Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Scribble Press

Scribble Press was created by Scribble Press and is an app that allows your child to create a book or drawing and then share it with you or even everyone else. This app reminds me a bit of Doodlecast for Kids but for older kids. I loved Doodlecast - it's simple and encourages quality interactions with others. How does Scribble Press compare? Price: Free

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

Developmental Appropriateness: This is a great app that engages kids in books, writing, and art - all in one. They can choose to create their own book from scratch or use one of the many templates that is more like mad libs where you fill in words in a pretty much scripted story. You can then draw pictures using hundreds of colors and types of tool options, take/upload a photo, and choose from an array of stickers. You can then save and print your creation and show it to your friends and family and even order a professionally bound copy or you can upload it to the gallery where other Scribble Press users can see it.

Overall, this is a fun and engaging app that I can see being used not just at home but in the classroom as well. Since I can see it being used in a more instructional kinda way, and since we are dealing with older kids, I do have a few suggestions to make it more "educational." With the mad libs type books, it could offer a spell check kinda function to help kids with their spelling. Right now, you can enter gibberish and it accepts it (not that it shouldn't be an option if kids want to be silly). Or it could even offer word options that range from appropriate to silly words, which could help target a younger audience. And maybe with the blank book, it could offer prompts about basic story writing like, think about characters, what's the beginning middle and end, etc. Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 7 years)

Balance: The overall design is fairly clean, and with all the color options, looks very pretty. There are enough drawing tools to satisfy an adult and perhaps even artists. I wonder though, if all the options may be overwhelming for kids. I would suggest for at least in the drawing only feature where younger kids could partake too, there could be a setting for a basic set of tools, and then advanced set of tools or settings by age group or something like that. While all the options are nice, especially for more serious and budding artists, so many options may be distracting for more casual young users. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: Aside from the endless possibility of drawings and self-created books there are 50 book templates. The gallery that features books created by others can also be kinda like a library. So I think this is an app that's definitely got some life to it. Rating: 5/5

Parental Involvement: The sharing aspect of this app is great. What parent hasn't pinned up a drawing or creation by their kid on the refrigerator? With this app, you can do the same and more since it's digital too. It'd be cool if it also had a recording feature so the kids could read the story and you can send to a grandparent or someone and have that more personal feel to it. Also, my suggestion with the prompting with the blank book could help to engage the parents in the writing process. Since we're dealing with slightly older kids, it does take more effort to think of ways to get parents involved. Rating: 4/5

Total: 17 out of 20: 4 stars

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Alien Buddies

Alien Buddies was created by Artgig Studio and consists of matching, connect the dots, and puzzle games for preschool and kindergarteners. Aliens help your child to learn to match letters, numbers, colors, and shapes. Price: $1.99

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.Requires iOS 3.2 or later

Developmental Appropriateness: Ok, let's start with the matching games. Here, you have to put the alien who is a specific letter, number, color, or shape to the matching alien ship. The aliens are funny, and they give appropriate feedback. Is it a successful matching game? Yes. Although it does not actually say that this is a game about learning numbers, letters, shapes, or colors, one would assume that that is the intent. Is this an effective game for learning this material? Probably not. There are two stages - one where you see the target, let's stick with number, on the ship and the numbers on the aliens. You can then tap on the ship and aliens, and they will say the corresponding number. So you both see and hear the number on both what you have to choose and where you have to put it. In the second stage, they take the visual cue off the ship, so now you can hear the target number, and then see AND hear the numbers on the aliens. A little harder, but still, you don't have to actually know your numbers to play this game - you can still match them by hearing it. Sure, I think maybe this game might help kids who are already learning this material and this is just making it all more familiar, but I don't think this game can stand alone. Plus, I would hope that a kindergartener, and even older preschooler would be able to match in this way, making this app too easy for them. Why not go the extra step? The next level could simply be that you hear the number on the ship, and see the numbers on the aliens - only. That would be ""identification," a very real and frequently used task in preschools. 

With the connect the dots game, the numbers are always in order. Given that you can choose the difficulty with many aspects of this app, why not have a level where the numbers are mixed, to truly challenge a child to learn the sequence of numbers? As is, you're really just going in a circle.

