Thursday, August 30, 2012

Hot Dots Jr.

Hot Dots Jr. was created by Educational Insights and aims to teach kids colors, letters, shapes, numbers, and patterns. It includes Ace the Talking, Teaching Dog. I like the idea of have a virtual "teacher" so let's see if Ace delivers. Price: $0.99

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

Developmental Requirements: In general, the activities assess appropriate skills for preschoolers and kindergartners. The app basically just takes kids through rounds of multiple-choice questions like, "Match the uppercase and lowercase letters" or "Which completes the sequence?" (By the way, using the words completes the sequence is too hard! Many little kids do not know the word sequence or even pattern. Many assessments use the phrase, "What comes next?" instead.) The difficulty in each round ranges, especially with letters, but there's no setting to select specific tasks. Some will be too easy and some will be too hard, but it goes fast enough where it's maybe ok. But it would be nice if parents and kids could select specific tasks to work on, or at least instead of a total score, it actually broke down scores by task. The activities remind me of actual assessments, but with less information.

Where I've set myself up for disappointment is with this whole Ace the Talking, Teaching Dog. To me, that means that Ace provides good instruction and feedback to help kids understand their answers - correct or incorrect. However, Ace does not offer anymore feedback than most apps, giving approval when correct, and maybe a bark when wrong. A "bow wow" tells me nothing. Rating: 3/5 (aim for around 4 years).

Balance: The tasks are very straightforward. The voiceover is clear and repeats the question. Sometimes, especially in the case of "which completes the sequence," kids who are unfamiliar with the tasks may need the prompt repeated, but also rephrased. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: There doesn't seem to be a goal here, you get a score at the end of each round, but nothing else to really keep kids going, unless they just like answering questions. Rating: 3/5

Parental Involvement: Given the structure of the tasks, this is where I think it needs the most improvement. While its good to just have kids practice, there also needs to be instruction involved for them to improve and there is none within the tasks themselves. So what it needs is to provide parents with the knowledge of what and how to help their kids. Rating: 3/5

Total: 13 out of 20 - 3 stars

Disclosure - I received this app for free for review purposes

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Yum Num's Galaxy

Yum Num's Galaxy was created by GoodHustle Studios, Inc. and is all about Captain Yum Num trying to save the galaxy with good food because the grim future holds only a galaxy where fast food is available. And of course, Captain Yum Num is a cat! Price: $0.99

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

Developmental Appropriateness: First off, I'd like to say that as an adult, I found this app hilarious - in a fun way. It's got this 70's music, arcade game vibe. Not sure if kids would get that, but parents can enjoy a laugh. But let's not get too silly, cause we're on a serious mission here! It's Captain Yum Num's against the fast food industry! He has to first figure out what food he needs to make, then fly around finding the correct ingredients. Kids can learn what goes into "Ants on a Log" or Mac n'cheese. The actual recipes are also provided in a separate section. The whole premise, while funny - there's lots of little touches you'll have to see for yourself - can get a little slow and repetitive as Captain Yum Nums just cycles through the whole process with each dish. There's more watching Captain Yum Num's go from scene to scene than doing. My biggest concern is that the premise sets this up to be an app that teaches about nutrition and eating healthy. While many of the recipes are seemingly "lite" versions - like the pizza is made with tortillas (but still with 20 slices of pepperoni!) or the mac n' cheese uses skim milk, there's only a couple of vegetable and or fruit focused dishes. The dishes are more typical kid favorites rather than dishes with a nutritional focus. I wish this also provided some direct, kid-friendly information about eating healthy. Rating: 3.5/5 (aim for around 5)

Balance: The whole look is very stylized in an old arcade way. There are lots of scene changes though, which could just be lost on a younger kid. Television research has shown that the formatting, including scene changes, fade effects, etc. really does effect learning and attention. Rating: 3.5/5

