General Education

Noodle App of the Month: Thinkrolls (February 2016)

Noodle App of the Month: Thinkrolls (February 2016)
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John Dodig February 22, 2016

The Noodle App of the Month series lets you in on secrets about the latest and greatest education tools. Read on to learn about Thinkrolls, our pick for February 2016.

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Some apps teach important concepts; some are just plain fun. But there aren’t a whole lot of apps out there that are both addictive and educational.

Despite the abundance of games and activities geared toward teaching kids how to count, read, do math, and spell, very few make complex academic subjects — like physics — digestible for young minds. This is where innovations in education technology can help.

Lessons in STEM are cumulative; they tend to build on those that preceded them. And Thinkrolls (along with its recently released sequel Thinkrolls 2) enables kids to build on concepts they’ve learned through its gameplay.

The app gradually introduces young learners to challenges that require them to combine skills they’ve learned earlier with ones they’re working to master. This strategy breaks complicated ideas into bite-sized chunks that are easily digestible for kids.

Thinkrolls

# What is it?

In short, Thinkrolls is a game in which players have to roll little blobs through mazes. The original game consists of 90 easy levels and 90 difficult levels; Thinkrolls 2 boasts 117 easy and 118 difficult mazes.

Things start off simply enough. At first, players must use basic rationality and logic to understand the relationship between cause and effect in the game. But they’ll soon seamlessly begin to use strategic thinking (planning a few moves ahead). The app begins to incorporate tougher concepts like force, acceleration, and gravity before taking on even more sophisticated ideas like elasticity, heat, buoyancy, and aerodynamics. And that’s not to mention the broader skills that Thinkrolls will help to sharpen in your kids: critical thinking, recall, and executive functioning, to name a few.

While this may sound dry and boring, I assure you there’s fun to be had — balloon-popping, cookie-eating, gear-spinning, circuit-completing fun.

# Who would love it?

Thinkrolls’ developer, Avokiddo, recommends the app for kids ages 3 to 8 (and Thinkrolls 2 for kids 3 to 9), but there’s some wiggle room on both sides of this range. The app doesn’t require players to read anything, so getting through difficult or complicated instructions isn’t an issue for children who are already at home navigating digital devices. And while the basic concepts would probably be a breeze for adults to figure out, there’s no getting around the fact that mazes are fun — for older kids as well as younger ones.

Even kids who have shown little interest in scientific concepts will probably love playing Thinkrolls. While characters’ interactions with various obstacles may seem foreign at the start of a new set of levels (when a new principle of physics is introduced), they quickly become intuitive. After a few minutes of playing, kids are likely not only to understand these new ideas, but they’ll also grasp how they need to use the concepts strategically and connect them to other ones they’ve mastered, too.

# What makes it captivating?

Its design is colorful, interesting, and dynamic; its characters are weirdly charismatic and adorable (especially for being anthropomorphic spheres). The game’s language neutrality also means that it’s perfectly playable for speakers of languages other than English.

Another strength of the game is its lack of shortcuts or help features. With no instructions, guidance, or assistance (and no penalty for doing anything “wrong"), kids are encouraged to try everything available to them to reach the finish. To succeed, they’ll need to experiment, and they’re free to fail as many times as they need to.

We could even think of the experimentation that Thinkrolls encourages as a form of (virtual) experiential learning. The app lets kids test out many different concepts and see their effects without requiring any investment in costly supplies — and without making a mess.

# How is it making an impact on education?

On the whole, physics is a difficult subject — and it certainly has a reputation as such. Unlike biology or chemistry, which nearly everyone must learn in high school (if not before), it’s not uncommon for students to miss out on a dedicated physics class altogether. Those who wish to pursue the discipline formally often have to wait until the back half of high school — or college{: target="-blank" } — to do so.

Thinkrolls has the ability to introduce physics to kids — and kids to physics — in a totally disarming and intuitive way. The game can provide them with the conceptual understanding necessary — even if they lack the vocabulary necessary to articulate it — to approach physics without fear or anxiety later in life.

Separate from its content, the game’s structure can help kids learn and build confidence. Its layout emphasizes a model of education in which achievement is associated with effort, not with innate intelligence. It’s impossible to know how different items or obstacles in the game will behave or interact with a player’s character, so kids have to rely upon their own efforts in an ultimately rewarding process of trial and error.

Check out the Noodle App of the Month for January 2016, Brainscape, an enrichment app that aims to build structured, math-based conversation into families’ home lives.

If you’re interested in Thinkrolls or Thinkrolls 2, you might be looking for a preschool that fits your needs. Try out the Noodle preschool search, which lets you filter results by location, teaching philosophy, and more, to find the best match for your family.

Noodle has no ties to or affiliations with Avokiddo.

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