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Category: High School + »

Futaba Classroom Games For Kids Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on February 25th, 2013
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Futaba Classroom Games For Kids is a unique game app for children, educational as well as fun.

This app, a digital quiz game for both multi - as well as single players, really stands out because an adult can program the questions children answer to a wide age range of abilities from preschool age through the 10th grade as well as easy, medium or hard questions for these grades.

Up to four players can gather around the iPad which shows a question center screen, slowly revolving so all players have a chance to see and then answer the question with a tap from one of three possible choices at the bottom of their place at the screen.

A practice mode is also available that allows one player to use this app by himself.

The look of this app is quite nice, clean and sophisticated with a natural wood look to the background of this application as well as very nice music included to listen to - both relaxing as well as adding a bit of suspense to these games.

Also nicely styled are the questions which are included within a circle. With each correct answer, an area of this circle is highlighted until ten questions are answered correctly and a “Futaba” is earned - a citrus fruit that is a consistent theme in this educational app.

From animal recognition to the Table of Elements, different shapes to counting money and even learning about languages different from English, this app covers a vast array of questions that can be included.

It took me some time to understand how to create my own games using the filters provided, and I personally think it is easier to choose from all the subjects available instead of trying to filter these choices by grade or difficulty, as after going down the extensive list, I can simply check off the questions I would like included - down to the specific questions, and not just what themes to focus on.

I admire how multiple games can be created to allow children of different abilities to play this app at different times, making it a great choice for school settings as well as use in the home, especially for families with children of different ages and subjects to focus on.

Be it alone or with others, I can see children of all ages as well as adults enjoying these quizzes a great deal. I also appreciate how the plethora of questions for children from preschool into high school allows this app to grow with children, as well as to be a great teaching tool for the classroom as well.

Meet the Insects - Village Edition Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on February 18th, 2013
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Meet the Insects - Village Edition is an excellent educational app that contains a vast amount of insect facts that will delight all ages from toddlers up through high schoolers and beyond.

Few apps have such a wide age range as Meet the Insects - Village Edition - one in series of bug-related apps. I am very impressed with the inclusion of narration for the majority of this app, making reading not a requirement to enjoy this application, although there are a few areas that will best serve older children who can read and write.

From the home page, one will see this app broken into six sections. I personally think that this app is best appreciated if one starts off with the “Insect Story,” which covers such topics as explaining what insects are vs. other creatures such as spiders - that are not, as well as insect life cycles, how insects pollinate flowers, the sounds insects make, and other interesting facts about flies in a household setting.

This section includes illustrations with light animation as well as video clips of insects and delivers a plethora of information which will make entomologists smile. I have learned a lot from listening and watching this video, with very good, clear and concise narration. I was simply blown away by how much information has been delivered this way.

Once this terrific overview is finished, venture over to “See the Insects” which will introduce users to different orders of insects such as Hemiptera insects which have needle-like mouths, or Diptera insects, with a single set of wings. Selections can be made by tapping insects directly or by choosing an order to scroll the different bugs to learn about. I love how butterflies are also represented as well as beetles and crickets and other types of insects that make noises.

Each of these insects is represented with well-written and narrated text which further explains a great deal about these bugs including a description of their appearance which can be seen in photos or video clips. A tap of the insect in question may make it move slightly for a great effect as these bugs look as if they come alive for a brief moment, as well as sometimes having the chance to use a magnifying glass to look at the creature in question up close. Fun facts are included which add whimsy to these insect areas as this app takes its bugs quite seriously. I am glad that cute yet still factual info is also included such as “Why do grasshoppers hate spinach” to keep this app light and cute for kids to enjoy.

A multimedia area is also available to see all the included photos and videos of insects accessible from a single place - each impressive in their details as well as the colors that can be seen in each insect. The videos include a simple narrated description of what is being seen, while the text found in the photos offered from this section are not narrated so parents may need to assist children in this area.

The Quizquiz is an area that uses tests to determine what children have learned with insect photos in this fun and interactive mini-game consisting of both multiple choice as well as a true and false question mode. These written tests without narration makes these quizzes great for older children or those who might need help from a parent as well.

An observational journal allows children to take a photo or use one from the photos on their iPad to then write about a subject - presumably about insects. I enjoy this opportunity for older students which can be saved and looked at in the future.

I enjoy being able to explore this app in both daytime as well as nighttime settings found on the home page, allowing for the nighttime bug sounds to be heard as well - a nice touch - as is the other glossary of insects that one can use to search for these insects by order as well as color, also including insects not covered in this specific app but may be covered in the other apps from this series.

There is a tremendous amount of information about insects in this highly educational application. I recommend this app to all families who enjoy insect information. I look forward to more of the apps from this series as well as other apps from this developer in the future.

Whack A Bone Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on February 8th, 2013
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Whack A Bone is a wonderful app for iPad that is truly an educational delight, teaching about the anatomy of bones found in the human body.

Nicely sectioned into groups, users will learn about the bones that make up one’s core, such as cranium, sternum or vertebrae which is grouped here into three different categories - cervical, thoracic and lumbar, as well as the arm and leg bones, each consisting of its own section as well.

To play this pirate-themed anatomy game, place the bones from the different sections back to their rightful places inside a skeleton with the direction of a talking parrot whose attitude kids will find witty and fun.

