Tuesday, July 31, 2012

i Learn with Boing: Savannah Adventures!

i Learn with Boing: Savannah Adventures! is another cute educational app from Tribal Nova. While the previous installment, iLearn with Boing: Iceland Adventures! focused on literacy activities for preschoolers, Savannah focuses on math activities for the same age group. Price: $2.99

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

Developmental Appropriateness: A strength with Tribal Nova apps in general is that they do a good job of making the activities have a game like feel. In this case, there are three activities led by animals found in the Savannah targeting counting, specifically quantity-number association, order - counting forwards, backwards, and skip counting, and calculate - early addition and subtraction. As with Iceland, some nice features are the leveling through each activity, adapting to kid's progress, rewards, and the parent center. 

Where it falls a little short is with the details. First, the labels of the activities are a little misleading. "Counting", I think is really enumeration because kids have to judge how many objects are shown and then tap on the corresponding number in "Whack a mole" style. "Order" is actually counting, because it's just all different patterns of counting or getting the frog to jump to the different numbers on the lily pad. Finally, as is, the "calculate" activity is not really calculation but more counting or kinda early or precursor to adding and subtracting. Other little details that could be improved is in the feedback/prompts/scaffolding features. For example, in the counting/enumeration, it would be nice if kids could tap on the items and hear them counted. As is, if you tap anywhere around the objects, it just tells you how many total there are. Kids should be able to be given the objects, asked, how many, and then they can count them by pointing, pushing, grouping, etc. The activity I could see the most improvement is with the calculation activity where kids have to go and catch a target number of ostriches and put them on the truck. At times, there are already some ostriches on the truck, so kids have to "add" x more to get the target number or in the higher levels, there are more than the target number of ostriches on the truck, so kids have to "subtract" x amount. I think the adding and subtracting could be made more obvious - as is, it just seems like a counting activity. Like the already present ostriches should be separated from the to be added ostriches so that kids can see that, for example,  3 already there ostriches + 5 added ostriches =8 total. And that should be highlighted by some voiceover feedback before the truck drives away. In general, the activities are good, - these little details just add a little oomph to help learning. Rating: 3.5/5 (aim for around 4)

Balance: I think the activities have struck a good balance between fun game features and keeping the focus on learning. Again, there are just little details that could be improved - like the objects that are to be counting in counting could be bigger and made more functional. Rating: 4.5/5

Sustainability: The activities are cute, and I see an nice new feature here is that once you've been playing awhile, when you start again, you can pick what level to start with and it gives you the recommended level as well. The rewards are nice and you can go to the reward world to play with them. For more competitive kids or kids who might find going through the levels repetitive, a score or high scores list might be nice, especially with the two-player activity. It seems to take time into account, so it could be easy to convert that into points. Rating: 4/5

Parental Involvement: All iLearn apps are linked to a parent center which provides how well kids are doing on the specific activities and if kids have multiple iLearn apps, parents can see what topics they are spending time with. Parents are also given a brief explanation of the target skills within the activities. Parents can stay involved by reviewing. It'd be great if there were then suggested activities parents can do outside of the app that targets their kid's strengths and weaknesses so parents can share and link to the real world. Rating: 4/5

Total: 16 out of 20 - 4 stars.

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

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mini Fish Tale

Mini Fish Tale was created by Bakul Books. It's an e-book about a girl who receives 2 fish for her birthday and one dies and she needs to figure out what to do to make the lonely fish happy. It also includes closing and puzzle activities with marine life trivia aside from the e-book. Price: Free

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.Requires iOS 5.0 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness: This is a simple and very basic story and e-book. The only "extra" features are narration and text highlighting. While there is no problem with that, I do have some slight problems with this book, especially when it comes to promoting literacy. First, the text highlighting is not accurate. It does not highlight when the words are spoken. Second, there are a couple of grammatical errors in the text. The main one being "fishes", which appears multiple times. Plural forms of words is something that young kids tend to over generalize and can be confusing given all the exceptions in the English language. As an e-book presented in English, it's very important to get these basics correct because kids pick these things up. 

