Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Dig-It: Mayan Mysteries (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

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

Dig-It Games offered the crew a chance to review a new game, Mayan Mysteries.  I immediately thought Matthew would really enjoy this game. I asked him if he would try it, and he told me he wasn't interested. At all.  Finally, I played my "because I'm the mom and I said so" card and told him he had to give the free online demo a try. If he still didn't like it, I would decline the review.  About four minutes into the demo, he decided it was "kinda ok." At the end of the demo, he was annoyed he couldn't go any further. He called over to me, "Mom? Can I have your credit card number?" Um...no...but I take it you like the game after all!  I told him he could pick whether we asked for the online version or the iPad app, but either way, he had to wait until the review period began.  Every day for a week, he raced out of school and said, "Did you get the code yet?"  Finally, we got our code, and I downloaded the Mayan Mysteries iPad App (a $9.99 value).  He wanted to play immediately; I said homework first.  He had it done in record time.  (And neat and correct on the first try! I like this game already.)

Dig-it Games On-line App photo

To me, the mark of a good educational tool is it is so much fun, you lose track of time and just keep on going. Matthew parked himself on the couch, and that was it. Three hours after he sat down, I was about to drag him back into reality and to dinner table, when I heard a triumphant, "Yes!" I said, "What did you do?" His response: "I beat the game."

Excuse me? You what?  Video games take at least a few days, even the easy ones.  I watched him get started. It wasn't that easy.  There are memory skills ("Where are things located on the map? Mark them on it.") and decoding skills.  There's even the Mayan calendar, and trying to decode glyphs.  I know we received the iPad app (it is not available for iPhone or iPod Touch), but the Crew Members reviewing the online version received a single user one-year subscription ($21.99).  (Note: it is also available for classroom use - a 30-student classroom license is $299. annually.)  If it's a one-year subscription, surely it should take more than a few hours to complete! 

Thankfully, it can be (and he has replayed it) several times.  By replaying, you can try again to earn awards for solving puzzles without mistakes or requesting clues.  It's a great way to review what was learned, and catch what may have been missed before.  At the end of the game, there is an announcement to watch for  Mayan Mysteries 2 to be released.  Message to developers - HURRY UP!  He's driving me batty already!

This game is filled with information on the Mayans.  The premise is a young yet renowned archaeologist is called to help combat looting.  His niece and nephew are spending the summer with him, so he brings them (and you, the human player) along with him to help protect these ruins. He is teaching them (and the player) about the Mayans as the detective work progresses.

Among the challenges is to watch a map be prepared, and then fill in the information yourself.  It layers information, beginning with sites and trading paths, and then including commodities and finally the areas inhabited by different (and often warring) groups.

map of Mayan civilization
 Blank Map

semi-labeled map of Mayan territories
 Filling in the locations.

map including Mayan commodities
 Mayan commodities: stone tools, coal & iron, cotton, cacao and jade

land boundaries of Mayan kingdoms

Warring factions of Mayans and their lands.

At each "excavation site," the game teaches you about the people who lived there.  At the "home screen" for each Mayan site, there is a link to the Index.

From the index, you can investigate the history and culture of the locals.
explanation of the Mayan Xilbalba (underworld)

Matthew also really enjoyed the glyph decoding.  He has asked me to search for and download or print decoder puzzles on a daily basis.  He even made his own puzzle!  (And no, I didn't put him up to this!)

One reason we chose the iPad app was because we do own more than one iPad.  Apps are licensed to the iTunes account, and can be used on more than one device, as long as it is registered to the same account.  I also placed it on my iPad, and let Celia play the game.  She has been working at it for about a month now.  She doesn't have quite the same laser focus as Matthew, and tends to play only for about 15 or 20 minutes at a time before giving up in frustration.  She has had a little harder time with it, but I think that is because she has only just finished 3rd grade. For example, Matthew (7th grade) flew through the Mayan calendar.   He recognized quickly that the Mayan number writing system is very similar in concept to Roman numerals (which he is already very familiar with), and was able to rapidly figure out their calendar system.  Celia, on the other hand, gave up in frustration at the same point because she couldn't grasp that idea.  Roman Numerals are new to her, and she was unable to make that lateral observation and apply what she knew in the new situation.  Matthew did a great job of trying to explain things to her, and she was finally able to move on, but it took a few days and several rounds of explaining.  The game is rated for Ages 9+ due to content (very mild historically contextual violence), so I had no problems with her trying the game (she turned 9 mid-review), but I think academically, it's more appropriate for fourth through sixth grades.

Speaking of the calendar work, Matthew enjoyed decoding the concentric properties of the calendar stone, and he learned how it was really three calendars in one: the T’zolkin, used to keep track of religious events;  the Haab, a solar calendar; and the Calendar round, which tracked time over a 52 year period.  By chance, we happened on a Mayan Calendar Stone when visiting the Museum of Science, Boston.

Mayan Calendar Stone, Museum of Science Boston

This picture does not do it justice - it was absolutely gorgeous.  He was excited he knew what the circles and symbols meant.  Not only am I impressed with the content of the game, but that, despite his best efforts not to get involved in this review,  Matthew not only learned and retained a lot of new information, but had fun doing it!

We're one of many families playing Mayan Mysteries.  Click to find out what others learned!

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  1. I found your blog from the My Freshly Brewed Life Link Up. Hi!
    I have been on the fence about computer games for my kids. The oldest is five, so I haven't been in much of a rush. But I've been on the fence because I'm really not sure they will retain anything they learned.
    However, did you just say your son is excited about an ancient calender stone? And made his own code and message? That's awesome.
    I think you just tipped the scales for me :) Thanks for all the pictures too, this game looks worth checking out! Even if it's just my husband who plays it for a while :)

    1. Welcome! I'm glad I helped! I think a lot depends on the game (this was a very well crafted game in how it layered information), but also the player. My boys are very much kinesthetic kids, so a game that provides a lot of sensory input (visual, sound, tactile) is more helpful to them than reading a book. I'm sure he would have remembered some of what he learned if he had read a textbook, but nearly as much something hands on like this. I can guarantee you he wouldn't have had laser focus for 3 hours!!


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