It is also great that the entire skeleton is included, having players remember all of what they have been taught, including such differences as metacarpals vs. metatarsals as well as the correct placement of the different vertebrae included.

I appreciate that this is a great teaching aid for both those who need to study the bones in the human body including those new to this subject as the puzzle one fills in a labeled skeleton in the first half of these sections so that players will learn as they go.

Next, the parrot will quiz users on these bones by naming bones that need to be tapped as quickly as possible, and if successful, a bronze, silver or gold star is given based on speed.

I have had some issues with accuracy as I may tap the ribs when I was aiming for clavicle, and these mistakes are compounded by being timed.

Because of this, it would be great if the timer aspect of this app could be removed as an option, although I did like that if the player seems stuck during the quiz, the bone in question was highlighted to help. These answers, however, are not credited towards getting these bones as correct answers, and players are asked at the end to place the incorrect bones back where they belong and then need to re-build the bone puzzles again before being re-quizzed.

Although the adult human body consists of 206 bones, this app condenses the number being taught down to 24, with eight bones to learn per section - a very nice amount of information for children as well as adults to study.

This app is undeniably an excellent way to help students of all ages learn this information. The pirate theme is well-done and nicely stylized without getting in the way of what is being taught, and the salty attitude of the parrot keeps this game light and fun with just the right amount of competition that will be appealing to grade school children who otherwise may not been keen on studying the same topic over and over again.

I also appreciate that the music - ambient sound effects and parrot voice volume - can be adjusted independently.

I have certainly learned what has been taught within Whack a Bone, and I do wish this app were available when I was learning about anatomy as well, and I would love to see more educational apps like this developed in the future.

A Christmas Carol Drawn & Told Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on December 19th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

A Christmas Carol Drawn & Told is a stellar universal adaptation of the class Dickens tale of the same name.

I am very impressed with the quality of this app which includes more than 300 beautiful drawings, as highly these stylized images are used to illustrate this lengthy story, complete with fabulous narration.

Users simply sit back and listen to this classic story, gazing at wonderful artwork which brings great dimension to this Dickens tale.

These images are often dark, moody and simply gorgeous to look at, making this not just a topical app for Christmas, but ideal for anyone who needs to study A Christmas Carol in school, especially those who enjoy graphic novels as they are often haunting as well as edgy at times as well as beautiful to look at, making this app stand out from other re-tellings of this story.

There is also a slight use of the Ken Burns effect - the panning and zooming of these illustrations to draw the eye - quite effective in the support of this storytelling.

The narration is top-notch in every way, if not spoken a little fast, but not difficult to get used to hearing. A few other voice actors are also incorporated for a great effect which I really appreciate.

I remember reading this lengthy book in high school, and I would have really appreciated this app a great deal. For me, my best comprehension came from both listening to a story at this point from a borrowed set of records from our public library, reading along word for word. This is how I read works like Shakespeare, Catch-22 or Native Son, and it really worked for me quite well.

This app does not include the text, but the illustrations are so very vivid, students of all ages will find themselves engaged, fully understanding and even enjoying this story, especially those students not looking forward to reading Dickens by themselves.

I appreciate that this app is broken down by chapter and allows readers to pick up where they left off as well as including information about Dickens that I found interesting.

I highly recommend this app for all students who are reading A Christmas Carol as well as for teachers in a classroom setting, especially at such an affordable price. I am unclear if this is an abridged version of the classic, but even if so, with almost two jours of narration, there is enough content here to be a valuable adaptation worthy of being used in class to understand the major plot points and concepts.

I would love to see more classic literature adapted this way, as this is a perfectly realized re-telling of a classic story.

iActive Christmas Carol - Unabridged Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on December 18th, 2012
iPad App - Designed for iPad

iActive Christmas Carol - Unabridged, as the name may suggest, is an unabridged adaptation of the Charles Dickens Classic Tale: A Christmas Carol.

This app is without narration but includes both Victorian-inspired drawings as well as interactions that one can explore when reading this story.

The pages of this app have distressed edges, adding a vintage feel to this app that I appreciate, but the total lack of sound comes across as unfinished. I would rather listen to ambient sounds such as the crackle of a fire while on text pages or the sounds one would expect to find while performing included interactions, such as metallic or subtle ticking sounds one may expect if a watch were bouncing around the page or liquid sloshing sounds as a wine bottle is being tossed around the screen. I also find some of the interactions to be a little on the nose but can be fun to move about the screen.

I do wish page numbers could be included to keep track of one’s space in this book as there is no place-saving included.

It is worth noting that this app will open to the last page if iActive Christmas Carol is left running in the background of one’s iPad. This feature should be included intentionally as well.

A menu of pages is included that one can go through, but from a distance each of the pages without interactions looks the same. Readers can still take a few minutes to find the place where they left off.

Even with these notes, iActive Christmas Carol is worth taking a look at if one is in need of an unabridged version of this story that includes some interactive elements and illustrations.

PHLIP Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on October 17th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

PHLIP is an interesting and engaging puzzle app for both children as well as adults. It is a universal app, but do note that a camera is necessary to make this app compatible with one’s device.

