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Category: Geography »

Discovery Kids Sharks Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on December 13th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Every week can be Shark Week when exploring Discovery Kids Sharks. This very content-rich app for iPad packs in a plethora of information about these aquatic creatures.

Six nicely interactive sections are included that teach kids about where sharks live, the types of sharks that exist, shark features, feeding and family life, as well as a sticker section that one can explore, adding sticker packs that one collects as the discovery challenges are successfully completed.

The question of where sharks live is nicely answered with a world map that is marked with shark hotspots. A tap in the correct space delivers a shark trading card of sorts that can be flipped over to read such details as the habitat in which these sharks live, the food they eat, info about the speed in which they swim, and the size they grow to. They also include a Top Fact about every fish, making each unique. These cards can also be shared by email if one chooses.

Once these sharks are found across the globe, one can partake in a discovery challenge to win a sticker pack. This challenge tests the info absorbed during this section, with element of fun as well.

Here, one must match the shark in question to its corresponding cutout, also answering the question about each specific shark. I appreciate the included puzzle aspect being incorporated, as this allows one to match the outline of each shark, making it possible for children to succeed here even if they do not remember all the answers correctly.

The types of sharks are explored as one goes on an underwater photo expedition, lining up sharks in the sight of one’s underwater camera. These photos are transformed into info cards full of interesting shark facts, the completion of this task leading to a discover challenge where one must match the color, markings and other details that make up shark features and match these skin swatches to a corresponding shark outline.

Shark feeding is accomplished with a fun game: after scrolling though possible choices, choose a shark with a tap and and check out what it likes to eat as well as other facts found within its included info card, tilt the iPad to move the shark around looking for prey, tapping a side button to eat the smaller creature.

The family life of sharks is introduced with a fun peek-a-boo game of sorts as one scrolls through the bottom of the ocean looking for movement or air bubbles coming from behind an obstruction which hides baby sharks. Here one is challenged by matching the shark to the facts offered and to the corresponding head of each shark, allowing kids to use the outline as a further clue. Questions including whether the pup sharks are born alive or if an egg is released are also included.

After each discovery challenge is complete, children will receive five new stickers per stocker pack to add to their underwater scene that one can decorate.

I like how here, one can scroll side to side, creating a lot of space one can decorate and adults will enjoy how these stickers are offered to the players in a small Mylar bag, reminiscent of how trading cards from my childhood were packaged.

There is really a lot of information offered within this app, making it a great educational tool. We enjoy shark week as well, but I worry that sometimes content may be intense for my sensitive son.

This is not a concern here, making it a great choice for shark lovers of all ages, but be aware that this app does not contain narration, making this a good choice for later grade school or younger children provided an adult or older child is willing to read the text out loud.

The look of the sharks and various other illustrations is terrific - very realistic and with the bold colors one would expect from marine life.

Each of these sections has an included video that plays as an intro to the subject matter. These videos look wonderful as well, sometimes including interesting electronic music that really adds to the experience. Other times, the music has a decidedly different tone more reminiscent of that from a horror film or akin to the theme from Jaws.

This choice may be appropriate for the feeding section, although no graphic footage is shown, creating a theme for this section that may be appropriate from the view of the creatures these sharks eat, as to them - these sharks are indeed very scary.

I don’t, however, understand the scary music choices for the videos chosen for the shark features or family life sections, as here the dark tone created by this kind of music does not add to the topic at hand and to me seems like a judgment call of some sort, negative to sharks in general.

The tone created with this negative, slasher-movie-appropriate music, although a very short sample and video, is in great contrast especially in the family video, as here a lovely scene of pups swimming in unison under their momma's belly are introduced with the use of aggressive music that does not at all illustrate the footage of family love.

The interesting electronic music used in the first two sections makes these video clips wondrous and even a little surreal - fantastic choices to go along with the videos in this app. The other, horror-like music, actually may make these videos less child-friendly to the most sensitive of children, which is the only flaw I found within this application.

I do enjoy everything else this app has to offer. The use of the trading cards that one can refer to later is a great way of organizing the vast amount of information offered within this app, which can also be emailed to a friend if one chooses. Each interactive section is intuitive and fun, as are the challenges.

I did, however, have some problems with the feeding section as sometimes the food listed was not recognized as a correct answer, now leaving the player to use trial and error to find the correct oceanic animal to eat - an issue I hope can be looked into.

Having said this, it is nice that this section not only allows one to tilt the iPad, but one can also tap the fish one is looking to eat as well, or drag a finger for the shark to follow - helpful for those not skilled at tilt games, such as myself.

This would make a great app for families or in an educational setting as the included games go a long way in introducing shark data in a way that stays engaging. I like that these challenges are in no way timed, and one can make wrong answers without any sort of penalty.

