAM, SVGA 256-color display, Quad-speed or faster CD-ROM.return to top of page
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