Review of Minecraft (Game)


Minecraft is a game where players build and destroy structures out of cubes on grid patterns in an open 3D world. There are several avenues to explore in this world.  There is the survival mode which focuses on the acquisition of resources and management of health and hunger.  Alternately there is the creative mode where health and hunger are not a concern and players are given unlimited resources to just create.  Highly experienced players may choose to play the hardcore mode.  The hardcore mode is similar to survival, but there is no option for regeneration upon death, worlds must be deleted at the end.

Players encounter obstacles to their construction in the form of mobs, animals, villagers and hostile creatures.  The game has day and night and the types of characters players encounter depends on what time of day it is. The game allows for multiple players to interact with each other during game play.

Minecraft can run on Windows, OS X (for Macs) and Linux.  It can also be played on the Xbox360 and will run on the Playstation 4 in the future.  Apps have been released for Andriod OS and iOS.  The cost varies depending on platform.  For PC and Mac the cost is approximately $27 (19.95 €).  The Xbox version is $19.99. The “pocket” version is $6.99.

The game was not developed with the express purpose to be educational.  It was developed in order “to create an experience where each individual component felt fun. A game that could be both accessible and emergent.” However, there are many educational components to the game.  It demands a certain spatial sense and helps develop one.  It’s a good space to practice good social skills and learn to work as part of a team.  There is no foul language, no sexual or drug references and no gruesome violence so it is appropriate for kids and adults to play. Minecraft can also help children with their math skills when gathering resources and turning them into different resources. Chad Sapieha at Common Sense Media rates Minecraft 5 stars in learning math and science and honing thinking and reasoning, collaboration and creativity.  The game is appropriate for children as young as 6 but older elementary school students all the way up to adults are the target audience.  Parents should be involved in gameplay of young children and should be aware of the option to turn off the chat setting when playing in the multiplayer mode on a public server.


Review of GeoQuiz App



Geoquiz is an interactive app that tests knowledge about the Earth, beyond just capitals and matching countries with flags. Middle School social studies students could benefit greatly by using this app, but it is also well suited for younger and older students as well as adults.  This app is supported by both on Android OS and iOS and is free to download.   There are eleven quiz categories from which to choose: Countries and Flags; Capital Cities of the World; Oceans, Rivers and Lakes; Mountains and Peaks; Forests, Deserts and Plains; People; Extremes; The Big Picture; The Great Explorers; Climate Change; and Food.  Each quiz follows the same pattern.  You are given 20 questions.  The question is laid out on the left side of the screen and four possible answers are given on the right side. You tap the correct answer and then tap the “final answer” button to lock in your answer.  The next slide will tell you whether you’ve answered correctly and then give further information about the subject matter. At the end of the quiz you’re given a score, how long it took you to complete the quiz and the option to post your results on social media sites.

Not only is Geoquiz educational, it is fun to play.  Certain quizzes would be appropriate for elementary school students to use, especially if it is accompanied by an international geography or physical geography lesson. rates it at a third grade level, but states that younger children may get frustrated with some of the questions.  As a whole the Geoquiz app is appropriate for Middle School students and older, with certain categories also appropriate for a younger audience. Adults too can have fun with the Geoquiz, but after a couple of uses the questions begin to recycle.  Repetitive questions can help reinforce what students learn, but might detract from adult fun.  Meg Butler at also points out that the limited number of questions and no upgrade or update possibility give this app a short shelf life. The content of Geoquiz is free of commercial interest, but there are ads displayed at the bottom on the screen; the paid version comes without ads.  The app was developed as a “beautiful geography quiz” and it is, but it also incorporates culture, science and history.  This is not an app that will accompany a child through their schooling, but will provide some hours of educational entertainment.


Wild Kratts (PBS, Television Show)


Chris and Martin Kratt explore the sea.

         In this television show two brothers explore the wild and teach kids about animals and natural habitats. Intended for children ages 6-8, the show is a mixture of live-action and animation and focuses on teaching through entertainment. Show topics cover a range of animals and insects from land mammals to deep-sea creatures. Each episode contains an animated adventure featuring cartoon versions of the hosts as they solve mysteries or help animals in need. These cartoons are begin and end with live action footage of the Kratts viewing and explaining animals in their natural habitat. In addition to learning about animals the show tries to expose kids to observation and questioning present in many scientific fields.