The puzzles are regular jigsaw puzzles. The aliens characters are cute, making these puzzles appealing. Finally, the stickers activity, is not really a task or anything - it's where you get all your sticker rewards from the other activities and make pictures with them. Yes, you can get a little creative, but "creative free play", "fine motor skills" and "builds learning confidence" is overselling it a bit, isn't it? Rating: 2/5 (aim for around 3 years)

Balance: I think the aliens provide a good balance of silliness and appropriate feedback without being distracting. The connect the dots game has small numbers, thus may require "fine motor skills" so the younger kids may need a little help. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: Again, I like the aliens and I think kids will too. However, at least the matching and connect the dot activities are too easy for the target age group so I don't think they will keep coming back for long once they've gotten a enough stickers. Rating: 3/5

Parental Involvement: There's not much for parents to do here. What more prompting could they possibly provide that the game hasn't already? Rating: 2.5/5

Total: 11.5 out of 20: 2 stars

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

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Signing Numbers and Colors with ASL Videos

Signing Numbers and Colors with ASL videos was created by Spirit-led Designs and is available through the library app, Interactive Touch Books. It aims to teach the numbers 1-20, and colors in general and also in American sign language. Signing can be a great tool for parents to communicate with their young children who are just learning to talk, especially if their child might be a "late bloomer" verbally. Price: $1.99

The Interactive Touch Books app that is needed is free and device requirements are: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.0 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness: I think the intentions of the app are great, but I don't think it quite accomplishes its goals. From the title at least, it seems like the star of the app should be the ASL videos. The videos are very short and goes through each sign once. I know, you can simply hit play again, but in general, a lot of what goes into teaching young kids is repetition, especially with something new. So I'd expect to see something like - the sign demonstrated in real time, then maybe in slow motion with audio step by step direction on the movements that go into making the signs, and then repeated again in regular speed. Some of the movements are more subtle than others and some signs more complicated than others. It would be difficult for a young child to pick up how to make the signs by just watching a quick demonstration. As for learning the numbers, each page of the book presents a number with a corresponding number of animals or insects or objects, etc. You can tap on each of them and some animation will happen. I'm really surprised that the objects don't count out numbers as you tap them! This would go a long way to make sure that the child sees the correspondence of the number of objects on the page to the number presented on the page and that he or she is not just tapping away on everything they see. 

Lastly, a child who needs to learn the numbers 1-20 and basic colors is super young - probably around 3. A child who would be able to learn the signs in the videos correctly without further direct instruction would be much older. Rating: 2.5/5 (based on topic, aim for around 4 years)

Balance: As mentioned, rather than or in addition to the hotspots on each page when counting the objects, I'd add a verbal and visual counting cue. Also, the later pages start to double up the numbers (# 13 and #14 are on the same page), so it starts looking a little cluttered and the number of objects increase. Rating: 3/5

Sustainability:  I usually don't comment on the production quality, but I did notice a gap between the nice pictures and hotspots and the lower quality in voice over and ASL videos. I think this will make kids concentrate more on the hotspots (which they love already) rather than wanting to see the video. There's nothing really that ties the rest of the book in with the videos, so what would lead kids to play the videos that don't look as cool as the rest of the page? So although kids might want to continue tapping on the hotspots, I don't know if they will watch the videos enough to learn the signs - which I feel is the goal of the app. Rating: 2/5

Parental Involvement: The ASL videos could be a conversation starter and would definitely need some attention and reinforcement from parents. Rating: 3.5/5

Total: 11 out of 20 = 2 stars

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

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Quibble Kids

Quibble Kids was created by Chess Pie Media and is a picture-matching game that includes puzzles ranging from basic skills like matching up all the apples to harder skills like multiplication number facts and the inverse rule. Can a single app cover such a wide age range and topics?
Price: $1.99

