Crack the Books is an interactive elementary science textbook series, being released as apps by the Mobile Education Store. Each of the titles (planned and already released) focuses on a different aspect of ecology, with in-depth and well-researched information about ecosystems like the desert, grasslands or ocean. This title, Pines to Vines, is about the forest biome and developed in collaboration with Oregon State University's Department of Forestry. According to the developers:
"Pines to Vines covers a variety of topics, including forest layers, range and climate of forest biomes, plant and animal wildlife, adaptations, benefits of forests, and forest threats. Students will learn about all major forest types including tropical moist forests, tropical/subtropical dry forests, tropical/subtropical coniferous forests, temperate coniferous forests, temperate broadleaf forests, mediterranean forests, riverine forests, mangroves and boreal forests."
Educational content is presented within a feature-rich interface with a two-page spread that looks like an open book. On the left side appears text, which can be set up for one of five reading levels. The text is dry but informative, including an interactive glossary, ability to highlight, take notes and even look up additional information on the internet. There is no human narration, although you can highlight any section for a 'text to speech' feature that reads in a computerized voice to assist struggling or emergent readers.
On the right side of each page is the supportive multi-media portion of the app. The content is not especially interactive, but provides relevant and high-quality reinforcement or further explanation of the concepts introduced in this digital textbook. Pines to Vines has six chapters, each with hundreds of images and over a dozen short videos. A cool, interactive globe can be also spun and zoomed in, to see eight different ecological regions of the planet, from tropical to temperate.
Detailed and interactive tests of student learning are also included, along with resources for teachers on the developer's website. These include information about academic standards met by the app, test templates, study guides, worksheets, activities and lesson plans. Students can email their results to the teacher in-app, including the ability to record their answers instead of writing. The flexibility of this app series and resources included would give any teacher of elementary science a wealth of ideas for incorporating this digital series into their classroom. According to the developers:
"Crack the Books are the first digital books that can be adjusted for reading level without sacrificing curriculum content. Targeting 3rd to 5th grade science and social studies core curriculum concepts, our digital books allow for reading level adjustment from 1st grade to 8th grade, making it possible for all students in a classroom to access the same curriculum content regardless of their reading ability."
So, is there anything this app can't do? Overall, while this is a stellar combination of information and flexible settings, this series does not take full advantage of the medium. The level of student engagement and enjoyment while reading this book may fall short of the 'wow' factor many kids expect from an app. Titles like Bats: Fury Fliers of the Night, the Exploratorium apps and Bobo Explores Light come to mind as more immersive and engaging, so much so that they need not be relegated to the world of dry textbooks.
But there is clearly an important place for digital reference books, especially for non-fiction topics. The elementary school science classroom would be much more well-equipped with this resource on the digital bookshelf, especially as a complete series for the study of ecology. With settings that adjust to suit a student's reading level, built-in interactive tests and solidly researched curriculum resources, Crack the Books has provided a unique and valuable addition to the digital textbook market.
This app has been thoroughly evaluated by our staff. Please click on the 'star ratings' tab above, to see how it fared in all nine of our rating categories. See synopsis tab for more details about the storyline.
Note to readers: This review was expedited by the developer for a fee. The content of the rating/review is the same, but timing of publication has been prioritized.
All reviews are of the app, not the platform/device. Based originally on iPad versions. Minor technical details may vary.
Mobile Education Store LLC
Mobile Education Store LLC
45 - 60 Minutes
Based on non-digital book: No
Allows Own Narration:
Uses Motion: No
Age: 8 - 12 +
Pines to Vines is a state of the art, elementary science book based on the forest biome. Developed in collaboration with Oregon State University’s Department of Forestry and a team of educators, this standards based, core curriculum aligned digital book includes both interactive enhancements and universal design accessibility features.
Designed with the goal of improving reading comprehension, fostering a love of learning, and building reading confidence, Pines to Vines gives educators a powerful new teaching tool to help all students, from children with special needs to those who are academically gifted.
Pines to Vines covers a variety of topics, including forest layers, range and climate of forest biomes, plant and animal wildlife, adaptations, benefits of forests, and forest threats. Students will learn about all major forest types including tropical moist forests, tropical/subtropical dry forests, tropical/subtropical coniferous forests, temperate coniferous forests, temperate broadleaf forests, Mediterranean forests, riverine forests, mangroves and boreal forests.
Pines to Vines is part of our Crack the Books series of interactive books. Crack the Books are the first digital books that can be adjusted for reading level without sacrificing curriculum content. Targeting 3rd to 5th grade science and social studies core curriculum concepts, our digital books allow for reading level adjustment from 1st grade to 8th grade, making it possible for all students in a classroom to access the same curriculum content regardless of their reading ability.
Designed to foster comprehension and student engagement, Crack the Books features hundreds of supportive audio and visual elements including beautiful high definition photographs, integrated video footage, fun facts, custom animations, custom images, and interactive charts, tables and globes. There are comprehension supports built into the text, with pop up definitions for associated new vocabulary. Students may further interact with the content by creating bookmarks, highlights and study notes.
Source: iTunes Description