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App review: Zorbit’s Math Adventure

App review: Zorbit’s Math Adventure

I was fine with math, until an unfortunate collision of differing curriculums, a bad teacher and a change of schools made me dislike it. I’m keen to keep my son from feeling this way about it, so anything that keeps math fun I’m happy to try.

Zorbit’s Math Adventure is an iPad or iPhone app for preschoolers (ages 3-5), designed specifically to nip that math anxiety in the bud.

I know a game has been well-designed for children when I can just let Elliot get on with it. Sitting next to him, I didn’t get the mummy-help-me elbow even once. There’s no reading involved with the menus or instructions, instead kids are guided along by Zorbit and his friends. If you’re in a public place, headphones are a good idea, as it really needs sound to play. The app automatically detects it if you plug in some headphones, and the volume drops, so you won’t have to worry about blasting your child away.

Activity follows activity, so kids aren’t bumped out to a menu system every time they finish something. In terms of math concepts, the game covers counting to 20, ordering, bigger v smaller amounts, classifying things, sorting into groups and recognising positions. It’s worth noting that if your child is competent with these concepts already, they may whip through the levels.

One thing that bothered me about this app was one of the activities involved counting gum balls. I know this sounds a bit ridiculous, but my son was asking me for gumballs for days and days after playing this. None of us chew gum and I’m not about to start giving him sugar balls, so I was a bit dismayed. Next time, maybe an apple tree? Bowls of kale? I know, I know. It’s hardly a deal breaker, but why bring up candy with this age group if you don’t have to!

I also wish there was a reporting feature as some of the other learning apps have started to include, to let me know how he is progressing, either by email or inside the app.

However, my son took to the app easily and continued to play through it until he was finished, not something he does with every app by a long chalk.

It’s worth noting there are no in-app purchases or hidden charges to this one, once you’ve paid the app price that’s it. It’s slightly more than some of the others in this category, but other education apps ask you to pay for more ‘units’ once you’ve downloaded the first one. Overall, I think it’s good value for money. Also – no need for wifi, very handy.

Plus what preschooler can resist a virtual sticker reward page that burps and farts.

Zorbit’s Math Adventure | $3.99 in Canada & US / £2.49 in UK

Disclosure: I was given this app to review by the developers, but my thoughts are my own (and my son’s!).

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Do a science with Snapshot Serengeti

Do a science with Snapshot Serengeti

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I can tell the difference between a Thompson’s gazelle and a Grant’s gazelle from the back quarter of a leg.

Well, now I can, anyway, since starting my obsession with Snapshot Serengeti.

The University of Minnesota Lion Project has 225 motion-activated cameras across Tanzania, waiting to capture animal activity as it happens. Of course, this means there are thousands upon thousands of images to sort through. Differentiating between waving grass and three zebras in the middle distance is one of those things humans are very good at, and computer image recognition software is not.

Enter crowd sourcing!

Through an easy to use little website, we can all help identify animals in the motion capture photos for the researchers. There is a great tutorial to walk you through the simple system, and then off you go. The opportunities for older children are obvious – learn about what the animals look like and get a window into what they’re doing in the wild.

The images are strangely intimate – my cheetah face above is from my first go at identifying. I’ve seen a crowd of hippos at night, a giraffe’s chest backlit by the setting sun, a herd of wildebeest napping right in front of the lens, gazelles running past.

Thankfully, the project met their Indie-go-go funding goal with less than 24 hours to go, so we can continue to peer into the lives of these animals for awhile longer.

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Very Cool Thing: Eat Your Books + giveaway!

Very Cool Thing: Eat Your Books + giveaway!

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I’m standing in front of my fridge, staring at the contents. I got it together to have pork ready to go, and I know I have some sage in the garden.

What was that recipe I made once? Which book was it in? It involved pork and sage… what was it. Hmmm.

This happens to me, oh, three times a week. I do sometimes wonder what the point of those piles of cookbooks are if I don’t use them. It’s not that I don’t want to, I know the perfect thing is in one of them. It’s just… which one?

Enter the most useful online service I’ve seen in ages: Eat Your Books.