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.Requires iOS 3.1 or later
Developmental Appropriateness: This review was hard to write because the suggested age range is 2-12. The nice thing about this app is that you can set what puzzles to play, so a 12 year-old doesn't have to match up simple pictures and a 2 year-old is not staring blankly at multiplication problems. So let's start with the younger kids. The basic idea is that with each puzzle, you have 4 cubes with pictures on each side. You have to match up the related sides on each cube by either using your finger to turn each cube or setting it so it turns automatically and you tap on it when you see the side/picture you want. I think 2 or maybe even 3 years is too young for this app. These are purposeful movements (especially turning the cube with your finger) and decisions. Some of the picture matching would be hard for them too, like fishing lures - not sure how many 2- year- olds know what a fishing lure is. Also, each round has four puzzles (one for each side of the cube), but each game is 10 minutes long before your score gets recorded. Ten minutes of straight play without a goal seems long for a younger child. Yes, you can pause it, and come back, but it would be nice to have that "I finished" feeling. Maybe there should be an option to set the duration of the game, especially for the younger children. Also, there's no submit button - so you once you have three of the cubes lined up, you can just rotate the 4th one until it hits the right side, even if by chance - and it will "solve" the puzzle. The hints aren't so helpful either - at least not as much for the easier puzzles. It's not helpful at all in the beginning - you need to have at least 2 matched up and then the hint with show you which cubes you have matched. So if you have nothing matched and you hit hint, you've wasted a hint and it's -5 points for each hint! I think a child who is having problems matching up apples needs more verbal prompts like, "What's on the picture? Find the others!" or "You've find 2 apples, now find 2 more!" Simply lighting up the cubes is too subtle a hint.

Where this app gets interesting is with the older kids. An important note here is that to access the other types of puzzles or just more puzzles, you have to buy more puzzle packages. The original app comes with the picture-match puzzles and a preview of other puzzles for math, math jr (more advanced), name that animal, and word match. (Disclaimer - I did not buy the other puzzle packs.) Puzzles like "name that animal" where you match up facts about an animal to figure out what animal it is (i.e. "I live in a den", or "I can fly") can be challenging and fun at the same time. Ten minutes on these puzzles would go by faster - but I'd still recommend an option to set the time. The hints on this level would be more helpful.
There seems to be a gap in the level of puzzles. There are the easy picture match ones, and some easy math ones, but then you have to be a reader for the animal and word match. Some 5- 6-year-olds may be bored with the easy ones, but not yet ready to play the harder ones. Overall, I like this app for older kids (7+), but factoring in the full target age range... Rating: 3/5 (I would aim for starting at around 4 years with the picture puzzles).

Balance: The overall look and feel of this app seems a little mixed - not quite designed for a young child, not quite designed for an adult. I would say the look of it is more for an adult (and there is an adult version of this game - not sure what it looks like), but then the music and little kid encouragement feedback is for young kids. But in terms of the features themselves, it's pretty simple. As mentioned already, they could add a couple more features to help the younger kids, especially with the hints. Rating: 3.5/5
Sustainability: The additional puzzle packs are a plus (although you do have to spend more money). I think older kids would enjoy the variety and different puzzles that are offered. I'm not as sure for the younger kids, especially with the gap in skill level. The high scores list is good for the slightly older kids, but again, you have to play 10 minute games to have your score count. Rating: 3.5/5
Parental Involvement: This is a one player game that parents might even want to play themselves. Parents could be involved in the harder puzzles like the name the animal, which may even spark conversations about the zoo or other experiences. The younger kids will need help, which the game assumes since there are instruction notes to the parents. Rating: 3.5/5
Total: 13.5 out of 20 = 3 stars
Disclaimer: I received this app for free for review purposes.

Friday, February 17, 2012

2BME Firefighter

2BME Firefighter was created by 2BME Studios. What do you want to be when you grow up? A popular answer among kids is probably firefighter. This app shows you what being a firefighter is like and also teachers you about fire safety. Price: $1.99

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPod touch (3rd generation), iPod touch (4th generation) and iPad.Requires iOS 3.1.3 or later

Developmental Appropriateness: Overall, this app gives a nice virtual tour of a fire station and the tasks that firefighters are faced with. At certain points of the tour, you have to choose between two options and then to go to the other option, you return back tot the same screen first. I felt this kinda broke up the flow of the tour and slowed the pace down. Some parts of the tour are more interactive than others. For example, in more exciting scenes, you have to move the fireman and his hose to help put out fires. The interactive elements are great because they are relevant and fun at the same time. In contrast, in one scene, the fireman explains some fire safety tips like stop, drop, and roll, but he's just basically talking in front of a chalkboard. I think they could use more interactive elements in these less action-based scenes, especially because some of the terminology about the equipment or safety are probably new to kids. For example, instead of just a chalkboard with little illustrations of things like "Stop, drop, and roll" it could show a video demonstration, which would make these important safety tips clearer. Or when introducing the equipment, it could also provide the written label so that kids see the words, which might help them to remember it better. 

