Review by Mieke VanderBorght, Common Sense Education | Updated May 2014
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Emotion Detective

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Fun – but pricey – emotion exercises aimed at kids with ASD

Subjects & skills
Skills
  • Character & SEL
  • Communication & Collaboration

Subjects
N/A
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
1-4
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Pros: Engaging variety of activities allow kids to safely explore emotions and social interactions.

Cons: The price is high, and the “mystery” narrative is incomplete and entirely disconnected from the emotion activities.

Bottom Line: Effective for exploring emotions, especially for kids who have trouble identifying or expressing emotion, but not as successful as a game; high price tag may deter some.

Kids should use the app individually, either independently or with a teacher’s help. Each emotion exercise has a few prompts for discussion or extension, which help deepen learning beyond simple responses to multiple-choice questions. Discussion can go beyond the limited prompts provided as teachers and kids explore what emotions are, how to express them, how to read them, and what are appropriate and constructive ways to interact with others. Teachers could also role-play the same or similar scenarios in the classroom to allow kids to practice expressing different emotions and interacting with one another in safe ways. Teachers can set up separate accounts for each kid and print certificates when they complete all four challenges. 

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Kids create a detective portfolio with a picture and their name, then choose from four detective scenarios describing crises in the land of Emotiana. A number of emotional awareness exercises follow, including depicting emotions (happy, scared, disgusted, etc.) with real and animated faces, choosing the correct emotion in a multiple-choice format, taking pictures of faces showing different emotions and using the pictures to draw on areas of the face that change with each emotion, listening to a conversation and identifying how a character is feeling, and looking at a picture and using body language and context to choose the appropriate phrase or emotion. Interspersed are “Where’s Waldo” type tasks, in which kids must find a missing item. When kids finish all the emotion exercises and locate all the missing items, they've "solved" the mystery. Kids can save their progress mid-game and create multiple accounts.

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The emotional awareness activities provide a good variety of exercises for learning how to identify and express emotions in different ways and based on different cues (body language, context, conversation and tone of voice, facial expression, and movement of specific facial muscles). The activities provide great practice for kids who have difficulty reading emotions in others, or expressing emotions themselves, although they would be improved by more diversity in actors and situations.

The detective story narrative is underdeveloped and disconnected from everything else. The search activity is a break from the difficult task of identifying emotions, and clearly draws from the theory that kids with ASD tend to be good at picking out details while ignoring background or context. The app would be greatly improved, however, if the detective story were more seamlessly bound to the emotion-identifying activities. Still, the emotion activities are worth looking into, if you can pay the price.

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Overall Rating

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

A variety of activities and approaches to learning emotional awareness keeps kids on their toes. The mystery-solving activities provide tasks kids can easily complete successfully, although they don't tie in with rest of the activities.

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

Through multiple-choice questions, kids practice identifying emotions based on facial cues, body language, and other contextual information. Kids also use a camera to experiment with creating their own emotionally descriptive facial expressions.

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

Not much in-app help is provided, although most activities include some discussion prompts. Kids can save their progress mid-game, and they get a certificate when they “solve” all four mysteries.


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