What I DO like are the extra activities. The coloring and puzzles may seem like a standard addition nowadays, but what they've added here are some facts to go along with the picture. Although some of the facts could be reworded to be more kid-friendly, it's a nice way to extend the learning. I wish there was more. Rating: 2/5 (aim for around 4 years of age).

Balance: Everything is simple here. the activities are kept separate form the story. The pictures are colorful, but I wonder if that's enough to keep kids engaged in an otherwise bare story. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: I think adding the activities with the facts was a nice way to add extra life to this app. But there are only 3 pictures and facts for each. Also, some of the production quality is a bit lower than many other e-books out there - and I think kids will notice. Rating: 3/5

Parental Involvement: Again, with e-books, there's always co-reading. Parents can also elaborate on the facts in the activities. Rating: 4/5

Total: 13 out of 20 = 3 stars

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Tree I See

The Tree I See was created by Aridan Books and is a sweet story about friendship and helping each other out. It was conceptualized by a neurosurgery physician assistant and claims to have been designed to help working memory and re-call ability. Let's see how and whether it does so. Price: $0.99

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.Requires iOS 3.1 or later

Developmental Appropriateness: This is a solid e-book. The story topic is appropriate for young kids - maybe not totally exciting, but is a cute and heartwarming story about a tree who makes lasting friends in the forest by helping each other out.  The interactive features are relevant to the story and tapping on the characters will make them repeat what they've said in the story which is a nice touch to reinforce plot points. A feature I thought had a lot of potential is how the text is presented. It automatically appears in a box as it's being read and then goes away so kids can interact with the pictures. If you tap on an arrow within the text box, it enlarges in the center of the page. I thought this is a great opportunity for parents and teachers to focus kids on the text and help build their literacy skills. However, it does not highlight word by word, repeat if tapped on, provide definitions, etc. It only highlights a few words at a time, and you can press play to hear the entire text read again. It relies on the parent or teacher to provide extra support, enhancement, and reinforcement. So while I like the thought, it could have been taken further.

So what about improving working memory and re-call? From the iTunes description, it says it does so through "consistent illustrative theme and gradual character integration, to maintain focus and assist with the cognitive development of your child." Don't many books do this? Yes, the tree remains constant, and each new friend is added to the picture as they are introduced in the story. So illustratively, the story is updated and provides the cues for plot points, but the text does not update and build upon/repeat the characters as have been seen in many other children's stories. And for re-call, how are we measuring this? I thought maybe there would be prompts for kids to answer questions or to think about what happened in the story, but there aren't any. One great way to improve retention is to make things explicit and to verbalize it, and I don't see that here. So yes, while I think having the characters on the page repeat what they say in the text is nice, I don't otherwise see what else separates this e-book from other good e-books for comprehension and re-call. 

Overall, The Tree I See adds some nice touches to help learning, but maybe over-emphasizes the claims. Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 5 years)

Balance: For the most part, the interactive elements help to enhance the story. At times though, tapping on them make them all overlap, especially later on the in the story with more characters involved. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: It took me a few readings to really start appreciating some of the touches here, so I think parents and kids will too and discover new things with each reading. Rating: 4/5

Parental Involvement: There's no laid out role for parents, but I think the text feature provide good opportunity and a good cue for parents to highlight words or plot points or whatever. Rating: 4/5

Total: 16 out of 20 = 4 stars

Of note: 100% of Net proceeds will be given to Autism Speaks for the month of May and June. Thereafter 10% of our proceeds will continue to be given to Autism Speaks. 

