Thursday, May 31, 2012

i Learn With Boing: Ice Land Adventures!

i Learn with Boing: Ice Land Adventures! was created by Tribal Nova. It is a literacy app targeting preschool and kindergarten. It has three activities targeting Letters, Phonics, and Words. I was looking forward to checking out this app because I previously reviewed iLearn with Poko: Seasons and Weather, which was a solid app and has now (along with other apps by the developers) been updated to include a parent center that tracks kids progress. So how this Ice Land stack up? Price: $2.99

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

Developmental Appropriateness: The developers have clearly given thought to the design through an educational lens. Are the activities appropriate? Check. Is there leveling for each activity? Check. Is the leveling adaptive according to performance? Check. Is there instruction/tutor? Check - in the form of Boing, the character. Are the games engaging? Check - in general, yes, and one of the games even has a two-player mode to launch "snowballs". This is all great. 

Now here's me being critical and possibly nit-picky. First, is it me, or do some of the phonics pronunciation sound a bit off? I am not a phonics/speech expert, but I have some experience administering literacy assessments that include phonics and I feel like some of these are not quite right. For example, "e" here seems to always presented silent - which yes, there is the "silent e", but not always. How would you say "sh" or  "ow"? Second, there seems to be a wide range of vocabulary here - which is good, but it's kinda randomly presented. Figuring out the phonetics of "yogurt" is way harder than "sun". There's a progression not only for vocabulary, but letters and phonics and I don't get the sense that the level of difficulty within these domains were considered. The first point of the pronunciation concerns me quite a bit, and for that, I have to give a lower rating than what I thought initially. Rating: 3 out of 5 (aim for around 4 years).

Balance: Everything looks cute, yet simple at the same time. The phonics game, where you launch snowballs can get a little distracting as aiming and timing them correctly can be a little tricky! Also, not sure where to mention this, but my second player froze up during play. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: So as you play, you collect rewards. These rewards can then be used in a connected app where you can make your own avatars and "play" in this other planet. It's kinda neat. However, while you are doing the activities, it may get repetitive. While you do collect rewards as you go, the activity remains exactly the same as you progress through the levels. This may bore some as there's not much to break up the activity play itself, since the reward system is a separate thing. Rating: 4/5

Parental Involvement: A great addition to Tribal Nova apps is the parent center. Like other apps that have also started including a parent center, this one allows parents to review their kid's progress within the app an then makes recommendations for other apps that target other subject areas. This one includes a comparison of their kid's accuracy rate with the general population's. There's also a nice kinda guide for parents, explaining the activities and what's available in the parent center. Like I've said with other parent centers, this is a wonderful start for parents to stay connected. Perhaps there could be different packages for parents depending on the level of information they'd like. 

One thing I'd like to see (not specific to the parent center) is some sort of setting so parents (and kids) can set the levels within each activity. Some kids might get bored with having to get past the initial levels that may be too easy for them. Rating: 4/5

Total: 15 out of 20: 4 stars

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

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Hot off the presses: E-book study results

The Joan Ganz Cooney Center released a "QuickStudy" looking at print books versus basic and enhanced e-books; enhanced e-books having more interactive features than basic e-books. This is a study/report I've been working with the JGCC for awhile now and I'm excited to finally be able to share it with you! The report is pretty short and at least in my opinion, worth the read! I'll leave the details to you and your reading of the report.

As you'll see, the results  - very generally - that the interactive features in the enhanced e-book was distracting and took away from the reading experience and comprehension - are very similar to the research on pop-up books (and even other platforms like computers) that I've mentioned. So while I was not surprised by the results, I was surprised by the level of similarity! I really do believe that this is an effect that is strong and here to stay. So drawing upon my observations from the study and past research, here are a couple a hunches:

1) The distraction of the interactive features is not a novelty effect. It is certainly a possibility that as kids get more familiar with e-books and iPads and whatever devices, the interactive features may become distracting - less novel and probably just something they expect. However, my hunch is that yes, they may be more used to it, but the distraction remains. Pop-up books have been around forever, and yet the findings were the same.  It will always be fun to discover what tapping on something does. What I would be interested to see is if the effect remains after many readings of the same book. However, it would be hard to isolate the effects as I would hope that after many readings of the book, kids will remember more of the story, regardless of the interactive features!

2) The distraction of the interactive features is not due to inexperience/comfort level with e-books. I think that we will see differences in how parents read e-books as the popularity of e-books continues to grow. Parents may become more comfortable with the format and elaborate more on the content. Parents and kids may become more used to the interactive features and parents may spend less time saying things like, "Don't touch that yet." Still, I think the effect on children's comprehension will remain. In this current study, we factored in parent's prior experience and comfort level with iPads and e-books to the analyses, and there was still a significant difference in story recall. Further, as I've discussed before, in one of the pop-up book studies, the parents actually elaborated more on the concepts with the pop-up book than the plain book. Yet, the children still learned more from the plain than pop-up book.