There is also a classroom component where you are quizzed about the things you learned on the tour. There's no end point to the quiz - it just starts repeating the same questions over and over. It would be better if it kept track of the answers in some way so that the kids and parents can review. Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 7 years)

Balance: The overall feel of this app is great - simple and to the point. The additions I mentioned above would help to bring home some of the points the fireman is trying to teach. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: This app separates out the more game like components of the tour like saving the cat, and putting out the fires. However, I don't know if there's enough to these activities to keep kids coming back. I like them within the tour, but not sure if they can stand alone as games. Overall, this app provides a lot of information kids can focus on different aspects each time they play. Rating: 3.5/5 (unless your kid really really wants to be a fireman!)

Parental Involvement: Again, I'd like to see more in the classroom component. Elements that let parents be more involved. A plus of this app is that parents can easily tie this in with a visit to a real fire station. Maybe the app could even have a log for real events, like kids could record when their parents have checked the fire alarms or their trips to a fire station. Rating: 3.5/5

Total: 15 out of 20: 4 stars

Thursday, February 16, 2012

DoReMi: 1-2-3

DoReMi: 1-2-3 was developed by Creativity Inc. to encourage kids to engage in music and to learn to play songs by hear. With the cutbacks to music programs in schools, it's important to find other ways to expose kids to learning more about music. But, as a product of a "Tiger Mom", I started piano lessons at a young age and know that learning to play music by hear can be difficult. Can an app really teach you to play music by ear? Price: $1.99

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.Requires iOS 4.3 or later.
Developmental Appropriateness: There are two modes to this app - one is a free play where you can make up and play your own songs. You can choose a background, the icons that are your "players" (i.e. stars or cows to represent your notes), and what sound you want them to make, ranging from a more traditional do-re-mi to animal sounds or to saying numbers or even colors. There's a record function so you can treasure your fantastic melodic (or not so melodic) creations. This mode is great - it encourages creativity and music composition. Kids will surely be amused by the different sounds it can make. 

The second mode is where you learn a song "by ear." It breaks each simple song like "Jingle Bells" into several parts, a few notes at a time. Within each part, it takes you through a progression where you repeat the pattern, then it increases the difficulty by changing from do-re-mi to an animal sound or something else, and then finally, the objects that represent each note turn around so you cannot see who is playing. It also goes back down the levels if you are getting it wrong, which is a nice scaffolding feature. I can see how this many be training one to play by ear, but I'm not sure how successfully it teaches one to play the song. First, it does not take rhythm into account - you just have to play the notes in the right order. Second, there is no exposure to actual notes, which may not be important to playing by ear, but is important to learning how to play an instrument in general. Third, the animal or other noises are hard to hear pitch wise. For a beginner or untrained ear of any age, transferring the pitches from a clear do-re-mi to silly noises like moo moo moo is hard! Finally, you never play the song in its entirety straight through. Breaking up the song into parts when learning it is a good idea, but I didn't feel I got a sense of what song I was learning during each part - especially since you don't have to follow the rhythm. The last part is to play the whole song, but it's still broken up into each part. I would think that to show that you have learned the song, you would play the whole song straight through. Further, the songs are very familiar songs which I'm sure some kids will want to sing along to, which you can't when it's so broken up. I really like the idea of this mode, but I'm not sure how many kids will successfully learn these songs - especially outside of this app. Rating: 3/5 (aim for around 6 years and up).

Balance: In the free play mode, there are interactive elements in the background that are not related to the music. I don't think it was necessary but I don't mind it since it's free play and it's all meant to be fun. For the learning mode, I would take out the non-music related sounds that the notes can make. They make learning the pitches hard. I assume they are there to add an entertainment element - having those sounds in the free play mode seems like a good idea and enough for the app as a whole. Rating; 3.5/5

Sustainability: I think kids will come back to the free play mode again and again. As for the learning mode, there are currently only five songs - looks like they will be adding more. It be great if there were more levels for each song. Right now, seems like there are two levels playing the whole song, the last level being that the icons for the notes are turned around so that you are "playing by ear." As I mentioned, it would be nice if the next level would be playing the song straight through without prompting. And then even further levels that change the pace or maybe adds different instruments. Rating: 4/5

Parental Involvement: Interestingly, this app links to "Fingerprint" which is a platform that allows parents to be involved. I did not try this part out, but the app can send the parents messages as their kid completes a section or whole song. Parents can also send their kids voice messages to encourage their progress. I like that the developers thought about how to involve parents. However, I'm not sure this type of involvement fits all or even most parents. You tell me! Many parents turn off the wi-fi function on their devices when letting their child play with it. As for the app itself, the recording feature in the free play mode is nice as kids can play back their songs and share with others. It'd be nice if the learning mode had a recording feature as will at the completion of each song. Rating: 4/5

Total: 14.5 out of 20 - 3 stars

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Want to be involved in research? Take this survey!