The theme music found on the main menu page is fun, upbeat and with a rock influence older kids and adults will enjoy, but I do take some issue with some of the other music used. Even with this issue, this is a very worthwhile app, especially to families that have a young shark lover.

Tappie Puzzles Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on October 13th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Tappie Puzzles is a terrific puzzle app for iPad. Consisting of ten puzzles, the app opens to a home page of Earth as seen from space, brightly colored with a rich blue sky and a globe in center screen. Circling our planet are four of the puzzles one can choose from including a desert, Native American, hippo or jungle scenes, as well as an arctic theme involving polar bears or penguins from Antarctica found on the North and South Poles of this globe. Four other selections can be made as well which hover around earth such as a satellite in need of repair, an alien theme, more penguins, or a lovely hot air balloon theme.

Once the player makes his selection with a tap, he is brought to the specific puzzle in question. Each of these motifs, although different in its own way, have a few things in common. The illustrations used are bright and nice to look at, and wonderful ambient sound effects are used that correspond to each theme.

Sometimes a simple yet fun animation begins, describing what needs to be fixed as some of these puzzles focus on a broken object that one is putting back together, such as a meteor hitting the satellite, creating broken pieces in need of repair or an ice path that penguins use to play ball on that has cracked. After the damage has been done, the players uses the pieces found on the bottom of the screen to put these items back together, compete with an ending animation highlighting the item in its newly intact condition.

Other motifs such as the Native American or hot air balloon sections are more akin to a traditional jigsaw puzzle, as these images split themselves into pieces without the animations offered in some of the other puzzles, but these interesting images used make up for the lack of animation.

I like that one uses the puzzle piece outlines to put these puzzles together like a traditional puzzle, but that a faint gray image of the completed object can still be seen, a nice hint for the preschool crowd, and of course, as the puzzle becomes more and more complete, the full color image uncovered also becomes a great tool in completing these puzzles as well. Sometimes the puzzle pieces offered are reminiscent of the shapes found in the game Tetris; other times the pieces are more random and broken up, and I like that both of these styles are included in this app.

Tappie Puzzles has quickly become my son’s new favorite application, interesting because this is not an app I introduced to him, as he found it on his own on the iPad and began using it himself with no help at all, showing how intuitive this app really is. What struck me about this app first off is how wonderful, peaceful and moving the background music is on the title page where one chooses a puzzle. In fact, I am listening to this music now as I write this review and I don’t have to, but it is background music that as an adult I choose to listen to as it greatly relaxes me, as it does my son.

I enjoy the difficulty level of these puzzles as my son sometimes asks for help, but after a pause, he can figure out these pieces by himself.

This app has kept my son occupied for long stretches at a time and is a perfect app to use when sharing a space with an adult as the music and ambient sounds used throughout are a pleasure to listen to.

Even though my son discovered this app on his own on our iPad, I notice that the icon used for iTunes is a generic puzzle piece decorated with an eye and a smile, with a background consisting of a few colored stripes. Although nice enough, I think this app could be better served with an image from the app itself with the jigsaw cutout lines included, as I don’t think the generic puzzle piece image currently being used will pop off the page as one scrolls through iTunes - a shame as this is a really great puzzle app, heavy on content and very nice to look at and listen to.

My son has become very hard to impress with new applications as he is exposed to so many new ones, either from me making a point of sharing something new with him, or as they magically appear on our devices. It is impressive to me how he has taken to these puzzles, even quitting other apps to go back to his new favorite. For this reason alone, this is an app worth purchasing for any preschool puzzle lover.

WeirdButTrue Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on October 6th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

WeirdButTrue is a very fun and interesting National Geographic app that brings intriguing facts and an interactive design for both iPad and iPhone.

Very easy to use, the app is a random fact generator filled with interesting tidbits that kids and adults will enjoy. Each page has its own weird but true information, with bright colors and many vivid photos of related images used to illustrate what is being explained, and I also appreciate the creative use of fonts and design in general to fit the text onto the page in most interesting ways possible. These facts can be about animals, the human body, toys and other topics as the app has a plethora of information and it is great fun how varied sound effects are used per each page that in some way relate to the fact being presented.

Although this app is not narrated, I can’t imagine adults not enjoying these interesting facts on their own as they read these pages to their children. Nicely interactive, children will enjoy turning the page as a very satisfying flip sound is heard, as well have the ability for a variety of animals to singularly pop onto the screen saying “That’s Weird,” when a button is tapped from the menu bar to the right of the screen. One can also mark a fact as a favorite, and it is fun that the information is saved within this app with the tap of a heart icon, making the heart bounce around the screen like a ball in a pinball machine - a nice interactive touch. One can also email friends facts if one wishes, and there is a Weird-o-Meter included as well which allows readers to give feedback to National Geographic about how weird one thinks specific facts are. This information is then compiled in the “Top Weird-O-Meter Facts,” letting app users see what others think is the oddest information.

