Review of Googol Power CDs and Videos
Albums for making learning math fun
Reviewed by Debra Ross
I keep telling my 2nd-grader that as soon as she masters the basic stuff in math -- her math facts -- that this is when math starts to get really fun and interesting. She has felt -- and I concurred -- that memorizing math facts can be a dreary business, even with the best of teachers.
Automatization. A tough word, and a tough process, especially with younger kids. I thought I could make it somewhat interesting for her, but I had just about resigned myself to the fact that there was no way to make it fun and easy. Until...
Enter the Googols.
Susan Jarema's Googol Learning video and CD's couldn't have come into our lives at a better moment. Madison, 7, weary from working at memorizing the multiplication tables, had started to adopt that attitude that math is difficult and tedious. She was having a difficult time seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how I encouraged her. Her sister Ella, 5 1/2, working on addition, was still finding it fun, but, seeing her sister's struggles, was becoming skeptical about her own math future.
But a week with Googol Power's Multiplication Vacation constantly in the DVD player (I had to hold them to twice per day, or they would have watched it more) and their Addition Celebration and Crazy 4 Math in our car's CD player changed all that.
Googol Power's mathematical formula combines an engaging, silly-but-not-ridiculous storyline with an original set of songs. The songs, which are in a mixture of styles (rock-and-roll, country, doo-wop, jazz, folk, you name it) not only propel the child through the plot of the story, but incorporate the math facts in such a way that they insinuate themselves into your brain as you sing them. The video, Multiplication Vacation, also displays the equation on the screen to give the child a multisensory experience.
The series' premise is that the Googols are cute little space birds (see the graphic above) that help kids everywhere with their math facts. It seems clear to me that the series' originators are fans of "Mystery Science Theater 3000," because they have the same brand of wacky humor combined with a dedication to cultural literacy. The "Roll Call" of the Googols reminds me so much of MST3K, and the set and production values of the DVD and puppets are remarkably similar -- and, like MST3K, fairly low-budget. But that certainly doesn't matter to the kids -- they don't notice slick production quality -- and for the adult, it only adds to the charm, at least once they see how much their kids are enjoying the show.
Googol Power is the brainchild of writer-publisher-instructor-music producer-wife-and-mother Susan Jarema and her husband Mike, who are based near Vancouver, Canada. When her children were very young, she realized that she wanted them to grow up with her husband's ability in and love of mathematics. So she began researching the best ways to teach young children math. She says, "My husband and I decided to start a small business as a New Year's resolution inspired by our two young children. We wanted to create something that made math fun for kids and that would be equally entertaining for the whole family."
I can attest that this is true. All of their products include enough cultural literacy to make even this brainy mom happy. My favorite character is Mozart -- who, if you remember, was Austrian. Jarema’s talented Music Director David Pavane (pictured nearby with Susan and the Googols) has an Austrian accent that is quite similar to Arnold Schwartzenegger. Governor Arnold as Mozart makes me giggle every time, especially when I hear, "I'm Mozart. I won't be Bach." (Say it like Arnold. You'll get it, if you've seen Terminator.)
Why did they name the birds Googols? I was curious. Susan explains:
- A year before we started working on Multiplication Vacation, my daughter Maya started asking me about the names for bigger and bigger numbers. We finally reached a googol and a googolplex. Both Maya and her younger brother Colin were fascinated with these two numbers. They had so much fun asking friends and adults if they knew what a googol was and Maya showed her friends a googol by printing a one and a hundred zeros on a piece of paper.
When it came time to name the characters in our math show, the kids said the bird puppets we were designing had to be called Googols. Colin said, "It's because there can be googols of learning buddies in the Universe" and Maya decided that they were "googols of fun" — a saying we had started to use at home.
So who should get Googol Learning products? Kids age 4-10 and their parents will love Crazy 4 Math (our family's overall favorite) as a means both to math enthusiasm and cultural literacy. 4-year-olds can follow the story as the MATHeMANIACS travel back in time to meet famous inventors, astronomers, and mathematicians, talk with them, and sing about it. Kids all the way up through age 10 will be silent in your back seat as they listen to the story over and over again. The older kids will see real-life ways that the math they already know can lead them to exciting discoveries, while the younger child will mostly appreciate the characters and songs.
Addition Celebration will also be appreciated by 4-year-olds through 10-year-olds, but is really aimed at 7-year-olds who are finishing up the memorization of their addition facts and getting motivated to move on. The plot is that the Earth friends of Cozmo, a little boy from the planet Dzzzt, get up a 7th birthday party for him on Earth. My favorite song features an Alabama-accented Cleopatra singing a country music song about the decimal system. It must be heard to be believed. My kids' favorite songs on this album are the ones about recipe doubling, money, counting the states of America, and early Canadian exploration.
Multiplication Vacation (DVD and CD) takes the GoogolKids back in time with the help of Googols to Ancient Egypt, Antarctica, and even into outer space. You can check out a free trailer for this here.
If the music is going to get into your brain, it might as well be good. You know how some children's music is painful for adults to listen to, especially those short CDs that your child requests over and over? Googol Learning's songs are definitely sneaky--you'll find yourself singing "Leonardo Da Vinci, born in 1452..." in the shower--but even if you as an adult find this disconcerting, any annoyance will be overridden by your pleasure in hearing one of your children sing to another:
"Tell me what is 3-plus."
"3 + 9 is 12!
3 + 10 is 13!"
Madison said that the Googols are "the math of Cyberchase, the music of the Wiggles, and the silly action of the Wee Sing DVD's" combined into one show. I'm not sure I'd put it quite like that, but I sure am pleased with it. When my kids are watching or listening to the Googols, I get the same pleasure that I do when they're happily eating broccoli. It's wonderful that something so good for them needn't be a struggle. My kids are happy consumers of Googol Learning's materials, and they can't wait until the next album comes along. Madison hopes it's about fractions.
©2007, Debra Ross