Posted: 01/23/2008


Cyberchase on PBS


by Laura Tucker

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PBS’s education cartoon, Cyberchase, is so clever in the way it presents its lessons, kids don’t even seem to realize they’re learning, thinking they’re just watching a fun cartoon. Hearing about the show, I wanted my daughter to see it, as it helps with problem solving and math, two areas she struggles with because of a learning disability. Once we started watching it, she knew the show, saying she’d seen it before. She said it wasn’t a math show, though. To the contrary, it is. It’s just so good, she didn’t realize it.

The series brings in a concept kids are very familiar and comfortable with these days, the internet. The bad guy involved, Hacker (voiced very recognizably by Christopher Lloyd, reminding us more of Doc in Back to the Future than Rev. Jim in Taxi) has plans to bring down the internet, but three kids refuse to let him, and use everything in their power, mostly their math and problem-solving skills, to stop him. They’re joined by a bird, Digit (voiced by Gilbert Gottfried, yet not as annoyingly as usual).

Cyberchase involves these kids, Matt, Jackie, and Inez, solving problems the right way, as they don’t automatically get the answers. They have to work it out together, and they usually have failed attempts that don’t work as well as ideas that work fantastically, just like problem-solving in real life.

In one episode, while stranded on an island, they needed to find away to get across the water to another island. Seeing supports in the water, the idea was to take a billboard down and place it atop the supports. With it being too short, and upon closer inspection, they realized the billboard was made up of nine separate planks, and they could take them apart, then lay them end to end. Wanting to know the distance they would be covering, they realized each of the separate planks was broken into three sections. The kids measured one section, and multiplied it out to find their distance.

Another episode of Cyberchase featured Hacker capturing Merlin and his assistant to use their magic wand for his evil-doing. He locks them away in a maze. The kids find out and have to not only solve the maze, but also use a series of different levers to move heavy objects from the doorways. While one works one time, it doesn’t work in the next instance, so they need to adjust, using different boards and objects placed under and over the levers.

All learning should be this fun for kids. There’s no reason why it has to be boring. Leave it to the people at PBS, the ones behind Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and Electric Company, clever educational programs from my era, to figure all this out.

Laura Tucker is a freelance writer providing reviews of movies and television, among other things, at Viewpoints and Reality Shack.

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