Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Matter of App Awards!

I'm excited to present to you the very first A Matter of App Awards! I started this blog partially because people would ask me to recommend apps and I just didn't know. But now, here are my answers. While I've not reviewed a terribly large number of apps here, I've also been reviewing for YogiPlay and Common Sense Media. So all together, I've officially reviewed a few hundred apps in less than a year! That may not make in a dent in the grand scheme of the app world, but I think it's not too shabby for one person. With the knowledge that I've probably missed out on many great apps, here's what I've loved so far...

Best become part of the story experience:

Best overload of literacy-focused features

Most gorgeous and inspiring book about books:

Best apps for direct instruction of phonics:

Best taking it to the next level for comprehension

Best app for learning vocabulary in context:

Best math app with a focus on concept:

Best think about math in a different way:

Art and Music
Best virtual piano lesson:

Best adaptation of a song and turning it into so much more:

Best apps that inspire you rethink what an app can be:

Best inspriation be a good teacher by providing the support and feedback needed:

Best inspiration for kids to say, “When I grow up, I want to be a…”

Best inspiration for family fun:

Best inspiration for those know-it-alls:

Best inspiration to take any topic and make it educational:

Best Parent Center within an app:

Just For Fun:
The Cuteness Factor Award:
  • Toca Band (come on, Mr. Whizzle Whiz, Shaky McBones and gang have their own music video…)

Best kids app that adults probably secretly love:

Best upgrade of the “Where’s Waldo” game:

Best combo of things you probably love:
**Note these are all iTunes links, but some of these also have android versions.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Update and Hiatus

The good news: I have a new gig! I'll be joining Apple's Education Content Team for the next several months.

The not-so-good news: This means that I'll be taking a hiatus from reviewing.... but I hope to return with more knowledge that'll help inform my reviews.

A big apology to those who have written me about reviewing an app in the last several, several weeks - I did not mean to ignore you, but I did not want to promise a review that I may not get to. I look forward to all of your future apps.

Don't take me off your reading lists quite yet - stay tuned for the inaugural A Matter of App Awards!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Kindergarten Kids Math

Kindergarten Kids Math was created by Infinut and includes 6 different math activities for kindergarten students. This is my first review on this blog of an app that is in the Google Play market only. While android markets have certainly expanded greatly recently, it still lags behind the iTunes market when it comes to educational apps for young children at least in terms of quantity. Let's see how this android math app stacks up quality-wise. Price: $0.99 (there's a free version as well).

Device Requirements: Requires Android 2.1 and up.

Developmental Appropriateness: The six activities are Counting, Maze (where you follow a specific number to complete a maze), Sequence (fill in the missing number), Tens and Ones (use coins to make a specific amount), Add and Subtract. These activities are appropriate for kindergarteners, but what it's missing or where it could be improved is in the details. My biggest complaint is for Counting. See the picture to the right. Kids are asked to put a target number of balls in the container, going from 1-20 in order. A little boring, but ok, we're teaching quantity, one-to-one correspondence etc. But you can see in the picture that the balls line up in rows of 6. Yes, kids should be able to count by 6's, but it would make more sense, especially for beginning learners if it were by rows of 5's or 10's. These are more common quantities to count by especially as the numbers get bigger. Since it goes up to twenty, having rows of five would make it all even where you can have 4 rows of 5. It's just an easier number to group by (grouping being a good strategy!) Other little details that carry over to the other activities are that it doesn't count when you place each ball in the container nor when you tap on them to count them or once you've submitted the answer. These little details can go a long way to reinforce the material.  Rating: 3/5 (aim for around 5 years)

Balance: There are verbal instructions for each task. Maybe a quick demo would be better. For the Tens and Ones task, I actually did not really know what to do! It says, "Move 10 and 1 coins into the jars to make 5" Does that mean put 5 coins in the jars? When you press the "how to play" setting, it says, "Move 5 balls into the box using your finger." I think this needs some updating. Aside from that, it should really be saying, something with the words "cents" or "amount" to indicate that it wants you to add up some coins to make the target number. The instructions for Sequence sound a little weird to, but it's clear what to do. Rating: 3.5/5

