Thinkrolls 2: Rolling into physics

img_0326Thinkrolls 2 is an easy to play puzzle game app intended for kids ages 3 to 9 that works with iOS and Android systems. The game introduces kids to physics concepts, which are used to solve logic puzzles. Gameplay is simple: you select a “Thinkroll” character from the menu, then, using the touch screen, roll that character down a vertical maze. The characters cannot roll up to higher platforms, so the player has to figure out how to manipulate the tools provided to allow their character to roll to the next opening. Each of the first seven “chapters” of the game introduces a new scientific concept or tool: an accordion, a barrel that floats in water, an egg and grass, a fan that can be turned on and off, a portal, a battery, and a light bulb. The different levels within each chapter introduce the concept, demonstrate how it interacts with other elements (like water and grass) and then require the player to figure out how these concepts and tools interrelate in order to get their character to the next level of the puzzle maze. For example, using a fan to move a barrel up and then using an accordion to block a hole so the barrel can be rolled over to a hole with water.
The app has two different sets of levels: an easy set intended for children ages 3 to 5 and a hard set intended for children ages 5 to 9. Within the 117 easy and 118 hard levels, each level and chapter gets progressively more difficult, so there’s enough difficulty range for this app to be appropriate and fun for kids across a wide developmental range. There are also no penalties, cheats, or ways to “lose” the game, so kids can simply keep retrying each level until they figure out how to pass it and they have to figure it out in order to pass to the next level. Thus, kids are encouraged to experiment without worrying about failing or losing progress they’ve already made. The app also has a “parent” feature that allows the parent to choose the settings for the app (level difficulty and whether music plays in the game).
The app does cost $3.99, but there are no ads and no in-app purchases, so there’s no possibility for a player to rack up charges after the initial purchase. The app also accommodates 6 different player profiles, so you could buy it once and the whole family could play. Each successful completion of a chapter unlocks a cute new character with new expressions and features, which encourages replay. Also, new versions of the app with new concepts are being released somewhat quickly (3 in 3 years). The iOS app store offers the option to purchase Avokiddo apps as bundles.
Overall, the app strikes a delightfully fun balance between educational and entertaining with visually pleasing and smooth gameplay, cute and funny characters, an enjoyable soundtrack (if you’re into that), and well-planned and sequenced logic puzzles. It won the 2016 Google Play Best Families App Award and Children’s Technology Review gave it a 98% rating and called it “an outstanding collection of challenges” (p. 19), so it comes highly recommended.
Reviews:

Bindel, A. (2015). Thinkrolls 2. Common Sense Media. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/app-reviews/thinkrolls-2#

Thinkrolls 2. (2015). Children’s Technology Review, 23(5), 19.

-Kristin

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Doc McStuffins Diagnosis: TV adorabilitis

img_0329Doc McStuffins, an animated television show for preschoolers, first produced by Disney Junior in 2012, is about a 6-year-old girl who acts as a doctor to toys. When a toy isn’t performing properly, Doc takes it to her playhouse in her backyard, which is set up as a doctor’s office with a waiting room in the front room and an exam room in the back. With her stuffed animals acting as assistants, Doc uses critical thinking skills to perform check-ups on the toys and find out what the problem is. Then she writes down their ailment in her Big Book of Boo Boos and prescribes a solution or treatment for the problem. A celebratory song is often sung after a successful treatment.

Although the show doesn’t really focus on science or human medicine, the characters are well-developed and the dialogue is rich and believable. Character development is prioritized over plot devices and the characters’ reactions are believable and not overdramatized or overlooked. Doc McStuffins is such a real and human child that she’s easy and fun to watch and cheer on and her humanity and eagerness to help others bring a lot of heart and warmth to the show. The show also reflects a more diverse society by having an African American main character and featuring a mom in the traditionally masculine profession of doctor, while Doc’s dad is the one who stays home and cooks and takes care of the house, jobs considered to traditionally more feminine. Additionally, as a Common Sense Media reviewer states, Doc McStuffins is “series that sends excellent messages to kids about imaginative play, caring for others, and problem solving” that encourages “independence and a can-do attitude” (Ashby).

