Apps, Critical Thinking, Games, K-12, Problem Solving, Teaching Tools

Free the Zoombinis!

Games have their place in education, but my students know that I tend to emphasize creation rather than consumption – especially when it comes to technology.  Few “education” apps pass muster for me, but I have a feeling this particular one will be on my “Gifts for the Gifted” apps list this December.

I first discovered the magic of the Zoombinis decades ago in my 5th grade classroom.  My students were enamored with the cute little creatures who needed to be guided to their new home through various levels in the TERC/Broderbund game, “The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis.”  Not only was the game fun, but the logic and problem-solving that it demanded were scaffolded extremely well, allowing students of different levels to feel successful when they played.

To be completely honest, I bought a personal copy of the game, and spent many nights with my young daughter (and without her) trying to advance through the different challenges.

Unfortunately, as technology advanced, the Zoombinis disappeared from my classroom.  We can no longer install our own software in our district, and I’m not sure the few games still available through online retailers would work on our newer operating systems.

I was thrilled, therefore, to see a Tweet yesterday that the Zoombinis have launched a Kickstarter!  TERC is teaming up with Fablevision and Learning Games Network to release an app for tablets as well as newly designed desktop software later this year. The Pizza Trolls, the Allergic Cliffs, the Fleens, the Lion’s Lair – they are all coming back with graphics optimized for today’s devices.

To learn more about the Zoombinis Kickstarter project, click on the image below.


Apps, Critical Thinking, Education, Games, K-12, Problem Solving

Daisy the Dinosaur

Daisy the Dinosaur is an iPad app that teaches basic programming to young children.  It has a Challenge Mode, in which the user is given 5 challenges that increase in difficulty, beginning with programming the dinosaur to walk forward.  In Freeplay Mode, the user can experiment with several different commands, including making Daisy grow or shrink.

I think that this app is perfectly appropriate for students as young as Kindergarten.  They may need some help with the reading, but will enjoy solving the problems.  My daughter is 9, and I handed her this app with no instructions.  With no previous experience in programming, it took her a few minutes to understand her task in a couple of the challenges, but she quickly resolved them.  She loved the Freeplay Mode, and was very disappointed that there weren’t any more challenges after the 5th in Challenge Mode.

Daisy the Dinosaur is a good introduction to programming.  If you have a child that catches on to Daisy pretty quickly, you might want to also let them try Cargo-Bot, another free programming app.  I reviewed Cargo-Bot previously on this blog.  Cargo-bot is addictively fun, but is definitely aimed toward older children (probably at least 9 or 10).  Another way to hook children in that age range, although much more complex and expensive, is to get them involved in Robotics using the Lego Mindstorms kit.

All of the above activities are fabulous for working on problem-solving skills, logic, and perseverance.  Even if you have never learned programming, give Daisy the Dinosaur a try, and I have a feeling you will understand how easily it can engage our students.

Apps, Education, Games, K-12, Problem Solving


Cargo-Bot is a free iApp that I can’t decide if I love or hate.  Currently, I am stuck on one of the levels – and it’s in the Easy Category.  But, I can’t stop!  I will keep working on it until I figure it out.  This is why it would probably be a good app for gifted students.  They need challenges that they cannot immediately solve, but that they really want to unravel.

While navigating Cargo-Bot, users are learning the basics of computer programming.  This may not sound like fun, but this app is strangely alluring with its simplicity.  The user is asked to direct the program to move colored crates into certain configurations.  It gives tutorials, and then progresses to the challenges, which begin at Easy.  After Medium and Hard are the Crazy and Impossible levels.  I am halfway through Easy.  I think this says more about my ability to do logic than it does about the difficulty of the app…

Apps, Critical Thinking, Education, Problem Solving

My Favorite Strategy/Problem-Solving Apps

I thought this might be a good time of year to summarize and emphasize some of the most valuable resources I have reviewed so far.  Today, I would like to offer my Favorite Strategy/Problem-Solving Apps:

#3:  Solitaire Chess Free – I reviewed this as a tangible game provided by, but it is available as a free app as well.  This is a great way for children to learn how the chess pieces move, and to train themselves to think ahead.

#2:  Isle of Tune – You can play this for free on the web, or you can download the app for $2.99.  As it is a music app, you might question why I include this app in the Strategy/Problem-Solving category.  But, I think there is a lot of problem-solving involved in trying to figure out how to use the tools to compose your song.

#1 – Bubble Ball – This is the most requested app during Center Time or indoor recess in my classroom.  It is fun to stand near a small group of students who are playing this app as they discuss the strategies for getting the ball to the flag using the different tools provided at each level.  I still can’t believe this app is free, as it has provided endless engagement for my students at every grade level.  Another thing that I like about the app is that every level has several solutions.

Here are my original posts on each of these:  Solitaire Chess, Isle of Tune, and Bubble Ball.