Bottom Line: An app that uses an accelerometer game to reinforce learning about money, healthy eating, and other positive choices. Missing a few key elements.
Coin Catchers is a new app by PlayMoolah designed as a companion to their website-teaching system for kids ages 6 and up.
The game opens to a title screen with the choice of Story Mode or Coin Rush. This home screen also links to playmoolah.com, though kids cannot play the games on the iPad unless they use a flash-compatible browser like Rover. A tap-happy child may find links to Facebook and Twitter on the PlayMoolah website, but it’s not easy.
Story Mode is the complete game with over 50 levels. There are short story videos of animated characters that somehow relate to the app, but I couldn’t quite figure them out nor could my 8-year-old son.
Each level starts with an assignment related to coins or other objects to catch or avoid. The coins are taught in sequential levels, starting with a penny. Interspersed through the coin catching are distractors, like candy (-1 cent), soda (-1 cent), apples (+1 cent), and stilettos (-5 cents, since they will hurt your feet?) Stilettos aren't the best choice for an early elementary game.
The actual catching is a little hard to learn at first. The iPad is tipped side-to-side to move the little coin-gobbler, with one minute to catch the assigned amount. It took me several levels (OK, 15) to realize that holding the iPad parallel to the floor while tipping made it really hard to control. With the iPad angled up, however, it is much easier to control. This coordination is still a bit challenging for me, but that’s probably because I’m old. The addition of an option for simple left-right screen touches to control the main character would be very helpful. Like me, some kids really struggle with accelerometer games.
The second game in this app is the Coin Rush game. Every few levels in the story mode is a Coin Rush, where as many coins as possible are caught in one minute. The game is the same, without the work involved in avoiding the temptations. Each game generates a high score dollar amount—the best amount is saved as the high score.
The public-service-message vibe is strong in this app, coming through clearly with just one or two sentences. On Mission 21, "Branded Jeans" are introduced, with a value of -5 cents. The message reads: “Watch out! These branded jeans are expensive because they’re famous and everybody wants them!” Every negative object has a counterpart positive, as this app is meant to teach responsible use of money—buy the comfy jeans, not the branded jeans. Buy the practical book bag, not the toys.
I wish this game was a little more educational. There is no review or reinforcement of what is learned and the video intermissions seem completely unrelated to what is happening in the game. As an app that reinforces previously learned material and stimulates discussion of money-spending choices, it has some value, but if your child doesn’t yet really understand adding and subtracting money, the app won’t do much to help. Even a short quiz after every 10 levels would add to the educational value. A few screens where kids have to do the math of adding and subtracting, instead of the app doing the calculations, would also be a nice addition.
The total value to catch is shown at the beginning of each level. Once the level starts, however, it isn’t shown anywhere again. A calculation of the total to capture and/or how much is left should be on the screen at all times.
The calculation method is not consistent between levels. In some levels, the mission is to catch $.85, while in others levels the goal is to get 36 points. A shoe, in the point-collecting levels, is worth 5 points, instead of $.05. It is confusing to switch between the two types of measurement. Also, when the value is presented on the screen, it is written as “5 cents”. However, in the levels where money is counted, it is written as “$.05." Clarity of terms is even more important in this app where everything happens so quickly.
There is also no mute or music-off button on the app. The ability to customize an app with sound/music buttons is a critical feature for me as a therapist. A simple settings button is definitely lacking in this app.
Overall, the app is fun. The corresponding PlayMoolah website is definitely educational with some nice games. By itself, kids will likely find the app fun, but it lacks in educational value. Take a look and consider pairing it with standard teaching methods and as a fun follow-up.
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Heather Hetler is the mom of three kids, two of whom refuse to wear jeans at all, designer or not. Heather works as an elementary school SLP and is a full-time graduate student in Speech-Language Pathology.