Friday, March 30, 2012

Barefoot World Atlas

Barefoot World Atlas was created by Touch Press and is an interactive 3D globe. This app boasts narration by geographer and BBC TV presenter, Nick Crane and illustrations by artist David Dean and it packs a lot of info in. I'm telling you all this to soften the blow of the price tag - it might be worth it... Price: $7.99

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

Developmental Appropriateness: This app is a pretty cool and offers up tons of information about the world. Kids will love the interactive nature of it as it makes it way more interesting than if they were handed an atlas book or books about countries. There's really a "discovery" aspect to this app. I also like that all the text can be read aloud to you so that a beginning reader can also learn some new facts. There are some words that are linked to definitions, which is helpful to learn some new vocabulary. It would be even better if it highlighted the key words that could be repeated to help keep the focus and even reinforce pronunciation (e.g. country names or animal names)  - there's a lot of text, which can be overwhelming for younger kids. The illustrations are kid friendly and the app also includes many photographs as well. As a reference tool, the information here is appropriate for young elementary aged kids and this app is a great way to engage them in a topic they might otherwise find boring. Rating: 4.5/5 (aim for around 8 years)

Balance: There is sooooo much information here. Kids can get lost in it and lose focus or they just might lose interest because they don't really have a purpose and thus don't know what they should be looking at. The app is pretty easy to use and it contains a couple of overall menu's - you can choose what region, country, or feature. It might be more helpful to break it down even further - menus for animals, food, etc., so that kids can focus in on a topic too.  As is, I view this app more as a reference tool, but to take it to that next step of being more of a teaching tool, any features that could help focus or in a way, limit the information they access at a given moment, would help. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: Again, there is so much information here that kids can keep coming back and discover something new. What I find lacking is a goal or purpose. It'd be great if there were some prompts or activities that could help guide the kids to specific information. Things like, "Where would you like to go on vacation?" Or "Discover five new animals" - just very general prompts for searching. I really think this would help enrich their experience. Rating: 4/5

Parental Involvement: This is an app where I think parents might be more likely to assume that if their child is using it, they must be learning. There is no doubt that this app contains great educational information. But I really caution parents - because there is so much information, so much to click through and see - kids may not actually absorb the information as much as they could be. This is definitely an app where I would encourage parents to take an active part - they might actually learn something too. Rating: 3/5

Total: 15.5 out of 20 = 4 stars

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

Thursday, March 29, 2012

AR Flashcards

AR Flashcards was developed by Mitchlehan Media, LLC. AR here, stands for augmented reality. Take a look at the pic and video - it's kinda cool. It's like a virtual projected 3-D image. But is it beneficial for learning? Price: $1.99

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.Requires iOS 3.1.3 or later

Developmental Appropriateness: So the way this works is that you have to download and print out flashcards. Then using the app on your device, you point the camera at the cards and the virtual 3d image will show up on your screen. You can then tap on the image on your screen and it will label the letter and animal. Or, if you so happen to own TWO iOS devices, there is no need to print out the cards - you load the cards on one device and use the other to view. (Warning - This latter method may make you feel like an Apple ad, as it did for me!) Ok -so the technology aspect of this is awesome. I think kids will be fascinated by it and will want to try all the different cards. And of course, alphabet letters is appropriate material for toddlers to be learning. So anyway to engage them in the material is great. BUT - and I think those who are more regular readers of this blog know what's coming.... I don't think these AR cards are the best for learning. They are like pop-up books, actually, they are even more novel and interesting than pop-up books. And research has shown that pop-up features can be distracting to children when it comes to learning the intended material. Do they like it? Yes. Do they learn as much as they would without the pop-up features? No. At this age, they are simply too easily distracted. Rating: 3/5 (aim for around 3 years).

Balance: Please don't get me wrong here - I like pop-up books and I like this whole AR thing. So maybe there are ways to make it less distracting. For example, with this app, when the image pops up, it covers the letter all together. Out of sight, out of mind. And yes, I guess you can look at the cards on their own, but who's really going to do that when it's so cool to look at it with the app? So any way to highlight the to-be-learned material would make this better. In this case, the to-be-learned material are the letters, not the animals - and that does not really come through. Rating: 2/5

Sustainability: I think kids will want to show everyone this app. So in that sense, I see long term use. But again, the focus would be on the AR, not the letters. Rating: 4/5