Sustainability: For each task, it shows how much you've gotten through and there are hundreds of items, so it'll take awhile to complete everything. However, overall, I find these activities to be nothing more than drill. There's no goal or premise, the voice is not very engaging - so basically unless you're a kid who just naturally likes to do make activities, this won't be very motivating. Rating: 3/5

Parental Involvement: Nothing much here either. No settings to limit the range of numbers, reports - the only thing you can do is turn off the instructions. Rating: 3/5

Total: 12.5 out of 20 - 3 stars

Disclosure: I received this app for free for review purposes.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Math, age 3-5

Math, age 3-5 was created by EuroTalk and is exactly what it's title indicates - a math app for kids ages 3-5. It consists of 10 categories that increase in difficulty - as do the specific activities within each category. Price: The first one comes free and the rest are available as in-app purchases for $1.99 each, totaling $9.99 for the complete series.

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.0 or later.

Developmental appropriateness: It says that this app was developed by teachers and educators and it shows. This definitely has a classroom feel. The activities here are like many items that you would find in a math assessment for preschoolers. What I like best is the "teacher" who speaks very clearly, repeated very key math phrases and reinforcing what kids have just completed. It might not seem like much, but her repetition and phrasing is really just right. So in terms of the appropriateness of the activities, this delivers and gives plenty of practice. Rating: 5/5 (aim for around 4 years).

Now I start to get a bit more critical. 

Balance: While the activities themselves are very simple and clear, the pacing might be a bit slow for some, especially for older kids doing some of the earlier rounds. Within each category, you are encouraged to go in order, and you must complete all of them in order to unlock the surprise. I would like to be able to know what each activity is so that I could pick and choose for my child, especially given how many there are. I think just in general, more settings would be great to cater to individual needs and also to keep kids engaged. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: This app is as straightforward as it's title. There's no plot/story to keep you going. There's no collect the prize for finishing. Oh, the surprise I mention - it's a quiz. Not really what a kid wants, huh? In general, while I think the activities are ones that kids should master, the app has a feel of taking a test. Don't get me wrong, the teacher is encouraging, and it flashes a star for finishing an activity. But maybe the appeal of an app is to learn while not being a classroom. Oh, you get a certificate if you get all the quiz answers correct - but only it you get 100%. Where's the fun? Rating: 2/5

Parental Involvement: You would think that there would be some sort of review, but there isn't. Even with the quiz, it marks which questions you get wrong, but it does not tell you what the question was. Did you sort a color wrong or a shape? The quiz could be used in a more meaning way - to set the difficulty, to tell parents what kids need to work on, to be more game like and make it fun... just to name a few. Rating: 2.5/5

Total: 13.5 out of 20 = 3 stars

Disclosure - I received this app for free for review purposes.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Little Monster at School

Little Monster at School was created by Wanderful, Inc. and is based on the book by Mercer Mayer originally published by Living Books and may already be familiar to many of you. It follows Little Monster and his day at school, the lessons he learns there and shows you his friends. It includes a fully functional Spanish version (any text in the illustrations change to Spanish too!), with possibly more languages to come, making the price a little more understandable. Price: $4.99

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.0 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness: This is a really cute and relatable story, with some great interactive features. Kids can really take part in the "lessons" at school with Little Monster. When they work with numbers and letters on the chalkboard, kids can tap on the numbers and letters to hear them labeled and practice right along with the class. Aside from the functional interactive features, kids can also follow along with the text highlighting and also tap on individual words to hear them repeated. They've really added some great touches to bring the story alive and give it a different feel from the print version.

Where I do wish there was more is for it to provide prompts or a review at the end for deeper learning. (While it may seem unfair to criticize for this as I've rarely seen this done in e-books, it's time to raise the bar!) The story actually covers a lot here - routines, school lessons, helping friends out, being different, etc. Some of this may not come through with just the story itself.
Rating: 4.5/5 (aim for around 4 years).