This all being said, I cannot stress enough that this is not evidence that we should not have just-for-fun interactive features. As I've discussed before, it's really all about balance. So I hope that the findings have convinced you of the importance of finding a balance of features within an e-book that will engage children, yet not distract them too much from the content.

Questions about the research? Let me know!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Mirta - The Super Fly

Mirta - The Super Fly was developed by Next Stage. It is an e-book about Mirta, the Fly's mission to travel the world, but first she must overcome an obstacle - the window. Ha. It's offered in both English and Spanish - audio AND text. Price - Free!

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

Developmental Appropriateness: The themes of the story are appropriate - determination, having a goal, and "flexible thinking." I'm putting that in quotes because that's what the author talks about in the book. Not to give it all away, but the story ends with a question, "What was Mirta lacking?" Answer: Flexible Thinking. So here is where I think the app is great and at the same time not great - is that possible? I think it's great that it's presenting this comprehension question. Hopefully, it makes kids think about the story and learn from it. What I didn't think was great was the the explanation was so technical and not kid-friendly - I don't even think it was parent-friendly! It's educator or expert language. Sure, the answer is presented under "Author's note" but it is read aloud as if part of the story, and without it, there is no ending to the book. So I think it kinda loses the kid  - and at the most crucial part! Rating: 3/5 (aim for around 6 years).

Balance: The interactivity is all about the sound effects. You can tap on the picture to hear the sound effects that are already heard in the narration. I actually wouldn't mind to see a little variation - or it could at least capitalize on some plot points like Mirta smacking into the window continuously. Seeing or making that into a different interactive element would highlight the story. The graphics/pictures are all presented in this kinda muted style. Finally, the focus is on listening to the story, so the text may be a bit small and there is no text highlighting. Rating: 3/5

Sustainability: The story has some subtle humor that I think kids will like. However, it kinda seems like it lacks an ending. Rating: 3/5

Parental Involvement: Again, I like the comprehension question - this book almost requires parents to elaborate on the ending with their child. Rating: 4/5

Total - 13 out of 20 - 3 stars

Friday, May 25, 2012

Little Bee's ABC

Little Bee's ABC was created by Lisbon Labs. It's an alphabet app that presents multiple activities for each letter such as connect dots to learn the letter's shape, follow line directions to draw letters, paint missing parts of letters, and writing missing letters in words. So lots of letter writing and recognition in different contexts. Price: $2.99

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

Developmental Appropriateness: Little Bee's ABC is a super cute app. The graphics are colorful in a soothing way, the voice over descriptions of the objects is lively and, well, cute! I just wish that more attention was paid to how the content is suppose to teach the letters. For each letter, you first see the target letter formed by a something else - like a Jack-in-the-box spring curls over to form the letter P. Ok - cute and fun. But for learning, kids don't recognize these two-in-one things well. Then, you are presented with 6 activities. Again, they are all cute, and maybe together, they help kids learn the letters. But looking at them separately, I can't help but wonder if they could improve the learning aspect. For example, in the connect the dots activity, you connect the dots to form the outline of the letter, so you don't actually connect the dots in the way that you would write the letter. Or, in the "friends" activity, it presents a few examples of objects or whatever that begin with the that letter, and gives cute descriptions of them. But no where in this activity does it actually ever say the letter! Rating: 3/5 (aim for around 4 years)

Balance: The interactivity focus around the letters and the app is overall easy-to-use. I did notice that the app presents the letters in all different kinds of fonts - ranging from simple to cursive, to more abstract like using the objects. While I can see a purpose to exposing kids to different forms of the letters, I do think that some of the staple activities like writing the letters stuck with the more simpler forms. We can leave the calligraphy to a different app, rather than a learning letters app, or at least until we know the kids are pretty comfortable with letter recognition and writing letters. Otherwise, it may just unnecessarily complicate the learning. Rating: 3/5

Sustainability: The variety of activities is a plus. It's a visually appealing app, and I'm a sucker for cute. But there are no goals or much to egg on play, so I'm not sure how much kids will keep coming back to it once they've gone through it all once. Cuteness doesn't work for everyone. Rating: 4/5

Parental Involvement: There's not much for parents to do here except watch along - and of course elaborate when they can. Rating: 3/5