I really enjoy this app. I have always been a fan of this type of information, as I have very fond memories of shows like “In Search Of” and later “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” as a child, and I am happy that this app brings this strange but true information so conveniently to devices.

I also enjoy the facts that National Geographic has chosen to share here, as there is a very nice balance between weird and child-friendly. This app may be an acquired taste of sorts, but I have not found any facts that I think would be inappropriate or too scary for children, except for maybe the most timid of children who are obviously not a good fit for this application.

There are a lot of memorable facts used here, most of which adults will enjoy as much as children will, like how koalas and humans have similar fingerprints, how male ostriches can roar like lions, or that there are 29 different shades of red from Crayola. I enjoy how pithy the text is per page, allowing one to scroll a good number of these pages in a short amount of time - a great distraction for young and old alike. Younger kids will really enjoy having these fun facts read to them as well as interacting with this app.

I also think app would be especially nice for reluctant readers as well, because each of these sentences is short but packs a punch in terms of interest and oddness that will have kids turning each page eager to see what is next, as did I, feeling mildly addicted to this app and spending longer than necessary in reading these facts for review purposes.

It is also nice that one can easily Google for more information about any of these topics, oftentimes with the further details of these stories adding to the strangeness. An example is “Mike the Chicken,” who survived 18 months without a head, something I promptly googled to get the complete story. Used this way, this would be a great resource for teaching grade schoolers how to search online in order to research subjects of interest - a vital skill to learn for today's students.

It is nice that a “Fact Finder” is included within this app, being a glossary of sorts for organizing the information offered here from A to Z, but I think it would also be nice if in the future, one could search by subject as well. This may make this app less random in general, but this may be a good thing for my son who is sometimes animal-obsessed and other times more interested in fun food facts.

I do hope that in the future this app can be updated. Currently, there are over 300 facts included, making this content-rich and a lot of fun, but I can see heavy users of this app desiring more content in the future. All-in-all, a great choice of educational app for kids of varied ages as well as adults.

Martin The Penguin Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on September 20th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Martin The Penguin is a cute and fun interactive book for iPad which teaches about different animal habitats as Martin the penguin visits creatures in varied climates asking them questions about how they live. Three languages, English, Catalan and Spanish are included and one can also silence the narration, reading this book to oneself as well. A version for iPhone is also available.

This is a simple, yet well-illustrated storybook which also has some nice interactive sounds and hotspots that will appeal to the youngest app viewers. Babies and toddlers as well as those in preschool, will enjoy tapping the text paragraphs to hear the story as well as to learn some nice introductory information about animals and the homes in which they live as Martin asks them questions about their various lives in the wild. I like the interesting style of illustrations and color choices used thought this app, creating a nice look I enjoy and it is always nice to see hints given to help kids find the hotspots, here highlighted with a subtle bullseye.

Three activities are also included. First, play peek-a-boo with Martin as he hides both in plain sight, as well as behind things such as bushes or trees, waiting to be found. The youngest of players will delight in this game, while older children may show more interest in the “Match the Animals” game, a memory style game where the player turns over cards to make matches. Here, animal sounds are also incorporated, adding a fun element to this classic game. A puzzle game is also included that children will enjoy.

An interesting interactive globe is also included, complete with a scene from each page and can be spun with a finger. I like that this world can also be used as a menu as tapping a a specific image will take the reader to the chosen page.

Although short, I think this app will be appealing to children as a first app. Parents will enjoy the illustrations, the educational aspects, and open-ended conversations about animals that this app may initiate.

JigsawGeo Africa Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on August 26th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

JigsawGeo Africa is a very nice universal application which teaches the geography of Africa with a good use of puzzles. This app is part of a large series of apps geared towards geographical literacy, worth checking out.

This app consists of four ways of filling up with the included map of Africa, nicely varied for different skill levels. This game opens to the easiest mode, “Traveler,” in which the players match a country’s colorful shape to its corresponding outline within the a map of Africa. This mode offers a nice hint of slowly zooming-in to the area where this country is found, allowing players with little knowledge of Africa to succeed at this game.

I really enjoy this mode as I have never been a good student of geography, and the zooming-in helps me complete this map, allowing me to learn a lot about where these countries fit within this contenent without feeling frustrated. I really do appreciate the zooming used here, especially when the country in question is quite small, something lacking in other geography apps that I have used. I also like that when a country is tapped to drag, it enlarges to show scale in comparison to other countries - a very nice touch.

The “Surveyor” and “Navigator” modes work much the same way, but without the benefit of the slow, automatic zooming-in as a clue, yet players are still able to zoom in on this map themselves to see detail and match the country in play with its matching outline. In “Surveyor” mode, the names of the countries are used, whereas in the “Navigator” mode, the countries' capitals are focused on instead.