Balance: This is really where I was impressed. First, there are two modes - a let me play mode where kids can tap their hearts out and a read to me mode - standard where you just follow along and the some of "interactive parts" automatically go and it becomes a bit more like watching a tv show. This is actually one of the recommendations we (Cooney Center) made after our e-book report. It allows parents and kids to have two different experiences depending on the purpose of the book reading. In addition to the two modes, there are a bunch of settings so parents can further control the type of experience. One of the settings addresses my personal pet peeve of where the tapping on things can interrupt the text reading or overlap with other interactive features. You can actually turn this off so that nothing overlaps. It'll also highlight where all the hotspots are if you want too. In terms of all the features, there actually are a lot. Most are functional and relevant to the plot, but a few aren't - like finding a hidden object on each page. But, that being said, given the modes and settings, at least the distraction level can be controlled in a way. Rating: 4.5/5

Sustainability: This is an award winning story for reason - it really is a good story! I usually try not to comment too much on the quality of the story because I don't consider myself a children's story expert, but I did really enjoy it. And I think the two modes will really stretch the usage of this app. Rating: 5/5

Parental Involvement: There's a big plus and a big minus here. The plus is that some of the "deeper learning" I mentioned earlier is available through a teacher's resource guide that provides extra activities that go along with the story. You can take a free sneak peek but the full guide needs to be purchased. The minus is that you can't turn off the narration! Children's books, to me, is a great and easy way for parents to spend time with their kids. With the narration here, it kinda takes away from that. Sure, parents can still read along, but it's not quite the same. Could just be a simple setting. Rating: 4/5

Total: 18 out of 20 = 5 stars

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Historables: Marie Ant-toinette

Historables: Marie Ant-toinette was created by Base Camp Films, LLC and aims to teach kids using historical figures in a fun, interactive way. I like the premise and play on names (they have other apps in the works with other figures like Teddy Bear Roosevelt). Price: There are three activities here, one comes free, and the other two are in-app purchases for $1.99.

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPad. Requires iOS 4.0 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness: So the premise hear is that Marie Ant-toinette lives in a castle and plays on the whole "let them eat cake" thing. So the activities are the kitchen where you make a cake and decorate it (the free activity), a tunnel maze to get more ingredients, and the bedroom where you decorate and arrange the furniture. Although it's centered around the whole cake quote, there's nothing in the app explaining that to kids. If you tap on her portrait, 4 facts pop-up - and they don't leave you feeling like you know about Marie's life. Further, while they are written in a kid-friendly way, they are not read aloud - and this is the ONLY section where any history really appears! Back to the activities - the cake activity is really the only one with any slightly educational content (one could argue that the puzzles help cognition) as you must help measure out the ingredients. The amounts change each time so sometimes it's 2 cups of flour or 4 cups of flour. While this is nice to keep it changing, adding a wee bit of math - it might cause some problems for those who actually want to bake a cake. Once, I got it where you had to put 4 cups of sugar with 1 cup of flour. That would not be a good cake - and all that sugar! Overall, I like the idea and potential of where this could go, but as is - there is not enough educational content here, leaving me disappointed. Rating: 2/5 (Aim for around 5 years)

See trailer here

Balance: The features here obviously tip towards fun rather than learning. But for the most part and for what it is - it's easy to navigate with clear instructions from the Queen herself. The main menu could use some changes as it looks like you can play with the other historical figures, but they are just ads. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: So without offering much in content on this whole historical figure aspect, this app is actually not very unique. At the risk of sounding harsh, there are better cake baking and decorating apps out there and there are better puzzle apps out there. Rating: 2/5

Parental Involvement: In terms of the activities, there's not much for parents. Again, I still think there's potential here in that these are topics that I think even adults could learn from and find interesting. But as is, it's not there yet. Rating: 3/5

Total: 11 out of 20 - 2 stars.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Shake-N-Tell was created by Your Name in Cows for true storytelling lovers. I'm always on the look out for unique apps, and this is one of them. This app provides the basics of stories and the rest is up to the storyteller. So if you're looking for an app with all the latest interactive features, this is not it. But if you're looking for an app to guide quality interactive time with your family, this may be it. Price: Free with in-app purchases for more storyboards.

