Friday, February 22, 2013

GIVEAWAY/REVIEW: Ansel & Clair: Jurassic Dinosaurs

 Ansel & Clair: Jurassic Dinosaurs by Cognitive Kid, Inc. (iPad2 and later only, $1.99 at time of review)

Clair and Ansel are "Virtoosians" who need to learn about the world by flying around on their spacecraft, affectionately named Marley. Ansel & Clair: Jurassic Dinosaurs is the fourth app in this series from Cognitive Kid, Inc, which include Ansel and Clair: Paul Revere's Ride, Ansel and Clair: Cretaceous Dinosaurs, and Ansel and Clair's Adventures in Africa (iPhone/ iPod touch also avail.).   My 9 year old and 5 year old kids love all of the Ansel and Clair apps- they keep playing them over and over- they have completed each app but they continue to play anyway- the developers have managed to make learning really fun!

Ansel & Clair: Jurassic Dinosaurs is actually a prequel to Ansel and Clair: Cretaceous Dinosaurs, and is equally informative and appealing.  My kids have learned facts such as the difference between the Tyrannosaurus (from the Cretaceous period) and the Allosaurus (Jurassic period), the Plesiosaurus "Loch Ness Monster" theory, how Brachiosaurus got its name (it means "Arm lizard" and facts about the process of pollination.  We were all surprised to find out about the Hybodus, a shark that lived not only during the Jurassic period, but amazingly persisted for 100 million years.  Like we have come to expect, all these facts are presented in an engaging way- from the attractive graphics and animations, to the embedded games and journal with sticker scenes.  There are even fun hidden spots to discover like the mollusks you can feed to the Hybodus.

These screenshots were taken while my sons played Ansel & Clair: Jurassic Dinosaurs

Really "cool" features:

Rich Media / Narrated Scenes
The graphics and animations really hold the kids' attention. During play close-up images  pop out to support a fact; by tapping on different elements of a scene, facts about the Jurassic Period are presented as a dialogue between Ansel and Clair.  The user gets to use the "camera" to take pictures of featured animals and things to place in his/her scrapbook.

Learn and Retain Fun Facts
From a former history-phobe, believe that you will learn facts by playing with this app, and amazingly, you will have fun. This is an app I enjoy playing with my kids.


Visual and Auditory Cues
I appreciate the use of visual and auditory cues. Throughout the app there are arrows, icons and narration to guide the user. *See Wish List

Scrapbook/Journal with Writing Feature
Take snapshots during game play to place in a journal. There is a writing feature as well- use the keyboard to enter notes about what you have learned about each animal or item- this is such a useful feature for an educational setting. The journal can be accessed by tapping on the backpack symbol in the lower right hand side of the screen.

Jurassic Sticker Scene
This is a feature embedded in the back of the Scrapbook/Journal.  Stickers for the sticker scene are collected by listening to facts about the Jurassic period.  I love how when you drag a sticker on to the Jurassic scene, you can place it on top of another sticker- this comes in handy for going outside the scope of the app and practicing concepts like 'in front of' and 'behind'. You can send a copy of your completed scene to someone via email *See Wish List.

Embedded Puzzle Game with two difficulty levels  
Find this hidden feature when learning about the Allosaurus.  You can choose from two settings, "easy" (9 pieces) or "hard" (24 pieces) to complete a puzzle scene of an Allosaurus.

Make a Dino
Definitely my kids' favorite "game" feature of the app. Click through the choices of dinos and modify it to to make your very own dino. There are icons to represent the different body parts and features you can choose from. You can even give your dino a name. When you are done making your dinosaur masterpiece, you can send it to a friend via email, or save it to your iPad Photo Album.
 Dino Dig & Puzzles
Travel underground to unearth two different sets of dinosaur bones from the Jurassic period. This was my favorite feature in Ansel and Clair: Cretaceous Dinosaurs. The settings now allow more freedom to use any kind of tap to uncover the bones. The kids still find this fun, but I loved when it was more challenging and required specific taps to finish the task. After uncovering the bones, the user assembles the pieces to complete a dinosaur bone puzzle *See Wish List

Turn off the Volume, or not!
There are separate controls to adjust volume and sound effects, which means if the background music is too much for a child, they can still enjoy the sound effects.  It even goes a step further by allowing us to adjust music volume to our liking.

