17 March 2014

Smart about the States

One of Isaac's favorite apps on the iPad is "Stack the States."  It is one of the few apps for which I have paid to upgrade to the full version.  He often plays it in the car during our commute to and from school.  During the game he has to answer questions about various states to reach the next level and, periodically, he will throw a question out to me about one state or another -- most of the time I can answer them.

Since he has been playing the game, he has become interested in looking at maps and locating states.  There is a bulletin board outside the library with a map of the United States on it that he will pause to look at and try to name as many states as he can.  Unfortunately, he often does this when I am not in the mood to dally and just want to get in my car and get home.  

Since Isaac has shown such an interest in geography and United States trivia, I bought him a Smart Book on the states at the last book fair.  There is a page or two of facts and trivia about each of the 50 states along with QR codes that link to videos and quizzes.  I thought the interactive format would appeal to him and would be a way to combine screen time with an educational activity that was geared toward one of his interests.

As a break from reading chapter books, we have taken the time to read through a few pages before bed on a few occasions -- reading the information and watching the accompanying videos, then taking the quizzes.  I have been a little disappointed in the videos that the QR codes link to and the quizzes for a couple of the states do not actually ask about information that was in the text.  Isaac will either ignore the videos entirely and just read, or skip the reading and go straight to the videos and quiz.  He hasn't put the whole experience together, yet, of using the videos to supplement and the quizzes to bring it all together.  

The format of the book is also a bit confusing.  It is arranged by region, with states grouped geographically.  There is a Table of Contents, but it still makes finding specific states harder than it would if they were simply arranged alphabetically.  The QR codes for each region in the Table of Contents do not necessarily add to your knowledge of the region, either.  I thought they would link to an explanation of the region, but some are a short video or just a random slideshow.  The link for The South, for instance, is merely a slideshow of regional foods, while The Pacific Region links to a short video about cable cars in San Francisco.

Overall, the book is appealing and is the type of text that many kids are drawn to -- books of lists and trivia are always popular because they are quick reads and can be read in snippets.  The "smart" aspect of this book, though, is weak.  This is a case where technology for the sake of technology does not add to the experience.  It is not integrated into the content well enough to be necessary and the book would do just as well without it.  

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