Sustainability: While I know kids can laugh at the same thing over and over again, I think overall, this is fun at first, but gets repetitive - there's no different levels or challenges. There's a small goal of feeding the aliens, but it's easily accomplished and the goal stays the same.  Rating: 3/5

Parental Involvement: There are recipes available, which I guess in some kinda indirect way means parents should get involved and make those foods! Parents should take this opportunity to talk about nutrition and kids likes and dislikes. Rating: 3.5/5

Total: 13.5 out of 20 = 3 stars

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

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Learning Games for Preschool to Kindergarten

Learning Games for Preschool to Kindergarten was created by Agnitus and includes a variety of basic learning games tapping into color, numbers, letters, shapes, memory, and sorting. Seems to cover a lot and for free! Price: Free

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

Developmental Appropriateness:
I think the most important thing for an app that aims to cover an age range, especially 2-5 is progression. So much happens in these years that it really take a lot of consideration to design an app that adequately addresses the needs of kids at each age. While the games here do progress in difficulty, it does so very gradually. Overall, it's more fit for kids at the younger spectrum. It starts off with a lot of matching - even for colors and letters where it's not really recognition, but just matching, which does not do much for me. While it gradually takes away some of the cues to make it more of a recognition task, I still think these games are too easy for the older spectrum. Most kindergartens know their colors, letters, and numbers (which does not go up very high). Also, there is no setting, so a 5 year-old would have to go through over 200 rounds to get to their skill level. Trust me, I went through that many activities! I will say that the 
activities are cute and fast-paced though. But overall, I think this app is in desperate need of a difficulty setting, a progression that's more adaptive to each child's performance and more challenging levels. Rating: 3/5 (aim for 3 years).

Balance: The features are cute yet not distracting and offer basic feedback for correct and incorrect. It could go further in probably more instructional feedback. One annoying thing I will point out that I hope is a glitch is on the search game, if you are stuck, it continuously says, "One more..." over and over. Shush and let me concentrate! Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: While the game offers a bonus sticker world and a shower game (not sure how engaging this one is), the very slow progression could still get very boring. Rating: 3.5/5

Parental Involvement: There's a nice "report card" for parents that shows the skills covered, total time, age progression and some overall progress. It also shows what curriculum themes have been covered, but the app itself does not address all the themes shown. Parents can share their child's progress on facebook. This is a nice start to getting parents involved. Rating: 4/5

Total: 14.5 out of 20: 3 stars.

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

Monday, August 20, 2012

Butterfly HD

A couple months ago, I reviewed Plants HD  by Sprout Labs which aimed to teach kids all about the plant life cycle. While I saw lots of potential, with it, it ended up with 3 stars, with room for improvement. When I notified the developers of the review, they told me they had a new app, Butterfly HD that had already incorporated some of my suggestions. Given the big push to translate textbooks into the digital world, I definitely wanted to see what the improvements meant for the app.  Price: $1.99

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

The main improvements that are included in Butterfly HD are:

a. Added videos on each topic to enhance the learning 
b. Added additional large size HD photos to reinforce the text
c. Made all the Questions related to the topic covered in the text

Since the features of both Plant HD and Butterfly HD are pretty similar, I'm going to include my comments from Plant HD and compare the differences. The new comments will be in blue.

Developmental Appropriateness: 

PLANT: 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.

BUTTERFLY: As you can see, the main page is still the same, so same issue here.

PLANT: 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)

BUTTERFLY: Butterfly now includes more pictures and also videos. You see in the picture here that you would tap on the icons on top to see the media. More here is nice, but more does not necessarily mean better. I think that my comment that it needs to be related to the text still stands. The pictures and videos seem to be just a collection from youtube or whereever - while related to the topic, it doesn't connect the information from the text to the information from the video and pictures. It's that connection that makes the difference. That being said, the pluses are that the videos do add some engagement factor and also the quiz now relates to the text and gives you a total score at the end. Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 8)
PLANT:  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