Although the show is not driven by a product marketing campaign, the show does lend itself quite well to commercial products. Doc’s friends and patients are toys, which are very easily made into toys that children can ask for in the store. And while this doesn’t seem to have influenced the show itself or affected its quality, it may mean that every trip to Target coincides with pleas for a Stuffy or Lambie or Doc McStuffin’s doctor bag and coat to be purchased. However, the show is highly-rated, encourages children to sympathize with others and to engage in critical thinking, has well-written characters that are positive role models, enjoyable songs (unless you have to listen to them on repeat 500 times in a row, I imagine), and is adorable. Just give in to the adorablitis and maybe limit it to one Stuffy plush.

Review:

Ashby, E. Doc McStuffins. Common Sense Media. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/tv-reviews/doc-mcstuffins

-Kristin

Simple Machines

Simple Machines by Tinybop is available in the app store for iOS and is $2.99. It allows children from kindergarten through third grade to explore the simple machines of: a lever, wheel and axle, pulley, inclined plan, screw and wedge. It helps students explore and understand the basics of physics. For each machine, an interactive allows you two make adjustments to the machine and see how it affects the mechanics or force. As an example, for the lever, it takes you to an outside seen and you are trying to knock over a building by adjusting the fulcrum so the load hits in a certain place. By adjusting the fulcrum it allows you to make the load go higher or lower.

Each machine takes you to a different illustration each time. The illustrations are by James Gilleard. They are fun and add an important part to this app—I love the inclined plane because it’s like a pinball machine! The sounds also add a fun element, making the appropriate sounds, like a pinball machine, or a bird noise, and other fun! On certain machines, you can even fall into the water, making it hilarious for younger kids.

The one thing I really do not like about the app is that it contains no text explaining how to play with the different machines. It does however, provide text on what machine you are using, which I think is important (especially for me, since I’m not big on Science)! However, according to School Library Journal there is “A free, downloadable handbook (in seven languages) contains extensive notes on the science behind these machines, tips on using the app with kids, and additional suggested activities.” I did notice that this handbook was not located in the “More Apps” Folder of the app. I finally found it in the “Dashboard” button. Parents can also create a dashboard, which allows them to set and change preference, support their kid’s progress in all of the Tinybop apps. This is where you would find the information to download the handbook, which will further kids knowledge on the simple machines.

I could also see this app being valuable in a school setting. School Library Journal recommends it as a free play game for Science Class. This could also be valuable in libraries, used in junction with their STEM kits; it could also give them ideas for School-Aged Programming! Overall, I think it is fun and informative, perfect for learning the basics of physics. See a trailer for the app here: Simple Machines Trailer.

Endless Alphabet: An App in Review

Endless Alphabet (by Originator) was released in 2013 and won Apple’s App Store Best of 2013 award. It is intended for ages 3+ and aims to help kids learn their alphabet and increase their vocabulary (Originator, 2013).  It is available for Kindle Fire, iOS and Android devices.

Gameplay:

Endless Alphabet features cute and silly monsters which give the game a whimsical feel. To play Endless Alphabet, users will select a word from the visual list or select a specific letter to jump to a specific group of words (like “J words) in the list (See figure 1).

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Fig. 1: Users select a word from the visual list and can locate desired words more easily by touching the letter of the alphabet desired from the list on the monster’s mouth.

When a word is selected it will fill the screen and a line of monsters will run across knocking the letters off the background. In their place, outlines of the letters used to make up the word are left behind (See figure 2).

