this post is a copy of an assignment from a class i'm taking this summer--digital games and simulations in the classroom. there may be a few insider-comments but, for the most part, it can stand on its own.
I played the majority of the games in the list during the first week (and previously while my friends took this course) so I decided to play games on the ipad only (except for Do I have a right? That one I played again). so many schools are going 1:1 or buying tons of these devices, i thought it prudent to give them some attention. I asked my PLN for advice and did some pretty extensive searches on appitic.com (a great resource if you don’t know it…created & maintained by apple distinguished educators), edutopia.com, and a few other targeted search engines. I tried to focus on games that promoted higher-order thinking—bloom’s upper levels—or games created for specific audiences.
I compiled a list of 62 apps and looked those up in the app store; I killed about a third because they cost real money (and I’m too cheap to buy most apps) and killed others because they didn’t look like they were appropriate, fun, interesting, etc. I downloaded 35 apps, played ‘em all and decided to review 20 of em. I should mention, again—all of them were free. don’t spend money on apps unless you really dig the app…and be sure to get the AppsGoneFree app to watch out for super deals.
Here you go.
- Duolingo. “learning, gamified. Advance by unlocking bite-sized skills.” The app’s launchscreen contained that quote…sounds good, right?! Well, the app matched it…it was quite good. Duolingo is an app for practicing languages, I chose italian and found that it was pretty hard—it’s important to pay attention—the game consists of multiple-choice, fill in the blank (in english and the target language), sentence composition, word-to-pic matching, writing what you hear, and speaking what you hear. It was quite challenging—I failed the italian quiz 4 times before I passed it (Io sono l’uomo!!) because the app is a bit unforgiving—you’d better spell the words correctly or BUZZZ, incorrect, “you have a typo”. A bit harsh, if you ask me. I then tried spanish (Señora Huerta would be proud—passed with flying colors), french (Laurel would be proud—passed first time), and german (J.D. would be proud—passed that one, 1st time, too). Sadly there was no russian..i need to brush up there, I’m rusty! The app allows you to compete with friends…I could see this being good practice for language learners.
- motion math zoom. An app to introduce learners to the number line…the UI is really well done, the characters on the number line are super cute (fleas at the hundredths level, on up to dinosaurs at the thousands!! And they aren’t static!). the graphics are quite good and animations are, as well. When I won the dinosaur round, the animation made me jump and laugh so hard…fantastic! A drawback was the absence of multiplayer options. This would be a good app for practicing maths.
- Roboteer. This app came highly recommended by my PLN. A very cool-CAD-like interface for designing and building robots to do simple tasks. Imagine using legos or, even better—kinex, to create machines and you get the idea, it’s like that. I didn’t do any of the tutorials, just jumped right in and it turns out that I should’ve tried those levels…I was a bit confused but trial and error worked (even though the robots I designed were a bit shaky and frail). The music is annoying but the content is über-engaging…I could easily see this app as an early hook to determine which students might be interested in robotics or stem club.
- Monster physics. Another app highly recommended by my PLN…a lot to learn in this game. The intro/tutorial stages were somewhat complicated with loads of different parts, materials, etc to choose from. It was fun to watch the monster (you get to customize him!) grab the fruit (his reward if you design well)…Om Nom from “cut the rope” is way cuter but this is okay. i really liked the rocket level…I can see why kids would really dig this game—it’s engaging and rewarding to beat the levels. I’d especially encourage girls to play these games (fill that stem pipeline!).
- fresh pick. This is the free version of Fizzy’s Lunch, a PBS Kids! App…there are several different levels but this game is definitely geared toward younger elementary students—introduces math skills (addition) and is pretty good at that. “What can you buy with $3?” is a question you’ll encounter at the market. Now, apart from reality (you can’t buy much for three smokes these days) this works pretty well…it’s a very preliminary step toward budgeting—a great life skill. That many never get! The characters are pretty cute—the drill sergeant (corporal cupp) is particularly cool: “FAB—YOOO-LOUS!!” made me smile every time. J you work on navigating the market with arrow direction keys—this would be a good first step in getting kids to learn how to program lego robotics kits. Lastly, the app promotes healthy eating habits—always a good thing.
