App review by Debbie Gorrell, Common Sense Education | Updated July 2015
Acrobots
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Acrobots

Absorbing physics game has fun gameplay, lacks clear school connection

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Grades
4–12 This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
Subjects & Skills
Science, Critical Thinking

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Pros: Movements are based on fundamental physics concepts; it's fun to observe the acrobots at play.

Cons: Without instructions or clear connections to real-life physics concepts, kids may miss out on valuable learning opportunities.

Bottom Line: Absorbing gameplay might amuse kids, but learning potential is limited without more explicit physics background info.

Acrobots is best used as an exploratory or enrichment tool as kids learn about forces and motion. Teachers could also use it to introduce these concepts during a physics unit. Have kids work in small groups to experiment with different settings. They should record the settings that they adjusted and make observations about how the acrobots change accordingly. Encourage kids to be as detailed as possible, noting the acrobots' connections, sizes, and movements. Follow up with a class discussion and make connections to real-world examples. Try to come up with challenges for your students: Who can build the highest tower? The longest chain? What settings help you construct different structures with the acrobots? Why?

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Acrobots is a sandbox-style app that lets users manipulate multi-legged robots that wriggle, twist, and reach to connect with one another. At the start, a number of colorful acrobots appear on-screen. Icons for making changes are in the upper left corner of the screen: Tap a plus sign to add acrobots and a minus sign to remove them from the screen; tap the light bulb to change the acrobots from multicolored to all black.

By tapping the bull's-eye icon, kids can adjust eight settings (including size, gravity, balance, stickiness, atmosphere, speed, legs, and detail), and they can tap eight built-in settings combinations (with names like "teeter" and "zero-g"). Kids can then explore how those settings affect the acrobots as they tap, drag, and tilt their device to move, stack, and otherwise manipulate the acrobots on-screen. Kids can also shake their devices to randomly scatter the acrobots across the screen.

 The idea behind this tool is intriguing, and gameplay is definitely absorbing: It's consistently engrossing to see what happens if you change the acrobots (add and remove legs! make them big or small!) and change their environment (see what happens with the gravity turned all the way down!).

However, the app's learning potential is limited without good guidance from text within the app or a teacher as a guide. It's neat that kids can adjust variables (like gravity and the number of legs the acrobots have), but there aren't descriptions of what these variables might mean in real life or what their ramifications are within the game. And while some settings are pretty self-explanatory, others are less so, and kids may be left wondering what "stickiness" and "detail" really mean. There's a great opportunity here to help kids explore physics concepts, but there's not much built into the app to help those observations transfer from the game to the real world. The in-game physics are definitely intriguing and engaging, but teachers will need to get creative on their own to connect gameplay to their classroom.

Overall Rating

Engagement Would it motivate students and hold their interest? Is it visually appealing? Would it inspire teachers to try something new or change their instruction?

Kids tap, drag, and tilt their device to change the way the acrobots move on screen. It's intriguing and absorbing for a while, but there's not a ton to do.

Pedagogy Does the tool help teachers promote a more student-centered experience? Will students gain conceptual understanding or think critically? Does it deepen teachers’ pedagogical thinking?

The movements of the acrobots are based on physics concepts, and kids can adjust the settings, experiment, and observe. Unfortunately, without instructions, context, or clear learning goals, this isn't a great standalone fit for learning.

Support Can students and teachers get assistance when they need it? Is it created with people of different abilities and backgrounds in mind? Is learning reinforced and extended beyond the digital experience?

Play is open-ended, so instructions aren't included, but it's easy to see how changing the settings impacts gameplay. This app wasn't intended for the classroom, but more context would help kids playing for school or for fun.


Common Sense reviewer
Debbie Gorrell Educator

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