Said to be a combination of the words Photo and Flip, PHLIP is a really creative puzzle app where one uses a photo from their device or snaps a new image to include as the background of an intriguing puzzle app.

Once a background is selected, players can choose the number of pieces their new puzzle will contain - between four and twenty tiles that will rotate independently, breaking up the original photograph.

Gameplay here is simple to grasp yet these puzzles can become quite complicated to complete, as one can tap to select tiles to either rotate or lock as players tilt their device clockwise or counter-clockwise to make these tiles rotate into their rightful places.

I appreciate how the same photo can be an easy or more difficult puzzle, depending on the number of tiles included, making this app a great choice in puzzle activity for children of all ages - preschool and up - as well as adult.

There is a very nice level of polish that has gone into this app, as fun, quirky sound effects are included each time a tile is rotated, and players are also able to see the completed puzzle with a tap, allowing players to also go back and complete their work after being given help if feeling stuck.

The number of moves needed to solve these puzzles is retained but is unintrusive enough - good to know as I don’t always find that score-keeping adds to my enjoyment of a game or activity.

Another function of this app is the ability to challenge friends and family who have downloaded this app with solving puzzles that one has personally created - a nice touch as I can see puzzle enthusiasts sharing photos among friends, sending these puzzle backgrounds back and forth via email.

Although players are encouraged to create intricate photo experiences to capture in order to make unique and creative puzzles, I have had very good success in finding images from my camera that I have enjoyed turning into photos, as my son has taken to creating architectural photographs of his Lincoln Log structures that he enjoys building which have become great fodder for some interesting puzzles.

I enjoy the interactive elements included within this app as well, as players need to select, de-select, and re-select tiles to be rotated, giving busy fingers and minds a lot to focus on, as does the tilting of the device in a way that I think could be very engaging as well as calming to my sometimes antsy son.

Although not specifically educational, I enjoy my own thought process as I work on these rotated puzzle elements, looking for pieces with recognizable landscapes and working my way out from there.

Depending on the image used, these puzzles can be simple, difficult, or simply time-consuming, often requiring focus and patience that adults can adjust for their children or themselves to be challenged at a level they will get the most from.

Although this app was designed for one to create stylized photos to thoughtfully make puzzles, I think this app could creatively take photos very much in the moment that adults and children could enjoy as they are out and about, making this a wonderful puzzle choice to pass the time for all ages.

PHLIP is truly an app that you make not only your own, but you get what you put into this app in terms of creating the perfect puzzles to spend time with.

Let's Color! Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on July 27th, 2012
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Let's Color! is a wonderful animated coloring book for iPad that children and adults will love to explore.

I absolutely enjoy this cute and quirky art application. This app allows children to be highly creative yet work off prompts both seen as uncompleted drawings as well as text, both spoken and written, that trigger children's imagination instead of trying to be inspired by a blank page.

The illustration that children are adding to is also quite child-like, making non-drawers comfortable with their level of drawing skills - an issue my son has as he is aware of this lack of representational drawing ability.

As this app opens up, children are first asked, “What is coming out of the hose?” allowing children to then answer this question with any doodle they see fit with the use of many colors to choose from as well as different sized drawing points and even sticker choices.

Once children add whatever they imagine coming out of the hose, a tap will animate their drawing. Also included are fun sounds which really bring their work to life, here flushing different elements of their drawing out of the hose with great whimsy.

Other topics touched upon are “Can you make it snow?” which duplicates the snow drawn by readers, creating a confetti-like experience that then drops down to the bottom of the page; “Who is riding in these train cars?”, which is a great opportunity to use the included stickers, or even more open-ended questions such asking children what is being drunk out of large twisty straws, or an off-beat request such as “What could be coming out of this trumpet?”

Personally, I enjoy the toilet humor in this app as well, asking children to “Let’s draw poops” in a large yellow toilet center page, allowing the adding images to be flushed away, yet I can imagine some families being turned off by this section.

Although the saving of the original image created is possible, I would also like to return to these pages to re-watch the animated moment created for each section. Unfortunately, the drawing is not saved to re-watch once the page is turned - something I would love to see included in a future update.

I greatly admire how the children’s illustrations are de-constructed in creative ways to fit into this simple page story, and I find this app wonderful to encourage children like my son, who has shown vast creativity in storytelling, yet hesitate when it comes to drawing anything representational for fear of failing his personal standards.

It is worth noting that the first 18 pages of this app are free, with the ability to add another 16 sections for $1.99 as an in-app purchase. I don't typically recommend an app with this format, but “Let’s Color” is a truly special experience with a tremendous value even without the in-app purchase - an option that can be hidden from children’s view, a nice touch.

From my perspective, Let’s Color is a must-download for any iPad owners with children. I admire the storytelling aspect of this app, triggering the imagination of children, complete with highlighted text with cute children’s narration which asks children to complete these drawings.

This is certainly an app that is hard to explain or describe with words alone, and I wonder if I have given justice to the experiences created. Luckily for readers, one can download it as a free app, and readers can see for themselves what all my fuss is about. Please note that another related app from these same developers is also available, Squiggles! If interested, please look for it in iTunes.

Tick Bait’s Universe Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on July 11th, 2012
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Tick Bait’s Universe is a wonderful children’s science app for iPad that truly puts the universe into perspective in a way that children can understand, appreciate and enjoy.