Users touch and drag the letters into the correct outlined shape. When a letter is touched, it becomes animated like a monster and the sound of the letter will play until the letter is released (See Figure 3). When a letter is correctly placed, it will stick to the outline and a narrator will read the name of the letter. When a letter is incorrectly placed, the letter will not stick to the outline and the monsters will make a “nuh-uh” or “whomp-whomp” sound.  When the word is complete, the monsters will return to act out the definition of the word. Then a narrator will give the definition of the word. From there, a user can choose to replay the animation or narration, or go to the next word.

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Fig. 2:  Monsters have knocked all the letters off of the background. It is up to the user to drag the letters to their appropriate outline to complete the word.

What does the app do well?

This game has no time limit, or points gained – the user is free to work at their own pace and follow their whim.

It is extremely easy to use. The only interactions are through touching or dragging items.

The animated definitions clearly show the meaning of the word in a whimsical and memorable way. These animation, accompanied by the narrated definitions, will help some children increase their vocabulary – though I wish they’d included a sentence using the word in context.

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Fig. 3: Here, the “S” has been animated like a monster. Letters become animated like monsters when a user touches them.

Drawbacks:

The app costs the steep price of $8.99, but users are given a free trial of the game so they can test it before they purchase it. The trail is untimed, but is limited to only 5 words. An earlier iteration of the app gave the entire game for free, but it was accompanied with ads which would go away if the user paid. However, this feature was apparently bugged and ads wouldn’t appear even if the user never made the in-app purchase (Mathis, 2013). Aside from the price of the app and being a part of a larger series of Endless titles, there are no commercial interests built into the app.

Another complaint is that the sounds of the letters aren’t very good. While some are spot on, others sound kind of garbled and/or extended so they only approximate the letter’s true sound.

I question whether the app is a great way to learn the alphabet (though matching the letters to their outline may be a good way to increase letter shape recognition). Amanda Bindle from Commonsensemedia.org seems to agree with me on that point. Bindle writes “The only problem with Endless Alphabet is that it may be misnamed. This is more of a vocabulary app than a way to merely learn the alphabet” (Bindle, 2013).

Final Thoughts:

Though the free app is limited to so few words, I recommend any parent interested in the app to examine the trial before making the purchase.

-K. Baker

References

Bindle, A. (2013). Endless alphabet. Commonsensemedia.org. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/app-reviews/endless-alphabet

Mathis, J. (2013, May 27). Review: Your kids will love learning with Endless Alphabet for iOS. MacWorld. Retrieved from http://www.macworld.com/article/2039763/review-your-kids-will-love-learning-with-endless-alphabet-for-ios.html

Originator. (2013). Endless alphabet. Retrieved from http://www.originatorkids.com/?p=564

Explore! Rescue! Protect! Octonauts TV Review

Octonauts, based on the books by MEOMI, is a British animated television series which began in 2013. It just aired its fourth season in America this year on the Disney Channel. The show follows a group of underwater explorers who have vowed to explore, rescue and protect the ocean and its inhabitants.

Each episode features two unrelated stories, with a handful of special episodes offering one longer story. In each story, the Octonauts encounter a creature with a problem to solve. As the Octonauts help the creature, they learn interesting facts about the animal. These facts are recapped at the end of each story in a song and dance called the “Creature Report” which is accompanied by actual photographs of the creature in question.

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The Octonaut crew enjoying a dance break!

While there are no directly-stated educational goals, it is clear that the show aims to introduce underwater exploration, a wide variety of aquatic creatures, and teamwork. There are also a few episodes that incorporate conflict resolution when the story’s problem centers on a disagreement between different types of sea creatures over turf or food. As the synopsis on Commonsensemedia.org states, “the characters’ actions illustrate the show’s themes of cooperation, friendship, and caring for others” (Ashby, 2016) and these are the tools used to resolve conflicts that arise.