            The hosts, Chris and Martin Kratt, are charismatic and excited about animals and nature, which shows through in their fun presentation of science. The mixture of mediums is an effective way to keep kid’s interest, yet the show does not shy away from the science within each episode. Also, the cartoons allow the hosts to explore animals in inventive ways not possible in real life, such as shrinking down to the size of eggs, or swimming with animals in the deep. This element gives the show an exciting twist for kids. As the Kratts discuss animals and nature new vocabulary terms are defined and new science concepts are presented with kid friendly comparisons. For example, crocodile jaw force is the same as a dump truck sitting on top of you! This method of discussion and teaching helps keep the show appropriate for a younger audience and presents science an accessible way. As with similar shows in PBS, the content quality is consistent, interesting and in line with the National Science Education Standards. Thankfully the show does not include distracting commercial or marketing elements, although there are a number of movies and books featuring the characters and themes of the show. And as common in PBS Kids shows this series does not contain questionable content or dialog.

            Reviews from online and in print regarding the show highlights the series’ fun approach to science and education. Most commonly praised is how Wild Kratts can inspire exploration or discussions of science after an episode is watched. Such as the review from Common Sense Media, “Because the show’s focus is on wildlife and the content often refers to endangerment or threats to animal habitats, there’s good opportunity to follow up with kids via discussions about current environmental issues and conservation.”[1]  To help with this further learning PBS has a number of free activities and learning tools to accompany the episodes available on their website.[2]


Scratch (MIT, web based game)

         This interactive and easy to use website based game teaches kids ages 8-16 to code by creating simple animations, games, and stories. This site is free to use with a simple sign up requiring a parent email address for younger users. The game’s unique coding language based on movable blocks gives users experience figuring out problem solving and design elements. Users can choose from a list of characters to move around and work with and choose how these characters or objects to interact with each other. The simple drag and drop method helps children learn order, reaction, and simple rules of this elements present in a variety of real life programming languages. A step-by-step tutorial is easily accessible and finished projects can be shared within the site. Pre-made templates or “starter projects” are also available for users to add to and change as they wish. A social element exists but is limited to user comments on projects, which are present to give feedback and inspire learning.


Example of the layout and design mode of Scratch.

            Created and run by MIT, this site has fun cartoon characters to use and is overall intuitive to use. The frequent use of drag and drop, pattern recognition and sequence are appropriate to the 8-16 age group. Although this covers a wide span of ages, younger kids will find themselves drawn to the “do no wrong” element, as any sequence of blocks will produce animation or action. Likewise, older users can delve deep into the programming language and create more detailed projects. Because it is supported by MIT there are no commercial or marketing interest involved, which is a refreshing element for a kid focused website. Overall, the programing language reaches its goal of teaching and exploration with an easy to use and fun to alter design.

This project has received a large amount of press because of its attempt to bring a seemingly technically difficult technology to children. A New York Times article on Scratch discusses the benefits of collaboration on the site and touted this element as an important difference among other programming apps and games.[1] Likewise a review on the popular Design Envy site praises the simplicity of the language as an advantage for learners. “The fussiness of traditional text-based languages has been an insurmountable frustration for many would-be learners. The developers have also included a little audible feedback and “snap” action when the pieces fit that is very gratifying.”[2]

–Anna Brinegar

[1] Peter Wayner. Programming for Children, Minus Cryptic Syntax. The New York Times. Nov. 9, 2011. Web.

[2] Rafael Fajardo. Scratch: MIT Media Lab. Nov. 3, 2011. Design Envy Blog. Web.


Film Review: City of Ember

Title: City of Ember (a motion picture – based on a novel by Jeanne DuPrau).

cityofemberReleased: October 2008

Rating: PG – 95 min.

Recommended age: 8 and up.

The decaying underground City of Ember was built by the master builders to protect humanity from distinction. It has been over 200 years since the city was built and the instructions on how to leave the city have since been misplaced. Food and supplies are running low and the main generator that powers the city is deteriorating. When the generator eventually fails forever it will leave the city in utter darkness. Teenagers, Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow, are determined to find a way out and save everyone they love before this happens.

City of Ember is appropriate for middle-school aged children and up. The movie does contain a few scary scenes involving a giant mole-rat and some violence, which may be too much for younger viewers. Individuals who read the novel may be pleased that nothing radically different was done to the story’s plot line, but some changes were made due to the short length of the film. The fast paced story line might be somewhat obvious to older viewers and leave them wanting more. The movie does not contain inappropriate use of language, a romantic story line, or sexual content. It does contain corrupt politicians and adults who are unwilling to accept the reality that their city is failing.