The most difficult section within this app is “Discover,” as here, the countries' flags are used instead, removing the ability to complete this map much like a jigsaw puzzle, matching countries to their outlines.

Nice, bright colors are used within this app, adding beauty to the map of Africa as it is filled in, and this app is a nice choice for students as a clear, yet detailed map of Africa is uses, simple to look at and unadorned - but effective in teaching geography. Time is kept for each game finished, and these scores can be left locally on one’s device or added to a world-wide database of players. This is a nice feature, but I would also like to see an option for these games to be played without scorekeeping as well.

Teachers and parents of later grade school kids will be interested in this app as well as this series in general - nice resources aiding in the learning of geography around the world. If interested, please read the review of JigsawGeo USA also reviewed on GiggleApps.

Topo USA Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on July 26th, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

Either in the higher elementary school grades and/or middle/junior high school, your children will come home with that dreaded homework sheet saying, “Learn the location of the states and their capitals.” I say dreaded, because most of the children do not want to learn them, and you will have to drill them for days to remember all the names and locations. If you already have gone through this routine, you most likely agree with me.

This is why many teachers, who are on the more creative end, will try to come up with a special song or game or, most traditionally, flashcards, to help the students memorize all this information. Geography is not typically a highly enjoyed subject at this younger, anyway, so kids need something to give them some motivation—even if’s a Jeopardy-like game or contest.

The Topo USA app provides students with some of this entertainment and motivation. It’s the same information to memorize, but perhaps a little easier to take the medicine in an app game form. The app tests location of states, state capitals and large cities. A plane flies over the U.S. at varying speeds set by the player and is directed by the player’s finger location on the screen. Flying speed is important: Flying too slowly makes it difficult to complete the task before the time is up, and flying too quickly makes it more difficult to maneuver the plane from one location to the next. Since the plane flies at an aerial level, the player is only seeing part of the U.S. at a time, which also adds to the difficulty. Hints are given, but that also slows the players down.
I was never good at geography or direction. My family knows if I tell them to turn right, they turn should turn left. Perhaps this would have helped me—probably not! In fact, I am embarrassed to say that I did not do well with this game, either. Some of the state and city locations I remembered very quickly. Others I didn’t remember as a kid and I still don’t remember.

This game will help your children learn the location of the states, but not the spelling. Since the names are on the screen, spelling becomes a moot point. For that, you and your child will have to go back to the traditional method of recitation: “What is the capital of Kansas?” “The capital of Kansas is Topeka—T O P E KA—Topeka.” There are some things that are just going to be boring and dreaded in education, and this is one of them. It’s possible to imagine the young boy or girl in the New England one-room schoolhouse spelling each of the names of the 13 colonies. It was surely much easier learning the states then, but not any more intriguing.

Presidents vs. Aliens Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on July 21st, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: SECRETARY OF EDUCATION :: Read Review »

Presidents vs. Aliens is another fabulous universal educational app from developer Dan Russell-Pinson, who also created the hit apps Stack the States, Rocket Math, and Stack the Countries.

This app focuses on the knowledge of U.S. presidents, as correct answers gives the player a chance to defend national landmarks from an alien invasion.

A variety of questions is included within this app, including the identifying of the 44 U.S. presidents by their picture, political party. nicknames, quotes, as well as general facts, historical events, and their predecessors and successors. Questions can be chosen from these categories randomly or from selected areas of knowledge, a nice touch which also changes the degree of difficulty.

When a correct answer is made, one has a chance to fight an army of invading aliens that can be seen in formation across the sky, and it is nice that a famous landmark is included as the backdrop for this game, further adding to the educational aspect of this game as well as added fun.

To defeat these aliens, fling a president's head at these invaders, trying to knock as many down as possible. It may take a few tries to get all of them and this game allows the players to keep trying with new heads until the level is complete.

I like that a physics engine is used here, something to keep in mind as one lines up the head toss with the use of an arrow showing the angle at which the head will be thrown, as the president heads thrown and aliens being hit respond as if gravity is a factor in their reactions. If one is lucky, aliens will bounce into each other, taking themselves out as well having the presidents bounce off red brick structures that are included for the purpose of ricocheting off of and hitting more aliens, but be aware that these structures can also be lost if shot at directly.

If three questions are answered correctly, one gets to use “executive powers,” allowing three head tosses at once. Finally, when all the aliens have been defeated, the level is over and the player wins a president for his personal collection in the interest of collecting all 44.

It is great that this app, like Russell-Pinson’s others, includes up to five players and one guest allowing large families or small classes to create personal profiles, and kids will enjoy choosing their personal president avatar to distinguish their saved info from others'.