Parental Involvement: I think there's some potential in this area. If parents have to print out the cards, it makes them have to have at least some initial involvement, which may lead to more overall involvement.  Also, the AR aspect will make this interesting for parents - so there's a something for the kids, and something for the parents too. So hopefully, this app will make parents want  to be involved, which is really needed to help kids see beyond the AR images and focus on the letters too. And I'm also hoping that if the kids are excited about the images, it could lead to more conversations about the letters and animals. Rating: 4/5

Total: 13 out of 20 = 3 stars

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

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Mathrat was created by boaneo and targets counting and basic math skills. For each problem you get correct, you are awarded a piece of virtual candy. It is called Mathrat because every few problems or so, a rat will comes and steals a piece of candy unless you tap on the rat before he can get to the candy. How unfair! Price: $2.99

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

Developmental appropriateness: There are six levels to this game - starting from counting to simple addition, subtraction, and finally larger and smaller than - all fit for a beginning math learner. I like that the app presents each problem with coins that you can count. So for counting, it would ask for 7, and you would move 7 coins to the purse. It's actually a bit too easy cause the app counts the coins aloud as you put them in the purse so you really just have to keep adding until you hear the right number. Anyway, coins, or in the math world, "manipulatives" (objects used to solve or illustrate math problems/concepts) are often used to help kids with math. However, as the problems get harder, the app doesn't allow you to use them as flexibly as manipulatives are designed to be. For example, to solve 2+3, the app allows you to move 5 coins to the purse, counting them 1 to 5. Often, kids would make a group of 3, then a group of 2, and then count all of them, or better yet, start with the group of 3, and add on the other group, counting, 4, 5. This app does not really highlight the grouping. Sure, you can kinda form groups before putting them into the purse, but overall, the design does not encourage the use of these types of strategies. Also, the app does not allow you to kinda have a "final answer" or to review before submitting. So although I like that the chips are there, which is more than a lot of apps that just present the problem and ask for an answer, I wish it took it a bit farther. Also, for some rounds, instead of chips, you are just presented with numbers - why not put them in order, like a number line, which is often helpful for kids. And for the quantity comparisons, it would ask for something like 2 < ? and all the numbers are at the bottom. So basically almost all the numbers are correct answers, but you are only allowed to put one. That's kinda weird and potentially confusing. Rating: 3.5/5 (aim for around 5 years)

Balance: Now about the rat. OK, I get that this is just a little fun element. Kids don't want their hard earned candy stolen, so the rat keeps them on their toes. It might be funny. On the other hand, it introduces "stealing" and if kids find it funny that the rat is stealing the candy, they might imitate that. That's really a more minor point. What I'm more worried about is that it may be distracting. Instead of concentrating on the problem, kids might be worried about the rat coming to get their candy - which they earned fair and square, or the rat might break their concentration if it sneaks in during a problem. 

Update: There is a setting that allows you to turn off the rat, or just have him appear, without stealing the candy.

Also, most of the graphics are very kid friendly, but then the hand that presents the problems and the voice over seem to not match. Rating: 3.5/5

Sustainability: The plus is that there are 6 levels that get harder with different tasks. You also earn medals for how well you performed on each level. There is also suppose to be a settings and reporting feature - it does not appear on my version. I see now that there is an update for this specific fix. I updated, and still don't see it, maybe the update did not go through? In any case, the goal appears to simply be to unlock all the levels and earn all the top medals. Rating: 4/5

Parental Involvement: Pretty much a one person game. Parents can review the game stats. Rating: 3/5

Total 14 = 3 stars

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

Friday, March 23, 2012


iSammy was created by Merx Global LLC for 4 to 8 year-olds and is an e-Book about Sammy the Suitcase. This e-Book differs from others in that it leaves a word blank on each page that you and child can fill in and record, taking the involvement with the story to a different place than if just reading a story. It also provides a boy or girl mode, which basically changes whether the boy or girl character in the story becomes a bigger character and more easily identified with. Kinda interesting, right? Price - Free (For now at least)

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPad.Requires iOS 3.2.2 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness: The story is about a suitcase that has travelled with a family on many trips but is then left in the attic, passed over for newer suitcases, but then finds a new purpose. So it allows for many opportunities for conversation - traveling, different types of vacations, feelings, etc. The fill in the blank feature really does amplify these opportunities. Parents have to help their child figure out what words are appropriate to finish the sentence and in so doing, could spark conversations of their own experiences. I also like the idea of having the boy or girl option to help your child identify better with the character in the book. Children can learn a little bit about how to take their own perspective - for example, a girl choosing the girl option could think about their own favorite toy or a girl choosing the boy option could learn about taking the perspective of others and think about what a boy's favorite toy would be as opposed to her own. 