According to Commonsensemedia.org, the show is appropriate for ages 4+, though its users believe it is appropriate for ages 3+ (Ashby, 2016). I tend to agree that 3-4 is an appropriate age for the show, though it would be best watched with a parent or other guardian who can help if the stories become confusing or scary. For example, in one story, a colossal squid grabs ahold of the Octonauts’ underwater home, the Octopod, and won’t let go. When the squid wants to let go to escape an incoming group of Sperm whales, it cannot release its hooks from the Octopod. For a moment it seems the whales will catch the squid (Simpson, 2012). Of course the Octonauts help the squid escape, but that interaction could be frightening to a 3-4 year old. The more frightening moments, though few and far between, could make the show objectionable to some.

The Octonauts themselves are likable characters; they love to explore, learn new things, meet new people, and work together to solve problems. They don’t use any bad language or violence to solve their problems. In addition, they use a nice variety of dialogue including using more difficult names of various sea creatures.

On the topic of language, it is worth noting that one character, Kwazii, a zany pirate kitten, will often mispronounce the name of a sea creature several times before getting it right. In addition, the vegimals (half-vegetable – half-animal creatures) speak their own language made up of short melodies sung in nonsensical words. These two character traits could be annoying to some viewers.

Even so, Octonauts has been placed on Commonsensemedia.org’s list “Best Kids’ Shows on Netflix in 2016” (“Best Kids’…” 2016), and was nominated (but did not win) for an International Emmy in the Kids-Preschool Category in 2013 (“The Octonauts – Awards,” 2016).

In terms of product tie-in, there are a wide variety of Octonaut toys and games available with prices ranging from $15-$50 and books ranging from $5-$15. These products are not advertised on the show directly and if a person were viewing on Netflix, for example, they would not see any commercials pushing Octonaut toys. Caregivers may be interested to know that free printable coloring pages and games are available on Disney Jr’s Octonauts webpage, and even more goodies can be found on MEOMI’s Octonauts website.

-K. Baker

 

References:

Ashby, E. (2016). Octonauts. Commonsensemedia.org. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/tv-reviews/octonauts

Best kids’ TV shows on Netflix in 2016. (2016). Commonsensemedia.org. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/lists/best-kids-tv-shows-on-netflix-in-2016

The Octonauts – Awards. (2016). IMDb. Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1710177/awards

Simpson, S. (Head Writer), & Darragh O’ Connell (Director). (2012, Nov. 19). Octonauts and the Colossal Squid [Television series episode]. In K. Mueller (Producer), Octonauts. UK: Brown Bag Films.

 

 

Bedtime Math

Bedtime Math is a free educational app available on both Apple (iPhone, iPad) and Android products. The app provides a “Math Problem of the Day” that provides information on what they will be solving, breaks the “Problem of the Day” into different age groups—for “Wee Ones,” “Little Kids,” and “Big Kids”—making it math for up to 5th grade! The app also has an explore feature that allows you to solve past problems. It also has a “Surprise” problem. The app can also be used in Spanish as well as English.

When you first download the app, it will ask you to choose an edition—either the community edition or the individual edition. The community edition is available if you receive a code from a teacher, educator, etc. The individual app is for people who just want to have fun with the app. You can change the setting in the app later if you receive a code. It also has a feature on the edition page that asks takes you to tips on how to use the app—like NOT to use it in school! The company is more interested in getting kids engaged with math at home—where it is not required! They also have information on what teachers can do to join the community and offer a “Crazy 8s Club.” This app also has on online website: www.BedtimeMath.org, which you can get to through the app; however, it does have a cool feature that allows parents to make sure the “wee ones” aren’t opening the website themselves and of course—you have to answer a math question before allowing the site to open! They also have information on kits to use in after school clubs!

Bedtime Math has received multiple awards and School Library Journal has so much information on how Bedtime Math is also helping at the library (check out the “For Library” section on their website)! There has also been a recent study led by the University of Chicago that shows this app boosts kids’ math performance. Read in it Science here: “Bedtime problems boost kids’ math performance”. This app is enjoyable, has fun sound effects, and makes math not as scary as I once remember it! Math fun can also be extended by books—Laura Overdeck, the creator of Bedtime Math also has two books outs. See how libraries have been using Bedtime Math in programming—especially over the summer! School Library Journal Summer Math Programs. This app is quick, fun, and makes math enjoyable for all involved.