I've been helping out the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop on a series of what we're calling, "Quickstudies" to look at parents, children, and e-books. This line of research aims to examine whether and how e-books compare to traditional books in supporting parent-child interaction during co-reading through different methods.

Quickstudy #1 uses both quantitative and qualitative methods to look at the nature of parent-child interaction and engagement with traditional books and e-books on an iPad. We wanted to see what design features of each platform appear to support productive versus non-productive interactions and also whether the the type of book affects comprehension of the story.

Quickstudy #2 looks specifically at book selection. How do parents and children choose books to read together? Does the process differ when they choose a traditional book as compared to an e-book?

Quickstudy #3 is a parent survey that focuses on parents' goals for reading together with their young children, their roles in providing their children with access to reading materials, and their perceptions and attitudes toward e-books for young children. This is where we need your help! If you're a parent of a child between the age of 2 and 6, please go here to find out more about and to take the survey. Here's your chance to make your views heard and to help inform researchers, developers, educators, and families. Plus, parents who complete the survey will have a chance to win a $50 gift card to! 

The results from Quickstudy #1 will be published in the next few weeks, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Kumon Uppercase ABC's - Learn to Trace Letters

Kumon Uppercase ABC's was created by Kumon Publishing North America, Inc. Kumon is one of the largest after school math and reading enrichment programs. So they should know what they are doing when designing an educational app, right? Price: $3.99

Device Requirements: Compatible with the iPad. Rquires iOS 3.2 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness: In the last post, we talked about the beginning steps to learning the alphabet. This app moves us a few steps further in the process - recognizing letter-sounds and learning how to write uppercase letters. In the letter-sounds activity, you are presented with three letters and asked to pick the one that makes the target letter-sound. It is very clear and it has a nice repeating of the letter and letter-sound. In the tracing activity, there are three steps to tracing each letter. First, it shows you the direction of order of each line/movement. Then you have to do it again, with just the direction, but no ordering, and finally, neither direction nor order is given. This is a nice progression to make sure you know how to write each letter. It's a little finicky - as you MUST stay within the outline for it to be correct. However, at the same time, if you draw a zig-zag or squiggly line instead of a straight one, but in the right direction and stay within the lines, it still counts as correct. So maybe some finessing of the program is needed. You can choose to do the letters in order, in random order, or in "Kumon" order. The Kumon order puts it in what they felt are easier letters to write (i.e. "L") to harder letters (i.e. "S"). While the ordering may be true, I'm not sure if it's the best order for kids. As I mentioned in the last post, kids do not learn the individual letters sequentially, but rather by what they are familiar with, such as the first letter of their name or objects or words they see regularly. Thus, the order in which kids learn the alphabet is specific to that kid's surroundings and experiences. Wouldn't it be best to also learn to write the letters in the order that they learn the letters? Finally, at the completion of each letter, you are presented a picture that links to that letter ("A" for Ant). This is a good way to link further enforce the letter to letter-sound, but it never actually says, "A if for Ant" or in anyway highlight the letter A. Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 4 years)

Balance: The app is pretty simple. The pictures in the tracing part are even in black and white. Some you can move and some don't. I'd make this consistent. Also, in the letter-sound game, it would be nice to provide the sounds of the incorrect answers so we can hear the contrast. Otherwise, it's a very focused educational app. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: There are basically no incentives here - it's a drill of these skills. You get a "certificate" that will be emailed to you with your child's name on it when he or she completes all 26 letters. There's no instant gratification for the child, and I'm not sure how many parents will follow through with printing out the certificate. A frustrating aspect is that it does not retain your progress. So you have to start over every time. In the tracing game, you cannot pick and choose what letters to trace, you only have the option of the three orders. This may be an app to do when you have more time, rather than a quick "while waiting in the car" app so that the child can get through all the letters and not just keep doing the same ones in the beginning - in which case will be boring. I guess you can choose the random ordering, but that still doesn't ensure that all the letters get covered. Rating: 2/5

Parental Involvement: Parents can watch over, but this is essentially a one player app. It would be nice for parents to know what letters their child struggled more with - maybe have some record of which ones took more attempts or more time to complete on the tracing or which letter-sounds they did not get on the first try. This way, parents can stay more involved and know where their child needs more help. Rating: 3/5

Total: 13 out of 20: 3 stars

Disclosure: I received this app for review for free from the developers.