Two other mini-games are included as well that one must unlock by earning enough presidents, "Heads of State" and "Executive Orders" to further learn about president identification as well as arranging them in correct order.

An excellent resource is also provided, namely a set of presidential flash cards complete with all the information needed to be able to answer these questions, nicely outlined in a very clear and useful style that will aid in the retention of these facts.

I have had a lot of fun with this app; so will children grade school and up. Undoubtably there is a lot to be learned a lot from playing Presidents vs. Aliens, and I appreciate the level of difficulty offered when tossing president heads at the aliens, as there is no time limit in deciding what angle a good toss would be and that persistence will be rewarded, as one can answer as many questions as needed, earning and tossing heads as needed to win the level.

The physics used in Dan Russell-Pinson games is always an educational experience itself, and this is no exception. This game is a must-have for grade schooler, as well as for anyone learning about the U.S. presidents or interested in history. Great for families, parents and older kids, all will find themselves drawn to this app as much as I was, playing long after I needed to for the sake of this review.

Do also check out the other apps by this amazing developer. His ability to mix educational content with fun and engaging games is top-notch, and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next. I think his applications are some of the best educational interactive games available in tunes.

State Plate Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on July 1st, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

State Plate is an iPad app which brings the classic license plate travel game to the iPad. As in the original game, the object is to find all fifty states' license plates on various cars while traveling on long car rides. This game is perfectly suited to the use of an iPad application, and this game is executed very nicely.

The main screen is of the U.S. map, which has every state's license plate included as well. When a specific license plate is found, simply click it and the license plate is flipped over, still being able to see what state was represented.

I especially like that one can also tap to read more about a chosen state, including capital, nickname, state flower, state bird, population and a cool fact about each state. The state flag is also shown, a nice touch. This interface is very easy to use, and I like that one can flip a license plate back in play if a mistake is made, and that a warning is given if the button to start over is tapped, something important in a game taking place in a moving car. I also appreciate that the states found are saved within the app so players don't need to finish their game in one sitting.

I would recommend this game to families for long drives, and the iPad is large enough to share between two children. I wonder how often the game is finished, having found fifty out of fifty states, including Alaska and Hawaii, but this is not as much of an issue with this specific app which is nice to look at and easy to use and very informative, even without finishing the game completely.

Ansel & Clair's Adventures in Africa Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on June 10th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Ansel & Clair's Adventures in Africa is a highly impressive educational interactive with large variety of information about Africa provided.

I feel fortunate to have been given the chance to review many educational apps and after experiencing many interactive games aimed at teaching children, I must say that I am very impressed with the quality, subject matter and overall immersive experience created by Ansel & Clair’s Adventures in Africa.

Meet Ansel, a travel photographer from planet Virtoos, and Clair, the Virtoosian robot who accompanies Ansel on his journey to Africa. Help Ansel take photos of animals, plants, and other important places and objects in three different locales in Africa, specifically the Nile Valley, Sahara Desert and the Serengeti Plains, learning a vast amount of knowledge along
the way. While flying to these areas, their space ship, the Marley Peterson, loses parts needed to fly back to the home planet. Help Ansel and Clair find these parts that have fallen from Marley, looking for them as the player goes about taking photos and learning about Africa. After the photos are taken, be sure to help Ansel match these photos to the correct areas in his travel log. It is especially nice how actual photographs of these objects are incorporated, showing the player real images of what they are photographing, a very nice touch that I greatly enjoy.

I think using intergalactic travelers to teach about Africa is a wonderful choice, as the use of Ansel, a true outsider, allows the players to explore the varied objects found in Africa in very fun and educational ways and creates situations for interesting comparisons to be made involving information young players may already know, such as Ansel thinking that humans keep all cats as pets - even lions or how Ansel is mistaken when he assumes humans eat all plants, not just some. I really appreciate the use of Clair, being a robot with a plethora of information she doles out at each opportunity.

I also like the fact that this app does not shy away from dangers one may find in Africa, such as possibly getting lost in a pyramid or coming across a potentially dangerous or poisonous animal. This info can be cautionary in nature but is never scary or over the top. I appreciate this info as very refreshing as we have many apps that are pure warm and fuzzy when involving animals and it is time my three year old is aware that some animals are not always friendly, especially since we live in an area where there are wild and potentially dangerous animals are rarely found in city limits, as well as the possibility of venomous snakes, spiders, or scorpions we need to be aware of.

The details of all the objects in this app are wonderful, realistic, beautiful and highly detailed. The animals all move slightly as they breathe, the trees sway in the wind and the Nile’s currents move slightly as boats also sway back and forth. Each area of this app has a lot to explore, not only in the animal, plant and other objects to photograph and learn about, but one can also experience the Serengeti in both the dry and wet seasons, learning about migration as well as watching snow fall on Mt. Kilimanjaro. One can explore both day and night time in the Sahara and learning about nocturnal animals, something I especially enjoyed.