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

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ansel and Clair: Cretaceous Dinosaurs

Ansel and Clair: Cretaceous Dinosaurs was created by Cognitive Kid, Inc., the same creators as for Ansel and Clair Adventures in Africa has won numerous "best of" and educational app awards. I have not checked out Adventures in Africa, but was definitely interested in seeing what all the hype was about. Does it live up? Price: $1.99

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPad.Requires iOS 4.2 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness: I totally see what everyone was talking about. This is a great app for learning. Basically, Ansel and Clair go on a journey to learn all about dinosaurs, visiting a paleontologist at his dig site for fossils and then time traveling back to the Cretaceous period to see and learn about the different dinosaurs. It's jammed pack full of information, but with the learning design, it's conveyed in an informal, fun way. There's a plot to carry out the story, time to reflect on the information as you take pictures, time to review through the pictures/travel log, and ways to share the experience through the travel log. It takes important learning tenets and masks it with a fun feature. The information is written in a very kid-friendly way, which is very important given the amount of big words. My only warning would be that if your kid doesn't like dinosaurs, this may be boring as it ALL about learning about dinosaurs and it can also be a bit slow-paced at times. Rating: 5/5 (aim for around 7 years).

Balance: Overall, the interactive features are "functional" in that they either mimic what you are suppose to be doing in that action and or are relevant to the plot. There were a few times when some of the features took multiple and more aggressive tapping to get to work. And I did find some of the pacing to be on the slow side. Rating: 4.5/5

Sustainability: There's load of info that I'm sure kids will pick up something new each time. But again, if dinosaurs aren't your thing, this won't last long. Rating: 4.5/5

Parental Involvement: There's no explicit role for parents, but the travel log can act as a great review or a way for kids to share what they've done. I bet most adults don't know a lot this content either, so adults won't be bored playing along. This would also be great for teachers to use in the classroom. Rating: 4/5

Total 18 out of 20 - 5 stars

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

Monday, July 16, 2012

Math Doodles

Math Doodles was created by Carsten Studios Inc., by Dan Carstens, an early math hater who later found ways to make math fun. This is a unique perspective for a math app designer! Math is one of the subjects where you often hear kids and even adults saying, "I hate math," or "Math is just not something I'm good at." This is more true in America than most other countries. So any way we can make math thought of as less of a dread is great. Does Math Doodles accomplish this? Price: $2.99

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

Developmental Appropriateness: Math Doodles presents three games: Sums Stackers, Connect Sums, and Unknown Square. They are all variations on getting the dice (or whatever representation you choose) to add up to a target sum (9=4+5=3+3+3=8+1, etc). This helps to increase fluency and flexibility in thinking about these otherwise simple, but perhaps boring, math problems. Sum Stackers and Unknown Square a bit more logical thinking as they have an extra layer of problem solving involved (See video). So overall, I think that Math Doodles can attract kids who may not love math, but love puzzles and want to solve things. This is definitely a great way to get them to do some math, all disguised as a puzzle. For kids who are struggling with math, they will probably need some help getting started and to help focus them on the game elements so that they don't get frustrated with the math. So while I don't think that Math Doodles will make everyone love math, it will attract a larger audience than a more straight forward math game. Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 6 years).

Balance: The art work definitely has a doodle-like feel. It's all pretty straight forward. Offering all the different representations is a nice touch without being distracting, but some will be easier representations than others. I wonder if there could be a hint mode for when players get stuck. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: The different modes of play (race, solve, etc). are good variations. A high scores list would be a great addition to help keep kids going. There's also an easy and difficult setting. Having all three games be about adding might get repetitive, what about other operations? Rating: 3.5/5

Parental Involvement: This is definitely a game parents could play too. There's no multiplayer mode though. Parents and teachers should definitely make sure to relate these math skills back to the classroom. Rating: 3.5/5

Total: 15 out of 20 - 4 stars

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

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Singing Alphabet

The Singing Alphabet was created by the Ministry of Letters ltd (kinda sounds like some Harry Potter reference, doesn't it?) As you can tell from the title, it's an app that combines music and the alphabet, where each letter sings its letter-sound in an artsy, jazzy, kinda way. I'm probably not doing it justice with my description, so please take a look at the video below. Price: $0.99