Monday, February 13, 2012


Alphatots was created by Spinlight Studio and is designed to teach your little ones the alphabet by capitalizing on what digital media has to offer. When reviewing apps, I always ask, "Could I have done this same activity with traditional materials (i.e. books, flashcards, etc.)?" I look for apps that show me why I should spend my money on it instead of using what I may already have or buying the traditional version. Alphatots does so. Price: $0.99

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad. Requires iOS 3.0 or later.
Android:  Requires 2.2 and up.

Developmental Appropriateness: The alphabet takes years for children to fully understand. At first children learn the sequence, usually through the alphabet song. Next, they start to learn the individual letters, but not in sequential order. They tend to learn letters that are linked to say their own first name or something they know, such as "K" for "Katie" or I think the most commonly seen in books is "A" for "Apple." This app presents both the alphabet song and each letter linked to a common word. Where this app differs from your typical alphabet book or activity is that the words they link to are verbs, adverbs, or adjectives like "quiet" or "grow" - words that are harder to demonstrate in static form. For each letter, children have to complete an interactive activity that demonstrates the linked word. There is also a voiceover that provides a bit of reinforcement with some humor. This app is great for young kids just learning the alphabet because it combines both a traditional and effective way to present the letters and also demonstrates how technology can help enhance that experience.

The app falls just a little short in a few places. First, although on the main screen, you can switch the letters from uppercase to lowercase, within each activity, both are present. The words only use the lowercase, and the uppercase letter is right next to the word. Children learn the upper case first. So the presentation of the word in the corner may be a little confusing to the younger kids and could in general be more prominent on the screen. Maybe present the word twice, with both upper- and lower-case?Second, the voice over could repeat and further reinforce the letter to word linkage so that the child does not shift his or her focus completely over to the interactive element. It's only said once for each activity. It should at least also be repeated at the completion of the activity. Or even show the letter and word again, emphasizing the first letter. Finally, some of the activities may be hard for the younger children. Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 3 years).

Balance: The overall presentation is very clean. Again, I would add in more repetition and emphasis of the letter and word so that the kids don't forget about them as they engage in the activities. Also, some activities present a tool to use (i.e. with "grow" you would tap on the shovel and drag it to start digging)  while other activities just require you to use your finger (i.e. to cut the strings on balloons, you would just drag your finger through the string - no scissors or tools are shown). This may be a little confusing for kids to know what to do at first. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: The activities are fun and not only help with letter knowledge by vocabulary as well. You can go through them in sequence or select individual letters. Kids will probably pick favorites based on the letters they like (like ones related to their name) and activity. It would be great if there were different rounds with different words and activities. Having a library of words would be something an app could do that a more traditional format could not. Rating: 4/5

Parental Involvement: Parents should repeat and elaborate the letter linkage and meanings of the words so that it reinforces the purpose of each activity. Given the young age of the target age here, this is should be an activity to do together, so this is a nice and interesting change from a typical letter book or flashcards.  Rating: 4/5

Total: 16 out of 20: 4 stars

Disclosure: I received this app for review for free from the developers.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Sparky the Shark

Sparky the Shark: A Frighteningly Funny Adventure was created by Biscuit Interactive. It's an original story about being yourself. Price: $3.99

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPad.Requires iOS 3.2 or later

Developmental Appropriateness: The story is very cute and the illustrations are attractive. It uses many story telling devices that are appropriate and engaging to young kids such as humor, a bit of repetition in terms of rhythm of the story, and character development. Given the social pressures kids face in school and the recent attention to issues like bullying, this story is timely. I do wish that someone at the end apologized for being so scared and judging based on appearance so that kids can hear about not just accepting themselves, but not to judge others as well.

