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Simple Machines

Tinybop, Inc. illus. by James Gilleard. 2015. iOS, requires 7.0 or later. Version 1.0.1. $2.99.
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K-Gr 3—As any educator knows, exploration is key to learning; witness the generations of children who have been introduced to basic math and science concepts at sand and water tables. Tinybop, a Brooklyn, NY- based developer, has taken this principle to heart with their sandbox apps. In The Human Body, viewers watch as a cookie travels from a child's mouth through the X-ray view of the figure's digestive system and learn how the body reacts to an insect bite. In Plants, children can observe how the landscapes and denizens of various biomes change as day becomes night, the seasons change, and various user-triggered weather systems move in.In Simple Machines, kids have an opportunity to explore the forces at work in the lever, wheel and axle, pulley, inclined plane, screw, and wedge. For each one, interactive options allow viewers to see how various adjustments impact the machines' mechanics or force. For example, by altering the location of the lever's fulcrum, children can change the distance a load will be projected, while the height, base, and height from which a wedge is driven will affect its efficiency. In "Wheel & Axle," users can try three different bicycles or a scooter and adjust the speed at which the creature riding them travels; at a fair clip, rider and vehicle sail over a narrow stream of water or up and over a ramp, but if they're moving too slowly the front wheel will plunge into the water or the creature will fall forward. The colorful settings are pure whimsy and add to the gamelike activities: the inclined plane page is designed as a pinball machine, the load of the lever is aimed at a castle, and the pulley screen resembles an arcade game.There are no instructions, but the activities are fairly intuitive, and play and exploration are rewarded. Sound effects (chirping birds, whistling wind, etc.) and atmospheric music add to the fun.The app contains no text; however, labels for the illustrations are provided in five languages (English, Spanish, French, German, and Chinese), and the iTunes store lists dozens more. A free, downloadable handbook (in seven languages) contains extensive notes for adults on the science behind these machines, tips on using the app with kids, and additional suggested activities. For today's students, digital sandboxes create additional, hands-on opportunities to explore concepts. Use this app as an adjunct to science lessons, or download it onto the classroom iPad for some free play; understanding of basic physics concepts is sure to follow.—Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal

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