Bottom Line: superb conclusion to the trilogy that sets the bar much much higher for all educational apps in terms of depth of content and entertainment value.
If you would like to purchase Ansel & Clair: Jurassic Dinosaurs ($1.99 iPad only) or Ansel & Clair Triassic Dinosaurs ($1.99 iPad only), please use our links:
Movie goers will have to wait until November 20, 2015 for the conclusion of the Hunger Games Trilogy, but for dinosaur lovers, the time is now. Ansel and Clair Jurassic and Triassic Dinosaurs pick up where Cretaceous, which I reviewed in June 2012, left off. What most impressed me about these additions to Cognitive Kids' portfolio is that they aren't merely the same app with different dinosaurs. These substantially improve upon their predecessor with better navigation, enhanced animations, more humor, additional illustrations and interesting tidbits on much more than the lumbering behemoths kids love.
Dinosaurs are a big deal in educational circles these days. Matt Kaplan, the closing keynote speaker at FETC, talked a lot about dinosaurs and bemoaned the fact that they were entirely absent from his elementary and secondary school education. Even pursuing a course of study in all things dinosaur in college proved difficult for Kaplan. Ultimately he was able to piece together a major across multiple departments in disparate fields.
This cross-discipline study was the focus of Kaplan's lecture and what makes the Jurassic and Triassic apps so important for young learners. Kaplan gave one example of how the study of scorpions' ability to withstand desert sands led to engineering improvements in helicopter blades used to support our military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Cross-pollination is what Cognitive Kids consciously or not offers in its newest apps. Users are exposed to no less than a dozen areas of study including:
Geology-the elevator down to the fossil dig site now reflects the layering of the three time periods with Cretaceous on top as it was most recent, Jurassic in the middle and Triassic at the bottom. Also, the extreme continental movement over time is depicted as kids see the single land mass of Pangaea break apart into land masses known as Godwana and Laurasia. Finally, kids get a very nice lesson on how fossils form and why so few dinos were preserved.
- Paleobotany-one of the interactive extras is an explanation of the fern life cycle which includes an opportunity to put pictures of the stages in order.
Sociology-the Stegosaurus is a favorite of kids because of its spiky plates. Clair explains that they may be a function of dinosaur sex appeal, and Ansel then remarks, in one of the funnier moments, that it's just like men and their hair.
Etymology- my fifth grader spent an entire semester learning Latin and Greek roots for vocabulary. Friends of Ansel and Clair learn many of the long dinosaur names have their roots in Latin. Brachiosaurus or lizard arms is so named because its arms are longer than its legs.
Astronomy- one of several "wow I didn't know that" facts I learned is that the atmosphere in the Triassic contained less oxygen.
Meteorology-the climate changes that far back in time are made apparent when Ansel mentions there are no polar ice caps in the Jurassic.
Paleontology- Kids participate in a fossil dig and if they pay close attention learn that new discoveries are made in the field every year. Only 25% of the dinosaurs thought to have existed have been found and identified.
Zoology-kids manipulate dinosaur skeletons, and in a new feature, get to get a look inside their mouths and see the shapes of their teeth which helps identify them as meat eaters or plant eaters.
Paleoicthyology -the newest apps in the trilogy take users under the sea and introduce a fearsome looking ancient shark-like beast called the hybodus, and the squid-like ammonite.
Evolutionary biology- convergence evolution which accounts for how different species come to have similar adaptations to environmental changes is a pretty advanced topic to introduce to elementary aged children. It's fascinating but among the more difficult subjects for younger children using the apps to fully digest.
Geography - the introduction to Ansel, Clair and Marley, their space scooter, can now be skipped, but at least the first time through, paleo pals should note all the present day continents are labeled and shown on the globe.
Ecology- kids get lots of lessons on the eating habits of the dinos and an explanation of how there was enough plant life to sustain such large creatures.
So, after viewing this list, it's pretty safe to say these apps talk about a lot more than dinosaurs. Throw in the ability to write in the travel log and the question and answer banter between Ansel and Clair, and you could argue that the apps hit every common core state standard outside of math.
Engineering and physics might be the one area missed in the apps. New to the series is a Build your own Dino game. This feature should be a huge hit with the younger children exploring the apps. They get to pick and choose heads, bodies, skin color and tails to mix and match their own creature. The Dino's get a name and they can even be interacted with. They stomp, roar and turn with some pretty fancy 3d animation. The only thing missing is an explanation of whether the creation would physically work. Dino's are so big and heavy, they have to have certain proportions in their body parts to be able to balance and move. If they had thin or stubby tails many would tip over. It seems this game would be a great starter for a discussion of basic Dino mechanics.
It's strange to say but these two apps almost contain too much content. Clair talks a bit fast and has a lot to say. I found myself unable to process the sheer volume of information at times. While Ansel and Clair and some of the activities and humor are best enjoyed by younger children, much of the science is far too complex for even the most rapid Dino fans to absorb. I learned dozens of facts myself.
The developer will fret if I request too many changes, but a few are really necessary. I really miss the concept of the photo booth from the Paul Revere app. There are a lot of dinosaurs to discover and I had a hard time keeping them straight. I also would love to see a glossary at the end. Many new and unfamiliar terms are introduced and it would be handy to have access to them with definitions in a single place. Also, I think this is one time when off iPad reference materials would be appropriate. It might help spur further study and research if the bibliography relied upon by the developer was accessible from their website. Kids don't always have access to the best source materials and far too often now rely on Wikipedia.
Ansel and Clair Jurassic and Triassic are the equivalent of 10-15 hours of TED and Khan Academy lectures with a dozen or more YouTube videos and a trip to a natural history museum thrown in for good measure. There really isn't anything to which to compare these apps. It's like getting an entire album of music for the price of a single. If you don't have at least one of these apps, you are missing what having an iPad is all about.
Jill Goodman is headed with her family to the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. over spring break where they may see some dinosaurs and better understand them now.