Review by Debbie Gorrell, Common Sense Education | Updated January 2015
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Blades - The Grassland Biome

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Comprehensive textbook app features great design, interactive features

Subjects & skills
  • Science

  • Character & SEL
  • Critical Thinking
Grades 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.
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Pros: Thorough content coverage, different reading level options, and interactive components engage kids of varying abilities.

Cons: The price is a little on the high end, and kids don't get immediate feedback on tests.

Bottom Line: A pricey but terrific tool that delivers fantastic digital content and adapts to a range of learning styles and abilities.

Use Blades – The Grassland Biome as an alternative or supplemental textbook resource in the classroom. Depending on their reading abilities, kids can read chapters independently or in small groups and then complete the chapter or custom tests on their own. The app could also work well as a reference tool for a research project. Have kids work in small groups and assign a different chapter to each group. Kids can create digital slideshows or posters that summarize their assigned chapter, and then share their projects with the class.

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Blades – The Grassland Biome is an interactive digital textbook with a range of interactive and reference features. On the app's main page, kids can access six featured sections. When kids tap Read, they enter the reading pane where text appears on the left side of the screen. After entering their name to create a digital bookmark that tracks reading progress, kids swipe the screen to read text. As various keywords pass through an arrow in the middle of the reading pane, supporting media appear on the right. Kids can tap green keywords to trigger the visual support and purple keywords to see and hear vocabulary definitions. Kids can also highlight text and create notes as they read. In the Map feature, kids can rotate a globe and tap icons to learn general information about Earth's grasslands. In the Media feature, kids can tap to view the media that appears within the chapters, including photos and videos. Kids can also tap to use the interactive glossary, read the app manual, create notes, and view teacher resources. 

The teacher resources option provides access to the developer's website, where users will find sample lesson plans, worksheets, and more. In the Tests section, kids can access chapter tests, create custom tests, and can choose a reading level for each test. When finished, kids can email their tests directly to a teacher, who receives a partially graded test –- only the essay portion must be graded by the teacher.

Kids can learn about a variety of topics including grassland plants and animals, adaptations, threats to grasslands, and benefits of grasslands. The major grassland ecosystems are described in great detail: tropical savannas, steppes, prairies, pampas, and velds. Kids can build vocabulary skills by tapping keywords to see supporting images and definitions. There are several options to support learning, including text to speech, highlighting, and note-taking. Kids can bookmark pages, choose from five different reading levels, change text size, have the text read aloud, and record their own voices while reading vocabulary terms. An interactive map of grasslands, a photo gallery, chapter tests, a glossary, a handful of videos, and a Dropbox sync option make the app an excellent resource for any digital science library. It would be nice if kids could see the results of their tests directly within the app or have access to hints and feedback for incorrect answers.

With so much information and so many different options, some kids may be overwhelmed at first. The manual, which is accessible within the app, is a good starting point and should be reviewed before kids fully dive into the content.

Overall Rating

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

Kids have to do a lot of reading, but the fascinating videos and interactive elements promote full engagement with the information.

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

Customizable tests assess learning, but immediate feedback is not provided. Comprehension questions within the chapters, highlighting and note-taking features, and an interactive glossary help kids study and retain what they learned.

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 detailed manual helps users learn about features and options. The developer's website has tutorial videos, an FAQ section, and downloadable teacher resources.

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