Built-in Guide   Not sure about how to navigate through the app?  There is a built in guide with screenshots of each area, along with descriptions (under the book icon)

Parent Friendly Access to Social Media & Apps
I LOVE the new parent friendly feature for the "About" page, and also for the "More Apps" button on the main screen. To click out of the app, say to Facebook, you must answer a mathematical question. You can also join their mailing list to get updates and information, share with a friend, contact support if you are having an issue, send feedback for improvements etc. all via the About page.

Wish List ( I always have one!)
First of all, I just wanted to say a big thanks to the developers who have listened to user feedback and addressed past wishes for other Ansel and Clair apps in the series. - I especially LOVE the parental control feature now in place to view links to Cognitive Kids' apps, or to access their social media sites. This is much appreciated! (users now have to answer a multiplication problem (eg 4x12) before being able to leave the app.)
Option to hide the Mail feature- Can I "shut off" the mail button available in the Make a Dino and Sticker  Scene sections of the app? Kids might accidentally send their (gorgeous) creations to random people in my contacts by choosing whatever name pops up when a letter is entered.  Developer Comment: We are considering this possibility.
Written explanations- When clicking to take a picture an audio fact is given- would like it to be written out as well, or perhaps at least display some key words, for those that have auditory comprehension difficulties- having a script to read would help the child understand what he/she is hearing better. Developer Comment: We are considering implementing this feature in the future- it is also a current feature available in Ansel and Clair: Paul Revere's Ride
Sticker Scene- I would love to be able to jump to the Sticker Scene and be able to adjust the size of the stickers in the scene with a pinching motion for more creative play.
Difficulty setting for Dino Dig-  In Ansel and Clair: Cretaceous Dinosaurs, I loved how you were required to use the proper motion (either two fingers, a single finger or a swipe) to uncover the Dino bones.  Now it allows any tap to uncover the Dino bones, despite instructions to use one or two fingers.  This is no longer as attractive for fine motor practice- I would love to see a "difficult" setting where child must use correct touch to complete the task.  Developer Comment: we made it easier to tap as a lot of users were getting confused with the 2 tap vs. 1 tap.  
Size- We had some issues with certain features not working until other apps were deleted to clear up space- it turns out this app takes more than twice the stated amount of space in iTunes (455 MB versus 220 MB),which really needs to be stated in the iTunes description.   I should also mention that I always have our 16gb iPad packed to the max with special needs apps, so this is likely a problem unique to me, but something to be aware of if you are in a similar situation.  Developer Comment: The app size indicated (... ) is automatically indicated by Apple.  There is nothing we can do (about size) unless we cut out the features, unfortunately.

 Youtube Video Preview of Ansel & Clair: Jurassic Dinosaurs:
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Thursday, February 14, 2013

SASK Apps: SENSORY Lights & Sounds apps

SENSORY Lights & Sounds Apps:
This list is not exhaustive. It is a collection of apps that have been used by or made available to my own children and/or students. These are available for trialing through the SASK Loan Device Library. It is also a work in progress and may be edited frequently as categories are expanded upon, or descriptions and/ or new apps are added.

Some apps have been marked iPhone- I tried to do this for all apps but have likely missed some. These will still work on an iPod touch or iPad. On an iPad you will have to tap the 2x symbol in the corner of the screen to zoom in to the size of the iPad screen. Sometimes text or images are not as crisp in this mode, but all apps marked iPhone should run on iPad. However, apps marked iPad will not work on an iPhone or iPod. If an app is not marked iPhone or iPad, it is universal and can be run on both without losing screen quality.