But let me point out that this app really does have to be used with a parent. They will need help filling in the blank. More importantly, the app does not read to you, so someone who can read will need to be present. It would be nice if there was the option for it to be read, especially after everything has been filled out so folks can hear the complete story. In terms of usability, again, I think it requires an adult to help record the words and erase if they want to redo. Although I appreciate that this app almost forces a parent to be present, I'm sure parents would also appreciate the option for their child to independently use the app. Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 6 years).

Balance: There is a lot going on here. There is a squirrel and a moose on every page that repeats your recordings in a funny voice. Otherwise, they have nothing to do with the story. There are also a lot of hotspots on each page, none of which really forward the story. Some make sense in that they show the functionality of the objects in the room (e.g. tapping on a light and it turns on), and others are purely just for fun (e.g., tapping on the suitcase makes it jump up). Several even just repeat throughout the pages, so it's not even anything new. In fact, there are so many hotspots that they often get in the way of turning the pages. I seriously found it quite frustrating to turn the pages - and maybe this was not just because of the hotspots. Perhaps, luckily, we have a parent present to help focus the child back on the story, but I think that all these other hotspots can take away from the co-reading conversation. Rating: 2/5

Sustainability: I at first thought this would be great in terms of sustainability, because you can erase the recordings and add in new words all the time. But then a closer look at the types of blank words left me thinking that it's really not all that flexible. Some of the blanks require pretty specific answers, and different answers don't really change the story all that much. I feel the story itself was written to help provide prompts for conversation, so as a story on it's own, it may not become a favorite, unless maybe you're a family that travels a lot and has lots of travel stories. Rating: 3.5/5

Parental Involvement: What I like most about this app is its approach to getting parents involved. Recording the words is a fun way to incorporate technology and also serve as prompts for conversation. Rating: 5/5

Total: 14.5 out of 20 - 3 stars

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

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Finding the right balance...

I recently wrote a post for Curated Book Apps for Kids about finding a balance with the different types of interactive features within an app. This off course is one of my categories in my reviews and I think it is important to explain to you my views on the categories I've chosen to base my reviews on, as I did with Parental Involvement. So here it is again, but please also go to the original post and see what Curator Mom has to say about the parallels with museum exhibits for kids.

"One of the criteria in my reviews is Balance. This is probably one of the hardest components for me to judge. There are so many possible combination of features in an app and other contextual factors that it is almost impossible to research and say x, y, z, are good features and a, b, c are not. It truly is about finding a balance between incorporating features so that kids will be engaged, but not distracted.

So let me break this down further. I think of features in three ways:

Just for fun features– These features don’t add much to learning. Think of hotspots that make things animate or reveal hidden objects – fun for kids to discover, but are probably distracting from the relevant content. I (and my colleagues) have conducted many studies on pop-up books and have found that kids learn better with a plain version of the book than from the pop-up version. I think the tabs to pull or wheels to spin are similar to hotspots – kids get very into discovering what these features reveal.

Well, you might say, these types of hotspots can help learning. For example, in a counting app, there are five flowers, and tapping each flower makes it dance, and the child can count as they tap on the flowers. It’s a good thought. But, if the pop-up findings hold true, the kids will just like seeing the dancing, and not really think about the one-to-one correspondence of the flowers to numbers. I have found the same effect with pop-up books when trying to teach letters, numbers, animals, and facts with different kinds of pop-up books – the effect is strong, regardless of the domain and presentation of the pop-up features. Kids are really just interested in the physical interaction with the pop-up features.

This is not to say these just for fun features should not be used. Kids love them. Pop-up books have been shown to be useful to engage kids in literacy, especially at-risk or kids with learning disabilities.

Relevant to direct learning features – Examples of these features are if you tap on a word, the definition appears or tracing letters to help letter recognition. They are meant to directly enhance the learning. These features have potential but could be less effective than you may think – at least in the initial times of use. In a study where I compared a plain alphabet book with an identical one where the letters where made out of sandpaper, a method often used in Montessori preschools – the idea being that the sandpaper will encourage tracing and thus heighten letter learning – the findings were the same with the two types of books. In this case, having the extra sandpaper features did not hinder learning, but it also did not lead to more learning than the plain book. Another more surprising result was with a study where I had parents read a book about camouflage – either pop-up or a plain version. I actually thought the pop-up book was great – pulling a tab would reveal an animal out of camouflage from behind a bush or tree. It really illustrated the concept of camouflage. Parents thought so too – as we found that they elaborated more on what camouflage is with their child when reading the pop-up book than when reading the plain version. However, despite their parent’s effort, when asked what camouflage means at the end of the reading, the children were able to explain camouflage better when reading the plain book than when reading the pop-up version!