- Awesome eats. Made by the WholeFoods foundation, this is also a game targeting younger learners. I got quite bored with the format (you sort fruit and veg on conveyer belts) and the annoying-as-all-get-out music, the UI needs some tweaking—the damned “next” button every minute is just too much. The anthropomorphic faces on the fruits and veg also creeped me out. Aside from those detractions, the game was nice to look at, easy to learn and play. I’d be interested to see how the upper levels play but I gave up and moved on to another game. It promotes (and I LOVED this) healthy habits through hints/tips between levels., didn’t much care for this app but I Love wholefoods …I’ll still give ‘em my money J
- Angry birds starwars. Okay, listen. Don’t hate. 5 gazillion downloads can’t be wrong, y’all. These games are flat-out popular, so I chose the starwars version because I’d not played it before much. if nothing else, they teach persistence these games—ever see an 8-year old spend an hour concentrating on getting a three-star level? That’s meaningful. Why can’t history class be that exciting and engaging (It can be, just many history teachers can’t/won’t take steps to make it that way). Many many teachers have incorporated AngryBirds into their lessons—physics, geometry, heck, I even know PE teachers who created real-life AB launchers with bungee cords & foursquare balls. Kids dig the game, get the concept—why not coopt ‘em and sneak in some stealth learning?
- Amazing alex. Hands down, probably my favorite game I played in this marathon of taps and swipes. This is the reincarnated Casey’s Contraptions if you ever played it (angry birds parent company Rovio bought out the casey developers a while back). This rube goldberg-style game is very reminiscent of the old The Incredible Machine if you recall that game. So very fun, great graphics, sound effects, etc. this game would be great for spatial awareness, causality, consequences & planning, among other skills. I’ve always enjoyed these mental challenge type games—very enjoyable. I probably played this longer than any other of the 40 games I played.
- Stack the states/countries. These two (separate) apps are pretty simple recognition games—us states & world countries. Read a question, choose the correct state/nation and you’re rewarded with that country which you must then stack on top of others to reach a limbo-style line (interesting when you stack utah on top of alaska or azerbaijan on australia). I don’t think either is worth long play—I’d much rather kids play with a puzzle but if they’re going to play a game, might as well be one they might learn from.
10.Math zombies—AAAAH. Is pretty fun. It sure makes you hurry up with your addition skillz…Just think, I’ve railed against timed maths tests—since when does it matter if I’m fast at addition/subtraction/multiplication? Well, turns out, if there’s a zombie apocalypse and those zombies are coming at me with maths problems floating over their heads, I’d be pdq at solving the problems and zapping ‘em with my laserbeam magic wristbands. Just sayin. It’s an animated kill-and-drill. But blasting zombies is enjoyable for a little while.
11/12. Isaac Newton’s Gravity HD and Isaac Newton’s Gravity 2.these games are pretty much in the style of Amazing Alex, the incredible machine, and others. But these have a higher level of difficulty (relatively so)…the music is annoyingly loud and most difficult to turn off, which then kills all the sound… dumb, if you ask me. But, I appreciate the gui—the steampunk apparati are cool to play with, and you get (I did, anyways) a sense of accomplishment after beating all the free levels. the second game continues with the same horrible music but adds the ability to design your own levels of play and upload them to the Community where others can DL your levels & comment on them. I think it would be way cool to get your students’ levels up in the store and get them active in reviewing their own & others’ work. The trial and error was fun…I’d vote for Alex over these two but they’re still enjoyable (once you tune out the music).
13. Analogy. This is for early childhood, young ELL students, or perhaps those with special needs who are learning about analogies. The format is simple—if you’ve taken an IQ test, ACT, SAT, GRE, or MAT, you’re familiar with how important analogies are—they stretch our minds…good exercise for younger students. The rewards voice is very peppy-the prompts are subtle and could be improved—just red-out the already-chosen wrong attempts, I kept thinking (I purposefully chose the wrong answer, y’all…I wanted to see what happened). The game gets progressively more difficult (relatively, again)—vocab levels and reasoning skills increase with inclusion of maths (addition), reading, etc. there are 4 levels, only the first is playable with the free version. Appropriate really only for one player. (one aside—I almost dropped the game based on the designers’ choice of fonts—comic sans should die in a fire and not be allowed to be installed on any computer on this planet. It’s awful, it’s NOT a cute font…please avoid it. I refused to accept work from my undergrads if it was in the sans. /rant).