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

Developmental Appropriateness: I think the purpose of this app is really to get kids exposed to letters/letter-sounds and music/rhythms, as opposed to any direct teaching. It's pretty free form, where kids can choose whatever letters to start singing. It doesn't label the letters and my version shows only the lowercase. I can see it encouraging kids to try spelling out different words or their names to see what that would sound like. But then you realize that you can't use a letter more than once, so that limits the types of words you can spell correctly. I also think it's easy to get lost in the music and rhythm than to really focus on the letter-sounds. So overall, I think this is actually a cute app to get kids in music with some light exposure to letters. But learning potential may be low. Rating: 3.5/5 (aim for around 4).

Balance: If I think of this as an alphabet learning app, then I think the music aspect overshadows the letter-sounds. I think even if kids are singing along and making the sounds, they might not connect it to the sound that particular letter makes, but rather cute sounds these cute letters are making. It would be more effective if there was a "learning" section first, where the letters at least clearly annunciate their names and sounds and then have what the app currently is as the "putting it all together" game that they could play. From reading the description on iTunes, it sounds like there was clear educational intent for letter learning, so I will rate it as such. Rating: 2.5/5

Sustainability: This is an innovative way to get kids interested in music and letters. If kids like this kind of music, then I think they will enjoy coming back to this app. However, if this kind of music is not their thing, then they might not be engaged. Rating: 3.5/5

Parental Involvement: Parents might find this app engaging for them as well. They can spell words out with their child and see what music it makes. There's no explicit role for parents, but the app can easily be played together. Rating: 3.5/5

Total: 13 out of 20 - 3 stars

Monday, July 9, 2012

RondomTali London

RondomTali London was created by RondomTali Travel CC. The goal of this app is to help parents talk to their kids about an upcoming vacation - in this case, to London. It shows famous landmarks and people and also a sports activity, which is fitting for the upcoming Olympics (but is London otherwise known for it's sports?). Kinda a neat idea - Price: $0.99.

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

Developmental Appropriateness: I really had no idea what to expect from this app, but I did think this was a very timely app, given the Olympics. Kids follow Tali on her trip to four destinations. On each page, it shows you the landmark, like Big Ben and the Buckingham Palace, labels it, and there are some interactive elements like you can "tickle" Big Ben or see fireworks around the London Eye. The most relevant interactive feature is kids can put the appropriate hat on characters on the Buckingham Palace page - like the tall black hats on the guards. But upon closer look, it's not all exactly accurate like the crown goes on Tali instead of the queen and there's a unicorn and lion, who gets a crown as well. There's also a sports page where it shows a bunch of different sport icons, labels it, and then it does a quick demonstration of that sport. And that's about it. So I guess although I didn't know what to expect, I guess I expected more. I don't think this has all that much content or really makes you excited to go to London. There's no fun facts or reasons for why kids might want to see these places. I guess it's still a good conversation starter for parents to use, but parents will definitely have to fill in a lot of the blanks. Rating: 3/5 (aim for around 6 years).

Balance: As you probably already picked up, many of the interactive features are not relevant to visiting London. Parents may even have to tell their kids that they will not be seeing a lion in front of the palace! For the purpose of this app, I really don't see why it was necessary to include a unicorn or a ticklish Big Ben. I think it should set realistic expectations for the upcoming trip. Rating: 2.5/5

Sustainability: Again, there's not much here to keep kids coming back at all. And, this is only specific to London (looks like they will be releasing other cities). Rating: 2.5/5

Parental Involvement: Although I see parents using this with their child, and having conversations about their upcoming trip, it's not because the app offers any role to the parent. There are no prompts or suggested activities and topics. Actually, I think parents need to be involved because the app doesn't offer enough info on its own. Rating: 3/5

Total: 11 out of 20 - 2 stars

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