Fortunately, I’m too old to be in fifth grade—I might not ever get to sixth.

At least, that’s the upshot of a fun couple of hours with The ClueFinders 5th Grade Adventures, a new bit of educational software for both Windows and Macintosh platforms from The Learning Company, a division of Mattel Inc., the toymaker.

The premise is that a multiracial, mixed-gender crew of fifth graders is shipwrecked on a volcanic island due to erupt any second. Two members of the crew have disappeared and the remaining members, including the child player, must solve a series of mysteries in language arts, math, science, and social studies in time to rescue them and get off the island.

The learning experience begins with a test drive using what the company calls A.D.A.P.T. learning technology. The Learning Company may have just won an award for Most Strained Acronym In A Software Product, since the letters stand for Assesses Abilities, Develops Skills, Adjusts Levels, Provides Help, and Tracks Progress.

That said, it’s all just a fancy way of saying the program tests to see how much is between the student’s ears and adjusts itself accordingly. My own test results showed me strong in language arts, but needing a lot of help in math. (So OK, when was the last time, not counting fifth grade, you had to add a string of fractions?) Skills are assessed at one of four difficulty levels.

The ClueFinders 5th Grade Adventures includes amusing and challenging exercises involving addition, subtraction, multiplication, geometry, logic, spelling, synonyms and antonyms, map reading, and electrical circuits—the whole range of fifth grade activity. The four main characters are Joni Savage, Santiago Rivera, Leslie Clark, and Owen Lam.

The artwork and animation are crisp and fluid and the characters are appealing in this two-CD-ROM set, not a surprise from the company with titles that helped define educational software like Reader Rabbit and Carmen Sandiego. The user interface is mouse-driven and intuitive, and the musical background appropriate.

Also appropriate is the $29.95 expected retail price.

The problems posed are challenging enough for an adult, but kid-centered enough to hold interest.

System requirements for the PC world are Windows 95 or better, any Pentium chip, 16 megabytes of RAM, a quad-speed or better CD-ROM, 256-color SVGA monitor, sound card and speakers.

For Macs, PowerPC, System 7.1 or better, 16 megabytes of RAM, quad-speed CD-ROM, speakers and a 256-color monitor 13 inches or longer. The installation for both platforms takes 22 megabytes of hard disk space. The Learning Company’s products are widely available at retail. The company’s web site is www.learningco.com.

Questions and comments are welcome. Send eMail to lblasko@ap.org, or send regular mail to Larry Blasko, AP, 50 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10020.