Critical Reviews:
“Based on Jeanne DuPrau’s best-selling novel, City of Ember has an original premise and a fast pace — both of which are sure to entertain tween fantasy fans. The sets and costumes are great; in a nice departure from the tech-heavy dystopias so popular in other post-apocalyptic stories, Ember is a Dickensian landscape of grimy streets and scruffy urchins. Even with all of the lights hanging above, it’s a dark, dirty place” (Betsy Bozdech at

“Boasts a unique style and emphasis on discovery reminiscent of Flight of the NavigatorThe Goonies and other countless adventures comprising my cinematic diet back in the day. … Although perhaps not the ‘be all, end all’ of family pictures, City of Ember has a lot more going for it than a good chunk of the material usually aimed at the grade-school set” (Adam Hakari at

– Angela Bailey

Phrasalstein Review




Creator: Cambridge University Press

Platforms: Requires iOS 4.3 or later. Compatible with iPad.

Requires Android 2.2 and Up

Cost: Free

Intended Age: Rated 4+ by Cambridge University Press. Phrasal verbs are particularly difficult for English as a Second Language learners so this app could be used for an ESL student at any grade level. For native English speakers phrasal verbs are typically introduced in grades 3 through 5 after students have a basic vocabulary bank to draw from.

Utility: Phrasalstein helps students learn 100 phrasal verbs using animations and some humor. Also provides translations in Spanish, German, Italian, Russian, and French for ESL students.

Goals of the App: Helping students “lose [their] fear of phrasal verbs.”


Old time parlor music, with a twist of old-school horror, opens the Phrasalstein app. Users are presented with a choose your option banner, next to an Einstein like figure in a lab coat and long black gloves. The right side of the screen presents 4 options – Phrasal Verbs View, Exercise, Settings, and More Apps. Options.


In comparison to other apps, this opening screen is not as inviting or as readily understandable. Selecting Phrasal Verbs View presents the user with a three-tab screen. Clicking the left hand window labeled open unveils a scrolling list of words under verb and preposition that can be combined together. Once a combination is selected the right window opens to illustrate through animation the phrasal verb combination. The animations have a host of characters, although none as memorable as those found in other apps. For the most part the animations are fun but sometimes, fail to follow the general ‘horror’ or mad scientist theme of the application! Also, there is no information for users who may want to review the general definition of a verb or preposition, which might help them better, understand the components they are working with to create phrasal verbs. However, there is a third tab on the bottom of the screen that explains the meaning of each phrasal verb combination and includes an example. If the phrasal verb is more complex, there is also a section that highlights other meanings of the phrasal verb.


Once users have familiarized themselves with the Phrasal Verb View they can move on to the Exercise tab. The left window displays an animation and the right window has a list of phrasal verb options. The user selects the option that best fits the animation and clicks okay. The left window lets the user know if he or she guessed correctly. Some of the animations are not very helpful – for example one scene depicted a young monster holding onto a girls arm. He opens his mouth, and looks ready to bite into it, when ‘Doctor Frankenstein’ shouts “No!” in a speech bubble and runs over to stop him. I couldn’t figure out what the animation was trying to predict and the answer ‘pull apart’ didn’t seem to quite fit the animation.


Additionally, although there are 7 languages that are offered in the Settings tab only a small portion of the app is translated.  The words in Phrasal Verb View and the Exercise tab stay in English – only in the third tab on the Phrasal Verb View does the selected language appear. In lieu of the information on the meaning of the word in English, a translation of the word into the selected language is offered along with an example in that language. For users who have limited English skills, more guidance in their native tongue may be appreciated, such as being able to select the English word and having a narrator pronounce the word in the alternative language.

Overall, this application might provide some interest to young students struggling with the complex topic of phrasal verbs but other application may be better. As the review on iPad Educators concluded, “A well-presented and well-intentioned app that lacks depth and challenge.” The review also pointed out that “The lack of progression/rewards also means that there’s limited incentive for students to engage for extended periods of time.” From my perspective, Phrasalstein does not have very consistent design elements and somewhat lackluster animations. The topic of phrasal verbs could have been presented in a more simplistic but informative manner. The app could have included narrator pronunciations of the words and sentence examples and the entire game could have made more use of the languages option.

Phrasalstein Review:

iPad Educators:!news/nws3/48F539EE-1558-4ABF-962B-F27F5D318D51/take-a-spooky-look-at-verbs-with-phrasalstein


Endless Reader Review


Endless Reader


Creator: Originator Inc.

Platforms: iOS 5.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. You must be online and have sufficient disk space while running the app to get all words in the app. Not available on Androids.

Cost: Free

Intended Age: Rated 4+ by Originator Inc. Educators typically emphasize sight words Kindergarten through 3rd grade.

