Friday, December 30, 2011

Team Umizoomi Math: Zoom into Numbers

Team Umizoomi Math: Zoom into Numbers is an app from Nickelodeon who also creates the show Team Umizoomi. I must admit that I do not have cable so have not seen the show, but I know that this show has become very popular (Brad Pitt dressed up as one of the characters for Halloween a couple years ago!)**. So let's see what all the hype is about. Price: $2.99
Device Requirements: iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad; Requires iOS 4.0 or later

Developmental Appropriateness: This app is designed to teach fundamental math concepts for preschoolers (finally, an app with a target age!). It contains 5 games that target counting, number identification, number comparison, simple addition/subtraction, and a number line game. These games are right on - these are the skills that preschoolers should be learning. The instructions for each game are very clear (although they are only verbal, so it requires sound), and they require very simple actions such as tapping objects on the screen and tilting the device. One feature that's really great is that if you get an answer wrong, the characters will provide a series of prompts or hints until you get it right. It doesn't simply just move onto the next item like many other games. In the addition/subtraction game, if a child continues to answer incorrectly, he or she can then drag the balloons that they need to add up one by one to count them or tap on them to "pop" the right number to subtract them. Using objects to help figure out the problem is a good strategy for preschoolers to use when first learning to add and subtract. My one complaint is that the number comparison game is not quite teaching number comparison, but more number identification. In this game, the child is presented with two numbers (say, 9 and 5) and is asked to drive a car under one of the numbers (say, 5). Number comparison would be if the child was asked to drive the car under the larger or smaller number. Otherwise, I think this app is absolutely on target for preschoolers. Rating: 4.5/5 (aim for around 4 years of age)

Balance: I think this app does it right. The game starts you out in the "Umi City" where you choose what game to play. While in this city, you can tap on numerous hotspots that reveal hidden objects and or animates the object. You swipe the screen to move around the city finding the hotspots. But once you start a game, there are no more frivolous hotspots. The interactive features within the games are features that are necessary to solve the math problem. This way, kids still get to press on all the cool hotspots, yet not be distracted by them when it comes time to learn. Rating: 5/5

Sustainability: These games are cute and fun. You earn badges are the completion of each game. Earning enough badges will win you the key to the city. These features should lead to some repeat playing - at least until kids master the games. The key strength for this game is that it stems off a popular television show. Kids know and like the characters and that should keep them coming back. Rating: 4.5/5

Parental Involvement: The games are essentially one player games and are simple enough that a preschooler can navigate them on their own. Parents can watch along and provide some help, especially on the addition/subtraction game. But since the game provides prompting on its own, parental guidance is probably only needed for true beginners and those who are really struggling with the concepts. A unique opportunity here is that parents who have children who watch the show can help link concepts between the tv show and the game. Kids will probably mention the show when playing the game or vice versa. Parents can use this opportunity to reinforce what they learned on the show and game. Rating: 4/5

Total: 18 out of 20= 5 stars

** Correction: Brad Pitt dressed up as a Yo Gabba Gabba character, not Team Umizoomi

Thursday, December 22, 2011


DigitZ is described as a Tetris like math game. Who doesn't love Tetris (I think I just revealed my nerdy side...)? This game has been well-received by a more general audience as compared to strictly an educational audience, receiving, 4 out of 4 stars from USA Today. 
Price: Free for the lite version; $0.99 for the full.
Device Requirements: iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad; Requires iOS 3.0 or later