Five mini-games are spread throughout this app that involves the pyramids, the lifecycle of frogs, a maze involving the reunification of mom and baby animals, matching the fur or skin to the correct animal and also a clock puzzle. Each of these games has three levels of difficulty, a nice touch. There is also a interactive 3D globe used to help the space ship find Africa in the beginning of this game. Do take the time to explore this globe, tapping the other continents as well to hear their names narrated. Personally, I really enjoyed looking through Ansel's travel lot, arranging them where they need to by matching the photo's taken with simple drawing of these same objects.

The content this app involving geography and life science is certainly impressive. I really like how extensive the info is about Egypt, with an abundance of history information. Some objects included have additional light bulbs one can tap for “Clairvision,” learning more in depth about a certain subject, such as mummies or migration.

It is very worthwhile to check out the info section of this app as it explains in great detail how the interface works. I greatly appreciate the explanation of what each interaction in each section has to offer and how it can be found. This master key is wonderful, very helpful when looking for a specific interaction that one may have missed on his own or when looking for a specific mini-game requested by one’s child. The intro to this app is equally as helpful to a first time player, but it would be nice if one could skip this and continue on with the game if they so choose.

This is an app highly recommended for both grade school classrooms as well as home use, and I suspect older kids and adults will sneak off and to play this game themselves there is so much to offer at any age group.

I hope to see Ansel and Clair visit other continents as well. This app’s approach to learning is fantastic, creative, and very immersive. I am very excited to see such apps be developed, I wish learning tools such as this were available when I was a child.

Rainforest Survival Challenge Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on May 31st, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Rainforest Survival Challenge is a very interesting and educational iPad game from Ruckus Media Group, geared toward kids ages 8 - 12 and teaches about different the species of plants and animals that live in the Amazon Rainforest. A complex game is included as is an information section about the Rainforest which is well written and very informative, including a map of this area and a larger world map showing the rainforest in proper perspective, a nice touch.

The main section of this app is a game where one plays against the computer, seeing who's animals or plants cards become either predator or prey as they go head-to-head against each other in a game of natural selection, with a tie also being an option.

Both the player and the computer get dealt five cards which are displayed across the screen. The player can see all of his personal cards but only the first three cards of the computer. Now the player lines up his cards so that the animals and plants, sometimes even fungus, have the capacity to eat or not be eaten by the corresponding card of the computer. Sometimes the animal on the card is already "dead," an interesting inclusion. This game has a few nuances of “rock paper scissors” as many of these species have the chance to be both the victor or victim in this game, depending on which animal or plant they are up against. If the player loses a round they lose a life, and after three lost lives, the player or computer who ends up with the most surviving animals wins the game and one can win a bronze, silver, gold or platinum paw as winning species are collected through various games played.

To be successful at this game, do double-click both the player’s and the computer’s cards to read up on these creatures, learning what you need to know to make the best choices possible. The information provided includes What I Eat, Threats to My Survival, and Cool Facts About Me, giving the player a lot of important info necessary to win these rounds. The photos used for these cards all look beautiful and are vivid with detail and I also enjoy the rainforest sounds used throughout this app. The green leafy background used during this card game is nice looking as well.

I enjoy this game a lot, but it did take some work to get me to a place where I find this game really fun and addicting. I find the wording of the instructions somewhat cumbersome as it is described that five “species cards” are dealt, and one must make matches that “create the best chance of surviving.” My mental block about this game early-on was that I thought these species cards represented the animals' species as a whole, not a term simply used to group animals and plants together. I also did not understand what these species were surviving, especially if we are talking about the entire group. The answer to this is each other, and each card represents a plant or animal as an individual, not their specific species as in a group of these same animals.

It is nice that one can see where mistakes are made, being able to read card info after the fact, but I have also lost the game a few times and I don’t know why, such as when my brown-throated sloth lost a round to an anteater, not specifically a predator.

This game can be a bit glitchy at times, as sometimes a card freezes when I am moving it around the screen and the game quit on me a few times as well. Also, when one must line up the cards under the computer’s, one must do so in the center of a very specific box, and it can be hard to get it just right so the game allows you to continue on, issues I hope than can be worked out in a future update.

It is nice that when a card is matched correctly, it turns orange, but It would also be nice if there were an option to let the player see all the cards that the computer has as I would rather spend my time plotting about matches keeping in mind the info I have learned rather than deal with the randomness that the two cards face down deliver in an educational game, although not knowing the last two cards of the computer does add to the strategies one needs to come up with in order to win. I think that players should have a choice of using the face down cards or not for their game play.

