Thursday, June 28, 2012


Mathlands was created by Mamanijo and comprises of 6 games. While most of these games do require some math, this is more of an app for puzzle solvers and logical thinkers than straight-up math lovers. So where does this app fit in for the typical math student? Price: Two games are free, the rest are an in-app purchase for $1.99. There is also another in-app purchase for $0.99 if you want to play all the games together. Careful not to confuse one purchase with the other.

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

Developmental Appropriateness: For kids, and even adults, who like logic problems like these (The Tower of Hanoi is a typical example) this is a great app to flex those muscles. It's done in a kid-friendly way - for example on one of the more typical math word problem games, the word problem is presented within a comic strip, adding a bit of fun to what may be a boring math problem. I like that it adds some "help" materials at the bottom in some of the tasks to help kids solve the problem. For kids who are pretty strong in math already, this is a great way to get them to increase their flexibility in math thinking. However, for kids who may not be great at math and or love these types of puzzles, this app does not offer enough support to win them over. The "help" materials aren't enough to help a kid who doesn't know where to begin. There's a hint part, but it basically just tells you the answer. There's no leveling of hints - to get you going if you're stuck. Also, more kid-friendly information on the strategies would be useful too. Even as an adult, I could solve the games, but for some, I couldn't really tell you what I was doing to get the answer. Being able to express the strategy is important to truly understanding the concept. The app gives a "puzzle history" and provides the solution, but the text is long and reads like a textbook. In sum, I like that these games make kids think about math in a different way, but it doesn't offer enough support to reach kids of all skill levels and for me to think of it as educational/instructional rather than just-for fun. Rating: 3.5/5 (aim for around 7 years).

Balance: The features in each of the games are focused on the task. A bit more instruction could be given for the tasks. For example, in the water task, you have to get a goal number of liters, but that goal goes away. If you go to instructions, the instructions only talk about the goal of the first problem. I'll admit it, I kept forgetting what the goal was - and I couldn't get to that information unless I started over. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: The games keep getting harder and harder so there's enough challenge, even for adults. If you've purchased the game portion (so it's not just free-play), it will keep track of what level you're on. However, it doesn't really save your times and records. I feel these are the kinds of puzzles that people would enjoy sharing - to tell people how they figured it out. So some sort of social, sharing element would be nice. Rating: 4/5

Parental Involvement: Parents can play too! But in terms of co-playing there's not too much here. Parents can go over the puzzle history with their kids. There's no review or measure of how kids are doing and what they need to work on. I think the leveling of hints would be good so parents get be more involved in the process so it's not just get it or don't get it. Rating: 3.5/5

Total: 15 out of 20 - 4 stars

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ready to Print

Ready to Print was created by Essare LLC along with an occupational therapist. It aims to help teach pre-writing skills and incorporates a series of activities such as touch, matching, and pinching. Price: $9.99  While I don't factor in price in the ratings, as I leave that up to you to judge for yourselves, this is really one of the pricier apps I've seen! Is it worth it? 

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

Developmental Appropriateness: This app was definitely designed with an educational eye. It has a very set progression with levels and a review. There is no doubt that this has educational intent, and can be used at home or in the classroom. My real question is: Is "writing" on an iPad with your finger the same as writing with a pen or pencil? I personally, don't think so. The activities here (see photo), are very basic - tap on objects, drag objects, move finger in a shape/line, etc. Sounds like to me, this is a "how to use an iPad" app rather than how to write. Having read about and been part of many usability studies, I can tell you that kids have a natural knack for using iPads. They are good at it, even at a very young age - yes, before they can write. So I'm not sure what this app really teachers them in terms of writing. It's just not the same. Even the pinching is not the same as the "pincher" grip for holding a pencil. Does this app teach things like how to follow directions, matching, and recognizing shapes and letters? Yes. Does it teach you how to write? I don't think so.  Rating: 3/5 (aim for around 3 years).