Utility: Endless Reader is geared towards young readers, age 4 and up, that are just beginning to build up their vocabulary. Endless Reader introduces “sight words” – frequently used words at home and in school that educators encourage students to memorize, rather than decode, to speed up the reading process. This allows students to focus on the content and storyline rather than attempting to continuously define commonly used words.

Goals of the App: “Recognizing sight words…that may have unusual spelling, can’t be sounded out using phonetics, and/or can’t be represented by pictures.”


Endless Reader, released November 21, 2013, is a fun and age appropriate app for any child, K-3 looking to increase their ability to increase their vocabulary, recognize sight words, and create sentences. I was first struck by the fun and playful nature of the app – signaled by the host of cute and crazy creatures that crowded across the welcome screen. The main page opens to a brown monster with three eyes, his mouth wide open to reveal, in alphabetical order, the words that children can assemble, de-assemble, and use in sentences.


If children want to skip ahead in the alphabet, they can scroll through the word offerings in the monsters mouth, or click on a letter of the alphabet displayed on the monsters lips. Once a child selects a word, like cake, the word appears on the main screen, until a host of creatures runs across the screen and sends the letters flying. Each is brightly colored and routinely shakes or vibrates. The background music is upbeat and fun, lending to the creative atmosphere of the application. Once the letters are scattered across the screen the user must drag the letters into their correct positions to spell the word again. Here is where the innovation of the app really shines through – as each letter is selected and dragged around the screen the letter grows eyes and becomes a mini letter monster constantly shouting out the letters sound in relation to the word. As Kim Lovering writes in her review, “As they drag the word it sings a song using the word. For example, the word can sings the can-can, only using the word can. It’s great. Makes me laugh every time.” Once the word is completed the screen erupts with cheering and clapping monsters.


The word is then placed in context with a funs sentence such as “A good cake is the yummiest part of a birthday party! Three words are typically scattered around the screen, in this case ‘cake’, ‘good’, and ‘the’, and the user must drag the words to complete the sentence.



Again, once the word is selected a cute voice sounds out the word, and in the case of ‘cake’ the word sprouts adorable candles. In reward for completing the sentence, the screen erupts in cheers once more and a small animation scene, like a monster belly flopping into a cake is played before the sentence is read aloud by the narrator. Users then move on to the next word and why wouldn’t they want to? Endless Reader is an addictively fun educational game that combines good graphic design – the cute creatures and fun colors – along with great sound effects. Moreover, young users not only get to assemble words and sentences but also get to hear words and letters sounded out in various contexts. There is also some repetition amongst the sentence constructions, which can help young users familiarize themselves with content. Overall, a great addition to any teacher’s trove of tools to get children excited and interested in reading!

Endless Reader Reviews

Phil Dzikiy, iLounge:

Kim Lovering, Parenting Chaos:

Heather H, Smart Apps for Kids:



Tonya Medeiros, appPicker:

Online Game Review: The Cat in the Hat Knows a lot About That!

Game: The Cat in the Hat knows a Lot about That! (hosted by



Cost: Free

Intended ages: Ages 4 to 6

The beloved story book character created by Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat, teaches kids about science, nature, math, and the world around them through short computer games. Below are some examples of the games provided by the website.

Example One: Clatter-Clang Island
Throughout this game kids learn about how the human ear works while collecting pieces of a broken ear statue. They use the keyboard’s right and left arrow keys as well as the spacebar to collect points and sounds until they reach a locked sound door. Kids then have to find the sound that belongs to the image on the locked door (i.e. hammer, car, etc.). After collecting all six pieces of the ear, kids then get to help The Cat in the Hat put the statue back to together again.

Example Two: Gravity-A-Boing-Boing
Throughout this game kids learn about gravity and how it changes depending on a planet’s size.  Kids play a game similar to Pong by moving a trampoline (with the computer mouse) held by Thing 1 and Thing 2 to see how high The Cat in the Hat and his friends will bounce on each planet. Kids collect points by bouncing them into floating point bubbles.

Example Three: Leafylafoo Roundup
In this game kids draw a leaf with the computer mouse or pick one that has already been created for them. Then The Cat in the Hat plants a tree, which grows and sprouts the leaf chosen/designed by the kids. They can then choose between the game, Catch and Sort, or playing with Leaf Art. In the first game a wind storm shakes all the leaves from the trees and the kids have to organize then by size, shape, and color into a number of baskets. In the second game, kids can color pictures choosing from a variety of different backgrounds.