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.0 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness: I really like the idea of this app. Hey, it's hard coming up with stories, so why not get some idea boosters. The navigation is pretty simple. Pick a title, then read the story. They highlight certain parts to encourage more description and elaboration on those parts. You can hit the shuffle button if you don't like where that page of the plot is taking you to get another option. If you're running short on time, you can fast forward to the end. 

Here's the thing - I am not a good storyteller. I really admire parents and whoever who are great at it, doing voices and sound effects and all. This may not be enough for me. They provide little tips for storytelling, wish there were more, or maybe an example or two showing the difference between the bare basic story and how someone turned it into a great story. I also think some added features would make it easier too. For example, adding a brief synopsis of each story could not only help families to choose the story, but also to help the storyteller prepare. Or a menu system where you could choose specific things for the story - like the genre, characters, setting, etc. These would also be good because some of the stories can be scary so parents can better decide if it's appropriate. This is actually a big point - parents need better indications here for whether the story is appropriate for their kids. But, in the end, is this better than trying to come up something completely on my own? Yes. Does this encourage more interaction for families? Yes. Rating: 3.5/5 (no age rating as I feel the parent is the main user here).

Balance: As I said, this is overall simple - but more features could make it better. Maybe offer suggestions of elaboration. Another suggestion would be a back/main menu button, if folks decide they want a different story. As is, you're pretty much locked in. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: This is a hard one as the quality and effort required is kinda up to the storyteller. With the in-app purchases, there's a variety of stories to choose from. Rating: 4/5

Parental Involvement: This is a strength of the app as it encourages folks to take their eyes off the screen and onto each other. Good storytellers (parents AND kids) can just fly with it, and not-so-great storytellers can use it as practice to get better. At least there are prompts for where to elaborate or get others involved to make it a collaborative story. Rating: 5/5

Total: 16.5 out of 20 = 4 stars

Monday, September 17, 2012

Cartoon ABC

Cartoon ABC was created by Kids Academy Company and is exactly what it sounds like. An app that aims to teach kids the ABC's using cartoon animation. THere are now tons of ABC apps, so where does this one stack up? Price: $1.99

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.2 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness: With so many alphabet focused apps out there, it's becoming harder and harder to pick out which ones to get. Some of the things I really look for are 1) repetition - the actual letter needs to be repeated over and over, 2) word associations - it's almost given that letters are paired up with words starting with that letter - are there a few different examples? Are the words appropriate? 3) Letter presentation - is it prominent? Does it get lost with the words? and now more and more with apps, 4) how are the interactive elements related? Cartoon ABC addresses my first three criteria really well. There's lots of clear repetition of the letters, it's paired with three different examples where the actual letter is highlighted, and each presentation begins and ends with only the letter. So yes, this is a solid ABC app. However, when compared to some other ones, this one does not capitalize on the affordances of the device - there's not the same interactive quality as seen in other apps - it's more like watching little video clips. Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 3 years)

Balance: The animations are simple and cute. My only critique would be with the main menu. It's nice that you can pick any letter to work with, but they are not all labeled on the main menu -some are, some aren't - so kids can't automatically go to a specific letter, without thinking about it (yes, it's in alphabetical order). Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: There's a nice variety of picture and animation. But again, I do think kids are gonna have an expectation for interaction features, which this does not have. So while this app does clearly and nicely present the content, after seeing all the different animations, kids may want to seek more action elsewhere in terms of an app. Rating: 3.5/5

Parental Involvement: There is a parent report section where it shows which letters kids have looked at. Again, I think these types of reports are great starts. This also points at a need for a better main menu labeling system so parents can easily tap on the letters they want their kids to work with next. Rating: 4/5

Total: 15.5 out of 20 - 4 stars

Disclosure - I received this app for free for review purposes.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Creative Genius On-The-Go!