Balance: The games are simple enough and without distraction. In terms of usability and engagement, it seems designed for it to be used with an educator - the look of it, that there are no verbal directions, etc. A tutorial and other features to engage children would make it have less of a classroom feel, at least in the beginning. Rating: 3.5/5

Sustainability: Again I can see this being used by a teacher or professional, where they have a purpose in mind for the specific activities - not necessarily writing. Otherwise, I don't see kids asking for this. Rating: 3.5/5

Parental Involvement: There's a review feature, which is grab for teachers and parents. I think for parents, an explanation for how these activities relate to writing would be useful (there's a little of this on the website) so they know what to watch for and how to relate these activities to other ones in everyday life. Rating: 4/5

Total: 14 out of 20  = 3 stars

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

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Rooster Who Lost His Voice

The Rooster Who Lost His Voice was created by iMagine machine, LLC. This is a great example of how some apps are really starting to blur the line between whether it's a book or a show. Rooster is definitely a story, told in a folktale kinda way - but it doesn't have any text and is 18-minutes long, putting it in a category all on its own Price: the initial 3 pages are free, but to purchase the full "book" is $4.99

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPod touch (3rd generation), iPod touch (4th generation) and iPad.Requires iOS 4.0 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness: This is a well-done story with great graphics and effects. On the spectrum of book to show/movie, this leans heavier on the show/movie side. One of the few book feature is the tone of the story is told like a classic tale, not like a tv show or movie. And while some scenes advance on their own, there are moments where the child must "turn the page". But even this is not the typical swipe, it's pulling a rope, like you would to close or open the curtains to a stage show. This little pull feature along with very limited interactive features is just enough to make sure kids are still paying attention and not just passively watching a show. The main interactive feature is I guess comprehension questions. Kids have to choose what "gift" they think the characters are giving. I like this "active thinking" idea, and I think it's an important feature to have especially in this format, but I think there could be more feedback here. The picture options at least need a label as they are not always obvious what they are. And the answers require background knowledge not given by the story so a little reinforce/feedback would be nice to make sure kids "got it". 

So, since there is no text here, is this as "literacy-focused" as a book? Are apps like this one even meant to be thought of as "literacy-focused"? There is no doubt that listening and I guess in this case, watching a story has great value. I guess I'm just wondering where do we draw the line - do we need to? Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 5 years)

Balance: The developers really kept it simple here in terms of interactivity, but I don't think they lost anything in terms of engagement. Not sure where to put this, but one feature I'd like to see added would be a page menu or something. 18 minutes can be a bit long for a story - depending on the situation, and there's no way to jump to a certain page - you start from the beginning each time. Actually, mine froze once, and I had to just scroll through everything again to get to where I was. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: I think it's a cute story kids would keep coming back to. It'd be great if the questions switched up a little so that kids don't already know all the answers if it's a repeated reading.  Rating: 4/5

Parental Involvement: So without the text, it kinda takes away that co-reading experience that books automatically give. But perhaps this will free up the parents to elaborate on the story and provide some  "active thinking" prompts that could go along with the comp questions. Rating: 3/5

Total: 15 out of 20 = 4 stars

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

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Expedited Reviews

Hi Everyone

Just wanted to give a quick update and really big thank you for the great feedback and for taking an interest in my blog!

My reviews are free - and I'd like to keep it that way! 

Given the amount of requests and that I do this on my free time, the wait time has risen to be around 2 months and will probably keep creeping up (thank you for your patience!). If you are willing to wait, great. Same as usual.

But if you would like more immediate feedback because you're still in development, trying to meet a release date or for whatever reason, I'm now offering "Expedited Reviews" where for a fee, you can receive the review in 3 business days. Please see the "App Suggestions for Review" tab up top for the details.

