During the course of my studies over the last few years, I have learned that one of the hardest things about learning and understanding history is putting it in historical context. We have a tendency to project our own history, values, and culture on other cultures and civilizations and judge them for their mistakes. At the same time we also tend to romanticize the past, as if to say it’s antiquity a makes it automatically superior to today’s world.
Trying to learn about ancient cultures can be especially challenging because far too often there is little or no classic literature that originated from that time period. Any records we do have are far too advanced for children to study on their own. We depend on archeologists and historians to translate historical culture into something we can understand; and even then it’s difficult to find curriculum that that takes those cultures and makes them INTERESTING. I mean, I know I find history fascinating, but it took nearly 30 years for that to happen. I don’t want my kids to wait that long to discover the how captivating history truly is.
Dig-It Games was created by Suzi Wilczynski, a former archeologist and middle school teacher who wanted to create historical games that were fun and highly educational.
Mayan Mysteries Online Game is a game aimed at children grades 5 to 9. In it, you travel to Central America with some friends to trace the path of an infamous artifact thief known only as Ladrone. You dig for and identify Mayan artifacts while you visit some of the Mayan cities; all the while gathering clues about the identity of the thief and trying to stay ahead of the looters who will steal your artifacts if they can. Along the way you learn about the fabled Ich’aak (Invisible City). Why is Ladrone searching for specific artifacts and does it have anything to do with Ich’aak?
The game starts with a back story. Instead of animation the scenes are in comic book format (which I rather like). Press the microphone icon and you can have the text read to you (which I also like because I have a tendency to skim rather than reading carefully – then I have to go back and reread… it takes me much longer than if I had just read it carefully to begin with.).
Along the way you learn several different aspects of archeology (such as dating artifacts, excavation, etc) as well as a aspects of Mayan culture (weaponry, religious beliefs, class system, etc.). The text highlights possible vocabulary words. If you click them you will be taken to another page similar to the one in the image below that explains the concept of the vocabulary word in detail (rather than just giving you a dictionary definition).
You take challenges and answer questions about what you have already learned. In addition to discovering the modern day ruins of the cities, you travel back in time at each Mayan city to learn about the ancient Mayan culture in detail and in historical context by translating Mayan glyphs, learning about the calendar, and changing money using the Mayan math system.
We had mixed feelings about Mayan Mysteries. It is clearly a well thought out and beautifully designed program. The text is written in a conversational tone that really helps in keeping children engaged. At age ten, Lucy thought it was really exciting at first but quickly got discouraged as soon as she reached the calendar and math challenges. We sat down together and figured out the numbering system and did a few problems together. Once we did that she was able to finish but the experience had soured her on the game.
In preparation for this review I sat down and played the game myself. I used my computer’s airplay to put it up on our television screen so everyone could participate. Emma really enjoyed watching it and answering a few questions. Spencer liked telling me in which order to complete the challenges. Though Lucy wasn’t thrilled with the program by the time she finished it, she seemed to like helping me do it.
While Lucy was pretty indifferent by the end, I was really impressed with Mayan Mysteries. I love things that inspire me to learn. I can understand cultural differences with religion, class, and even governmental structure – but having an entirely different calendar and system of math just blows my mind! I mean, I know that arithmetic, algebra, and calculus are three very different (and separate) types of math; and that Roman numerals are from Ancient Rome, that the symbols we use for our numerals are Arabic in origin.. but I just can’t wrap my head around coming up with a NEW math system that is in NOT derived or adjusted from another form of math. The same is true for the passage of time. It’s amazing and I have endless admiration for those who came up with those things in their ancient cultures. Mayan Mysteries lets us take a glimpse into the complex world of the ancient Maya culture. We get to see a little bit of that famous Mayan Calendar that we’ve all been talking about lately. I’m also incredibly impressed with archeologists and historians who have been able to piece together the puzzle for us.
There is no violence, profanity, or graphic images in Mayan Mysteries but it does touch on some detailed (yet historically accurate) descriptions of their polytheistic beliefs, religious ceremonies (such as human sacrifice) and war traditions. I’m glad that Dig-It Games included these things. We do ourselves a disservice by romanticizing the past and not including the more disturbing aspects of history. No culture or cultures’s history is free from things that most would consider evil. We need to know about them so we can learn from them.
Mayan Mysteries comes as both an iPad app ($9.99) and an online game. I reviewed the online version which is $21.99 for a single user for one year, but you can play as many games as you like. I actually think I am going to purchase the iPad app because I liked it so much. I’m hoping that Lucy will warm back up to it more now that she knows how to work the math (and everything is more fun on an iPad ;)). They also have a game called Roman Town which is geared towards children as young as second grade. I would have liked to have tried Roman Town but it’s not available for Mac. Mayan Mysteries 2 is coming soon and hopefully we will be able to catch Ladrone once and for all.
Prices are accurate as of the publication of this review and are subject to changeClick to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew