Review by Amanda Bindel, Common Sense Education | Updated February 2013
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Solar System Explorer

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Visit and explore this beautiful, vast handheld planetarium

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Teachers say (1 Review)
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Grades
2-12 This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Pros: Tons of info about solar bodies combined with the amazing interactive graphics make for serious engagement.

Cons: Kids without an interest in space may not appreciate the detail or want to explore on their own.

Bottom Line: Because it's so well-produced, it should fascinate any kid even remotely interested in space.

It would fit beautifully into a lesson on astronomy or space exploration. Project the high-quality images and take students on a tour of the solar system. Kids can access information about planets, major moons, and a few spacecraft, which would make it a great resource for independent or small group research. The calendar feature lets kids see planetary alignment at any time, night or day.

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Solar System Explorer is a planetarium-quality, high-definition app whose 3D images let kids experience our solar system up close. Starting with an overall view of the entire solar system, kids pinch to zoom and examine planets more closely, rotate to view the planetary rotation from different perspectives, or tap a specific planet to see it up close and in detail. When the whole solar system is on-screen, each planet, major moons, and a few spacecraft are displayed as small icons at the bottom. Kids can click any of these for a closer image. Choosing a planet brings up small icons for each of that planet's moons. Kids can click the “I” (info) button for any object –- planet, moon, or spacecraft –- for more information about it. Tap the calendar icon at the top of the screen and enter a specific date –- today, past, or future –- and see the planetary alignment on that day. Then choose how fast the time progression moves (on the clock), showing how the planets rotate.

Short descriptions are peppered with interesting facts (like the fact that one of Saturn's moons, Mimas, has an enormous crater that makes it look like the Death Star from Star Wars –- even though detailed images of the moon showing the crater weren't available when the movies were made). Whoa.

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Kids will learn about the solar system –- all the planets (plus Pluto) and the major moons –- as well as some spacecraft that have explored our solar system. A moving image of the entire solar system or individual planets demonstrates the rotation around the sun at specific dates (past, future, and today).

Examining all the quality photos, kids will truly feel like they're in space. This is a well-produced app that will fascinate kids even remotely interested in space and provide plenty of facts to those who just need information. Students will discover knowledge on their own by exploring, and teachers will find this rich resource a valuable instructional asset.

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Overall Rating
4

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?
4
The amazing production value will draw kids in, though they're left on their own to read and reflect on the written information.
Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?
4
Information is presented dynamically and beautifully, allowing for potential depth of learning, but kids are left to process it in their own way.
Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?
4
Its user interface is mostly intuitive and begs for exploration, which is kind of the point. The lack of guidance works for interested kids but may turn off those who don't find space intriguing.

Common Sense Reviewer
Amanda Bindel Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

3
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Featured review by
Darlynda M. , Technology coordinator
Technology coordinator
Erie 1 BOCES
West Seneca, NY
3
Solar system information at one's fingertips

This is a great app for teaching students information about the solar system. The students are not just clicking through facts about the sun or any of the 8 planets; the app exists in the context of an interactive solar system model. Students may toggle through different solar systems viewing options such as name, scale, and path options. On the down side, the app user is dependent on the app creators for validity of facts and data about the solar system presented within the app. There is a "Credits" section where one may see who worked on the app and provided facts and data. This app would serve teaching in a positive way because it presents the facts and data about the solar system in an interactive manner, and students may choose different ways of viewing the solar system. There is nothing in the app to assist ELL or low literacy learners such as a choice between languages or facts and data read to the app user.

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