Starting out, this app introduces readers a chance to view an ordinary dog, Tick Bait one meter, roughly three feet overhead, as he lays on his back in a backyard typical of many homes. From here, one has a chance to explore the unseen in either direction, zooming in or out closer or further to Tick Bait by the power of ten.

In choosing to investigate Tick Bait closer, the view becomes 1/10 of a meter (about four inches) close to Tick Bait and from here one has a view of the ticks this dog is carrying. Getting still closer makes children aware of the even smaller dog mites that are commonplace - a version of this mite also living on human hosts as well.

Zooming in further reveals the dog mites' cells, and later bacteria and the even smaller viruses as well as even DNA. The app discusses such topics as DNA sequencing and zooms down small enough to atoms, their protons, neutrons, electrons and even the smaller ````quarks which ends this section, as matter can’t be broken down into smaller pieces.

Viewing Tick Bait from higher and higher vantage points is equally impressive, detailing such principles as different levels found within the atmosphere as well as an interesting view of Tick Bait’s house, neighborhood and state in which he lives, pulling out to see the Earth as a whole, later in orbit with the other planets until Earth is seen as simply part of the Milky Way and beyond. It ultimately shows a representation of the entire observable universe, ending this section of this highly engaging and educational app.

Do note that one may want to be view this app in landscape mode to make the most of this application as here, both the images as well as text are available, whereas the image is only seen within portrait mode.

There is so much information to be read about within this thoughtfully conceived application. I admire the structure of this app because of the way that it delivers all the included information. It is as easy to follow as it is engaging - with an abundance of interesting facts as well as fun true or false questions that add related information about topics at hand.

I also admire how one can move back and forth between tenfold distances with the pinch or spreading of fingers, the tap of a button or the scrolling between sections, and I appreciate all the additional information found within this app along the way as well including much about scientific notations and the concept of the power of ten. Because of this, metric measurements are used here but are roughly translated to imperial measurements as well.

Although this app does not contain narration, wonderful sound effects really bring these different vantage points to life, with each sound element well chosen and effective in making this app really come alive, even when simply moving from one tenfold to another, as well as when readers know they have zoomed in and out as far as possible.

This is a perfect science application for older grade school children and beyond, and is an app that adults will genuinely enjoy as well.

Without narration, readers rely on themselves or an adult to read the included text, making this an app possibly not fully suitable for younger children, but with the aid of an adult, I think that bright, curious children as young as late preschool could enjoy this app if it is read to them by an encouraging adult.

I have greatly enjoyed Tick Bait’s Universe, This app is one of a kind and is a wonderful app for home as well as school settings. I am eager to see what other apps the developers at You University Apps may come up with next as this application is top-notch in every way.

Monster Physics Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on July 3rd, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Monster Physics is a wonderfully creative and educational universal app which teaches about physics and building concepts to young engineers ages ten and up. This app, part of a library of applications from developer Dan Russell-Pinson, is a terrific choice for parents and teachers alike as this app requires focus and concentration as well as being a lot of fun.

There are many components to this app that children must understand in order to be successful with their builds, so I encourage adults to familiarize themselves with this application before showing it to their children. It is great how multiple players can save their game, making this app ideal for classroom settings as well as for families, and it is also cute and fun to have the ability to personalize the monster associated with a player’s individual account.

I would like to encourage users to start off by visiting the Learn section, which covers basic principles of physics such as gravity, friction, speed and velocity with the use of a simple, well-written explanation and animated scenes demonstrating what is being taught using the different pieces that one can later use in their creations.

After players study this section, there are two basic areas one can build machines in. A Build section allows children to create their own devices in an open-ended fashion, and it is wonderful that one can save and modify these machines for later, Yet I think players may have a hard time starting off in this section without a lot of building experience. Instead, I recommend the Missions area that will take players through sections of mini-games where they must build a contraption with various parts to unite monsters with the fruit they are trying to eat. The use of physics, as the title may imply, is top notch, making this a must-have application for young engineers, with the upper difficulty levels such as Challenge and Advanced great mental workouts for adults.

I admire all the work that must have gone into the developing of Monster Physics as the amount of content, assuming that one has the aptitude to complete this application, is impressive. I would like, however, to be able to see more tips given such as those found within the Training section throughout, possibly including even more specific hints as well for those who need it, with the use of helpful text and even a template that one can complete to give players a basic framework to follow while still needing to trouble-shoot the exact details. Even without adding more hints, I do find it a flaw within this app that the answer is not included for those who can’t continue within a missions from a section and need help. I don’t think one should underestimate the educational value of having challenges such as these explained - much more so than being stuck and walking away after hitting an impasse. Luckily, all the included mini-games are unlocked, and one can skip over a problem if need be. Do take as long or try as many times as needed to get things correct. There are no timers or points of any sorts, making this a great app for those who like to take their time and focus on the task at hand.

Even with this note, there is a lot to really appreciate about this application. I enjoy the look of these monsters, and I am impressed with different parts, connectors and special pieces one can use to create working machines both simple and complex making this a stellar application for teaching problem solving skills and critical thinking.

This is also a relatively quiet game that uses ambient nature sounds to a nice effect as all of these building exercises take place within an outdoor landscape. The other sound effects used to bring the different elements alive also bring a lot to this experience, but be aware that one can turn off these effects as well as the music used individually - always a nice touch.