Creative Genius On-the Go! was created by Jr Imagination. It's a set of cards that have "What if's," "Imagine That!" scenarios and "Wack-tivities" that let kids' and families' imaginations run wild. Price: $0.99

Device Requirements:  Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness: This is a fun game - who hasn't come up with crazy scenarios to pass the time on a road trip or something? But I never really thought of it as "educational" or as "creative thinking." But I guess it is! There's a nice explanation of skills included in the app, and it's kinda convinced me. BUT - of course the extent of learning/thinking depends on the players. You can get really into it and think of all these possibilities, but if you're not into it, this doesn't really inspire you to get into it. It's really just basically a bunch of cards with the scenarios and some possible discussion questions. There's no sound/narration either, so this is really meant for parents to play with their kids, at least the younger kids. Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 8)

Balance: So this is where I ask the question again, is this better as an app? I actually owned board games similar to "what ifs" and "imagine that", but they both had more of a game element to them. This app doesn't capture that game feel. It's just more of a launching pad for conversation. There aren't really any features that capitalize on the affordances of the device. You can take notes or save a specific card as a favorite - but that's really it. What about being about to draw or incorporating videos - make the scenarios come alive. Rating: 2/5

Sustainability: So, really, I don't need this app to play this game. These are scenarios that people have come up with on their own, or heard about from another person or game. Also, once you've read the scenarios here, you can just remember them and not need the app. What is here that makes me come back to this app? Rating: 2/5

Parental Involvement: This is a nice group game. There's a setting to make it show only scenarios for a specific number of people. The discussion questions are also good to help someone lead the conversation. Rating: 5/5

Total: 13 out of 20 = 3 stars

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Classical Kids

Classical Kids was created by The Children's Group. It's a series of stories that mixes music, history, and storytelling. There's actually a students edition that initial comes free but you have to purchase each story and a teachers edition that comes with all the stories and also notes for teachers on how to incorporate the stories into their lessons. Price: The in-app story purchases are $3.99 each and the complete teachers edition is $49.99.

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPad. Requires iOS 4.3 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness: In this day and age, learning about Mozart and Bach is kinda lost in our curricula. Music classes in elementary school where kids learn to play instruments are hard to come by, so learning about great composers and their life stories is practically non-existent. So Classical Kids is a great idea that can help fill a void in our education system. The original stories were written in 1988 and have sold well as recordings. The question here is, does it work better as an app? I'm afraid my answer is no. It's not that the stories aren't appropriate or that it's worse than the recordings - its just not any better. It does not take advantage of the affordances of a tablet and its interactivity. Each story is about 45 minutes and kids listen to it like a track while looking at static pictures that don't really tell a story on it's own. That's it. There's no text to follow, interactive elements relevant to the plot, animation, nothing. Again, that's fine - but when you consider the length, I'm not sure this will hold a child's attention. If you think about it, most kids' shows are around 20 minutes plus commercials, or if they are longer shows, they are broken up into many independent segments. Yes, the stories here are broken into mini tracks, but the story from beginning to end is pretty long. I think in it's original conception - kids listen, teachers ask questions - it works fine. It's just that the app version doesn't go beyond that. There was great potential to add a great visual elements and interactivity - especially since classical music probably isn't the most popular topic among children. The pictures here aren't the best. The kids look way older than their age and other things just don't match like Bach's wife died at the age of 35, but the picture shows an old woman with gray hair. Details matter, especially when there's nothing else to do but look at the pics! I'm glad to see that they've switched up the pricing a bit, cause otherwise, it may have been better to just stick with the original recordings. Rating: 3.5/5 (aim for around 8 years).