As for the "e-book" aspects, the story can be read to you or by you and there are some lightly animated hotspots on each page. The text does not highlight and appears at the very bottom of each page - I guess so you focus on the pictures. I don't know if it was my device (used it on an older iPhone) or what, but I found it to be highly glitchy which affected my overall experience. But it doesn't seem like I'm the only one - I saw some other reviews that cited glitchy usage. First, the narration does not work very well. It got very choppy. Next, I kept being taken back to the previous page even though I was tapping no where near the back arrow icon. Finally, just overall, it seemed to be very freezy. I actually had to watch the demo video to make sure I didn't miss anything. While most of these issues can be fixed, I do suggest adding in some features to highlight the text as well as illustrations. 

** The developers will be releasing an updated version where the device requirements will be with later versions of iOS. The update will resolve the glitches I mentioned. The current version should work fine with later versions of iOS.

Finally, there is a game that you can access outside of the book reading that allows you to dress up Sharky and then take a picture of your creation. This is a great, appropriate addition that is actually relevant tot he story. Rating: 3.5/5 (aim for around 6 years)

Balance: While I applaud the developers for not going crazy with irrelevant hotspots, and keeping them pretty simple, it seems like many of these hotspots should just be automatic light animation to the page rather than "hidden hotspots."  Many of them are just simple motions like Sharky nodding his head or the boat gently rocking that don't seem to be very exciting as hotspots. Also, many of them just repeat through the pages. If you're gonna use hotspots, make them count. Also, why do so many developers make them "hidden?" Do hidden hotspots really make it that much more fun than obvious hotspots (I don't know of any actual research on this)? Seems like the fun is in what the hotspots actually do rather than in finding where they are (unless finding them is part of the plot). I would rather kids focus on the story than on trying to find every single hotspot. Rating: 3/5

Sustainability: A good story is worth reading again. I am no literary expert, but I like this story. And the disguise game is fun - it would be cool be able to use what is created in the game in the story, just as an added incentive to go back tot he story. Rating: 5/5

Parental Involvement: This seems like a story parents would enjoy reading with their child. The message is clear, but still gives room for parents to elaborate on the meaning. Parents should be present to help  keep their child focused on the text/story through the hidden hotspots and possible glitches. Rating 4/5

Total: 15.5 out of 20: 4 stars

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Grimm's Rapunzel - 3-D Interactive Pop-up Book

Grimm's Rapunzel ~3-D Interactive Pop-up Book was created by Ideal Binary and is a modern twist of an old tale. For those of you who know me or know about my research, you'll know that I've done many studies with pop-up books. I actually just received the proof for an article on the very first study I ever did in graduate school which showed that young kids do not learn as well from pop-up books as they do from regular 2D books. After a few rejections over many years, the article should appear in the Journal of Early Childhood Literacy in the coming months. Yay! So in honor of my first study, I wanted to review a pop-up app! Price: $3.99

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

Developmental Appropriateness: You might be wondering how an e-book is pop-up on a 2D screen. Well, every other page or few pages, there's a 3D picture that looks like when you open up one of those fancy pop-up books. However, there are no tabs to pull or fuzzy textures to feel in the traditional pop-up kinda way. Instead, these pictures have simple interactive elements that are driven by the plot. So you can "grow" the flowers that Rapunzel's mother loved so much or pick up the music sheets Rapunzel's dropped from her tower. So do these elements distract kids from attending to the story as I found in my study? I actually don't think it will. First, the interactive elements mostly aren't frivolous and are more realistic. For example, to water the flowers, you would actually tap on the watering can and move it all over the soil as you would when watering plants. However, in a traditional pop-up book, you would not be able to do this. You might pull a tab that springs up the flowers. The action of pulling the tab has nothing to do with growing flowers. Second, the 3D pictures are totally separate from the text. So when the story is being read, either by the voice over or by a parent/adult, there is nothing to interact with on these text pages. Listen to the plot, then do an activity related to the plot, go read more plot. I like this. However, at the same time, it seems like two separate things - the text is for the parent, the activities for the children. The text itself is too advanced for a young reader, so someone needs to read it to them. There is also a lot of text on each page, with minimal pictures. The text does not highlight, so there is nothing for the child to follow. There are some words that are in a different color, but I'm not sure how they picked those words - they seem to have a wide range in difficulty, and it doesn't seem like they are sight words, or come from any reading list. Are they even meant to be vocabulary words? Or is the color there just to break up the text a bit? Also, they choose to have the text justified on both sides, leaving some weird spaces that they filled with random little icons. To little kids who can't read and are looking at a two-page spread with barely any pictures, I have a feeling they'll be looking at these little random icons rather than the text. Seems like the focus was the 3D pictures. Even in the demo video, you'll see that much of it is spent showing you the 3D pictures and not the "normal" pages. Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 4 years of age). 