It is easy to recommend the apps developed by Dan Russell-Pinson. They are go-to apps for anyone looking for an engaging education for older children and are-must have applications for teachers who use apps within their classrooms.

Box Monsters Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on May 1st, 2012
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

Box Monsters is a very nice physics-based game with a heavy use of gravity and intuitive game play.

Different shapes are stacked precariously on a platform on or alongside a box monster who wishes to be able to fly away home. To help this box monster, tap to remove these shapes which are separating the monster from the platform below that will help project this box monster home when contact is made.

Sometimes the box monster is resting on the platform, but the shapes need to be removed that hinder the box monster from flying away, as well as other interesting details that I enjoy. Do note that these towers of shapes can get pretty wobbly, and if the tower falls over, players need to try again.

I really like this game, the graphics are pleasing to look with a use of bright colors and it is very intuitive to understand in terms of how to play.

Five levels are included which increase in difficulty, and 20 levels are included within each section. I like how although the game follows the same basic premise, specific pieces are added that change how players respond to these puzzles such as triangles that can not be removed or spiky round pieces that will kill the box monsters on contact.

Although the upper levels get difficult, the ease of game play has made re-doing levels in order to have a good outcome not as frustrating as a game like this can sometimes become. One aspect that I don’t like, however, is that some of these shape towers are so tippy that even as a level opens, the towers tumble before contact with the player, and the game must be started over again - moments that I do find frustrating indeed.

I also have had issues of having to re-start levels as one does not always get a chance to automatically re-try levels in the way typical for most of the game - an issue that I hope can be looked into for a future update.

I think that this game, especially the first section, would be a great first physics app for grade school children which can teach a lot about problem solving as well as a very nice casual game for adults.

It would be nice if the information of more than one player could be stored at once so families can share this app amongst themselves with the games of various family members saved separately, but even without this function, I have enjoyed this game and the amount of puzzles offered. I look forward to more levels being added to Box Monsters in the future.

The Artifacts Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on April 27th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

The Artifacts is a superb universal interactive storybook app that will appeal to many ages of children, especially older children in late grade school, middle school and even high school as well as beyond.

Meet Asaf, a collector of just about everything, from art to antiques, caterpillars to flora as well as anything and everything else that interests him, much to the dismay of his parents who do not share his passion for collecting.

One day, much to Asaf’s dismay, he arrives home to see his room bare and his collections removed. It is only now that he finds out that he is moving with his parents to a new house, and that collections are not permitted in his new home. Although his parents may be able to control what is allowed inside their house, they cannot control Asaf’s mind, and it is here that he creates vast new collections of fantasy, daydreams and facts all his own.

Asaf is a character after my own heart as I too am a collector of things far and wide, luckily having never been asked to get rid of my collections as my parents share this same trait to some degree, and I confess that we have gotten rid of very few of my son’s toys throughout the years, ever increasing the storage areas of our home to accommodate such belongings and effects.

The story itself is striking, with the emotions of isolation and alienation expressed as simple text and rich imagery that stick in my mind in places typically reserved for favorite passages of literature, film or other forms of art.

The treatment of Asaf and the behavior of his parents are extreme, yet surreal and dreamlike, allowing myself to be drawn into this story without judgment, yet creating an emotional experience which children need to be ready for, making it perfect for kids in upper grade school and up if not older, through adulthood.

My mind races to nuances depicting bleak moments from Roald Dahl stories - lonely, austere moments from the animated film “Coraline,” or surreal moments from the live action feature “Where the Wild Things Are” if for nothing more that the tones and emotions found within moments of storytelling that are bouncing around in my mind after finishing this app.

I have seen few such well-realized interactive app with older kids in mind. The majority of interactions are wonderful, imaginative and poetic as are the wonderfully stylized artwork found among these pages. The style of writing is quite minimalist, creating a wonderful dichotomy with the illustrations which can be lush with detail or minimal themselves for a great effect.

Although a large part of me wants to go into great detail about my favorite scenes or elements of this app, it is my gift to readers not to ruin these moments for themselves as words will not fully express or explain the emotion felt when experiencing this app for the first time.

As strongly as I feel about this app, I have decided not to share this story with my son, as I think the idea that parents - who presumably understand their children and want the best for them - would take away everything that they hold dear quite heartbreaking - especially for a kid like mine who really enjoys a lot of stuff around him.

There are also moments of heavy language with use of such words as “The Offense,” The Betrayal,” “The Dearth,” or “The Crime” in reference to moving away from home with all one’s worldly possessions gone, which adds a lot of melancholy to this app quite effectively in ways that may burden younger children such as my son.

There is little that I would change about this storybook.The one note I would like to make is that there is a witty moment when Asaf collects his thoughts while in the bathroom, with the tubes, creams and other items commonly found there and that have labels such as “concepts,” “Inferences,” or “Notion Potion,” yet the hand-written text is very small and hard to read, even on the larger screen of the iPad. This is unfortunate, especially for iPhone users who will be looking at these words on an even smaller screen - a real missed opportunity for readers but in no way a reason to bypass this otherwise wonderful app.

