Friday, January 11, 2008

Timez Attack - A Review and a View from an 11-year old

After doing my usual random search for web sites that might help my son learn his multiplication facts, I came across Timez Attack from Big Brainz. The company allows the user to download a free version which I did and I was immediately impressed. My 11-year old has struggled to retain his facts and learning software rarely engages him for more than a few minutes. However, after discovering how to navigate the game, he stayed with it for almost a half hour. Since attentional issues make it hard for him to sustain focus, I considered this promising. In addition to observing how he played the game, I tried it myself for awhile.

Having seen dozens of computer learning software products both online and on CD-ROM, I've reached the point where I can rapidly identify quality and Timez Attack is quality in every sense. I decided to email Ben Harrison, the president of the company, and share my thoughts about his product, the only item his company sells at this point. I explained that I would like to write an objective review of Timez Attack for MathNotations after I had an opportunity to try it myself and to observe a child using it. I asked him if he would be willing to give me access to the full version and he agreed. I haven't had time to thoroughly play around with this new version, but my son has been on it for about a week and he likes it. To derive the maximum benefit of this software, I feel I need to establish consistency for him to be on it for at least 15-30 minutes a day for about a month but that has not yet happened. I already see better retention but he is still only on a beginner level.

I strongly urge you to go to the Big Brainz website. There you will see an audio and video presentation of the software. From this home page you can download the free version or purchase the full version for $39.99.


(1) Full video game format replete with creatures, a benevolent monster and exceptional graphics that maintain the child's interest. This is the only piece of educational software that I have seen that combines the professional graphics you expect from a video game with solid educational principles. Ben and his crew clearly put a great deal of thought and planning into this.

(2) The free version is outstanding. It is rare to see something of this quality given away. My son was engaged by the free version, although the full version has additional features that will sustain interest over a longer period of time. I may be incredibly naive, but I see this as more than a marketing ploy. To me it says something about the commitment of this company to actually help children learn. The software has already been well-reviewed, but it's possible you haven't heard about it yet. I strongly urge you to download the free version and just try it for yourself or allow your child to play around with it.

(3) The child has to demonstrate mastery of facts before moving on. Thus if working on the 2's, a mistake requires that the child respond correctly before the next fact is presented. Moreover, if, for example, the child corrected 3x2, the program might return again with the same problem or move onto 9x2, then return to 3x2 many times until the child demonstrates they can do the whole set without error and within a time limit. Remember how you used those flash cards - you made two piles and you'd keep going back to the troublesome pile until you got them all. Well, this simulates that and does it better! Throughout, the child gets hints but they must pay careful attention to see it. Further, each time the game is played, the program smartly retains those facts the child struggled with and reinforces frequently. Again, we're talking mastery here!

(4) The program saves the child's information, picking up exactly where the child left off from the previous play.

(5) The child is required to work through a consistent routine of capturing two cute little creatures, revealing the answer, then hurling an object at a wall revealing a picture of the multiplication fact (the child sees two rows of four objects when encountering 4x2). Only when both actions are taken does the friendly ogre allow the child to enter the answer. If incorrect, the ogre gently pushes the player and the child needs to try again (with hints). There is no violence here and the software is perfectly suitable for younger children who may be ready to jump ahead in their learning.

(6) I'm particularly impressed by an ancillary effect of this game. The child must concentrate in order to follow the correct sequence or to to see the answer when it's presented for an instant. I've already seen improvement in my son's ability to focus and attend as a result of this.

(7) Ben and his team seem committed to developing the best product possible, choosing to perfect this game rather than develop other games at this time. He has responded immediately to all of my questions in the several emails I sent. In fact, I shared my son's suggestions about the possibility of other creatures or aliens! He told me that some of this is already in the latest version of the full game and they are continuing to revise the game to make it even more engaging.

My instinct is that this software could be of benefit to all learners but particularly those children who have attentional or other learning issues. I asked Ben about the age range for which the software is intended and he replied:
"Timez Attack is fairly age-independent. It works extremely well for anyone who needs to learn multiplication. The value of the tool increases in cases where there the student is a teen, adult, or has ADHD, Autism, or other learning challenges. The value increases not so much because it works better but because it still works just as effectively where all other solutions have completely failed. It’s really fun when you see that happening."

It is important for me to say that this does not replace classroom learning -- it enhances it. The software could be used at home or in the classroom. Because it is not web-based, a school or classroom would have to purchase a site license, then have it networked. Several purchasing options are offered. However, the company allows the school to download the free version and network it. To quote Ben:
"As for schools, the free version is meant for them as well. They can install it on all their computers—and preferably on their server so that they can access all the built-in reporting/tracking tools."

You may also want to read the review on the website Super Smart Games.
In particular, you can read the interview they did with Ben Harrison - well worth reading. Also you can see videos of the game in action but nothing replaces downloading the game and playing it!

I can only add that I would love to see this same quality and commitment to excellence brought to many other educational software products. It's unfortunate but products such as Timez Attack are generally not seen as cost effective by most software publishers. I'm looking forward to Big Brainz developing other learning tools as well as continuing to perfect this one.


Liz Ditz said...

Hi -- I posted a link to your review two places:

Kitchen Table Math

and GreatSchools' Parent to Parent Message Board (formerly SchwabLearning).

This really does look like a great resource, especially for kids who struggle to master the multiplication facts.

Dave Marain said...

Thanks, Liz!
I really feel this software will help youngsters. As you can see there are no ads on this blog! I only recommend something I believe in.

M@ said...

Love Timez Attack, but it was too dark/difficult/violent for when my little girl learned her times tables -- they sent her home from Montessori school knowing how to multiply/skip-count by 2 & 5 in Kindergarten (4 years old)... I took her to Toys-R-Us and had her 'count' the number of sidewalk chalk in 6 boxes, with 5 per box so I knew she also knew how to use them...

I tried using Timez Attack, but she wasn't able to get into it at her age, so we got the School House Rock complete DVD and put it on TiVo, and put the music on the car iPod...

"Three is a magic number, yes it is..."

Flashcards are such a bore compared to either of these two methods!

Math IS fun... if you approach it from outside the cube...

Elizabeth Mueller said...

Unfortunately, Big Brainz no longer has the free download available--the public school system has laid claimed to them.