It is this simple: enter your cookbooks, cooking blogs you use, dog-eared cooking magazines propping up the rice cooker into their easy system and you can then search by ingredient, recipe name or cuisine. A list will pop up with all the recipes in your collection that fit.

How brilliant is that?

No, the recipe is not online, as this is an indexing service. However, telling me where to find it is nearly as valuable.

For example, I popped in 32 of my cookbooks, and then ticked off 19 different food blogs I have read at some point. I now have 23,355 recipes to hand. Well, technically I always did, but now I can actually find one of them. Quickly.

You can add five cookbooks to your library for free, but to get the best use out of Eat Your Books, adding your whole library is worth it. It’s $2.50 a month or $25 a year (USD). Personally, as soon as I understood the concept, I scrambled to pay my annual membership straight away*.

I love being able to sort my recipes by ‘buzz’, which means how many people have made comments about each one. It’s a great way of discovering what may have looked a bit lack lustre on the page (or screen) but in fact loads of people make it and love it every week. Not only that, you can then lose a few hours by checking out other users’ libraries and oh… right. I was supposed to make dinner.

Eat Your Books has generously offered up a lifetime membership to their service to one of my readers. Go forth and enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer: I found Eat Your Books through a friend’s blog and approached them myself about hosting a giveaway. *I paid for my annual membership myself, which was extended to a lifetime membership for hosting the widget you see in the sidebar.

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Review: Pebble Smartwatch

Review: Pebble Smartwatch

iOS 7 update: Since the iOS update, I’ve found my phone drops the bluetooth connection with Pebble much less often. This makes everything about using my watch much better. With rumours about Apple’s iWatch still sketchy – late 2014, if at all – I still think Pebble is the way to go if you’re craving some wearable tech. 

I knew watch geeks existed, but I had never met any until I started wearing my Pebble. Now I get strange people staring fixedly at my wrist. My husband Christopher spent 20 minutes at the IKEA delivery desk, 18 minutes of which was spent discussing his Pebble.

What is Pebble?

Before Kickstarter became a verb, it was a small, populist way of getting people to fund your project. Then some guys came up with a cool-looking watch that could talk to your iPhone, and they raised $10 million dollars in a month. Suddenly Kickstarter was a real story in the business press and everyone was putting up their short films, industrial design degree programme final projects, and video games.

What does a Pebble do? It is a pretty digital watch with an e-paper screen (much like a Kindle) that connects to your phone, so you get updates via a little vibration and a preview on your tiny watch screen, and control your music on your phone. At least, that’s what it does now. The thing with Pebble is we’ve been given is essentially a beta of a hardware product. Every time a software update comes out, it does new things. It feels like The Future.

I can hear you from here, grumbling about not needing any more tech to connect you to the constant stream of emails, updates, tweets, etc. Strangely, I find my Pebble makes me feel less concerned with those updates than when I had to wonder and check notifications on my phone. Now, I get a buzz on my wrist when an email from my editor comes in, and I can see she is just confirming she received my article, not that she needs something else from me. Done. I don’t need to go dig out my phone, or feel like I need to check my laptop every 10 minutes.

Is a smart watch absolutely necessary? Well, no. Is it nice? Very. It is definitely not the most feminine watch I’ve ever seen, but I still wear it every day. I never miss a phone call when my phone is buried in my bag because my watch lets me know my phone is ringing immediately.

The Pebble is on pre-order now, and I feel duty-bound to tell you it might take a good long while before you actually get one. But you will feel very cool when you do.

Disclaimer: None really, we are geeks and contributed in the Kickstarter campaign. 

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On Vancouver Mom: Artisan popsicle bike cart!

On Vancouver Mom: Artisan popsicle bike cart!

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Elliot enjoying a raspberry lime popsicle at Bike Fest the other day

I had the good fortune of hanging out with the Johnny behind Johnny’s Pops, the bike-powered artisan popsicle cart. What is a more perfect summertime treat? He is a clever man, coming up with this one. He’s also the only one behind this operation: standing in the hot sun selling popsicles, making them all himself, pedalling his cart all over town. I wrote about it over on Vancouver Mom if you’d like to find out more.

For some reason, I never catch him in time to try this apricot caramel popsicle of his… I’m hearing such good things.

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