I do hope I have done this app justice as I would typically write in more detail my favorite moments within, but I don’t think these details would be doing readers any favors.

It is also worth noting that this app includes an interracial family, which has no real bearing on the story at hand, but it is just nice to see as I am hard-pressed to think of many other apps which include other interracial family units - refreshing to see, to be sure.

I hope this review has encouraged readers, both parents as well as teachers, to download this app for their children as well as for themselves. I am happy to see an app of such quality with a very reasonable price tag, especially for being a universal app - something I hope other developers will take notice of as the price for iPad and universal apps keeps creeping up.

Cool to be Clever: Edson Hendricks Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on April 17th, 2012
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Cool to be Clever: Edson Hendricks is a wonderful biography for iPad that tells the life story of Edson C. Hendricks, the brilliant mind behind the design of the Internet.

This is a very nicely written application, narrated effortlessly by Hendricks himself, who has a wonderful speaking voice which reminding me of a less flamboyant Spaulding Gray making him a great talent in re-telling his own story.

Although written by another author, Leanne Jones, the words presented on the page and spoken in the first person ring utterly true as they guide readers through Hendricks’s early life as a child, being bullied for his intellect as well as for his red hair color, through his groundbreaking work with computers at MIT and beyond as he worked to design a method of connecting the world's computers, sometimes misunderstood by those in authority at this workplace.

I do really enjoy this story of how the technology for the Internet was born, as I do Hendricks's personal story, growing up and feeling an outcast until he found his place in college - a relatable experience for many.

Hendricks's method of delivery is modest and humble, always remaining very much of an everyman including his lovely delivery of his life story to his interviews, which are also included within this application.

I find it interesting that Hendricks is widely regarded as a genius yet never uses this word himself, and I wonder if children will fully understand how unique an experience it is to be a self-taught reader or how difficult admissions to MIT is - topics that parents or teachers may feel the need to touch upon.

I also appreciate how this application also includes moments of drama and suspense during a chapter that goes into detail about Hendricks and a friend sailing through a hurricane on their way to Bermuda, Hendricks being depressed at the time over an invention that was not well-received and how having to fight for their life helped put things into perspective.

Another interesting section of this app includes an anecdote about a peculiar cat that I also was impressed by regarding how this story is tied to the rest of the app in a most thoughtful way.

Please do not expect many interactions as this app is primarily a recorded book and a terrific learning tool that not only teaches about the history of the Internet but may also whet the appetite of children for other biographies or interesting people.

I really enjoy how this app combines the written story narrated by Hendricks as well as other sections that include much other information about the Hendrickses' family life, the Internet and other scientific topics, also including moments of Hendricks giving wonderful advice to programmers as well as to children who feel different.

This app also includes a lengthy section about bullying in schools and what can be done about this very serious topic. The music used throughout this app is also touched upon in a separate section - a nice touch.

It is easy recommend this application for children who have the attention span to listen to this lengthy, interesting audio-book of an iPad app keeping in mind that Hendricks notes a particularly dark time for him that may be not appropriate for some younger children.

Illustrations are included which are equally well done, but at times when Hendricks is describing the computer room in college where he worked, it seems like a missed opportunity that the illustrations do not represent what is being described as this could have helped children visualize these most outdated computers and other hardware being discussed. Also, an image of Woodstock is incorporated into the text - an event that Hendricks experienced firsthand, yet it is only 1965 in the timeline of this story, with a jog into the future while discussing other scientific achievements to come. This may be a little confusing for readers, especially those who think of 1969 when thinking about Woodstock - possibly less of an issue for children not familiar with these dates.

The production value of the audio recording of Hendricks’s story is a little rough - something that I found mildly distracting yet not something most children will pick up on, I am sure.

This app is not only great for children, teens and interested adults, but for teachers as well, as this app has a very nice section about dealing with bullies in school and how this could have helped Hendricks possibly fit in better in school.

This application is thoughtfully written and includes a lot of information children can feel inspired by, from the design that led to the Internet to Hendricks's personal story of overcoming bullies as well as touching on the difficult yet very real topic of depression that Hendricks also includes as part of his life story.

Equally interesting are the interviews with the author of this app, Leanne Jones, who discusses her experiences as a teacher, how she discovered Hendricks’s story, and what she learned from writing this biography - all interesting notes that add to this app’s overall experience.

Cool to be Clever: Edson Hendricks reminds of me the It Gets Better Project for Gay and LGTB Youth, yet here this app articulates that life can get better for those bullied during their childhood years, making this a story worth telling in homes and schools, especially within gifted classrooms.

Sir Benfro’s Brilliant Balloon Review

Posted by Sarah Reidy on April 10th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Sir Benfro’s Brilliant Balloon, designed by Tim Fishlock and developed by Explore and Create Limited, is an extremely unique and visually impressive universal app that will most likely capture the attention of children ages 7 and older. Click on “Meet Sir Benfro,” and you will learn that, “Sir Benfro has made some of the most scientific discoveries of his generation…Naturalist, Scientist, and Explorer, Sir Benfro is more than happy to invent creatures to support his theories.” This strange background information is just an example of how quirky and original this app actually is, although younger children will surely find this narrative confusing (as did I, actually). Complete with a Spotter’s Guide to new creatures, and an option to send a postcard via Facebook or Twitter, what can I say other than you have to play it to believe it.

