Review by Debbie Gorrell, Common Sense Education | Updated June 2014
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Toca Lab

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No safety equipment required as kids spin, heat, and freeze elements

Subjects & skills
Skills
  • Critical Thinking

Subjects
  • Science
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
K-5
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (1 Review)

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Pros: Cute graphics and interactive tools, combined with open-ended gameplay, make this an excellent way to introduce kids to the elements and encourage them to explore at their own pace.

Cons: The chemical interactions aren't 100% accurate, and the open play approach may not work well with kids who thrive on structured learning.

Bottom Line: The game is a fun introduction to chemistry and the elements, but kids won't learn detailed scientific information.

You could use Toca Lab to supplement early-elementary science units, or as a way to boost kids' interest in chemistry. With the free-play experiments, it's easy to have kids work together to explore the elements. Let kids use the app in small groups for a set amount of time, and then come together as a class to discuss their observations. Ask questions about the tools they used and what kinds of changes they observed after using the tools. Show kids a periodic table, so they can see the scientific names of the elements. Extend the discussion by asking kids to share what they know about common substances and their properties. 

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At the home screen, kids tap an arrow to enter the virtual lab. Here, kids start experimenting with an element, which is represented by a cute blob-like character. Kids can use different lab equipment, including a centrifuge, Bunsen burner, oscilloscope, test tubes, and cooling agents. As the element changes, the blob's facial expression changes, too. An arrow in the top left corner of the screen changes from red to green when the element can't be changed any further. Once they're finished using one tool, kids can tap the home icon to return to the lab and choose another tool. As kids continue to experiment, the periodic table fills with more elements.

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Toca Lab gives kids a fun and gentle introduction to chemistry. Since gameplay is open-ended, you won't see definitive progress from easy to difficult. However, kids can get an idea of how much experimenting they have done since the periodic table fills with elements the more kids experiment. The game is intended for ages 6-8, which is a perfect age range for free-play learning when it comes to chemistry. Kids are empowered to explore and investigate at their own pace, which is a great way to get them excited about science. Some kids do need a more structured learning environment, so an option to explore the elements in a more factual, concrete setting would be a nice addition.

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Overall Rating

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

Kids will have fun exploring the cute element characters and using tools to observe how the elements change. 

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

Gameplay is open-ended, which encourages investigation and discovery. The scientific aspect of the game isn't completely accurate, so some follow-up instruction about chemical changes may be beneficial for older kids. 

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

There are instructions in the parent section, but most kids should be able to learn how to play by exploring. The parent section also has some great teaching tips. 


Teacher Reviews

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Featured review by
Donald P. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Introduce young students to the world of chemistry!

This is another Toca Boca app that lacks the depth needed to make students want to come back to it again and again. Once they have figured out all the different ways to alter the element, students move on to other apps that are more appealing to repeat play. If Toca Boca would introduce multiple elements that could be chosen from at the beginning stage, and then even allowing for the combination of those different elements within the lab conditions, it would make for a much deeper experience both in the fun and learning. This app works well with ELL and special needs students as there is nothing to read and, like all Toca Boca games, encourages students to drag, poke and play - learning and experiencing by trial and error. The element you are given and the things it changes into are all cute and appealing to young students but if you want your students to truly understand what is happening within the chemical process and why the element reacts to the different lab tools the way it does, it will take teachers working and explaining the scientific and chemical processes.

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