Balance: As I've mentioned, I like that the interactive elements are separate from the text. However, I'd like to see more emphasis on the text pages. Adding highlight, or at least make the text bigger so kids can follow along more easily. If the highlighted words were highlighted for a reason, some sort of explanation should be given. And get rid of those random things. Find better ways to break up the text that are useful. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: The story of Rapunzel has lived for many years, so in general, this should be a story kids still want to come back to. The 3D pictures are cool, even if the interactive features get repetitive after many readings. Rating: 4/5

Parental Involvement: The book lends itself to being a joint reading activity. The story is a familiar one for young kids, but it needs to be read to them. The 3D interactive parts are good opportunities to elaborate on the plot or relate elements back to real life. It's a fun activity to do together, but for parents looking to encourage their child to read, they will need to put more effort into guiding their child with the text. Rating: 4/5

Total: 16 out of 20 = 4 stars

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Freddi Fish and the Stolen Shell

Freddy Fish and the Stolen Shell is a game from Atari. Many of you may recognize Freddy Fish and even this particular story as this is a "reboot" of a series from the 90's from Humongous Entertainment. Let me first say that this app is not marketed as an "educational" app on iTunes, but it does on the press release say that it helps critical thinking, problem solving, and memory. After my post on how to define an educational app, I've had a couple of conversations about skills that are important, but may not be as explicitly taught - like critical thinking. I think most will agree that critical thinking is something important that kids have to learn to do well, particularly for standardized tests and college entrance exams - the new SAT no longer has a "Verbal" section, but rather a "Critical Thinking" section. But, at the same time, it's not like there is critical thinking class like there is math class. When I think of how to measure critical thinking, I think of the horrible passages you have to read, like in the SAT, and then answer endless questions by inferring/deducing/interpreting from the passage. But how do we measure and teach critical thinking to beginning readers? Do games like Freddy Fish really help teach critical thinking skills? Price: $2.99 

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

Developmental Appropriateness: I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed playing this game, and I think elementary school kids will too. It does actually require critical thinking skills, some parts more than others, and maybe I need to improve mine as I feel like it took me a long time to solve the mystery! Overall, it's pretty intuitive to navigate. Getting Freddy to use a found object can be a little tricky though so maybe Freddy could give some more directions on that. Some parts are less obvious than others, and some tasks are harder than others. So there seems to be a bit of a range. While Freddy Fish does provide some critical thinking prompts and clues, they are usually as secondary conversation (i.e. you have to click on the Freddy a few times). It would be nice if Freddy reinforced the critical thinking more. For example, after solving a specific problem, Freddy could say, that's right, if you did (blank), it would (blank)! This way, even if you by chance stumbled upon the answer, you would think about what just happened. Making strategies and thought processes explicit helps the learning process. There's also a lot of other implicit lessons that range from bullying to music and a touch of math spread throughout the story. While I like that this is not marketed as educational, I think it is safe to label this as "edutainment." Kids will have fun and in the process, maybe pick up a few things. Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 8 years)

Balance: There's a lot to click on in the game, but it is after all a game. Part of it is as distractors for finding needed objects. But even so, I could do with a few less just for fun hotspots. There are also screens that don't really forward the plot very much, but that may just be because you can go through the same mystery with different clues and so sometimes some screens are more useful than others. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: Since you can go back and resolve the mystery with different clues and different outcomes, this game gets an A+ for sustainability. It will be easier to solve the more  you do it, but the characters and humor in the game make it worth going back. There are also games that could be pretty independent of the plot that you can play repeatedly. One being the organ where you can record your own songs. Rating 5/5

Parental Involvement: This is for the most part a one-player game and it's almost like watching a mini-tv show with interactive parts. Parents can watch along and help in terms of usability and reinforcing the critical thinking skills. Parents may even be surprised if their child solves something before they do, so it might be a fun activity to do together. But given the older target age, kids may want to solve the mystery on their own. Rating: 3.5/5

Total: 16.5 out of 20 = 4 stars