Balance: There were some attempts made to incorporate some extra features. But those too fall short. First, there's a quiz, but it's really like a fill in the blank worksheet meant for teachers to print out. Kids cannot actually fill in the answers on the device. There's a metronome, but no instrument to play. There's a recording, but again, not music to make. Yes, obviously, it's meant to be used in class with real instruments. But why not both? What's the point of putting it on an iPad then? Rating: 2/5

Sustainability: I would love to see kids more interested in composers. Does this app make that happen? I'm not sure. The stories themselves are nice - they are told in a very conversational way and make a great audio book (which honestly, is what I basically ended up using it as) - but I'm reviewing this as an app, not as the original audiobook. I think kids now have a certain expectation for an app and the iPad. And this does not fulfill it. Unless kids have been assigned to listen to the story as homework, I don't see kids returning to this one on their own, given their other app options. Rating: 2/5

Parental Involvement: The teacher notes is great. It breaks each story down and gives plenty of discussion questions. However, it only comes with the teacher's edition, which is quite pricey. Improvements to the quiz section would also make this better for parents, especially those who may not have the time to carry out a "lesson." Rating: 4/5

Total: 11.5 out of 20 = 2 stars

Disclosure: I received this app for free for review purposes.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Hot Dots Jr.

Hot Dots Jr. was created by Educational Insights and aims to teach kids colors, letters, shapes, numbers, and patterns. It includes Ace the Talking, Teaching Dog. I like the idea of have a virtual "teacher" so let's see if Ace delivers. Price: $0.99

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.Requires iOS 3.0 or later

Developmental Requirements: In general, the activities assess appropriate skills for preschoolers and kindergartners. The app basically just takes kids through rounds of multiple-choice questions like, "Match the uppercase and lowercase letters" or "Which completes the sequence?" (By the way, using the words completes the sequence is too hard! Many little kids do not know the word sequence or even pattern. Many assessments use the phrase, "What comes next?" instead.) The difficulty in each round ranges, especially with letters, but there's no setting to select specific tasks. Some will be too easy and some will be too hard, but it goes fast enough where it's maybe ok. But it would be nice if parents and kids could select specific tasks to work on, or at least instead of a total score, it actually broke down scores by task. The activities remind me of actual assessments, but with less information.

Where I've set myself up for disappointment is with this whole Ace the Talking, Teaching Dog. To me, that means that Ace provides good instruction and feedback to help kids understand their answers - correct or incorrect. However, Ace does not offer anymore feedback than most apps, giving approval when correct, and maybe a bark when wrong. A "bow wow" tells me nothing. Rating: 3/5 (aim for around 4 years).

Balance: The tasks are very straightforward. The voiceover is clear and repeats the question. Sometimes, especially in the case of "which completes the sequence," kids who are unfamiliar with the tasks may need the prompt repeated, but also rephrased. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: There doesn't seem to be a goal here, you get a score at the end of each round, but nothing else to really keep kids going, unless they just like answering questions. Rating: 3/5

Parental Involvement: Given the structure of the tasks, this is where I think it needs the most improvement. While its good to just have kids practice, there also needs to be instruction involved for them to improve and there is none within the tasks themselves. So what it needs is to provide parents with the knowledge of what and how to help their kids. Rating: 3/5

Total: 13 out of 20 - 3 stars

Disclosure - I received this app for free for review purposes

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Yum Num's Galaxy

Yum Num's Galaxy was created by GoodHustle Studios, Inc. and is all about Captain Yum Num trying to save the galaxy with good food because the grim future holds only a galaxy where fast food is available. And of course, Captain Yum Num is a cat! Price: $0.99

