App review by Debbie Gorrell, Common Sense Education | Updated December 2014
The Sandbox EDU
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The Sandbox EDU

Cool open creation platform could use more content focus

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Learning rating
Editorial review by Common Sense Education
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Grades
5–8 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.
Subjects & Skills
Science, Character & SEL, Critical Thinking

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Pros: Hundreds of elements and features give kids creative control as they build original worlds.

Cons: Pixelated design takes some adjusting to, and lesson content isn't well integrated with gameplay.

Bottom Line: Open-ended creation game can boost creativity and critical thinking skills, but the lesson content feels a little rough still.

Most teachers will find The Sandbox EDU is similar to the original version. It works best as a tool to use with early finishers or as part of enrichment time. However, with the addition of the lessons, you could use the game as an introduction to a unit. Let kids work in pairs or small groups to freely explore the lessons that are relevant to your unit. Follow up with a class discussion about the terminology or concepts they learned through gameplay.

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The Sandbox EDU is a spin-off of the consumer app The Sandbox. Similar to Minecraft, The Sandbox apps are open-ended creation apps, in which players use elements (soil, water, etc.) to create their own universe. The EDU version includes a Play mode with five game levels addressing a variety of topics: Saving the Earth, School of Music, Inside the Lab, Learn Pixel Art, and Crazy Circuits. Each level includes several lessons, which introduce an interesting fact and a content-specific challenge for kids to complete. For example, in Saving the Earth, kids can complete a lesson about twisters. They begin with a fact about twisters, and then are challenged to drop twisters in order to destroy a village. In the Create mode, kids build their own universe without any guidelines. They can take screenshots of their creations and save them to a photo gallery.

Lesson topics range from music and art to circuits, chemistry, and earth science. They're well organized, and each one teaches kids some basic terminology and facts about the topic. While some lessons are better than others, the tasks within many of them are vague at best and lack a strong connection to the topic. For example, in School of Music, kids have to create a note by putting a note where one is missing. It's not entirely clear what kids will learn by completing this task. In addition, numerous typos and grammar errors make the lessons feel unreliable. 

As with the original version of the game, a lack of explicit lessons means parents and teachers may want to help kids make a connection between what's going on in the game and the academic content they're learning.

Overall Rating

Engagement Would it motivate students and hold their interest? Is it visually appealing? Would it inspire teachers to try something new or change their instruction?

Many kids will like creating and controlling their own worlds, but some could be frustrated by the lack of focused, challenging goals.

Pedagogy Does the tool help teachers promote a more student-centered experience? Will students gain conceptual understanding or think critically? Does it deepen teachers’ pedagogical thinking?

The interactive lessons expose kids to a variety of topics, but content falls short on depth and quality.

Support Can students and teachers get assistance when they need it? Is it created with people of different abilities and backgrounds in mind? Is learning reinforced and extended beyond the digital experience?

A creator guides kids through the lessons, and there's a tutorial in the Create mode. Instructions aren't very specific, so kids who struggle will likely feel lost.


Common Sense reviewer
Debbie Gorrell Educator

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