BUTTERFLY: Again - I think this is still true. The text still feels very separate from the pictures and videos. Rating: 3.5/5


PLANT: 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

BUTTERFLY: Yes, there's the addition of videos, so that should add a bit of oomph. But again, I'm sounding like a broken record, that it still feels disconnected, so while kids may want to go to the videos, the text is really where the info is at. Rating: 4.5/5

Parental Involvement: 

PLANT: 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

BUTTERFLY: And addition I didn't mention is that there's an icon that leads to a breakdown of how the app content relates to curriculum standards. This is nice, but a bit hard to read for someone not used to looking at standards. A more friendly version - especially aimed at parents rather than educators would be nice. Rating: 3.5/5

Total: 15.5 out of 20 - 3 stars. The improvements bumped it up from an ok 3 stars to a high 3 stars.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Alphabet Jumbled

Alphabet Jumbled was created by Pixel Interactive and focuses on some early alphabet learning. It's got 5 different activities - two are fairly standard introducing the alphabet and some flashcards. The other three are all about the sequencing of the alphabet with a "jumble" concept - sounds like something new? Price: $1.99

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

Developmental Appropriateness: So the first two, more standard, activities are nice - they are just that - pretty standard. The first just labels the letters and letter-sounds. The second shows flashcards of the letter linked with an object. The last three are all about sequencing and putting all the letters in order. Some with just a chunk of letters, some with all the letters, some timed, some not timed. So "jumble" not in the word game jumble sense, just in a mixed around kinda sense. They are kinda fun and maybe a breath of fresh air from more standard early alphabet games. My question is, just how important is the sequence of the alphabet? Yes, it's important. The alphabet song is one of the most well-known children's songs (in the US at least). Virtually all American kids learn it, and it sticks. It's a simple and fun way to teach the sequencing of the alphabet, which helps build literacy skills. But knowing the sequence of letters is not the same or maybe not as important as knowing the sequence of numbers. That has more meaning - 1 is less than 2 is less than 3. But A has no different value than B than C. So why focus most of an app on the sequence of letters? Especially when the alphabet song is already a pretty effective and popular method. The goal of learning the alphabet is to learn to read - which is learning the combination of letters that form words, not the sequence of the alphabet. Rating: 3/5 (aim for around 3 years)

Balance: In most cases, the letters are filled in with a background like polka dots. While this makes the letters look cute, it may actually be distracting kids from recognizing the letters. Remember, young kids have a hard time seeing two things at once. So they may just focus on the colorful patterns instead of the letter. And with the flashcards, the letter appears with the colorful background in the corner, but then in plain print within the word - I'd highlight the letter correspondence here more as they can look pretty different - at least to little kids. Rating: 3/5

Sustainability - It's a cute looking app, and kids might enjoy the game element of the jumble activities. It  doesn't save your times though. Rating: 4/5

Parent Involvement: There's not much to do for parents here... Rating: 3/5 

Total: 13 out of 20 - 3 stars

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

Monday, August 13, 2012

Cars in Sandbox: Construction

Cars in Sandbox: Construction was created by Thematica and is for construction truck lovers - dump trucks, loader, trucks, tractors, trucks I'd never heard of like the crawler-mounted excavator, trucks with cool names like the telescopic handler, you name it. Price: $2.99

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.Requires iOS 4.2 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness: This is a creative app in that it makes the trucks pretty functional and realistic in what their tasks are. So for each truck, kids have to move them with their finger or tilt the device to achieve a task fitting of that truck - so like putting objects in a dump truck to dump them into a bin. There aren't much verbal instructions but in each task there are cute pictures posted on the walls that show you what should be done, which encourages exploring, without leaving you totally in the dark. A younger kid may not notice these pictures, but once they do, they'll get the hang of it. Some of them are easier to figure out than others - but overall a good exercise in problem solving. Also, at times it takes some good motor skills to get the truck to do what you want, so younger kids may get a little frustrated. I wish there was more info offered about the trucks. I guess learning by doing is answer enough, but some of the trucks are kinda similar - at least to me who's not very well versed in construction trucks, so a brief little explanation with facts and figures would be nice. Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 6 years).