Now, there is a possibility that with time, these types of features may yield better results as the novelty wears off.

Active thinking features – Here, I think of features that prompt you to answer a question or somehow make you think about what you have just read or completed. These real time scaffolding features can be highly effective. TV studies have found that the format of programs like Blues Clues or Arthur is effective because they have moments where they pause and ask their audience questions. It may seem weird at first for the characters to be silent and wait, but it works – it makes the viewer go from a passive to active viewer. I’ve not seen this type of feature as much in apps yet – of course this may not be appropriate for all apps. But I’d like to see more features try to shift the child from passive to active thinker (not just active doer).

So, in the end, I don’t have any real answers here – there is no formula for what types of features should or should not be included. It really depends on the app itself and what the aim of the app is. And of course the age of the child matters – the younger they are, the more easily distracted they can be. Finally, it is especially important to think about the balance of features when it comes to apps because the research thus far show that the life span of an app is fairly short – short sessions, and short duration. Often, with other types of media, some of the distracting qualities of features lessen as a kid spends more time with playing with whatever it is. The novelty of the “cool” things they can do wears off, at which point, hopefully, they start concentrating more on the to-be-learned content (still, this is not a guarantee). However, given the seemingly shorter lifespan of an app, we might not have the time to wait for the novelty effect to go away. So I hope that thinking about features in these three ways will help developers find the right balance for their app."

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Makego is an app created by Chris O'Shea, a British artist and designer. He uses  "technology to make the unimaginable come to life. Inventing new approaches that explore play, human behavior and engagement through interaction design and the visual arts." What does that mean in terms of Makego?  Price: $0.99 (on sale right now).

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.3 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness:  So this app does not really have any "educational" content, at least not in the way that the apps I've been reviewing do. But what makes this app so interesting is the innovative way it's blurring the line between virtual play and "real world" play. I at first didn't get what Makego was about - until I saw the picture and video below. Ohhhh.... I get it, the iPhone becomes the toy - (and this does seem more fitting to be used on an iPhone rather than an iPad because of the size). Without "real world" toys coming into play, the app really doesn't come to life on its own. But when used as intended - to augment the traditional sense of pretend play - that's when it gets interesting. Research has shown that pretend play is important to children's cognitive development, so if this app helps to get kids engaged in it, that's a win. It currently provides three premises - race car, ice cream truck, and boat. So it gives kids an easy start to create their own world and story. Further, it brings in a sense of realism - so rather than the kid making the vroom vroom noise, the app does or rather than pretending there are customers for the ice cream truck, the app provides them. While this added sense of realism is nice, is it taking away from the pretend play aspect that helps cognitive development? The child is now taking on less roles mentally, they are not the car nor the customers. But on the other hand, maybe it encourages the child to develop a richer pretend environment by adding on details and providing some interaction that the child may not otherwise have had on their own. I don't know the answer. Maybe like with almost all research, it's a little of both - this will lead some children to run away with their imaginations, and lead other children to get less creative because they are using the app as a crutch. But I do like this app as it opens the door to viewing digital devices in different ways. And maybe in the least, buying this app is way cheaper than buying a toy car, ice cream truck and boat (of course assuming you've already purchased the iPhone for yourself). Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 5 years).

Balance: Some of the interactive features are nice, like actually being able to sell virtual ice cream. Some might be a little limiting in terms of creating a world outside of the app. For example with the boat, the boat develops so many holes that need patching (why does the boat break so much in the first place?!) and ducks keep coming up for bread that it might keep the child from creating his or hers own world around the boat. Rating: 3.5/5

Sustainability: Pretend play can be endless. And I think kids will really enjoy the novelty of using the iPhone as the toy itself. I can't wait to see what new vehicles are next. Rating: 5/5

Parental Involvement: Parents may have an added incentive of keeping an eye on their device to get involved in the pretend play. ha. A goal of this app is to create an opportunity for cooperative play, and I think this app successfully does so, at least for the beginning when the idea of this type of device usage is so novel to children and adults. Rating: 5/5

