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App review by Debbie Gorrell, Common Sense Education | Updated December 2015
Crack The Books

Crack the Books

Interactive biomes textbooks impress; subscribe for premium features

Learning rating
Editorial review by Common Sense Education
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Grades
2–8
Subjects & Skills
English Language Arts, Science, Critical Thinking

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Pros: Lots of learning options, five reading levels, and interactive components inspire curiosity in students of varying abilities.

Cons: Cost could be a prohibitive factor, and there's no immediate feedback for incorrect test answers.

Bottom Line: If it fits your budget, an excellent interactive science resource that can work for students who have a range of reading abilities.

These digital textbooks could replace any traditional textbook with comparable content or supplement a unit on ecology. Students can read chapters independently or in small groups, and they can complete the chapter or custom tests on their own. If the number of devices is limited, have students take turns completing the tests. When finished, students can email their tests directly to the address entered on the app as "Teacher Email." To demonstrate mastery, assign small groups of students a different biome for research, and let them create a slide-show presentation or poster summarizing the material.

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Editor's Note: Crack the Books is no longer available for download.

Crack the Books is a series of interactive textbooks that each cover a different biome. All the textbooks have the same general layout and offer the same features. The textbooks include Pines to Vines, Seashores to Seafloors, Parched Planet, Blades, and Aquatic Earth. While Common Sense Education has previously reviewed three individual titles, Crack the Books contains a collection of all textbooks with Pines to Vines offered as a free trial. Adding the subscription unlocks all books and added bonus content. Alternatively, teachers can purchase the other books individually.

There are six options on the home page: Read, Map, Media, Tests, Settings, and Credits. The Read option is where students will find the majority of content. On the left side of the screen, students swipe to read text through a reading pane. As various keywords pass through an arrow in the middle of the pane, supporting media appear on the right. Students can tap green keywords to trigger the visual support and purple keywords to see and hear word definitions. Students can also highlight text and create notes as they read. In the Map feature, students can rotate and tap on different biomes around the globe and have access to photos, videos, and an interactive glossary in the Media feature. In the Tests feature, students can access chapter tests, create custom tests, and choose a reading level for each. The subscription version also offers bonus content such as current-event videos and articles, coloring pages, activities, and interactive games.

Crack the Books was carefully developed to engage kids while supporting a mix of learning styles and reading levels. The textbooks cover a variety of biomes in beautiful detail: forests, oceans, deserts, grasslands, and freshwater bodies. Five reading levels are available ranging from first through eighth grades, with supports that include text-to-speech, highlighting, and note taking. As they read, students can change text size and record their voices while reading vocabulary terms.  

By exploring the interactive text and graphics, students will discover unique features of each biome. These include the location and climate, the plants and animals that live there, and how their adaptations help them survive. Some interactive elements can be distracting for students who might be tempted to scroll through without reading. Students can use the interactive glossary to build vocabulary and improve speech and language skills, and the bonus content is a fun way for students to extend and apply what they learned. Getting the hang of all the features and downloading the books can take a bit of time, so teachers may need to do some initial planning. 

Overall Rating

Engagement

Interactive text and graphics make the textbooks lively and engaging.

Pedagogy

Tests assess learning, but students can't immediately see feedback. Comprehension questions, note-taking features, and a glossary help students retain what they learn. Bonus content extends the learning further.

Support

A detailed manual within each textbook helps users get started and learn about all the features. The developer's website has tutorial videos, FAQs, and downloadable teacher resources.


Common Sense reviewer
Debbie Gorrell Educator

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