Thursday, October 4, 2012

App Review: TinkerBox

I downloaded Tinkerbox thinking it might have some physics practice. That wasn't the case, but it's one of my favorite apps right now just the same.

Tinkerbox is a puzzle game that allows you to use pieces with defined characteristics (some rotate, for instance, while others fall or stick to the background) to solve problems.  It also allows free play and experimentation with the pieces.

There's a lot to love about this app. For one thing, there are no words. If you're someone who spends your life reading and writing and talking for a living, you know how quiet a word-less space can feel.  I'm sure some of our students, especially our boys, feel that same need for verbal rest.

Secondly, it's free form; you can create, you can get things wrong -- unlike many, many games out there, part of the whole fun of the game is trying the same thing again and again and again and finally getting it right. Play that works this mental muscle is essential to expanding intelligence, so despite the lack of explicit instruction, I'd rate TinkerBox as highly educational.

Oh, I also appreciated the tutorials. Quick, but very instructive - you try things out to learn, unlike the long, wordy instructional pages I've seen on many other apps. Words, ick.

  • Does it do what it says it'll do? The site says, "While it is full of interesting science facts and teaches basic engineering concepts, TinkerBox is more than just educational!" I'm not really seeing the facts, but I am seeing a lot of practice in sequencing, cause and effect, sustained attention, and persistence. That's good stuff. 
  • Does it solve a current problem in the classroom?  I'm afraid students using this in the classroom would tune out, but maybe there's a place for this in the physics classroom for post-testing free time or for extra credit. Students could complete a puzzle or build and invention and then write about the forces involved.
  • Does it create a new opportunity in the classroom?  It, perhaps, creates a new opportunity at home, but as fun as this is for my lazy grown-up butt playing with it in the eye doctor's waiting room, I'd rather see kids playing with tinker toys, simple electrical circuits, and other real objects.
  • Would Thomas Jefferson think it was cool? I'm pretty sure he'd wonder why we were playing with objects in 2d when we could be building and moving things in real life. But this does seem like a great way to capture attention, harness excitement, and get kids wondering. That seems like a good start.