Total: 17.5 out of 20 = 5 stars

Monday, March 19, 2012

Kids! Learn to Draw by Walter Foster

Kids! Learn to Draw by Walter Foster was created by MEDL MOBILE and is a step by step drawing app. The initial app is free (At least for right now) and comes with 3 lessons. You can then buy more packs of lessons on topics of your choosing. Price: Free

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

Developmental Appropriateness: Who hasn't seen those drawing books that show you how to draw a dog or an airplane by tracing some simple shapes? Well, this is exactly that, but digitized. Nice idea. The interface is easy to use and there are a lot of opening instructions. I like the idea that this app could really separate itself from the drawing books in that there can be kinda like a "tutor" with you, providing instructions. Here's the thing - my drawings kinda sucked! I mean, I'm not the most artistic person, but I don't think I'm too awful. There's something about using your finger to draw instead of a pencil or paint brush. Since the app is capable of providing verbal instructions, I wish it went farther. It could provide tips and more feedback, like suggesting what tool is best to create that type of line. I also found it hard to do some of the fine, little lines - the screen just didn't seem to be picking those up as well. This type of instruction would be great for kids who are more serious about art. But all in all, I think kids will like trying to draw objects they didn't know how to before - a nice addition to the many free form art apps out there already. Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 7years)

Balance: As I said, the interface is pretty simple and easy to use. The beginning is a lot of text and instructions that are read aloud - I wonder if it could have been make more kid friendly. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: Looks like there are many many packs for purchase, so if you're willing to spend the money, this app could go a long way. Otherwise, there is a mode to draw anything you want. Rating: 4/5

Parental Involvement: Parents who like to draw may like this app too. But the lessons are pretty much just for one. The sharing comes into play when you save or email the completed drawings for all to see. Rating: 4/5

Total: 16 out of 20: 4 stars.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Montessori Revolution

Montessori Revolution was created by MEDL MOBILE and is based off of the Montessori method of teaching. One of the main tenets of Montessori schools is a hands-on approach, that movement is important for learning and cognition. So on one hand, I can see how the interactivity of an iPad may go well with this tenet, but on the other hand, moving things around on a 2d screen is not the same as real world movement. Does Montessori activities really translate to apps? Price: $0.99 (for the initial drawing activity plus one of your choice - the rest are in-app purchases).

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

Developmental Appropriateness: There are currently six available activities. With the initial purchase, I received The Canvas (freeform drawing), and The Moveable Alphabet. I then purchased The Short Bead Stairs (math) and The Pouring Exercise. Note - I originally wanted to purchase The Pink Tower as I know that as a staple Montessori activity, but received an error message instead. Anyway, back to my question of whether these activities translate well.... I think some better than others. The drawing activity is like other drawing apps - kids who like drawing will like this app. The alphabet activity functions fairly well where you would drag the letter to it's place, as you would a letter block or magnet. It also provides a clear breaking down of the letter-sounds for each word, and letter-sounds for each letter option. These activity seems to be more traditional, and thus the easiest of the Montessori activities to translate to an app. The other two activities work less well. The pouring activity, is exactly that - you pour objects from one beaker into another. While the innovation of translating this into an iPad activity is kinda cool, the movement of pouring using the iPad is not really the same movement of real life pouring. You do not feel the weight lessen as you pour nor does the overall motion seem natural. And further, it seems like there should be more of a goal to this activity, or at least more examples of pouring from different containers or different amount of objects. I was most disappointed with the Short Bead Stairs. This is also a pretty staple Montessori material. There are different colored connected beads to represent each number. The activity here asks for a number, say 3, so you would move the strand of 3 white beads over. First, the number they ask for is the same color as the beads of the right length. So you can just match color rather than number. But where this really falls short is that I think these beads could be used for so much more, but this app does not take you there. Often, these beads can be used to help solve basic math problems, like 2+3. So you could take the 2 red bead rod and the 3 blue bead rod (or whatever colors they are) and line them up with the 5 bead rod to see that they are the same amount. The beads also help in that you can count the individual beads, which you cannot do in this app. So in sum, I like the ideas of this app, but some of these activities do not maximize on the original intent. Rating: 3/5 (aim for around 4 years)