Total: 13 out of 20: 3 stars

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

Friday, May 18, 2012

Trunky Fishing Game

Trunky Fishing Game was created by UpsideDown Games. It's the digital take on the classic Fishing Game - yes, you know, the one at carnivals that you can never win or you might know it from it's toy form. The fish spin in a pond and they open and close their mouths. You have your little fishing rod and have to time it just right to land in the fish's mouth and pull it up without dropping it. So does it work as a digital game? How is it educational? Price: $1.99

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

Developmental Appropriateness: This app presents the game in a few different ways - a just for fun, fish your heart out mode, and then modes where it asks you catch the fish with a specific color, letter, and or number - so tapping into recognition. I like that it sets up the learning in a game setting - makes the learning fun. You can even have a two-player mode and play on the same device at the same time. Some friendly competition can help motivate play. I actually do remember this Fishing Game as a kid and loved playing it.  However, I don't feel it quite feel it captures what made the fishing game fun. Here, you tap on the target fish when it's mouth is open and drag it to the bucket. There's no thrill of using a rod, timing your actions just right, and then the best part, pulling the fish up and praying that the mouth has closed tightly and it doesn't fall off. So while the app has put the player in the Fishing Game setting, it doesn't really feel like you're actually playing the Fishing Game.

I would also prefer a bit more initial instruction. It took me a minute to figure out what to do. Trunky, the elephant is there with his fishing rod, and since I expected a fishing rod as part of the play, I thought Trunky would have a role in it. But he doesn't. He's merely the cheerleader. A few simple directions would help. Also, in the learning modes, the target is said in the beginning, and then you see the label in the top of the screen. I would like to hear the target repeated or prompts given, especially if the child is taking long to find the correct fish. Kids at this age cannot read the labels, and they may not know to tap on the label to hear it repeated. The letter and numbers are also kinda small to read - making them more salient would be helpful. There's some simple feedback when you get it right, but more reinforcement of both getting the correct and incorrect answers could help support the learning. Rating: 3/5 (aim for around 3 years)

Balance: As mentioned a few more features to help support the learning are needed. Otherwise, the game is set up simply, colorfully, without much distraction. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: While you get a point for every fish you correctly catch, it doesn't really record your score or keep a record if you're playing against others. And although you can choose to work on colors or letters or numbers, there aren't really any levels. It doesn't get faster or more difficult. Rating: 3/5

Parental Involvement: Trunky Fishing Game is linked to YogiPlay, a feature that parents can login to. Here, parents can look at usage reports (time spent on specific apps, time spent on reading/math/etc. apps), get recommendations based on your child's preferences, and also send messages to their child based on their usage and performance. YogiPlay also has a reward system where you collect coins and can "purchase" kid-friendly items. So this a great way for parents to stay connected, especially with games that are child-centered/meant to be a one-player game. Reviewing performance is important, but parents should also remember to reinforce the material and add-in real world context. Rating: 4.5/5

Total: 14.5 out of 20: 3 stars

Disclosure: I received this app for free for review purposes. Also, I've been working with YogiPlay as a reviewer!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Dream by Swipea

The Dream is an e-book by Chong Siang Kai. It's a fictional story that also aims to teach facts and about the Arabic world. It includes a bunch of mini-games too - currently its free, with in -app purchase options (mainly for the mini-games). Price: Free

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

Developmental Appropriateness: From the description, this e-book sounds great - and for the most part, it lives up to the description. It's a solid e-book that was definitely designed with learning in mind. I really like how it's a fictional story and then uses the interactive elements to teach about the Arabic culture and environment. For example, you can tap on the camel, and a definition will pop up and also give some facts about camels, or you can tap on a word, like Ahmad's name, and it'll give you what it means in Arabic. There's also a separate mode where you can just search through for the interactive elements, but it doesn't narrate the text - so more of an exploring mode and you can focus on just the story in the Read to Me mode. The activities are kept separate from the story. 

So why am I not more excited about this e-book? While the illustrations are nice and kid-friendly, I think I just didn't find the book as engaging as it could be. I guess this is for a few reasons... The text, especially with the facts are not overly complicated, but not exactly kid-friendly. Kids like a bit of humor, it helps to engage them, leading to better memory and learning. I also thought the interactive elements could have been better and taken it to the next step. First, saying what you are defining first is important! It just jumps into the definition without labels. Second, the definitions are just paired with a static picture. Some animation or videos could be used to highlight the definitions. Finally, I think the activities could be beefed-up. A couple do add to cultural knowledge, like the clothing and the food, but they are pretty one-dimensional games. The rest are more like ads. Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 7 years).