 

 

April and the Extraordinary World

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April and the Extraordinary World literally begins with a succession of bangs that change the course of European history. When his unfortunate meddling with the experiment intended to produce super soldiers leads to the demise of Napoleon III on the eve of the Franco-Prussian War, France continues under the rule of a succession of Napoleons. By the 1930s, the predominant threat is no longer Fascism but rather the mysterious disappearance of scientists around Europe (familiar faces include Nobel, Einstein, and Marconi), which serves to keep people trapped in their reliance on steam and coal. There’s only a single tree left in Paris and conflicts are arising over natural resources. In this steampunk influenced alternate history, not only is Paris changed by the air ships hovering overhead, but the city has a second Eiffel Tower. Meanwhile, the Franklins (grandfather, parents, granddaughter, and talking cat named Darwin) continue to work on a super serum that can regenerate anything. When they are interrupted by the police, they put their escape plan into action. It goes awry when a mysterious, grey cloud swoops down and abducts Mr. and Mrs. Franklin, leaving April alone with the cat. Years later, April still continues to work on finding the secret formula. This puts her in the path of the vengeful police officer who attempted to arrest her parents, a thief turned into a reluctant police spy, and her long-lost grandfather. However, the growing questions about the force that made her parents vanish into this air adds a complex level to the mystery and leads to a surprising finale. While largely an adventure film, environmental concerns are theme throughout the movie. It raises many questions about personal responsibility and the long-term consequences of scientific discoveries

First released in France in 2015 (there is a dubbed English version), April and the Extraordinary World is rated PG, although reviews found in places such as Common Sense Media recommend it for children age nine or older. The film’s material is generally appropriate for this age range. Despite occasional flashes of humor, most of them involving Darwin the cat, the story is very action oriented and involves quite a bit of gun violence. Also, the film uses two lengthy prologues to impart information before getting to April’s adventures. It is possible that young children will lose interest. A small handful of scenes involving swearing and coarse jokes may make parents very concerned about these issues want to hold off until their children are in their early teens. In addition, like many orphans in children’s media, April survives by her wits and will steal the chemicals and text books needed to fund her research.

April and the Enchanted World 2.png

The film has received little critical attention. A very short review focused on the plot can be found at the AVCafe. Reviews on Common Sense Media are generally favorable, finding it interesting and balanced between the plot and characters. One of the great strengths of April and the Extraordinary World is that the film is not associated with the large American media companies producing works for children and the commercialism that accompanies a lot of their output. Also, April who wears her hair short and dresses in sensible trousers for much of the film, is a nice antidote to the predominance of Disney princesses. Unfortunately, like too many girls in these stories, April does not have any female friends of role models. Nevertheless, she demonstrates both bravery and intelligence to save the day and ties up a convoluted plot neatly in such a way that all of the story’s strands fall into place.

Hannah

Roxie’s Puzzle Adventure

 

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This app, Roxie’s Puzzle Adventure, provides a lot of entertainment for anyone looking for something to quickly provide entertainment for children. It costs $1.99 and functions with iPhones, iPads, and Android. The app contains a large map broken down into a set of sixteen smaller puzzles, each showing a section of the brightly painted city’s topography. While working on individual puzzle sections, the difficulty level can be adjusted. It is possible for each puzzle to contain anywhere between 15 and 260 pieces. For additional variety to the difficulty level, there is the option of either making individual pieces, once selected and placed into the blank area reserved for outlining the puzzle, either automatically point in the correct direction or need to be manually rotated to fit. Extra features make it possible to remove any unattached pieces to show the overall progress and offer a chance of a brief reminder of what the finished picture should look like. One, two, or three stars are awarded when a puzzle is completed depending on the difficulty level. The app allows up to five people to save their puzzles. If anyone feels more competitive, or wants to test their strengthened puzzle skills, it is possible to go back and redo a puzzle with an increased difficulty setting.