14. unblock me. A new, retro-ish take on the classic car escape game—this time reimagined and redone with stylish wooden blocks. The blocks give satisfying clicks and plonks as you move them to help the red block escape. I got bored after the first 10 levels but it was a long day and I was ready to move on…this would be a good five-minute mind warm up or , I kept thinking—how to make this multiplayer and I came up with it! Have only one student hold the ipad and describe the board to others—have them imagine and suggest the moves. And then I thought—have them do some Parnes’ Creative Problem Solving and let the students come up with ways in which they might make the game multiplayer. J
15. glow puzzle. Speaking of mental warm-ups, this will definitely do it…you use your finger to trace a path of glowing neon between brightly burning nodes without retracing the path. It’s pretty fun and challenging (in weird places—I got stuck on 8, breezed through em til 16, weird). Good for pre-quiz mind exercises/test days etc…good ways to get synapses firing!
16. scribblenauts. Okay, I said amazing alex was my favorite…this is either a tie or 1st…this game is SOOOOO much fun. You move our hero, maxwell, around the screen and give him physical items to help him accomplish tasks. You can use ALL of your imagination to type in objects…you name it, it’ll probably show up to help (ever seen a sad pegasus? Or a buffalo kill a cheetah that killed a red duck? I routinely add TRex to levels, just ‘cause). Once one with the object you toss in the garbage can and keep on playing. The levels are engaging and entertaining—though much of the entertainment comes with how you react to the situations and the objects you give maxwell. I’d most definitely use this with GT students…alone or in teams to find who can come up with the most ingenious, creative solution. So fun. Go download it, you’ll thank me. (if you do, I’d like to know what you put in your ideal classroom. We’ll compare notes.)
17. futabu. This would be good for K-1st graders learning to read. It is designed to be multiplayer-kids sit around the ipad and chime in—think simon says meets hungry hungry hippos. It came recommended by one of my PLN tweeps who has 2 autistic children who love the game. Also highly recommended were the toca boca games but I didn’t play any of those.
18. mathmateer. Similar to roboteer…I had high hopes for this game but was ultimately disappointed. I loved!! The build your own rocket aspect but was never able to buy additional upgrades, etc to make it go higher, etc. that would’ve made it more enjoyable. Gameplay was fun…you control the toy rocket until brennschluss when you must immediately begin tapping the requisite objects—you can choose levels with even numbers, us coins (add up to 23¢, 40¢, etc),3d shapes, to name a few. You get points for how long your rocket flies/altitude it reaches but I didn’t play long enough to see what exactly you do with those points. It’s fun but only for a short time—I got bored and moved on.
19. immortal city. Found this one today on appsgonefree…a cross between civilization, farmville and sim city. You build a sleepy roman village into a bustling roman concern. The gameplay is a tad slow (like in many community sims) and rewards take a while to add up…this isn’t a five-minute play, you’ll need to devote time to it. It sends reminders (annoying) without asking if you want ‘em. It could be interesting to see how jr high/high school kids would want to implement it into a civics/history/social classroom (I’d ask them to pitch ideas for certain apps—they can pick ‘em but we all vote, know what I mean?)
20. the oregon trail—american settler. The grandaddy (okay, the free version of the grandaddy) is on the ipad. You choose Ma or Pa (I chose Pa—he’s a ginger!) and start building a farm and a city. It hearkens back to immortal city, farmville, etc. you’ve made it here…now start living and surviving. The graphics are gorgeous (I played on an ipad retina), the gameplay is fine and familiar…suzie got dysentery!! But we patched her up. The one-up’s and completed dialogues are hilarious—“well butter my bottom and call me biscuit, we’re gonna be rich!” J it’s pretty addictive—be careful with time management. Like the previous game, I’d let the older students come up with reasons to play this game in class—let them make the cognitive connections and reasoning to use the game as immersion in civics, free market studies, history, etc.
bonus—real racing 3. A super fun game I’m adding here only because it’s fun to play. The game has no educational value, per se, but there needn’t always be a reason to play games in school. My pal Todd Borland, director of technology at Union in tulsa started a gaming club and he said he’s amazed by the kids who turn up—the club erases class lines, social cliques, ages, and other barriers…they just go to have fun. Read about it here.