See also Cause and Effect Apps 

Music Ball (use any touch to create balls of light and sound on screen)

Spirogrow (no music, just visual) (REMOVED FROM APP STORE?)

GlowTunes by AppHappy Studios LLC (one of my 9 year old son's favorite musical apps)

Mood Colors by iBuRGeR Apps (a simple night light with a timer option.  You can also set the light to cycle through colors, and control how fast or slow)

Magic Effects HD (iPhone version avail. also)

Hidden Grid by Inclusive Technology Ltd. (iPad)

Sensory Room by Inclusive Technology Ltd. (iPad) A simple cause and effect story about a sensory room. FREE One of many apps from Inclusive Technology Ltd. focused on special needs

Saturday, February 2, 2013

GIVEAWAY: Picture Me Calm by Awesometistic, LLC

Picture Me Calm by Awesometistic, LLC ( Universal, $2.99 at time of review)

For an Appy Chat on this app, visit here:

Picture Me Calm is a simple, effective visual tool to help with following schedules and/or completing tasks.  You add pictures to it, you set up schedules, then the child taps each step/image in the schedule-there is a soft sound of velcro being pulled off as the image flips over to show it is finished. At the end, a virtual sticker is awarded. 

I have used this for longer schedules, such as the bedtime routine below, as well as shorter "first then" tasks.  (i.e. First Homework, then iPad game).
The first two images pictured below are in edit mode; the others are what the user sees.

SASK review in iTunes:

Easy to figure out, easy for children to use, fun "stickers" rewarded after completing a set of tasks too. There's even a fun velcro sound as you complete a task.  I like how you can easily reset a schedule to use again with a quick tap also. The one thing I would love to do is set up a schedule on the fly and automatically save those pictures to the Picture Cards library- right now to set up a schedule, you must first save any needed photos to the Picture Card library, then go back to the Schedule tab and select them as you assemble the schedule.  It adds another step when first setting everything up but not a big deal overall as using the schedules are very easy. I got this on sale and think it is a great deal for a very useful visual tool.

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Friday, February 1, 2013

REVIEW: The Artifacts

The Artifacts by Slap Happy Larry (iPad and iPhone, $2.99 at time of review)

The Artifacts is a lovely story about a boy and his passion for collecting things. When it is time to move to a new home, Asaf must face that his many possessions cannot be brought along. The discussions provoked and sophisticated vocabulary are appropriate for upper elementary and up-although a younger child with a fascination of collecting should certainly enjoy this book as well- my eight-year-old son and mini collector adored it. While the language itself is sophisticated, the writing style is to the point- there are no more than a few sentences on each page. There are also plenty of hidden surprises on each page to keep even my 4 1/2 year old interested- caterpillars munching on leaves, the sound of wind chimes, dogs jumping up and down in a back yard, a hidden room revealed with a swipe.

The rich vocabulary and imagery sparked conversations with my 8 year old about the main character, Asaf and his feelings- especially in a scene where young Asaf is questioned by his father for capturing a caterpillar and sequestering it in a jar. "How would you like to be locked inside a jar?" questions Asaf's father, as they peer at the jar. Asaf replies "But Dad, I gave him a leaf." When the jar is touched, the images are juxtaposed, and Asaf sits inside the jar in place of the caterpillar, staring forlornly at what he must envision is the "people" equivalent of a leaf- a piece of cake. Caterpillar versions of Asaf and his father peer in at the imprisoned Asaf, and the dialogue matches the new scene: "How would you like to be locked inside a jar?". "But Dad, I gave him a cake."

With beautiful graphics, magical sound effects and expressive narration, I almost felt I as if I were in the story. From the use of lighting to portray the mood, to the dripping of water in the "castle basement, the story came alive. The Artifacts is a story not to be missed- it will remain on my iPad for a long time to come. (Originally written in March of 2012, and still on my iPad)

Wish List

I always have one, but in this case I am stumped... there is even a page menu so you can easily move between pages.  This is my favorite book app for upper elementary and above.