April 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

AfterSchool Edge: Keep Them Edutained | Reference Online

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AfterSchool Edge pulls together different games into a tablet or desktop computer. Though more entertaining than academic, this is a quick and easy way to offer gaming options to the elementary school set.

Grade Pres-Gr 5

Hardware Overview The AfterSchool Edge from AWE Digital Learning Solutions offers 65-plus children’s software programs loaded into a tablet or touchscreen desktop computer. (Note: only the desktop computer was reviewed.) A snazzy rainbow keyboard and mouse accompany the computer, which will not take up as much space as traditional desktops (there is no tower). However, the screen is superwide, allowing for two or three small children to play side-by-side.

Software Overview: The games featured here generally are more fun than informative. On first sampling, users will encounter many cartoons, making viewers feel like passive TV watchers. But if educators dig deeper, they’ll find interactive games that apply directly to classroom work or that could strengthen children’s passion for subjects such as photography, music, geography, and medicine.

How It Works: From the homepage, children can navigate different games by clicking on icons depicting the following subjects: “Math and Problem Solving,” “Science and Nature,” “Social Studies and Geography,” “Reading, Words and Phonics,” “Writing and Computer Skills,” “Reference,” and “Music and Art.” Each academic area contains approximately 15 to 25 games. Some offerings appear simultaneously under multiple headings. All grade levels are mixed together under these content-area headings, allowing students to self-select and gauge their own level. Users who don’t read yet will have trouble picking appropriate games without an adult’s help.

Usability: A large portion of these software programs are self-explanatory. Instructions are provided, and the games are generally intuitive and increase appropriately in terms of difficulty. However, other programs are slow and unrewarding, with little to no pay-off. MusicCan, Math for the Real World, Sammy’s Science House, and World Explorer, for instance, force students to wait through a long opening sequence and are on the dull side. World Explorer gives players a passport and access to a page of icons, including maps, but clicking the various icons yields less than thrilling results: a roaring panda, for instance.

It can also be difficult to exit a program and switch to another one, and users may have to reboot to switch games. Librarians should also note that some games are extremely loud.

More on the Content: Though as a whole the resource is uneven, each academic area and grade level features quite a few strong materials. For the preschool set, there are games based on Dora the Explorer and Go, Diego, Go! Digital storybooks featuring read-alouds of favorites like the “Berenstain Bears” and Marc Brown’s “Arthur” boast high-quality design, sound, and content and will be popular staples in most libraries. Older elementary students will enjoy My Amazing Human Body (DK Editions), which features graphics almost as clever as their print counterparts. The illustrations are realistic and will spark curiosity in medicine, using wry humor to help the squeamish.

Math Doodles, one of the most advanced programs, is a particularly excellent interdisciplinary game that blends art with arithmetic, inviting students to view math in a new and innovative way.

Most of the successful games here, such as Know Your USA/Know Your World, which features stunning photos that will pique students’ interest in geography, are light on narration but heavy on interactivity. The classic history adventure software Oregon Trail, among the most fast-paced of the lot, uses a fair amount of cartoon animation with narration and does so more effectively than most. The drama-filled narrative immerses children in the world of pioneers, grounding them in a new reality that allows them to chart their own adventure.

Verdict: This resource contains numerous must-have library games (Math Blasters, Oregon Trail, and more) that have stood the test of time for decades. Some librarians may prefer to buy these games individually and customize their own computers, rather than purchasing a preloaded computer. However, those who want a shortcut in setting up a cornucopia of gaming choices may find this a compelling resource, especially for library programs looking for fun computer activities.

Jess deCourcy Hinds, Bard H.S. Early College Queens


This article was published in School Library Journal's January 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.