Developmental Appropriateness: Ok, first I have to say that this is not really Tetris - it doesn't require the spatial cognition skills (which has been shown to be linked to math skills) that Tetris does when trying to fit the pieces together. Instead, you have these falling numbers and you have to tap on numbers to total a specific number, say 13. So you would tap on the 6, 4, and 3. The numbers don't have to connect. So I'd say it's more like Clickomania than Tetris (more nerd alert). While this game may be disappointing to a true Tetris fan, it is a good game to help improve math fluency skills for simple addition problems. This game could be used to encourage those who like this type of game, but who may not like math so much to get some extra practice in. But keep in mind that this type of rote memorization of number facts is only part of skill set needed to attain good math skills. I'd say this game is fit for the average 2nd grader and up. You can adjust the speed and difficulty. Even at the easiest level, this would probably be too hard for Kindergarten and younger as kindergarteners are just learning to add. This could be useful for 1st graders to start memorizing their number facts. Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 7 years of age)

Balance: You can change the style and coloring of the blocks, but otherwise there are not really any extra features. The goal of not reaching the top really keeps you on task! Rating: 5/5

Sustainability: There is a high score list for each level, so even competitive older children and adults can keep coming back to best their own or one another's score. For people who enjoy games like Clickomania, the math would just be an added layer of complexity.  For people who don't like these types of games this is not the game for you. Rating: 4/5

Parental Involvement: For younger children who are just learning their number facts, having a parent there to give hints would be helpful. For older children who already know their number facts, having a parent there may just be distracting. This game is really a one-player game. Instead, parents could play as an opponent, encouraging their child to best their score. Rating: 3/5

Total: 16 out of 20 = 4 stars

the Town Musicians of Bremen

The Town Musicians of Bremen was created by Centum Interactive Co., Ltd. and was named one of Best Book Apps for Kids by Common Sense Media, a great resource for parents for information and tools. Price: $0.99
Device Requirements: iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad; Requires iOS 3.2 or later

Developmental Appropriateness: This story was originally an old folktale by the Brothers Grimm. While the plot touches upon a few darker themes such as being abandoned, and robbery, the story is mainly about a few animals who band together and embark on a journey to Bremen. Overall, the storyline is fitting for young children. The text is easy to see and highlights as it's being read. There is also a small icon (could be bigger) after the text that leads to the entire text of the page to be repeated. The e-book includes fairly easy puzzles and tasks within the story that require the child to tap on hidden hotspots, drag and drop objects or line up pieces of the puzzle that require a light touch. Some of these motor skills will require a bit of practice for younger children. Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 5 years of age)

Balance: After my first reading, I realized I didn't actually know what happened in the story - I was too busy finding all the hotspots and doing the puzzles! Almost all of the pages include a lot of hotspots, many that are not relevant to the story. For example, flowers are hidden in the grass and birds are hidden in the trees. If you keep tapping the bird, more will appear. Or, in a scene on a farm, many farm animals are illustrated, but not mentioned in the plot. You can tap on each of the animals and they will move and make a noise. All these hotspots can be activated during the reading of the text and you can turn the page at anytime, even in mid-sentence. The puzzles are inserted within the story every few pages with no text or plot occurring on these pages. While they may be fun, they are interrupting the plot, and may be more suitable for use after a few readings. Rating: 2/5

Sustainability: While young children like hearing their favorite stories read over and over again, I'm not sure if this story shines through all the bells and whistles. Maybe the novelty of the puzzles and hotspots will wear off, but by that time, will the child still be interested in the story? Or will they just be bored because they've come to know this book as the one with the hotspots and puzzles that they are too familiar with? An interesting mode of this app is that you can create your own story using the same illustrations and characters. You can write your own text, but it will not be read aloud. Although this may lead to more usage of the app, it is not the most user-friendly feature and would definitely require parental guidance. There are better book creator apps out there. Rating: 3/5

Parental Involvement: There is no mode where the voiceover can be turned off (although I guess you can turn the sound, including the music off). So parents' main role would be to watch and listen along with their child and then elaborate on the text and pictures after the voiceover completes each page, and to keep their child focused on the story. Parents should also remind their child of what's happened in the story as they will likely have lost track after spending time on the puzzles. The more extra features, the more parents should be involved. However, this is not the type of parental involvement an app should aim for! Rating: 4/5