The game play is quite simple in that players must tap Sir Benfro (who I’m guessing got his name due to his large Afro hairstyle) to make him float, while releasing him to make him sink. Sir Benfro is powered by fireflies and it is possible to collect them as you go by steering over them, thereby adding them to your balloon. Bump into objects and you will lose fireflies. Once all of your fireflies are gone, the journey is over. The goal of the game, therefore, is to collect fireflies, avoid obstacles and make your way through a beautifully illustrated landscape until you have made it through the level. Sounds easy, right? Well, not exactly.

Although there are only four different levels (adventures), it is quite challenging to make it through each one. Each time you fail, Sir Benfro will show you what percentage of the total distance you were able to complete. It took myself, my 10-year old and 7-year-old multiple attempts to clear the first level, “Yellow Leaves.” To date, we have not been able to clear level two, “Forest.” Both levels are beautiful to look at and have a dream-like quality. True to his word, players will encounter unusual, imaginary animals as they travel through the landscapes. We are all very curious to see what level three, “Islands,” and level four, “Underground,” look like and the animals we will meet.

While I would hesitate to call Sir Benfro educational, I praise the developers for creating something truly different and interesting for both children and adults. The pace is relaxing and the artwork is really quite beautiful. The music is upbeat and folksy, and apparently, an official soundtrack is also available on iTunes! This app would not be a good fit for younger kids who enjoy a faster, action-style type of game, as they would probably be bored. However, kids who can appreciate a more artistic and creative style of game will in all likelihood become very engaged with this whimsical app.

MathLands Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on April 4th, 2012
iPad App - Designed for iPad

MathLands is an interesting app for iPad consisting of interactive math-related games that are focused on problem-solving and logic.

Six sections exist, including versions of well-known puzzles where players must use their critical reasoning skills to solve a problem, be it the famous Tower of Hanoi or others, such as The Frog Puzzle, Magic Shapes, The Water Jug Puzzle and the Ravine Crossing. A section of math comics is also included that aids children in understanding word problems, allowing them the chance to interact with objects to help visualize these problems.

Possibly the most well know puzzle of this app - the Tower of Hanoi - includes three pegs and a pyramid of rings. Players must re-stack this pyramid without larger rings being placed on the smaller rings in the process. This puzzle starts out with three rings to move under six moves and has five levels, ultimately including seven rings to stack in 48 moves.

The Frog Puzzle starts out simply enough as one must make the orange and green swap sides, keeping in mind that they can only leap over one frog at a time and can’t move backwards. This puzzle becomes more difficult as the number of frogs is increased in upper levels.

Magic Shapes asks players to add numbers to empty spaces found within the included shapes. Each side of these shapes contains three numbers that when added, the sums of each of these sides found within the shape should match. The first level of this section begins with a triangle, adding more areas to be filled with numbers as the game progresses and ending with a complicated square with no given numbers as all the areas of this square need to be filled in.

The Water Jug is a classic game where one must ultimately fill a jug with a set amount of water by using two differently sized water jugs to measure against as one may fill, empty or pour water between the two jugs to answer these problems.

Crossing the Ravine consists of children who need to be carried over a ravine by balloon. The number over each child’s head is the number of seconds it will take for them to cross. Get each child over in a given time, understanding that a child will have to travel back with two balloons to pick up the others. The difficulty of this game increases as does the number of kids in each round, keeping in mind that one must complete this task within the parameters of the time giver for each level.

My personal favorite section of this app is the word problem cartoons because being able to see these cartoons really helps visualize the problems at hand. There is some humor as well among these problems that are fun to read, lighting the mood for children who may not be huge fans of this style of math.

The questions themselves vary nicely and each includes movable objects that one can use to help think about the problem - a very nice way to help children truly understand these kinds of problems, very much like the kind of doodles I would create on my own when working on math such as this. Of course with the interactive feature, being able to move these pieces around is very helpful in terms of counting and organizing one’s thoughts.

Each of these puzzles is nice to look at and includes subtle, quiet sound effects and a nice level of interaction that one would expect to find within these activities. The rings from the Tower of Hanoi or the frogs from The Frog Puzzle move with a drag most intuitively, but it can be tricky to pour from one jug to another - something to look into for a possible update in the future.

I like how for the most part, these exercises start out simply enough, but I think it is unrealistic that the average seven year old could solve these problems. A bright ten year old may enjoy this app as well as older children and adults.

It greatly disappoints me, however, that no answers are given except for the Magic Shapes section, adding to the probable frustration one may feel when getting stuck on an upper level. At a minimum, the answers should be provided, but better yet, I would like to see an animated clip showing children how these puzzles have been solved.

For many of these sections, one can Google to learn more about the puzzle at hand as they are often variations on classic mathematical logic games, allowing parents or teachers to look up more information if children are interested. I believe, however, that it is the responsibility of the developer of apps such as this to provide the conclusion to the math activities that they have created that children and adults have invested their time in.

It is possible that families or classrooms that gravitate toward this app may have adults who can help solve these puzzles, but I still find the including of proper explanations for those who need them to be extremely worthwhile, especially as this would allow children to enjoy this app by themselves without needing any adult help to work with this application. A hint button would also be a great inclusion for those who just need a little help without having these puzzles solved for them.