Thanks, and I hope you keep reading,


Plants HD

Plants HD was created by Sprout Labs and aims to teach kids all about the plant life cycle. I definitely think we need more apps that tackle this kind of subject area. Multimedia can definitely make learning this material easier and of course, more fun than say a typical text book. The question is, does Plants HD hit the mark? Price: $1.99

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

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

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

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

Balance: As mentioned, I think kids could easily not pay attention to the text. I'm not saying that there's too much going on - I like the photos and I like the fun facts. But maybe something could be done about how they access these other sections and what can be added to keep focus on the text and to reinforce their understanding of it. Rating: 3.5/5

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

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

Total: 13.5 out of 20 - 3 stars

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

Friday, June 15, 2012


Count-A-Licious was created by Brainster Apps. It's an introduction to numbers kinda app. It may sound weird to phrase it like that, but there really are many steps to learning what numbers mean and this app really targets those initial steps. So while a narrow focus, it's the foundation to learning math. Price: The initial app is free, but after the first level that concentrates on the numbers 1-5, there's an in-app purchase for $0.99, and that gets you up to 20.

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

Developmental Appropriateness: There are 4 games: Number Show, Counting Game, Tracing Game, and Treasure Crits. Ok, really only 3, as the last one there is more of a fun, reward game. Brainster Apps has also made my job easier by clearly stating what their learning intentions are: 1) Recognize number sounds, 2) Recognize numbers visually, 3) Understand that numbers have a sequence, 4) Understand that numbers are associated with a quantity, 5) Understand that numbers in the beginning of the sequence are associated with smaller amount of objects and latter number with more, 6) Introduction to writing numbers. Do they achieve these objectives? Yes. I think together, the three games, albeit very simple games, are done well. They sequence the numbers whenever possible and also associate the numbers with objects fairly often. I think these games do a good job of showing and teaching, but I do think this app is missing an important step. While the games all show the number to object correspondence, I guess we don't actually know if the kids "get it" - not with these games at least. It'd be good to have an additional game where the kids are asked to find/choose/tap - whatever you want, a target number of objects. Then we would know for sure that they've absorbed what these three games are aiming to teach. Rating: 3.5/5 (aim for around 3 years).

Balance: While the special effects that happen as you count make it fun and engaging, at times, the sound effects are louder than the voice counting, especially in the Counting Game. Seeing the cool effects will already be taking kids attention away from the counting, so it's especially important that they at least hear the numbers loud and clear. Rating: 3.5/5

Sustainability: Cycling through the games gives it a nice feel of variety. Throwing in the just for fun reward game is nice too - and I think it's a game kids will get a kick out of. Since this app targets a narrow skill set and only goes up to 20, kids may master and bore of this app quick - although the goal is to master it, so I guess I can't complain! Rating: 5/5

Parental Involvement: This is a one-player game (it does allow for multiple kids to have profiles) and of simple games so maybe parents don't have quite as much of a role, but can still reinforce the material. there is no review/progress monitoring for parents. Rating: 3.5/5

Total: 15.5 out of 20 = 4 stars

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Kids Crosswords

Kids Crosswords was created by Learning Touch. It boasts 100 words, 10,000 puzzles, and 10 levels of increasing difficulty. I like crosswords so let's go. Price: $0.99

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

Developmental Appropriateness: Ok, I must admit, I was at first disappointed. I was expecting crossword puzzles. Yes, for kids, but some form of here's a clue, figure out the answer. This is more of a put the words together. There are pictures, and you make the word for that picture and the words cross and intersection. But even on the highest level, you can just tap on the picture and it tells you the word. But, after I got over the initial realization that this was not a crossword puzzle app, I thought that this was actually a pretty good phonics app. The 10 levels may seem like they only increase in difficulty by a smidgeon, but the progression actually makes sense - although I'd still like to see it get into a larger range of words and combinations of sounds or even not providing the labels for the pictures so kids have to figure it out. For what's there, throughout the process, it very clearly sounds out everything, from the letter options to as you place them correctly. The blending of the sounds together could be smoother - as is it's very separated so it's hard to hear how all the sounds together make up the word.