Balance: There are some fun additional features like if you tap on the door it opens (only to reveal no driver! Would be nice if kids could create their own avatar and continue the role playing as the driver) and the horn sounds. But sometimes, these features get in the way of trying to make the truck move. And it's sometimes hard to get the truck in the exact position you want, so a gas/brake feature would be nice for more accurate movement. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: Overall, this is an engaging task for truck lovers. Some sustainability issues may that that while some tasks may be hard for younger kids, older kids may get bored because there is only one task per truck. You also earn various number of stars per truck task which is good, but I wonder if there could be levels, the harder, the more stars - or a progression of some sort. Rating: 4/5

Parental Involvement: Parents may need to help kids figure out what to do at first, but otherwise, this is a kids only game. Rating: 3/5

Total: 15 out of 20 stars = 4 stars

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

Friday, August 10, 2012

RangerKidz Counting Corral

RangerKidz Counting Corral was developed by Sudden Industries. It's a game targeting early math skills and color for preschoolers. It's got a whole Wild West theme where kids have to help Rango Ringo round up all the sheep and animals. You should know by now that I like it when apps have a theme or goal that ties the activities together - so how does this one do? Price: $2.99

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

Developmental Appropriateness: The theme delivers. It's definitely a fun way to sneak in some math while kids think they are playing a game. The illustrations, animals, narration, and sound effects are well-done, entertaining and go with the whole Wild West theme. (Does anyone else think that it says "lassu" instead of "lasso"?!) 

While the theme delivers, let's not forget about content though. The educational content always comes first in my book. Overall, color matching, counting, number recognition are all appropriate very early preschool activities. There are 3 levels, with 6 rounds in each level so 18 round total where you cycle through a bunch of variations of activities that target those three skills. So initially, I was fine with the super easy tasks with obvious hints like for color, it asks for the color, but shows that word in the same color, so it really IS just coloring matching instead of learning to identify a color. Or, when it asks kids to catch the sheep in the correct number order, there's a hand that points to each number in sequence so kids know which ones to go for - so this is just really counting along instead of kids actually having to put the numbers in sequence. Where I have a problem is with the progression of difficulty, or lack thereof, through the many many rounds. It's not until level 3 (after 12 rounds), does the hand hint go away. And then all of the sudden, the sequence starts at various numbers - just wish there was a smoother, and faster progression. The same goes for all the other activities. For some, I don't think it actually gets harder other than to increase the number - like instead of taking out the color/word correspondence, they simply add in different animals for level three - which doesn't add any difficulty at all in terms of counting. I think while this is an engaging activity for kids, more consideration is needed some of the details of the content. Rating: 3/5 (aim for around 4 years).

Balance: The features go with the theme and I don't find them distracting from the task. Some additional features could be added to support the learning - like more feedback, especially when they answer it wrong. Kids can answer wrong until they get it wrong, and it just counts as right, so it might be hard for parents to gauge how well their child is doing without constantly watching. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: As I said, this is an engaging game - kids will probably enjoy it. They might however, get a bit bored of the same tasks that don't increase much in difficulty to challenge them. Rating: 4

Parental Involvement: There is a separate website parents can log-in to. It shows parents how far their kid has gotten in the app and it is where kids can access some of their prizes such as additional puzzles and activities (not all math related). While this is a good start to get parents involved, more useful information could be given here. As is, it kinda has a promotional kinda feel. Rating: 3.5/5

Total: 14.5 out of 20 - 3 stars

Disclosure: I received this app for free for review purposes

Monday, August 6, 2012

Monkeys in My Head

Monkeys in My Head was created by PaperPlane Co. It's an ebook that aims to help children cope with internal bullies. Bullying, in any form, has become a recent hot topic. I was curious as to how this e-book was going to address this important issue. Price: $1.99