Balance: Overall, the app is presented in a clean, organized manner, similar to a Montessori school. This is down to the "shelves of activities". Where I do think it could use some improvement is on the instructions. You are presented with a pretty busy instruction screen (see pic). I think that some of these instructions could also be embedded in the activities as prompts. For example, in the alphabet activity, if there is no response for awhile, the app could prompt the child to tap on the picture to hear the word. Or if an incorrect response is given, then a prompt could be given to tap on the letters first to hear the sounds. It's great that this type of support is there, it just may be overwhelming to be presented it all at once and only on a help screen. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: Some apps are more engaging than others. The pouring one is least (at least of the ones I tried, but I'm hoping the two that I didn't are better!). Once the child has figured out how to pour, then what? I know that another tenet of Montessori is no extrinsic rewards. While that's fine, the activities do need to have some sort of goal, don't you think? At least the alphabet has 3 levels that kids can work on and master. Rating: 3.5/5

Parental Involvement: This app provides a reporting feature where parents and or teachers can see what the child has done and how much time was spent doing it. It's item-level information, which is great for those who have time to look everything over, but I think it needs to also include some more general information. Rating: 3.5/5

Total: 14 out of 20 - 3 stars

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

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Bubbling Math

Bubbling Math was created by TappyTaps s.r.o and is a basic arithmetic drill kinda game. There are plenty of these math drill apps out there now, but what separates this one is its review report for parents and even teachers. Price: $1.99

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPad.Requires iOS 4.1 or later. (also works on a regular old mac computer)

Developmental Appropriateness: When you first start the game, the first prompt is to set the level. You can choose what operations to work with, and also what difficulty. What's nice is that for each difficulty setting, it gives you an explanation and examples of the problem types that would appear, so you know exactly what you're getting. The game itself is pretty straightforward. You're presented with a problem and you have to choose the right answer out of three options. A little wizard kid (in the picture above) provides positive sounds when correct, and he tears when wrong. I must say that some of his positive feedback noises sound more like a bird squawking than "wow!", which is what I think he's saying sometimes. I do wish this little wizard kid provided more support, especially when you get a wrong answer. Doing these types of basic math problems is not just about drill and memorization, but about building math strategies as well. Here, you simply get three chances to be wrong before the round is over. If you complete 3 rounds, you get a trophy for each round and you unlock the next "level" - which is just more of the same, but with a different background. Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 7 years, there is of course a larger age range here because of the settings)

Balance: Again, it's all pretty straightforward. I actually thought there would be more going on with the different backgrounds, but they are just backgrounds. Not sure how excited kids are in unlocking the the "Countryside Spring Time" versus "Countryside Frog's Lake" - the backgrounds don't actually look so different. Maybe if there was animation in the beginning of unlocking it, it would make it more exciting and seem more like a reward. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: I feel like this app was designed more from a teacher or parent's perspective than a child's. Yes, there are incentives like the trophies and unlocking the backgrounds, but they are kinda subtle and well, boring. I could totally see a teacher using this in class to make her students practice drills, but in terms of a child wanting to play this on their own free time, I'm not so sure. Rating: 3/5

Parental Involvement: This is where the app separates itself from other drill apps. It provides a report for parents or teachers - one that is a bit more detailed than others that I have seen. It provides a log of what's been done, and also a list of the incorrect answers and overall percent correct. With the extra information, parents and teachers can then determine what operations and difficulty level to set next and what to practice or explain more about. This is great. I can see teachers easily knowing what to do next, but what I wonder is whether parents will know as easily or have the time to carefully review. It'd be great if the app could suggest next settings or just next steps in general. Overall, I think this type of reporting is a step in the right direction, and so might parents, but do they actually use it?  Rating: 4/5

Total: 15 out of 20 - 4 stars

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

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Kandoobi - Animal Edition

Kandoobi - Animal Edition was created by Kandoobi, targeting toddlers and preschoolers 18 months and up. It includes four different games in one - letters, scratch and fill, coloring, and matching. Price: $2.99

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

Developmental Appropriateness: Targeting 18 months and up to preschool is hard to do. Like the many times I've said before, so much development occurs during this time that it would be hard for a single app to target the full range. I think this is what Kandoobi struggles with. Let's break it down.

First we have the letter game. This game confused me the most. It aims to teach both letters AND spelling. A three-year-old just learning letters really has no concept of spelling, let alone spelling such long words as "blowfish" or "caterpillar." Let's not even get into younger than 3-years! But then on the other hand, a child who is ready to spell would know all the letters, making this matching game way too easy. I guess this would be ok if you took out the spelling element and just thought of it as a letter matching game only.