With these issues aside, once I was comfortable with game play I am impressed with the amount of info one can read up on to make the best choices for my species cards. Mid-grade school kids will be very drawn into this game, as will their parents and older siblings. This is definitely a game enjoyed alone as well as with a parent as there is a lot to talk about and strategize as players arrange their cards, playing against the computer. I hope in a future update more animals, plants and other choices are included, maybe even “man” being a species as it seems “man” is the biggest threat to many of these animals, but would not do well if already "dead" and played against a vulture or fungus. Although this may work as an idea, I can also see these developers shy away from using “man” as a choice, as it may bring too much morbidity to the game - just something to think about for a future update.

225 Kid Outdoor Games Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on May 5th, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

225 Kid Outdoor Games is an application that, having been updated, now contains over 225 outdoor games kids can play from around the world. One can search these games buy age range, length of game play as well as extra materials that will be needed - very thoughtful. You also have the option of adding your own games, bookmaking favorites and emailing these activities to others. It is also nice that this app includes both English and Spanish as languages. Kids will enjoy shaking the iPhone to select a game randomly.

Since the weather in most places has finally gotten nicer, this app may be of interest to adults who are looking for ways to entertain kids with new activities that one can play outside.

This is an impressive collection of kids' games from around the world, and I like the idea of tapping various areas of a world map to choose games native to these areas, as well as using advanced searches to find a specific game that suits the group's needs, as many of these games are intended for multiple children to play together.

Once a game is chosen, there is a page of the game play with illustrations; the details are broken down nicely with age, duration, setup and materials as needed, Nicely written instructions are included to further simplify the learning of these games.

The idea of a collection of more than 225 games is both impressive as well as a bit daunting, and I appreciate the ability to zone in on games which are appropriate with choices like age range and how long you have to play a specific game. I wish one could search by the number of children, and it would be nice if this app would specify whether any size group will do for these activities, like in the case of duck, duck, goose, or if you need a specific number of teams with a certain number of players. This information is offered in the description of the game once it has been chosen, but this would be nice to narrow down the selection to start with.

I am impressed with all the areas of the world that these games cover, including 83 countries and I like that further information is given about many of these games as “observations,” but I wish there was even more information about the countries and cultures from which these games come.

This would be a nice app to have for parents, but this application would be especially useful for teachers and camp counselors who have the head count available to them to play many of these games. With so many to choose from, the entertainment value of this app is quite high and after playing these games for a while, hopefully an adult can also comment on the similarities these games possess across many cultures.

GoKids Apps: Save Paris! Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on April 13th, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

GoKids Apps: Save Paris! is a wonderful kids application that combines gameplay with extensive information about Paris. This makes a fantastic app for children who may travel to Paris as there is a lot of useful travel information provided in this app, but it will surely be enjoyed by kids with no travel plans. It is highly educational and a lot of fun, especially for families as up to four people can have individual game information saved at once.

I am really pleased by the delivery of this interesting facts. The concept of saving Paris from invading aliens in genius, and this app is quite engaging, even for me as an adult. This game starts out with the player being informed that aliens are invading Paris, and it is his job to keep this from happening. There are 10 secret agent missions full of well-chosen information about Paris, as well as a mini travel guide making this a very rich learning experience.

I love the look of this game; it is stylized and colorful. The developer has hit the right note with these aliens, as they are crafted to look a little bit menacing, but with a lot of humor mixed in. I enjoy reading about their horrible plans for Paris, the story line drawing me in like no other educational app has. The music choice is also very good, with a modern beat that creates some suspense and is very fun to listen to by both kids as well as parents.

I love the alien invasion concept of this app, as each secret mission contains a dossier of slides that one studies to prepare himself to battle the Gloopy aliens. Even as an adult, I found this delivery to be very effective, making me feel important and relied upon to study these slides in order to save Paris. Kids will focus and study hard without knowing that this is work, a great way to have children learn.

The gameplay used here to test the information studied is a classic “memory” style game where the player turns over cards looking to match questions and their corresponding answers. Time may run out if too many answers are answered wrong, and then the Gloopy aliens will take over Paris. A fun “wack-a-mole” type game is also included that all ages will have fun with as well.

This “memory” style of game is a very good choice to test the player's memory of facts learned, but I wish this game, as well as the other "memory" style apps which keep score or is timed, would let the players see the cards flipped over for a few seconds in the interest of trying to memorize their positions, in some ways this may make these games easier, but would really working one's ability to concentrate as well. I am also not a huge fan of the first flip of a card being counted as a mistake, as sometimes I lose in a mission, not because of my lack of knowledge or the ability to remember the location of specific cards, but because I have not yet found what I am looking for and I pile up a lot of wrong answers. Another way to handle this in general would be not to count the first flip of a card against the player.