I've let go of wanting this to be more like a real crossword puzzle, but I do have to say that the developers still could have given the crossword aspect a little more thought. For example, all the pictures start off in black and white. For one, it's a picture of a painter, and the target word is actually red. But there would have been no way for someone who was trying to figure it out to get "red" from a black and white painter without tapping on it, thus eliminating the fun of "figuring it out." Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 4 years).

Balance - Everything is very simple and focused. I like that it doesn't allow you to do anything until it has completed sounding out and saying the words. Rating: 5/5

Sustainability - Although it seems like there's endless puzzles, there are really only 100 words and animations. Another reason I'd like to see a larger library of words is because a lot of the words start repeating, even within one level. This could get repetitive, and kids will just start memorizing. Rating: 3.5/5

Parental Involvement: There's not much to do here for parents. It'd be great if it could what words the kids are struggling with or at least a list of the words that appear on each level or just some sort of review for parents to generalize and reinforce. Rating: 3/5

Total: 15.5 out of 20 = 4 stars

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

Friday, June 8, 2012

Art Doodle Live

Art Doodle Live was created by TOGEVA Ltd. in collaboration with Bridgeman Art Library which allows it to showcase many works of art by great artists from Monet, da Vinci, Klee, you name it. The goal here is to expose kids to these great works and inspire them to create their own using the original masterpieces as a base. Price: $1.99

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

Developmental Appropriateness: The strength of this app is of course the availability of a great library of art from many different genres. I like the idea of not just creating an app for kids to make art, but to expose them to and teach them about works of art by others. Unfortunately, as far as the "teaching" goes, Art Doodle Live falls short. No additional information is given about the artworks - no prompts, "fun facts", etc. In fact, I at first didn't even notice the title and artist labels that are pretty small that are given when you first choose what piece of art to work with. So while it does expose kids to many artworks, I don't feel they learn much about them. 

The layout of the art tools also seem more fit for adults rather than kids. 

All that being said, there are a couple of cool features here. For the art tools, there's one where you can "drip" the paint. Also, there is a "live" feature where if you login, you can activate a multi-user and multiple people can paint on the same canvas at the same time. You can then of course save and share and even order prints and get your creation printed on mugs and things. 
Rating: 2/5 (aim for 7 years)

Balance: The app is easy to navigate - all the menu features are on the top of the screen. The artworks are organized by type (photography, animal art, etc.) It'd be nice if you could choose by other options like artist or even "black and white", which I think would help kids to learn and think about the art in different ways. This would help keep the focus on learning about the artworks, instead of this app becoming just another art app. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: There are tons of art pieces and kids can draw forever. I'm just not sure if kids would continue using it because the artworks or simply because it's a fun art app. Rating: 4/5

Parental Involvement: This could have been a great opportunity for parents and kids to learn about artworks together. But since their's not much offered about the artworks, parents will have to rely on their own knowledge. It's still a good opportunity to create some art together. Rating: 3/5

Total: 13 out of 20: 3 stars

Disclosure: I received this app for free for review purposes

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Butterfly Math

Butterfly Math was created by Bugaboo Math Games for Kids. It's a math drill kinda game, but with a little twist. Instead of coming up with the answer, you are given the answer and asked to come up with the problem. So x+x=7. What does this twist do in terms of learning? Price: $0.99

Device Requirements: Android 2.2 and up

Developmental Appropriateness: So the question here is does it require different cognitive skills/math knowledge to come up with the problem instead of the answer? I think so. It requires more flexibility in thinking - at least at first until you have it all memorized. And from a more practical view, kids don't practice this way of solving math problems as much in school. So in the least, getting the answer is something that may feel more automatic to them while getting the problem may require a pause at first.

Although it might not have been the developer's intent, this way of thinking does kinda prep you for principles like commutativity (3+4=4+3) and inverse (3+4=7; 7-4=?). So this is some untapped potential that I haven't really seen in other math apps. However, here I go again with the need for support and feedback. Nothing is really offered in terms of that. When you get the answer wrong, it just doesn't move on until you do or until the time runs out. So no strategy help is given, hints, prompts, nadda. Also, if kids rely on a certain combination - like if they always choose 3+4 = 7 instead 5+2 or 6+1, then the app should prompt them to try a different way. Further, support that highlights and reinforces the principle that these problems lend themselves to would be amazing. Rating: 3.5/5 (aim for around 7 years).