Balance: Overall, it's pretty simple, and not too much distraction. But when there is an interactive element, the narration for the facts will overlap with the narration of the story. Since there is a separate mode to find the facts, maybe the facts should not be on in the Read to Me mode, or at least not accessible until the text is read. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: Like I said, I would love for this e-book to be more engaging. To me, but maybe others will differ, I didn't the tone of the e-book to be too kid-oriented. Rating: 3/5

Parental Involvement: Parents can obviously read with their child, and they might actually learn some facts too! This e-book is a great start to teaching starting conversations about other cultures. Rating: 4/5

Total: 15 out of 20 = 4 stars

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

50 Reviews!

I've finally reached 50 reviews here and to celebrate, I wrote up a Top 5 wish list that just got posted on the Joan Ganz Cooney Center blog. So give it a read - and here's looking to 50 more reviews!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Smart Flashcards - Addition 1

Smart Flashcards - Addition 1 was created by Lexpaper. There are a lot of flashcard apps out there. And to be honest, too many. Educational apps have much more potential than to simply be flashcards. Sure digitized flashcards are much more mobile and easy to make and even personalize, but do they really add that much to learning than regular ol' flashcards made on index cards? But what makes these flashcards more interesting is that it provides "help" on how to solve each problem. What kind of help? Price: Free.

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPod touch (3rd generation), iPod touch (4th generation) and iPad.Requires iOS 5.0 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness: This app provides 100 simple addition problems. You just scroll through them at your own pace, slowly memorizing them. Ok - that's the basics. Now onto the more interesting part. If you need help on 9+5, you tap on the card and it shows you the answer, 14 and also a number line where it starts at 9 and then moves up 5 one-by-one, until it gets to 14. I applaud the developers that they took this app to the next step, showing some kind of strategy and support. But, I still have to say, I'm a little disappointed. I wish it offered more. It only showed one kind and level of strategy - count-on. Beginners would not be ready for it - they are likely still using count-all where they would start from 1. More advanced learners might be using 10's or deriving the answer with something like, "I know that 10+5 is 15 and 9 is one less than 10, so the answer is 14." Also, for young kids, verbal prompts along with the illustration would be really helpful. As is, it felt a bit limited. Rating: 3.5/5 (aim for 6 years)

Balance: The cards are very simple and clear. Again, the subtlety of the movements of the "help" may be lost on kids, who may not pay as much attention without verbal cues. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: This is probably not something kids would choose to do on their own - they are flashcards. Rating: 2/5

Parental Involvement: Parents don't have much of a role here other than to enforce practicing with these flashcards. Rating: 3/5

Total: 12.5 out of 20 = 3 stars

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Kids' Dental Health

Kids' Dental Health was created by Alexandr Stacanov and is an e-book that teaches kids about oral hygiene. Yes, there's an app for that! I have to admit that I was not a very good teeth brusher as a child, but luckily, no cavities to date! Would this book have encouraged my younger self (and probably current self) to brush and floss better? Price: $1.99

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

Developmental Appropriateness: The topic matter is of course relevant to young kids. Brushing teeth is probably part of their daily routine. This book explains why brushing and flossing is important and that you should go tot he dentist for routine checks. Although you can tell that there was effort to make the text more kid-friendly, it could've gone farther. While the graphics seem to aim for a young child, the text seems to be aimed for older. Also, the text is pretty much informational - it's not really a story that draws you in and makes you care about oral hygiene. It attempts to draw you in in two ways. First, you can choose a character that then becomes the character in the story. This is a good way to get kids to identify with the character in the story - unfortunately, nothing is really happening to the character in the story. So there's nothing to identify with, other than to learn the information the character is learning. Second, there is one game within the book (there are supposedly more games coming with the updates). In this game, you tap on bacteria until they go away. You earn points, but there's no real goal. Actually, when it was done and told me that I was great at brushing away all the germs, I still had a mouthful of germs plus some that I didn't get that became plaque. So, the feedback was not all that accurate and actually teaches you poorly about the consequences of not brushing well. You would also think that the way to kill the bacteria would be some kinda brushing motion or something related to brushing instead of tapping. Rating: 3/5 (aim for around 5 years).

Balance: The story is pretty simple. You can tap on some of the pictures and it will label it. Some of the areas are not so accurate though - like if I tapped on the child's body, it says toothbrush. And tapping on the pictures will interrupt the reading the text. But overall, the focus is clear - brush, floss, and go to the dentist. Rating 3.5/5

Sustainability: Since there's no real story, kids' aren't likely to repeatedly come back to this e-book. The one activity/game might be fun at first, but without a goal, is not too engaging. Rating: 3/5

Parental Involvement: Parents should read this along with their child so they can reinforce what's taught in the book to real life. It's also probably a book parents would pick for their child rather than a book a child would pick on their own. Rating: 3.5/5

Rating: 13 out of 20 = 3 stars

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