Review: Rough Science app leaves me hoping for more

screen480x480Rough Science is a new app aimed at Year 5 and 6 students and aligned to the curriculum.

I really wanted to love this app when I read about it:

Presented by well known science educator, Sean M Elliott, Rough Science is a digital learning environment that explores three exciting Australian Curriculum Year 5 & 6 science topics: Layers of the Earth; Solid, Liquid & Gas; and Adaptation & Evolution. Each unit is comprised of a short video and a creative challenge. The App is accompanied by a free Rough Science Teacher Handbook, available from the iTunes store.

The core of the app is three short videos Sean Elliot.  Elliot is great. He’s entertaining and his presentation is clear. But there are equally good videos available for free elsewhere on the Web. They might not have been made for the Australian curriculum, but subjects such as layers of the Earth and states of matter deal with basic science that transcends national boundaries. My test subjects felt the videos were to simplistic – they seemed aimed at an earlier stage than Years 5 and 6.

My big beef with the videos is that you can’t pause them – which presented a significant practical problem in just trying this app out. I can’t imagine how annoying this would be if you were in a class and a student had the temerity to ask a question or even in  a self-guided learning environment where you wanted to check on something.

The thing that elevates the app from just being videos is that each module comes with a challenge. The first challenge involves drawing the Earth and taking a photo of the drawing with the iPad; the second involves taking photos of water in different states; and the third doing a little research and filling in a form. They are not high-value activities, but would allow a teacher to see that the students had been doing something. Though, when you’ve got all the facilities of an iPad at your fingertips that doesn’t seem to make for much of a value proposition – watch a video and take some photos.

For $3 you get some nice videos packaged with some basic interaction to reinforce the message and check on completion. That’s not bad, but it’s not good either. Overall the presentation is lovely and there’s so much potential in apps like this. Sadly I have to feel that the potential is really in a next version of this with deeper interaction, or perhaps in getting a much larger library of modules for the same price. With talent like Elliot’s available there’s so much more that could be achieved.

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