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPad.Requires iOS 4.2 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness: First off, I'd like to say that as an adult, I found this app hilarious - in a fun way. It's got this 70's music, arcade game vibe. Not sure if kids would get that, but parents can enjoy a laugh. But let's not get too silly, cause we're on a serious mission here! It's Captain Yum Num's against the fast food industry! He has to first figure out what food he needs to make, then fly around finding the correct ingredients. Kids can learn what goes into "Ants on a Log" or Mac n'cheese. The actual recipes are also provided in a separate section. The whole premise, while funny - there's lots of little touches you'll have to see for yourself - can get a little slow and repetitive as Captain Yum Nums just cycles through the whole process with each dish. There's more watching Captain Yum Num's go from scene to scene than doing. My biggest concern is that the premise sets this up to be an app that teaches about nutrition and eating healthy. While many of the recipes are seemingly "lite" versions - like the pizza is made with tortillas (but still with 20 slices of pepperoni!) or the mac n' cheese uses skim milk, there's only a couple of vegetable and or fruit focused dishes. The dishes are more typical kid favorites rather than dishes with a nutritional focus. I wish this also provided some direct, kid-friendly information about eating healthy. Rating: 3.5/5 (aim for around 5)

Balance: The whole look is very stylized in an old arcade way. There are lots of scene changes though, which could just be lost on a younger kid. Television research has shown that the formatting, including scene changes, fade effects, etc. really does effect learning and attention. Rating: 3.5/5

Sustainability: While I know kids can laugh at the same thing over and over again, I think overall, this is fun at first, but gets repetitive - there's no different levels or challenges. There's a small goal of feeding the aliens, but it's easily accomplished and the goal stays the same.  Rating: 3/5

Parental Involvement: There are recipes available, which I guess in some kinda indirect way means parents should get involved and make those foods! Parents should take this opportunity to talk about nutrition and kids likes and dislikes. Rating: 3.5/5

Total: 13.5 out of 20 = 3 stars

Disclosure: I received this app for free for review purposes.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Learning Games for Preschool to Kindergarten

Learning Games for Preschool to Kindergarten was created by Agnitus and includes a variety of basic learning games tapping into color, numbers, letters, shapes, memory, and sorting. Seems to cover a lot and for free! Price: Free

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPad.Requires iOS 5.0 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness:
I think the most important thing for an app that aims to cover an age range, especially 2-5 is progression. So much happens in these years that it really take a lot of consideration to design an app that adequately addresses the needs of kids at each age. While the games here do progress in difficulty, it does so very gradually. Overall, it's more fit for kids at the younger spectrum. It starts off with a lot of matching - even for colors and letters where it's not really recognition, but just matching, which does not do much for me. While it gradually takes away some of the cues to make it more of a recognition task, I still think these games are too easy for the older spectrum. Most kindergartens know their colors, letters, and numbers (which does not go up very high). Also, there is no setting, so a 5 year-old would have to go through over 200 rounds to get to their skill level. Trust me, I went through that many activities! I will say that the 
activities are cute and fast-paced though. But overall, I think this app is in desperate need of a difficulty setting, a progression that's more adaptive to each child's performance and more challenging levels. Rating: 3/5 (aim for 3 years).

Balance: The features are cute yet not distracting and offer basic feedback for correct and incorrect. It could go further in probably more instructional feedback. One annoying thing I will point out that I hope is a glitch is on the search game, if you are stuck, it continuously says, "One more..." over and over. Shush and let me concentrate! Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: While the game offers a bonus sticker world and a shower game (not sure how engaging this one is), the very slow progression could still get very boring. Rating: 3.5/5

Parental Involvement: There's a nice "report card" for parents that shows the skills covered, total time, age progression and some overall progress. It also shows what curriculum themes have been covered, but the app itself does not address all the themes shown. Parents can share their child's progress on facebook. This is a nice start to getting parents involved. Rating: 4/5

Total: 14.5 out of 20: 3 stars.

Disclosure: I received this app for free for review purposes.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Butterfly HD

A couple months ago, I reviewed Plants HD  by Sprout Labs which aimed to teach kids all about the plant life cycle. While I saw lots of potential, with it, it ended up with 3 stars, with room for improvement. When I notified the developers of the review, they told me they had a new app, Butterfly HD that had already incorporated some of my suggestions. Given the big push to translate textbooks into the digital world, I definitely wanted to see what the improvements meant for the app.  Price: $1.99

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPad.Requires iOS 5.0 or later.