Balance: There's a game between the levels, but I don't think it detracts from the learning. It actually seems like a good motivator, and the theme of the game (catching butterflies) is related to the butterflies in the task, so it's not taking you to a whole different experience or anything. My only question is whether the colors of the numbers draw attention to certain numbers more. The orange really pops, but sometimes, when the a number is blue and on a blue butterfly, it's not as noticeable. This may affect what numbers kids choose to solve the problems. Rating:4/5

Sustainability: I think this is a nice combination of game and skill. Kids will really like the catch the butterfly "reward" game that adds onto your score. For the content part, you can set it to do different operations (add, subtract, multi, divide). And with the game, there are levels that get increasingly harder. It saves a high scores list, separated for each operation type. One note though that it'd be nice if kids could choose something other than butterflies - in case butterflies really don't interest them. Rating: 4.5/5

Parental Involvement: So not much here for parents - there's no "review"at all - other than maybe the high scores list, but that may be confounded by kids being really good at catching the butterflies instead of solving the problems. If there were prompts as suggested above, that would give parents prompts to reinforce the material as well. Rating: 3/5

Total: 15 out of 20 - 4 stars

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Ed's Jungle

Ed's Jungle was developed by OneUniverse Productions and is, as you probably guessed from the title, an app about animals in the Jungle. It combines two pretty popular topics in the app world right now - an "I Spy" kinda game and animals and the sounds they make. Does combining things automatically make it better than the originals? Price: $2.99

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPad.Requires iOS 5.1 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness: "I Spy" and Animal apps are of course appropriate activities for young kids. Here, you see a main scene and have to find all the hidden animals. When you tap on one, it leads to a different scene where you can see the animal in animated action, hear it's name and the sound it makes. I think the "I Spy" element elevates the animal learning making it more interesting than apps that are a bit more "flashcard" where you would simple select an animal and learn more. On the other hand, I don't think the "I Spy" part is better than other "I Spy" games. Yes, it's nice that you can learn more about what you've found - that part I do like. But in the actual spying part, it's a little less engaging. Other than to find all the possible animals, there's no step by step goal to egg you on. So prompts like, "Find the monkey" or "Find something green". These kinds of game elements really add to the experience, especially for young kids who may get bored easily. Further, these prompts could reinforce the learning. Speaking of the "learning" aspect, the label for each animal is presented both visually and orally. I can't decide whether I think the voice is just meant to be weird, or of low quality recording. The animal sounds is of a human making them, so some are better than others. Overall, I found this part of the app's pacing a bit slow. Again - pacing is one of those elements that is important to the whole experience, and factors into attention and engagement. Finally, given the way it's laid out, more information could easily be given about the animals to add another layer to the app - this would help engage slightly older kids who may already be familiar with the animals.

So if your kids love seeing animals, this is a more interesting app than other basic animal apps. But if your kids are really into "I Spy" games, then there are better options. Rating: 3.5/5 (aim for around 3 years)

Balance: Overall, this app is straightforward, no bells and whistles that aren't related to the topic. It also features a "map" where you can see what animals you've found and haven't found. On the other hand, I think adding a couple of game elements would enhance both the experience and learning. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: There's only one scene so in comparison to other "I Spy" games, this will seem limited. But maybe if was viewed more like a picture book where you can just go through all the animals, it'll have more life. And for some reason, kids just love animals! Rating: 3/5

Parental Involvement: Parents don't have an obvious role here. This is another reason why I think the prompts in the spying stage would be nice - parents could use those as prompts to help, and as conversation starters. Or if there was additional animal facts presented, then parents can go off those. But as is, parents aren't offered much here. Rating: 3/5

Total: 14.5 out of 20 = 3 stars

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