Thursday, January 26, 2012

Stack the States

Stack the States was created by Dan Russell-Pinson. It's a game that tries to teach the state capitals, shapes, locations, abbreviations, and "fun facts". I personally have pretty poor geographical knowledge as I transferred grade schools and somehow missed when they taught geography at both schools (which says something about our geography standards/curriculum). Let's see how I did... Price: $0.99, Lite version: Free

Device requirements: iPhone, iPad; Requires iOS 3.0 or later

Developmental Appropriateness: I did better than I thought I would! So I think this would be fun for a 2nd or 3rd grader who is already starting to learn some of these facts at school or at home. The game is kinda like a trivia game - for every question you get right, you get a state to stack. The goal it to stack the states past the goal line. If you get it wrong, the correct state will identity itself (i.e. "I am Alaska, my abbreviation is AK." At the end of each round, it tells you your percent/total correct. It would be useful to present more of a review so that kids and parents can go over and remember the ones they got wrong (or right too) - just for more reinforcement.

Overall though, this game does a good job of reinforcing the facts. First, the stacking itself actually requires some skill, as it really does take into account the size and shape of the states to determine if the states will balance on top of each other. So you're really hoping for large states like Alaska or those nice rectangular ones in the midwest. Getting questions right about those tiny states like Rhode Island gets you nowhere. So even when just stacking the states, it's making you notice the shape. When you reach the goal line, you're awarded a state and the goal of course is to collect all of them. As you collect them, you also unlock a total of three games. These games assess the fluency of your knowledge, reinforcing the facts in a different way. They are timed games that require you to recognize the state, it's location, or know the capitals. These are nice "rewards" as they are both fun and still highly relevant to geography. The latter two games can get a bit difficult - it would be nice to see some prompting or hints - I ended up just guessing or trial and error sometimes, which is not what you want kids to be doing if they are to learn these facts. The combination of the main game with the little rewards games is a good way to get kids to really learn these facts. The main game is teaching them the facts and the little games are getting the facts to stick.

For kids who have not really started learning any of these facts, this game may not be for them or may take awhile for them to warm up to it. There is a mode where you can go through little fact cards about each state. I guess the idea is to "study" them so that you can play the game. This really does seem like homework, and not like a game. And at least on my iPhone, the font of these little fact cards (and also a bit throughout the game) can be small.

Also, the controls for stacking the states may be a little tricky at first as you can rotate and move each state.

Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 7 or 8 years of age).

Balance: There are a few nice "extra" features that don't seem to be distracting. First, there's a changing background picture of a real landmark. It would be nice if they labeled what the landmark was. For younger kids, the pictures may distract a tiny bit or maybe make it harder to read the questions, but since this is aimed for slightly older kids, it shouldn't really be a problem. Then the states have faces with moving eyes and they show basic emotion for when they are falling over or successfully being stacked. A nice touch of humor and kids tend to like faces. I was even entertained by the sound effects. Rating: 4.5/5

Sustainability: I spent a looooong time playing this in order to unlock all the games. But perhaps that was due to my poor geography and stacking skills. Nonetheless, based on how much time I spent on this, I'd say that yes, this is an app that could lead to many sessions of play. There are a few incentives - the collecting of states, unlocking the little games, and the little games keep track of your best time. I'd also like to see it keep track of the progress on the main game, to see if there's improvement or what's the highest stack. A minor point is that I did get frustrated when I got the answer right, but my adding the state made my stack fall over and I had to start building all over again. It made me want to stop playing, but that's kinda part of the game, I guess - maybe you or your child is more patient than I am. Rating: 4.5/5

Parental Involvement: I can picture a family traveling in a car, especially on a road trip, and playing this together. The questions can be read aloud for all to play. And it would be neat when questions came up about the states they were driving through. Although this particular scenario may not happen all the time, "traveling" and "in a car" are top reasons/places for when parents say that their kids play with apps. The little games are probably just one-player type games. Rating 4/5

Total: 17 out of 20 = 4 stars

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