SuperMunchers: Going Beyond the Documentation

Many computer-using teachers take great delight in figuring out crafty techniques for using educational software in ways that were never intended by the publisher of the software. The other day I discovered some innovative ways of using MECC's new SuperMunchers educational game. Perhaps these ideas might be useful for other parents and teachers.

For those who might not know, SuperMunchers is the latest in the award-winning "muncher" series of games from the Minnesota Educational Computing Corporation (MECC). Those of you who are familiar with Word Munchers, Number Munchers, Fraction Munchers, and Picture Chompers know how very motivating these arcade-style games are for children.

SuperMunchers takes the "muncher" game format to new heights. It would be fair to describe SuperMunchers as an intriguing blend of Jeopardy(tm) and Pac Man(tm).

The object of the SuperMunchers is to move around a grid on the screen eating only those facts that fit within a rule or category listed at the top of the screen. The appeal of all the muncher games is that they combine an interesting intellectual challenge with a fun arcade game. To excel at any of these games requires both intellectual dexterity and physical dexterity.

When I first tried using SuperMunchers with some fifth graders I was surprised at how varied the reaction was to this software. Some kids really adored the software. Others were less enthusiastic.

It occurred to me that I could create a better response to SuperMunchers by choosing to limit the game to "high-interest subjects" for my students' first interactions with the game. Sure enough, many of the students responded very well when I restricted the subject matter of the game to "famous sports figures," or to "singers and musicians."

But while exploring the management options of SuperMunchers I found that you can preview on screen the data in each of the target rules or categories. Several of my more energetic students asked if they could study the data to these rules when they were away from the computer.

Ever willing to cater to the requests of knowledge-hungry students, I was determined to find a way to print out the "preview data" screens. A phone call to a Macintosh expert in my local user group provided me with the knowledge I needed to do so. I used the general Macintosh screen capture command, Command-Shift-3, to capture some of these "data preview" screens to disk. (Incidentally, any Macintosh user can use this command at any time to capture whatever is being displayed on the screen.) When you create a screen capture in this way, one or more PICT graphics files show up on your Macintosh hard drive. PICT is a common format for graphic screens on the Macintosh. Just about any Macintosh word processor is able to "open" and print a PICT-format graphics.

After capturing a half-dozen screens in this way I quit SuperMunchers (using the standard Macintosh Command-Q command) and then loaded these captured screens, one by one, into my Macintosh word processor. To be sure, I could have loaded the PICT files into a page-layout program, such as Aldus' PageMaker. PageMaker would allow me to scale down the size of these captured screens for placement alongside a printed software review. But for purposes of simply printing out the screen, a generic Macintosh word processor was an adequate tool for my needs.

After printing out some of the data screens from SuperMunchers, I spent time doing some experiments with SuperMuncher's "super config" files. MECC designed SuperMunchers so that parents and teachers can create various configurations of the management options so as to better serve the specific needs of different-aged children using the software. So while seven year old Lisa is using SuperMunchers to learn more about mammals and reptiles, thirteen year old Ben is using SuperMunchers to learn more about world geography and chemical compounds.

Once you create a custom "super config" file, it's possible to rename that file to a particular child's name. You do so just as you would rename any other Macintosh file displayed in the Finder. You click once on the file name, press the delete key, and then type in the new file name. Press return at the end of the new file name, and then click anywhere else on the desktop. Presto, you've renamed the "super config" file to one of your children's or student's names. Your kids, then, can double-click on the "super config" file with their name, thereby launching their own content-customized version of SuperMunchers.

Although the documentation says nothing about this, you can take the "super config" file capability one step further by renaming the "super config" file to reflect the nature of the subject-matter restricted contents that you specified using SuperMuncher's management options. In my own case, I created "super config" files for the following subject matter categories: mammals, colors and shapes, U.S. states, U.S. cities, South American countries, and chemical compounds. Now I'm able to jump right into a geography SuperMuncher game by clicking on the appropriate "super config" icon. The time I'd be spending setting up the management options for a geography game can now be spent actually playing the game.

SuperMunchers is one of the most fun "general knowledge" educational computing programs on the market. I recommend it wholeheartedly to any family or school that's using Macintosh computers with junior high and high school students. Some advanced elementary school students may find SuperMunchers to be interesting and involving, as well.

As with any software program, chances are you'll get the best use of the software if you thoroughly explore all of the programs options. In some cases, you may even invent uses of the software that never even entered the mind of the person or persons who designed the software.

Which all goes to say that you don't have to be a computer programmer to be a creative inventor. Anyone, anywhere can be an inventor by using educational software in imaginative new ways.

Phil Shapiro

[The author works as a freelance writer and educational computing consultant. He can be reached via Internet electronic mail at:]

Compatibility: SuperMunchers requires a Macintosh Plus, or later model. A hard disk drive is recommended, but not required. Minimum system software: 6.0.2. Suggested age for SuperMuncher players: 8 to adult.

An IBM version of SuperMunchers is also available.

Further info about MECC's educational software can be found on the MECC web page.

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