Then the two coloring games. Children like to color, so I can see the coloring being a favorite here. The scratch and fill game is probably there to target the  two -year-olds, so older preschoolers might get bored with it. The final shape matching game is really easy, so again, the window here is very small. Kids who are ready to do this type of matching would pick it up very quickly and soon be ready for more challenging puzzles. 

So this may be a good app for families with multiple kids of different ages - a little something for each, but I highly doubt that one kid would be interested in all four games at the same time. Rating: 2/5 (aim for around 3 years)

Balance: The app is very kid-friendly in terms of colors and ease of use. My only thing is that the pictures of the animals are extremely cartoony (the butterfly pictured above is a less cartoony example). If the aim here is to teach kids about animals, research has shown that the more realistic looking the pictures, the better for learning - and I would think that this is more important when it comes to teaching about the shape of animals. This is not to say that we should only be using photographs or anything like that, but just that we should consider the level of realism in terms of any animation or drawing. Rating 4/5

Sustainability: As discussed above, some of these games will have greater longevity than others. Rating: 3/5

Parental Involvement: Parents will probably need to help their child out with the letter game - talk about the animals, show them what to do. Any type of coloring activity can always spark some conversation and sharing, so having two types of coloring activity saves this app. The matching game probably requires the parent the least. Rating: 4/5

Total: 13 out of 20 - 3 stars

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

Friday, March 9, 2012

Trunky Learns Letters

Trunky Learns Letters was created by Serious Games Interactive that has hints of an old school game like Super Mario Brothers where you jump to avoid things or get things you want with some literacy components mixed in. Instead of coins, now you want letters to spell out words from the Dolch list (a list of high frequency words for young children). Price: $1.99

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.Requires iOS 3.1.3 or later

Developmental Appropriateness: This is a fun way for kids to become more familiar with some high frequency words and how they are spelled. You are presented a word at the bottom of the screen and Trunky travels down a path and needs to collect the letters to spell the target word. There are flowers for bonus points, and as the levels get harder, obstacles that you want to avoid. When you get a letter, it repeats that letter, even if it is wrong. I like this feedback - but at the same time, it's hard to tell when you've gotten something wrong - it looks and sounds the same. I guess it effects your score, but it's not something really noticeable while you play. Trunky does do a nice dance when the word has been completed and the word is clearly spelled out again, so in that way, you know you've done something correctly.

In terms of the user interface, I was using an iPad and I wondered if tinier hands could manage the navigation. As the levels get harder, you have to make Trunky jump to get letters. The jumping control is at the bottom edge of the screen while navigating Trunky is on the right and left edge of the screen. So to do both rapidly means you have to have your hands span the side and bottom at the same time. Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 5 years)

Balance: The app is very clean looking, and the letters are big and prominent. There are not too many bonuses or obstacles that get in the way of seeing and focusing on the letters. Once you've figured out the controls, the task is clear. Rating: 5/5

Sustainability: With this review, I want to spend a little more time on this category.  As I mentioned earlier, this game reminded me a bit of Super Mario Brothers - a highly addictive game. Although this game does not have the same plot element of saving the princess, or as many obstacles, it did have a lighter version appropriate for a younger player of some of the game elements. I am not a game developer, but I do think that things like plot, goal, and pacing are important. Let's take out the education component and when I think about games that I spent way too many hours playing, I think of Sim City or even more recently Angry Birds (sorry - I didn't grow up with video games, so I'm really lacking in old school video game experience - ask anyone who has seen me play Super Mario). These games did not reward me with stickers or coins, the actual game was simply fun. I wanted to accomplish the goal of making a thriving city, or at times purposefully destroying one, or figuring out the best way to smash some stuff by launching some angry birds. Yes, I often say that this or that app needs more incentives. I want to make it clear that although providing things like high scores and rewards can help to motivate kids to play more often, it is better if they want to play more because it is simply a good game. I was just a the Digital Media Learning conference last week and a reoccurring topic was badges. The conference was focused on an older target age, but the popularity of badges scared me a little when I thought about it for younger kids - hence this pseudo rant in this review. We don't want to be bribing kids into playing these apps!