The exception to this concern that I have in general is the Magic Puzzles section as the solution is included with the tap of a button - well-done as the correct numbers can be seen only as long as the button is pressed, making a quick peek for a hint a possibility. I hope the other sections of this app can at some point include answers and hints such as this as well.

Although the lack of answer and help among these games bothers me greatly, I do recommend this app for situations where there is an adult who can help children succeed at these math puzzles. I appreciate that one can either power through all 32 levels of these included games or choose the area of interest and level of ability freely in free-play mode. This app contains a lot of game play and will be greatly enjoyed by the right children who already have a good handle on reasoning and logic games, like feeling challenged and are not easily frustrated. For others, this app includes games that will become exercises in futility more than anything else, so do look into this app if it is a good match for the children in your life, or for logic game-loving adults as well.

Explore Vincent Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on March 30th, 2012
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Explore Vincent is a wonderful app for iPad exploring the life and times of Vincent van Gogh, the brilliant yet troubled artist from childhood through adulthood, ending with his death in 1890.

This app is a true multi media delight as many mediums are explored within this app for iPad.

A video section is included that does a wonderful job of introducing Van Gogh as a child to viewers, expressing the emotions Van Gogh presumably felt from boyhood through adulthood. These videos are not straight narratives but a montage of styles including the use of split-screens and a graphic use of color, lines of text music and other elements working together as much as a graphic designer’s work of art and that of the video director.

I appreciate the casting of Van Gogh himself, a red haired young man in his twenties, wonderful as the casual Van Gogh fan may have only a recollection of him as an older man found among self-portraits of his own work.

These wonderful videos really tell a tale of this man’s life and interpersonal relationships with his family as well as ill-fated attempts at relationships with women.

These scenes are not without drama, which I find intriguing and enjoy, yet at times come across as heavy-handed. For example, at the beginning of the first clip, Van Gogh tries to defend birds' eggs from bullies, expressing his great love of nature and animals. It has a tone, however, that makes these clips seem like prequels to Norman Bates or Dexter Morgan’s life as a child, as the musical tone and voice-over elements make me fear for the animals Van Gogh is actually trying to protect or love - possibly foreshadowing his unstableness nicely, even if at times consisting of a misplaced intensity.

Historical details are found throughout these videos as well, with a favorite moment of mine being the time period of Van Gogh away at school during a cholera outbreak because here, the flair for the dramatic works to great effect.

Other areas of this app are equally abundant, as “Van Gogh’s TIME” gives more historical details of the time periods as one explores the included time line, especially about events in art history - both in general for this time period as well as pertaining directly to Van Gogh and his family.

A nice use of tabs that one can tap to open is incorporated in order to read the included text which, combined with photographs or places or objects as well as small representations of artwork found throughout, gives readers a real sense of visiting a Van Gogh museum themselves.

Along this time line as Van Gogh begins to produce his first pieces of art, a new section is available to explore, Van Gogh’s WORK, focusing on the art created during different time periods of Van Gogh’s Life. I especially appreciate how this app leads readers through important time periods for Van Gogh, especially the great change in use of color from a darker, more muted palette to the bright, bold colors Van Gogh may be best known for when exploring French Impressionism. This section nicely incorporates a map showing where art in question was produced as well as a chance to scroll though Van Gogh’s original letters, drawings and paintings.

The navigation of Exploring Vincent can be tricky when first experiencing this app. It is helpful that readers are brought to the video first within each time period explored, then have a chance to move to Van Gogh’s TIME by scrolling up or scrolling down to ponder Van Gogh’s WORK. One can also be brought to these sections with a tap of the finger found on a menu page after the video clip has been viewed. After spending time with this app, the navigating becomes easier, and I like the inclusion of a guide explaining how to play this app as well as the menu of all included application pages, which simplifies this app.

Games are also included, but maintaining the style of this app, these games are actually quite cerebral as one may fill in Van Gogh’s family tree, included text for hints on placement and choosing correct photographic images of city life found in 1866, with pitfalls including objects such as cars which came later than the time period in question. One can also match paintings with the scenery as seen today or the sketches found within Van Gogh’s letters to the letter itself, using the letter’s context as clues or an exercise in art history as one sorts images into the different styles of painting of the Brabant and French Period as well as sources of inspiration - my favorite game included.

These games, nicely interactive and also reminding me of an installation at a more hands-on museum can be found throughout this app but also contained together at the end of this app - a very nice touch.

I do wish, however, that it were easier to re-watch these videos - something I would love to see in a future update. I was also mildly disappointed that ill health, anxiety and mental illness of Van Gogh were not touched upon this app more, as I would have liked to see some of the possible causes of his darkness explored here as well - from possible lead poisoning, epilepsy or bipolar disorder which may have been aggravated by his fondness for absinthe, which was mentioned within this application.

Even with these notes, Exploring Vincent is a marvelous application that should be part of any library of applications for middle school and high schoolers.

I am very happy to announce that Friday, March 30th, Exploring Vincent Van Gogh Hd will be free for the day to celebrate Van Gogh’s birthday and will be half price that Saturday and Sunday as well - a wonderful gift to the public as this app is of the highest production value possible and is simply terrific!