This issue aside, I think that this is a wonderful, fun, and highly educational app that kids will love and parents will be very pleased with its in-depth content. The information provided is thoughtfully chosen and would be a big help if one were traveling to Paris any time soon, or just learning about a foreign land. I love the inclusion of such phrases as “do not enter,” appreciating the real world uses, but it would be nice if these French expressions, landmarks and such could be tapped to be heard, because being able to recognize these words printed is very different from being able to recognize them if heard. I have enjoyed this app a great deal and have learned a lot. I look forward to the other travel apps being developed by this developer. This one is awesome.

Stack the Countries Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on April 7th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: LEARN TO STACK! :: Read Review »

Stack the Countries is a universal app and a wonderful sequel to the fabulous Stack the States application. Like Stack the States, Stack the Countries mixes a vast amount of geographical and related information together with a fun physics-based puzzle game that adults as well as grade schoolers and beyond will really enjoy.

The basic game play goes as follows: Answer a question about a specific country, the subject being chosen from a variety of topics that may include such things as capitals, landmarks, flags, or country recognition based on shape. A correct answer will allow this country to drop onto a platform at the bottom of the screen. Keep answering questions, and the states will stack on top of each other until they tower over a finish line mid-screen. The strategy comes in the actual stacking, as most of these countries are not close to shapes that stack cleanly. Rotate each country to make stacking easier, and do keep in mind that the laws of gravity and physics will decide if the stacking is successful. If not, the entire tower may fall, even knocking the countries off the platform itself.

What is impressive about this app is the sheer amount of information included in this very fun and educational application. A learning section is included that is wonderful. Here, each continent has a map filled with countries that you can tap to find more information about, such as country name and flag design. The scale used is excellent, but I would love to be able to zoom in and enlarge the map to see smaller countries in detail as some of them are quite small and difficult to tap on.

One can learn even more about these countries by viewing flash cards also arranged by continents. After choosing a continent, one can tap a country and read in great detail information about their chosen country of which the player will later be tested on, such as capital, map, languages spoken, major cities, and landmarks. This is a important section to explore as it will help greatly in the answering of questions that allows countries to be stacked - kids will be studying without even realizing it! It is also nice that when playing the game portion of the app, one can choose to focus the question on two or more subjects, but I wish you could confine the questions on a specific continent or country as well.

As one continues to play this game and stack countries past the finish line, the player will win a personal country for his individual map, which will be slowly filled in as more and more countries are earned. Two mini games, "Map It" and "Pile up," are included and become to be unlocked as the states are collected.

As with Stack the States, Stack the Countries allows six players and one guest to keep track of their personal maps and countries won, a really great inclusion for large families or small groups of students. Wonderfully shot photos of famous landmarks are used here as background images as one stacks countries to one's heart's desire, something I have enjoyed both here and in Stack the States. This is an amazing educational experience that kids as well as adults will become addicted to. I have been impressed with all of developer Dan Russell-Pinson three apps for both their educational value, creative and fun game-play. I hope he continues to make apps long into the future.

JigsawGeo USA Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on March 14th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

JigsawGeo USA is an interesting educational universal application which teaches a great deal about the U.S.A. map, including the finding of the 50 states, as well as learning state capitals and flags.

I really like this app for learning the 50 states and their places on the U.S. map. Geography has never been my strong suit, I always thought it was more important to be able to read a map easily and quickly as a reference tool instead of committing this kind of information to memory. Because of this, I find myself sometimes challenged when I play app games that focus on knowledge of state geography.

What I like about this game is that the map as a whole can be seen, with the ability to zoom in and out to see detail. There are three different sections in this app. In “Surveyor,” you are being taught the name of each state and where it belongs in the map. In “Navigator,” you learn the capitals, and “Discover” focuses on state flags. I appreciate that for each mode of this game, you are looking at each state as a piece of a puzzle and you need to match it up with the corresponding state outline. Even if you are stuck and don’t know where a piece goes in the map, focusing long enough will always allow you succeed, much like connecting pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. I really enjoyed learning about U.S. geography as I played, and I think that this is an excellent resource for students.

Although time is kept and some kids may enjoy beating their personal best, I like that you can take as long as you want to finish this map. An option to remove the timer altogether would be a nice addition.

The basic look of this app is attractive. There may be more visually interesting apps that touch upon this same information, but I find this one especially good for teaching straight-up geography. Parents or teachers may enjoy the fact that although interactive, this app keeps the focus on the map without any distractions. The scale here is excellent, and “Resume Game a nice option to have in case one is called away and wants to continue the game later.

It is especially nice that although I did not print it myself, the iTunes description says that this app's web site contains a printable PDF of the U.S. map, both labeled with the states, as well as without, which could be used as coloring pages.

I highly recommend this app to anyone who wants to learn more about U.S. geography, as well as state capitals and flags. I found this a great learning experience. This would have helped me learn this information had it been available when I was in school.