Total: 13 out of 20 = 3 stars

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bartleby's Book of Buttons Vol. 2: The Button at the Bottom of the Sea

Bartleby's Book of Buttons was created by Monster Costume Inc, and is the second in a series of Bartleby e-books. It has been named one of Apple's 2011 Best App: #1 Book App iPhone, #3 Book App iPad and has received the Children's Technology Award and Kirkus Star. So of course I had to check it out. Price: $2.99
Device Requirements: iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad; Requires iOS 4.2 or later

Developmental Appropriateness: I am quickly learning that most apps do not give a target age. Apple labels this app as 4+, meaning that there is no objectionable material, and it is suitable for children 4 and older.

It terms of content, this app is really a game more than a book. If you were expecting a book to encourage reading by a beginning reader, this may not be it. The text is fairly small and there is no highlighter, making it difficult to follow the text. In terms of reading instruction, children are usually encouraged to follow the text they are reading with their fingers. The size and font of the text here makes that hard. There are even times when the text is being "typed" and the voiceover does not read at the same speed as the typing which makes it hard for a new reader to match the words they hear to the words to the words they see. There is an option to turn the voiceover off, in which case a parent or older person will have to read aloud.

As for the game elements, each page has a puzzle or task that needs to be completed in unique ways before moving onto the next page. In this sense, what kid wouldn't like figuring out what to do and what motions are needed to solve the task? However, some of the tasks require good motor skills - some tasks require one hand to hold down a button while the other hand spins a gear or to tilt the iPhone or iPad to complete a puzzle (this was kinda hard!). A younger child, 4- or 5-year-old, may not know what to do or may get frustrated because they do not have the gentle touch or coordination required to complete the task. An older child, 7 or older, may possess the skills needed, but may also find the tasks boring once they've figured it out. Rating: 3.5/5 (aim for around 6 years of age).

Balance: Given the design of this e-book, the user could easily get caught up in figuring out what to do instead of paying attention to the plot. A plus is that the plot is like a mystery, and it engages the user to try and solve it. Furthermore, the tasks are related to the plot and one cannot move onto the next page until the task is completed. However, one can complete the task without reading or hearing the text in its entirety, or at all. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: The most frequent comments about Vol.2 is that it is too short and that it is frustrating that it ends with a "To be continued." Seems like the creators use a strategy similar to Harry Potter or Twilight to stretch out the ending to make more money. While this strategy may help sustain interest in the series, it may not keep children coming back to Vol.2 as they are now focused on finding out what happens in Vol.3. Vol.2 does have an incentive feature where you can collect stickers as you move through the tasks. You can then print out the sticker collection. Rating: 4/5

Parental Involvement: Books of any kind are a great way for parents to be involved. For parents with younger kids, this would be a good opportunity for parents to focus their child's attention on the text and then help their child to figure out the tasks. Parents may find themselves surprised by how entertained they are by this app given the novel interactive ways to solve the tasks. For parents with older kids, the tasks are a great way for parents to relate the task back to the text and to elaborate on the plot points. Rating: 4/5

Total: 15.5 out of 20 = 4 stars

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Happy new year and welcome to my new educational app review blog!

In the coming year(s), I am excited to see how we as parents, educators, designers, and researchers will continue to incorporate the use of mobile technology to help educate our young children. With this blog, I hope to contribute to our knowledge on this topic by reviewing apps for children ages 3 to 8 that have been labelled as "educational" and evaluating them strictly for their educational value.

Just a quick guide to this blog -  Up top are a couple of tabs: 1) "About this blog" gives you a little more info about what my goals are; and 2) "The Ratings" explain how I've come up with my scoring system for rating the apps.

Why am I qualified? I received my doctorate in developmental psychology and have been working as an educational media researcher for several years. To learn more about my research, please visit my website.

I hope that you will find these reviews as helpful to you as I have found doing them.



Have an app you'd like reviewed? Put it in the comments!