11th May 2001 at 01:00
LEAPFROG Explorer Globe. pound;99.99. Available from toy shops.

The Explorer Globe is an exciting concept providing an interactive way to navigate world geography. What appears to be a conventional globe includes features that launch it into the 21st century. When touched with the attached "pen", Explorer provides spoken information about each country.

A talking globe sounds simple enough, but the most exciting aspect is not so much that it speaks, or even what it says, but the fact that it comes packed with a selection of interactive games at three differentiated levels that will challenge even adults. Children can challenge themselves and up to three friends at finding countries, continents, oceans or a combination.

I particularly enjoyed the challenge of seeing how many countries around the world could be found in four, 45-second rounds. It rapidly becomes addictive - after all, do you know where Tuvalu is? I do now. Struggling? The globe gives helpful clues, which get progressively more specific if you cannot locate a place, so learning is encouraged.

It also uses a good range of geographical vocabulary, such as "Look in the Northern hemisphere". The accent is sometimes triky to understand, and some of the games are obviously more applicable to the United States market, where the globe originated. For example, "Can you find the state and provincial capitals?" Nevertheless there is a lot of value to be had - and fun.

Games aside, the Explorer Globe can be used to find out specific facts about countries such as area, population, currency, music, and so on. Distances between places are given in miles and kilometres, or at the touch of the pen, areas and populations can be compared. Once the globe is set up, time zones can be compared across the world. This is an excellent tool for stimulating children into investigating and hypothesising about time zones.

The Explorer Globe includes a volume control and the option of using headphones (not supplied) to make classroom life quieter. It is battery-operated, and turns itself off if left on unused. It is supplied with minimal instructions, but is easy to set up and operate.

You will be amazed at how quickly a general knowledge of location is established - that beat-the-clock challenge is a great incentive.

Gillian Blatherwick is the ICT co-ordinator at Rushey Mead primary school, Leicester

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