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Review by Leslie Crenna, Common Sense Education | Updated July 2012

Amazing Alex

Cobbling crazy contraptions together great for aspiring inventors

Subjects & skills
Subjects
  • Science

Skills
  • Creativity
  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
4–8
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (4 Reviews)

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5 images

Pros: Inspiring and challenging activities are easy to navigate with the clean, sophisticated design.

Cons: Scientific terminology is lacking, as is a gentle hint system to teach concepts.

Bottom Line: With endless possibilities and refined controls, Amazing Alex inspires kids to make unique puzzles and imaginative machines.

What about using Amazing Alex to help students build some real-world machines and devices? Challenge them to create a Rube Goldberg machine of their own using found materials from their home or from the classroom. Have them keep logs about their successes and failures, and encourage them to modify their machines based on what they find.

You can feel comfortable encouraging students to interact online, as contact is limited; players who want to download other players' puzzles or share their own must access the Internet via an in-app link, but they won't directly interact with other users. Students can also access the Amazing Alex Facebook and Twitter pages; if users log in to those accounts, they can interact with other fans of the app. Players using iOS can save and share their own solutions.

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Editor's note: Amazing Alex is no longer available.

Amazing Alex is a crazy-contraptions physics puzzler that challenges players to think and create with a handful of everyday objects and tools. Using pipes, scissors, shelves, balloons, goofy extending punching gloves, and more, kids create Rube Goldberg-like devices to guide balls and collect up to three stars.

Students place, rotate, and flip objects using highly responsive fine-motor controls. They accomplish goals, such as popping balloons or funneling balls into a basket, by creating a bridge, a domino effect, a swing, or something else entirely. Difficulty ramps up slowly at first, engaging a range of ages, but increases to a reasonable level for fourth-graders and up.

There's no one "right" way to solve a puzzle, which encourages a trial-and-error mentality that's so important to being a successful inventor. Feedback that players receive is logical as well. If a solution works, the puzzle ends and stars are tallied. If it doesn't, nothing happens and they can keep trying until they capture those stars. By empowering kids to create fun and elaborate cause-and-effect interactions -- and to create and share their own puzzles -- Amazing Alex fosters hypothesis-testing skills and offers safe, structured peer interaction.

The free version has plenty of levels to keep kids busy and continually challenged, and players can interact with each other during gameplay. Eight puzzles of the week as well as thousands of kid-created puzzles will also keep students busy. One downside: you get occasional, interrupting full-page ads (blergh); paid versions offer more levels, more features, and no third-party ads. But graphics, menus, and navigation are top-notch!

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Kids will love the high-quality graphics, responsive and fine controls, and a simple yet engrossing concept: make your own machines.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Challenging yet accessible directives and a gradual difficulty-level increase makes kids feel empowered. They won't learn terminology or concepts through hints but will get logical feedback and can interact safely with other players.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

A three-star system motivates but rightly takes a backseat to gameplay. Statistics like total time or attempts and way-to-save solutions (for Android) would be a nice addition.


Teacher Reviews

(See all 4 reviews) (4 reviews)
Featured review by
Don P. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Grosse Pointe North High School
Grosse Pointe Woods, MI
This is a great "Rube Goldberg" style problem solving app for kids.
The thing that I really like about it is that (in comparison to other Rube Goldberg apps) is that it starts very simply with a limited number of pieces to use. It allows the kids to learn how each piece works in the correct directed context. There is an opportunity to earn 1-3 stars each level. This puts the kids in a "prototype --> refine" state of mind to problem solving. This is a great way to start them on the right path to learning. I really like the progressive nature of the difficulty. My 4 year old does very well with this and will do better in the future on more complex levels. There are some good physics principles here. So far we've seen the law of gravitation, the law of reflection, density and a host of other stuff. This is a great introduction to real physics principles.
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