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

Developmental Appropriateness: This book is really aimed at an individual who has personally experienced bullying and or has low-self esteem and are beating his/herself up inside. While it does not deal with bully prevention or really even how to deal with bullying- internal or external, it does in the least send the message that you are not alone in feeling these feelings. To the extent that this book may help a child who is dealing with these issues (in a clinical sense), I will have to say that this is not my area of developmental expertise. I think this is definitely a book parents should read first and see if they think it is appropriate and relevant for their child. It deals with a pretty serious matter as poor Pirourette (the main character) has to struggle with these demons inside her head. For a child who may be dealing with similar issues, this book may be a good way to get the conversation started. Alone, the book may not offer any "solutions." For kids who may not be experiencing these issues, the book may be a little confusing and contains some inappropriate and aggressive behavior from the monkeys and a frustrated Pirourette who screams, "Shut up!" I would definitely say that the recommended target age by the developers of 4 and up is too young for the approach of this e-book on this more mature topic. The "coping" that takes place in this book - where Pirourette mentally "cages" the monkeys requires some cognitive strength that a younger child may not understand yet. Rating: 3/5 (Aim for around 8 years)

Balance: In terms of the e-book features, this book is pretty stylized in terms of the art and overall feel. The focus is on the story and less on literacy development. The text doesn't highlight, it's presented in different fonts and sizes - so probably not as beneficial for improving reading skills, which is fine. The interactive features are kinda sparse, but when they are there, they are related to the story. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: This is a hard one. I think for the very specific group of kids, they might identify with this and love it. But overall, when comparing to other books and picking out any book to read for fun or bedtime, or whatever, this isn't going to exactly be the go to book. Rating: 3.5/5

Parental Involvement - This is absolutely a book a parent should read with their child, at least the first few times. It begs for conversation beyond the book. This book does a good job of starting the conversation with kids who may need it - its up to parents/teachers, etc. to follow up and finish it. Rating: 4/5

Total: 14.5 out of 20  - 3 stars.

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

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Garden for Pig

A Garden for Pig was developed by Kane Miller Books. It's a story about a pig who lives on an apple farm and gets sick of eating just apples and wants some vegetables - a cute story about a pig and his food. Price: $3.99

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

Developmental Appropriateness: The topic is is appropriate and timely, given the whole organic food trend, and animals are always popular characters with kids. Surprisingly, even though this e-book does have some interactive elements, it feels like a physical book that's been pdf'ed. Not that it's a bad thing. The illustrations are great on their own and I don't think the little extra "e-book-ified" elements really add all that much. Actually, the illustrations are "multi-media" and looks like newspaper was used to make the trees and stuff like that which I think would actually look better in person rather than on a screen. There are some recipes and a bit more information on specific vegetables that are sprinkled throughout - a nice touch, but not kid friendly. They do not read aloud and are not written on a kid's level. There's narration and some light sound effects here and there, and that's more or less it. Again, there's nothing wrong with that - but I'm not rating on how good a book this is, but how good of an e-book this is. Basically, it's a cute book, but folks might prefer just the plain ol' print version. Rating: 3.5/5 (aim for around 5).

Balance: I like the addition of recipes and info on the vegetables and gardening- could have gone farther. And maybe the recipes could have been separate from the story. Some of the other interactive features seem to really just for fun and possibly distracting and don't add much. Rating: 3.5/5

Sustainability: It's a cute story with some humor. Kids will come back for the story, but probably not for the interactive features... Rating: 3.5/5

Parental Involvement: The cards for recipes and extra info encourage parents to elaborate on the points and do some cooking! It's a nice way to lead into cooking together. And perhaps to get kids to eat their vegetables too! Note that this food focuses on gardening and home grown food, but the recipes are not necessarily "healthy ones" - just so that that's not an expectation. Rating: 4/5

Total: 14.5 out of 20 = 3 stars