OK - sorry - back to this app - So yes, I think there are some intrinsic qualities to this app that will keep kids playing. That coupled with the high scores is good. However, I think there could be more of a goal to the levels and the pacing is often slow. Sometimes, you have to wait awhile before the right letters come up. Rating: 4/5

Parental Involvement: This is pretty much a one player game. It would be nice to see a review or maybe make the list of words available to parents so they can be on the look out for them in their everyday lives. Rating: 2/5

Total: 15 out of 20: 4 stars

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

Monday, March 5, 2012

Reading Raven

Reading Raven was created by Early Ascent, LLC. as a phonics-based reading app. It's a step-by-step instructional sequence for 3-5 year-olds. With all the literacy apps out there, can the Reading Raven stand out? Price: $3.99

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

Developmental Appropriateness: There are 3-4 different activities for each age. Parents can select the age and types of activities within the age for their child. The activities are very appropriate and build upon each other. So for example, a 3 year-old activity is to trace letters, and by 5, the activity is to trace words. The feedback is also great, where if you get it wrong, it tells you why. Also, for each age, there are 5 levels. So in each level, you focus on a specific set of letters and letter-sounds and they increase the difficulty of the material (e.g. length of the sentences you see). For the most part, I agree with the leveling. Where I differ is that it seems to focus on lowercase letters first. Research has shown that kids learn uppercase letters first. I'm also not sure about the way they grouped the letters into each level. As I've said before, there's no real pattern to the order in which kids learn the letters. Yes, I think there are some letter-sounds that may be easier than others, or some that are easier to write than others, but then again, you might learn to write the letter "S" faster if your name is Sam. Since parents are already setting the activities and age, it might be good to have an option where they can choose the letters they want their child to focus on. Finally, while the "levels" present different graphics that are fun, the actual activities in each level are identical. I don't think kids will really see them as advancement in levels - but I'm just nitpicking at this point. Great app for learning phonics. Rating: 4.5/5 (age 3-5)

Balance: The different graphics are fun without distracting from the task at hand. (I don't really see where the raven fits in and he kinda has a weird voice.) Rating: 5/5

Sustainability: Given the number of different activities across the age range, there's certainly enough to master in terms of content. Each level shows your progress, but a record of scores may be helpful to encourage kids to repeat a level, especially when they may not have gotten everything correct. Rating: 4/5

Parental Involvement: One aspect I loved about this app is the inclusion of a guide for parents and teachers explaining each activity and what the goals are. However, like I said, I'd like to see some sort of scoring, not only as an incentive for the kids, but more so for parents to review what their kid may or may not be excelling at. I think this is especially important since the parents are the ones setting the activities and difficulty. The scoring would provide at least some sort of crude measure that would help them decide what settings to check. Rating: 4/5

Total: 17.5 out of 20: 5 Stars

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

Friday, March 2, 2012

Measurement HD

Measurement HD was created by Emantras Inc. for kindergarteners to learn some basic measuring skills. There are five different activities that teach the concept of time, weight, volume, length, and time of year. Let's see how these stack up. Price: $1.99

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPad.Requires iOS 4.1 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness: This is an overall cute looking game. Some of the activities are better than others for learning this material. Let's start with the better ones: Fill me up (volume), Long and short, and Scale Tale. These are simple games where you have to choose which is heavier, which is longer, or which has more. However, the feedback could be better. At the end of each item, it could point out what they were suppose to look for more. Like for long and short, you could line them up and say, see, this one is longer, and especially in Fill me up, it could say, "this one held 5 and this one held 3, 3 is less than 5." Both kids who get the question right, and especially kids who get the question wrong need this type of reinforcement and feedback. As for the other two games, Crazy clock and and Action month, I don't think kids will actually learn to tell time or how to spell the months. Rather, with Crazy clock, they might learn what types of activities are associated with the time of day. With Action month, I don't think they will learn much without a parent or teacher there to talk about the months and what occurs during those months. Rating: 3/5 (aim for around 4 years)

Balance: The overall design is straightforward. I think it could use more distinction for correct versus incorrect. The answers turn either a subtle green or red, and then just continues. And a few things here and there could be clearer as well. For example, in Scale Tale, the monster, who is the scale, is cute, but the scale movements could be more realistic to the weight of the objects. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: The plus is the there are five different games, providing a variety of activities. You collect rewards as you get points in the activities. However, there doesn't seem to be any higher levels and these are fairly easy concepts, so once you get them, you get them. I would even say that for the app's recommended age of 5-6, these activities are too easy, or at least they will learn it quick and then get bored as there are no high scores to beat either. It would be nice to see a progression into harder math concepts. Rating: 3/5

Parental Involvement: There's not too much for parents to do here. The items are very simple and wouldn't require too much help beyond the initial introduction. There are no records f the scores, so parents cannot review their child's progress on the different activities. Rating: 2/5

Total: 12 out of 20: 3 stars

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