The main improvements that are included in Butterfly HD are:

a. Added videos on each topic to enhance the learning 
b. Added additional large size HD photos to reinforce the text
c. Made all the Questions related to the topic covered in the text

Since the features of both Plant HD and Butterfly HD are pretty similar, I'm going to include my comments from Plant HD and compare the differences. The new comments will be in blue.

Developmental Appropriateness: 

PLANT: Overall, I think Plants HD provides a lot of great information (total flashback to science class for me!). For each stage of the cycle, it provides a lot of text (which can be read aloud), some fun facts, some photos, and a quiz. The "play" part is arranging all the stages in the correct order. Actually, before I move on, here's what the main page looks like: 

My first instinct, and I think any kid's, would be to hit play. But play just means that all the pictures drop down to the bottom and you're to assume that you have to put them back in order. While I think that this is a good activity, it should come after kids have learned all about the stages and should be presented separately, or at least not as the first thing and without any instruction. So points off here for usability.

BUTTERFLY: As you can see, the main page is still the same, so same issue here.

PLANT: So back to the content...

So, yes, lots of info - but I don't think it really capitalizes on what it could offer. You can see that there's a lot of text (it keeps scrolling down too!). It'd be sooo much better if it could show a video or a series of pictures that go with the text. There are a lot of new vocabulary here for them, so that really needs to be highlighted somehow. The photos that are provided are usually just examples of whatever stage generally, and don't go along with the text. Given the amount of text, it's important to have some visual that keeps kids engaged in it. Instead, they could just be flipping through the photos or the fun facts at the bottom and not listen to or read the actual text. Up top, you can choose to take the quiz - but not all the information you need to answer the questions are provided in the text. You earn coins, but no scores are kept, and nothing to review for teachers/parents. Rating: 3/5 (aim for around 8 years)

BUTTERFLY: Butterfly now includes more pictures and also videos. You see in the picture here that you would tap on the icons on top to see the media. More here is nice, but more does not necessarily mean better. I think that my comment that it needs to be related to the text still stands. The pictures and videos seem to be just a collection from youtube or whereever - while related to the topic, it doesn't connect the information from the text to the information from the video and pictures. It's that connection that makes the difference. That being said, the pluses are that the videos do add some engagement factor and also the quiz now relates to the text and gives you a total score at the end. Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 8)
PLANT:  As mentioned, I think kids could easily not pay attention to the text. I'm not saying that there's too much going on - I like the photos and I like the fun facts. But maybe something could be done about how they access these other sections and what can be added to keep focus on the text and to reinforce their understanding of it. Rating: 3.5/5

BUTTERFLY: Again - I think this is still true. The text still feels very separate from the pictures and videos. Rating: 3.5/5


PLANT: I guess I need to view this a little differently as I can see this being used in the classroom as a supplement to the lesson. Still, I think the addition of videos and making the text more engaging would make this app go from oh, something a teacher is making me look at that is more interesting than a text book to something kids really want to use and even ask for. Rating: 4/5

BUTTERFLY: Yes, there's the addition of videos, so that should add a bit of oomph. But again, I'm sounding like a broken record, that it still feels disconnected, so while kids may want to go to the videos, the text is really where the info is at. Rating: 4.5/5

Parental Involvement: 

PLANT: Again, the quiz feature is nice, but there's no review of it, not even a saved score. And, maybe if there were definitions section or vocal highlighted in the text, teachers could more easily relate it back to their lessons. Basically, although I can see this in the classroom (or at home with parents guiding the way), I don't feel like it was designed with that in mind. Rating: 3/5

BUTTERFLY: And addition I didn't mention is that there's an icon that leads to a breakdown of how the app content relates to curriculum standards. This is nice, but a bit hard to read for someone not used to looking at standards. A more friendly version - especially aimed at parents rather than educators would be nice. Rating: 3.5/5

Total: 15.5 out of 20 - 3 stars. The improvements bumped it up from an ok 3 stars to a high 3 stars.