Review by Amanda Bindel, Common Sense Education | Updated July 2013
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Toca Builders

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Students not quite ready for Minecraft get a creative, fun alternative

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Teachers say (2 Reviews)
$avg_user_learning_rating
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Grades
K-4 This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Pros: It's easy and fun for kids to create.

Cons: Options for cooperative play are missing.

Bottom Line: Fun, engaging, open-ended play can work in a variety of content areas.

Math teachers can use Toca Builders to explore area and perimeter. Language arts teachers can use it for descriptive writing, where kids can write instructions for how to create a structure, or to complement story writing, either to illustrate stories or as a pre-writing activity for students to create worlds. Creative content areas can incorporate the game to give kids an opportunity to create using technology, building engagement, confidence, and tech skills.

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Toca Builders is a sandbox-style building app in the vein of Minecraft, designed for kids ages 5 to 11. Play starts with a flat world floating on water. Kids control six different builders, each with a different job, to design whatever worlds they can imagine. One builder paints the ground. Another drops blocks from a backpack or destroys them with a hammer. A crane places blocks in high places, and a jumper hops up and places blocks. Another painter spits paint, and one builder stretches and places blocks in midair. Different builders can destroy blocks, too -- but not in an antagonistic way -- just to help create the world that kids imagine. Some characters move directionally using a gear-like shifter. Some move using a roller ball. Switching back and forth can get a little confusing, but most of the other controls are easy to pick up and fun to play around with. It would be nice if all of the builders could enter the buildings created, but some are taller than six blocks -- the maximum number of blocks the game allows players to stack. There's no competition or objective in the open-ended creation game. It's like playing with LEGOs without having to store them.

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Alongside Minecraft and other sandbox-style creation toys and games, Toca Builders holds its own. This game doesn't include the monsters, zombies, and fighting involved in Minecraft's survival mode, so it may be a better classroom alternative for exploring world creation. The builder characters will appeal to kids drawn to stories, and the open-ended creation possibilities put kids in charge of their fun. Creations are automatically saved, and kids can revisit them. The lack of individual profiles is a downside, however. Each world is automatically saved, but anyone could access the world and alter it, and there's no labeling or naming. Also, only one player can create worlds at a time. So, unlike in Minecraft, kids can't work cooperatively (or competitively) to create worlds.

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Overall Rating
3

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?
5

Since kids direct their experience -- from what to build to which builder to use -- they're in control of their fun and engagement. The controls take a little getting used to, but the design is beautiful.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?
3

Sandbox-style, open-ended creation is hot in learning right now. Kids learn through creating and problem-solving. Being in control of what they create personalizes (and makes relevant) their learning experience.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?
2

Players are left to figure out most of the gameplay on their own, which is part of the learning (and fun) experience. The parents section includes written instructions. The app saves each world automatically.


Common Sense Reviewer
Amanda Bindel Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

4
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Featured review by
Donald P. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
4
Great introduction to the 'open builder' app world.

Toca Boca Builders is the favorite of the Toca apps both of my students and myself. It reminds me of my bucket of blocks that I had as a kid. No matter what fancy flashy toy I received, I always went back to my blocks. Why? Because they encouraged me to use my imagination to build things to play with. Toca Builders works the same way but in a virtual world. While there are limitations to how big things can be built and that everything has to be built in a gridded pattern (again think Legos), students quickly adapt to these limitations. As with most of the Toca apps, ELL and special needs students fit this app perfectly as it encourages experimentation and 'trial and error' without requiring any reading. Mistakes are easily undone and the learning curve might seem steep to us as adults, but to your students, they pick up the layout and tools almost intuitively.

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