Review by Stacy Zeiger, Common Sense Education | Updated April 2014
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Jazzed-up textbook covers America's most divisive war

Subjects & skills
  • Social Studies

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: Sounds, animations, and interactive text boxes engage students, while the text thoroughly covers the basics of the Civil War.

Cons: Activities lack depth, and text needs narration and other supports for diverse learners.

Bottom Line: This improved textbook experience will require supplements for deeper learning and supports for struggling readers.

You could use Civil War by KIDS DISCOVER to introduce students to the Civil War. Present portions of the interactive textbook as part of a whole-class lesson or assign groups of students to read and teach the class about particular chapters. You could also break the chapters up and teach them as mini-lessons, spending a day or two talking about topics such as the cost of the war and the stories and songs inspired by the war. The Civil War Notables chapter features a photo gallery of many of the key players, which could be used as inspiration for additional research projects. Use the websites listed in the resources section as a way to extend the learning.

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Civil War by KIDS DISCOVER is an interactive textbook with seven chapters covering a range of topics about the battle between the North and South. An instrumental version of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" greets kids when they first open the interactive text. As they browse the various chapters, fun sounds draw them in, such as crackling fires, gunfire, and the sound of horses. Within each chapter, kids will find informational passages with few photographs and interactive elements.

Beyond the text, photos, and boxes to tap, kids can flip through a fictional Civil War diary and view a portrait gallery, where they can tap on individual portraits to learn more about the people in them. When kids finish reading, they can complete four different activities, including putting historic events in order and dressing a Union soldier for war. A short five-question multiple-choice quiz and a list of additional websites (accessible from within the app) help sum up what kids have learned and encourage them to explore further.

Though not an exhaustive resource on the topic, this could be a place to start learning about the Civil War. By reading the text, viewing the pictures, interacting with the text boxes, and even turning the pages of a diary, kids can learn a lot about different aspects of the Civil War.

However, when it comes to applying that knowledge, the app falls short. The activities have kids throw some clothes on a cartoon soldier, put a few events in order, and race through a maze. The five-question multiple-choice quiz also fails to encourage deeper thinking, offering kids basic questions like "Who founded the American Red Cross?" and "What year was Abraham Lincoln first elected president?" In addition, the text fails to provide support for struggling readers or kids with learning difficulties. Though the passages have a conversational style, they lack options for narration, text highlighting, or a glossary of key terms.

Overall Rating

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

Includes many interactive components, videos, and images to help engage kids.

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

Interactive textbook may hook kids, but activities lack depth.

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

Lacks narration and other supports for struggling readers, English language learners, or students with learning difficulties.

Common Sense Reviewer
Stacy Zeiger Homeschooling parent

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