The Cat in the Hat knows a Lot about That! is appropriate for preschool age children and with some initial guidance from parents on how to navigate the website, it appears to be easy to use. For example, navigation words (i.e. Games, Print, Video, Skip, etc.) are said out loud when the mouse hoovers over them. The games are often repetitive, but engage critical thinking skills by making levels more difficult as children progress though each game.

The site also offers five games in Spanish and are intended for children who know or understand the language. They were not created with the purpose of teaching children Spanish.

Although items are available for purchase on the site, they are located under the Parent and Shop tabs. Commercial interest and ads are not present.

Critical Review:
“Science class has never been as much fun for kids as it is with the Cat in the Hat leading the charge — he makes it a joy to learn. With his guidance, kids are introduced to concepts like migration, animal classification, and nocturnal behavior, and the characters approach the discovery process with enthusiasm as they piece together clues that will lead them to the answers to their questions” (Emily Ashby at

– Angela Bailey

Online Game Review: Free Rice

free_riceFree Rice is an online trivia game that supports the United Nations World Food Programme. The concept is simple: answer a trivia question correctly and 10 grains of rice are donated to help end hunger around the world.

According to Common Sense Media, Free Rice is appropriate for children ages 9 and up. The default subject of the site is English vocabulary with questions like “Thanks means: gratitude, lady, assortment, or package?” Participants can also choose from a variety of subjects such as Chemistry, Geography and even SAT prep questions. Granted, many of these questions are too challenging for a 9 year old, but the questions aren’t so complicated that kids can’t make an educated guess.

On the surface this is a very simple trivia game that might not hold your interest for more than a few questions. However, the game employs critical thinking skills by encouraging kids and adults to think about poverty and hunger. This game could be used as a tool in the classroom to facilitate a discussion about these topics.

Users can create a login to track the amount of rice they’ve donated, but you don’t need a login to play. Keeping track of your score adds a competitive nature to the game.

From a consumer standpoint, the site includes some necessary advertising. For each correct answer, there is an ad banner of the company that will pay for the donated rice. I can’t help but question how they select the appropriate advertiser, given that most of mine were for the clothing store Anthropologie (a site I visited earlier today). Then again, it’s hard to criticize Free Rice for anything because the cause is so powerful.

In a review for Common Sense Media, Elizabeth Crane writes that “Free Rice successfully combines learning with social responsibility in a way that’s positively addictive.” This unique approach to ending world hunger is a great game to share, not just with children, but with people of all ages.

-Leanne Mobley

Online Game Review: Germinator

fetch!Germinator is a free online game associated with the PBS Series Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman. The TV show was funded primarily by the National Science Foundation and ran from 2006-2010. Episodes from all 5 seasons are currently streaming on the PBS Kids site along with 25 different games featuring Ruff Ruffman.

The main object of the game Germinator is to infect the bad guys: Crumpet, Trumpet, Dump-It and Nelson. You are a germ travelling through the mouth and into the blood stream. By infecting all four bad guys you will prevent them from more evil-doing and rack up some points along the way. You can save these points by creating a user account. The points are interchangeable with other Fetch! games, though not all games have points. For example, in WHOAHler Coaster the objective is to build a functioning roller coaster and the caption reads “Sorry, no points! Just fun making roller coasters.”

Fetch! is meant for kids ages 6 through 12, but Germinator will likely appeal to the younger crowd and underwhelm anyone older than 7. The only manipulation used in this game is navigating your germ through the body using the arrow keys. The functions of the game are very simple, but the clever details add interest. For example, in the first round as you make your way into the mouth of Villain #1, you must dodge clumps of spit shaped like octopi and airborne bottles of mouthwash. Further, Ruff Ruffman is charming and over the top. In the introduction he wears a dog collar and jokes that he is “sick as a dog.”

In addition to games, trivia, and behind-the-scenes podcasts, there is also a Parents & Teachers portal that outlines the goals of the series and provides activities and lesson plans that go along with the show. Germinator is only a small portion of the Fetch! franchise, but fits with the overall learning objectives.

germIn a review for Common Sense Media, Larisa Wiseman writes that “Fetch! is a truly original series that’s great fun to watch — especially for young viewers interested in science or anyone who loves a good scavenger hunt.” Germinator has similar appeal and the greatest strength of this game is that it provides scientific context (learning about the human body) in an entertaining way. Children will enjoy this game because it’s not overtly educational. Ruff Ruffman is loud and funny, the sound effects are goofy, and there’s more than enough snot to go around. However, the creators don’t shy away from using terms like “macrophage” and “antibodies” and there’s plenty to be learned here.

-Leanne Mobley