The pictures the puzzles are made out of come from Roxie Munroe. While she has illustrated a number of children’s books, none of apps she has been involved in creating are linked to large children’s media and commercial franchises. However, the app clearly has very wide appeal. School Library Journal lists the age range as preschool through the sixth grade. Due to the fact that the number of puzzle pieces can be set very low, it is appropriate for preschool aged children. The puzzles provide children with opportunities to use their motor skills and work on problem solving. The content is age-appropriate and the birds-eye-view lends itself to making many discoveries of small details, such as an elephant enclosure and a bear standing on a rock.

The app has received quite a bit of critical attention, including from School Library Journal, which praised the level of detail, how easy it is to use, and included it in a 2013 round-up of apps. Roxie’s Puzzle Adventure has clearly been well received and largely accomplishes what it sets out to do. The one potential issue is that, especially on the small screen of an iPhone, the puzzle pieces can be more difficult to maneuver than they should be if the goal is working on children’s motor skills. This is particularly true when there are more than a 100 pieces in play, so it may simply not affect how preschool aged children work on the puzzles. Despite this, it is a lot of fun and it is easy to get sucked into wanting to know what the next part of the map looks like, since this is only revealed after the previous puzzle is complete. It also serves as a chance to compete against one’s own skills in solving the puzzles.

Hannah

Film- Santa’s Apprentice

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It’s that time of year again – cold weather, warm drinks, and watching the same five children’s Christmas movies over and over again. If you’d like to try and expand your family’s holiday repertoire to six movies, then Santa’s Apprentice may be a worthy contender.

This animated film is a French-Australian-Irish collaboration that was released internationally in 2010. In 2015, it was made available in the United States by Netflix for the holiday season. This year, Santa’s Apprentice is again available for streaming through Netflix, and DVDs are available at both the Main Library (Juvenile Holiday – J San) and Ellettsville Branch (Juvenile Audiovisual – J San). Don’t be concerned about the film being “Not rated”. This is very common for international films, and Santa’s Apprentice is definitely intended for families with children.

The movie begins by establishing the premise that after 178 years of service, Santa Claus must choose an apprentice to train so that he can retire. This apprentice must meet three requirements in order to be selected. First, the apprentice must be a boy named ‘Nicholas’. Second, he must be an orphan. Third, and most important, the boy must have a “pure heart”. While the current Santa doesn’t want to retire, the Council of Retired Santas convince him to seek out his apprentice. On Christmas Eve, using a magical globe, the Santas learn that the apprentice is in Sydney, Australia.

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App- Geography Drive Arcade

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From Alabama to Wyoming, Geography Drive Arcade tests the player’s knowledge of the American states with four, patriotically colored mini-games. These include the “State Shape Challenge” (identify the state by its shape), the “Flagstaff State Flag Game” (match a state and its flag), the “State Capital Challenge” (match each state to its capital), and the “Honolulu Spelling Bee” (learn how to spell each state’s name). Players can earn a trophy for each game, depending on how many answers they get correct out of a possible 50. Leveling up from bronze to silver to gold, the goal is to get 50/50 correct for each game and to earn all four gold trophies.

Let’s not sugarcoat it: these mini-games are drills. When matching the state name to its shape, all 50 state names are listed on the side of the screen. Players must select from the list when the outline of a state pops up. During a round of the game (a round going through all 50 states), there is no repetition of a question regardless if the player gets it right or wrong. Players must repeat all 50 states in the mini-game to get better. Likewise, players must select a state’s capital from a list of 50 when trying to match the capital to the state on screen. In the state flags game, five flags are shown flying on poles at a time. In this game, a round only lasts as long as it takes for a player to get five incorrect answers; then, you have to start again. In the “Spelling Bee”, players see the outline of the state and hear the app say the name of the state, which they can repeat as often as necessary.

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