Review by Jenny Bristol, Common Sense Education | Updated December 2018
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Water Bears

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Cute systems thinking puzzler is short, easy to learn

Subjects & skills
Subjects
N/A

Skills
  • Creativity
  • Critical Thinking
Grades 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.
4–7
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Pros: Fun visuals, procedural thinking lessons with practical applications; works well with a touch display interface.

Cons: Players will work through the levels relatively quickly; very little in-game help.

Bottom Line: For lessons on systems or procedural thinking, Water Bears is a very enjoyable game, though teachers and students may wish for more levels.

Water Bears is a nice logical thinking app that can be worked into any math, science, or computer science lesson. It can be a good gateway to more sophisticated systems learning exercises as well. For younger students, have them tackle one pack of puzzles at a time, and then discuss the lessons learned from each one. What were some of the challenges when using the splitters? The color combiners? The filters? How did they end up using them in combination? Helping younger students put these puzzle solutions into words helps them solidify knowledge and apply it in other places. Older students can tackle the whole set of puzzles at once, and then discuss the game as a whole.

Some of the puzzle solutions will need to be made as efficient as possible, while others can have more than one solution. Challenge students to try new things, and compare solutions. They can also help each other when they get stuck. Since there's little help in the app, teachers may need to be on hand, especially for younger students, to explain what each special piece does and how it might be used to solve the puzzles. First, however, get students talking about what each puzzle's tip or hint could mean.

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Water Bears is a pipe-laying, color-mixing puzzle game where players must deliver the correct color of water to adorable but sad and thirsty water bears. To do this, students must build a system of pipes that routes, mixes, unmixes, and/or filters the colored water to each water bear. There are over 50 puzzles, broken up into four puzzle packs. Each pack tackles a major tool used to solve puzzles, such as pipe types, color mixers, color unmixers, and color filters. Through gradually increasing difficulty, students learn new strategies with each level and combine those strategies in later levels as well as special challenge puzzles. Some of the puzzles have more than one possible solution, while others have very limited materials to use and have few solutions or even just one. And still others are pre-built incorrectly, and students must modify the system to solve the puzzle.

Students can place, rotate, or remove pieces to build and rebuild their system solution. They can zoom and drag the scene around, which will help them when properly lining up the pipes to the water bears. This also helps students find hidden spots and pathways that they may need to use. Each puzzle has a tip or a hint about how to use the pieces, or about the level in general, and there's a color mixing guide for students who aren't yet familiar with the color wheel. As students finish each puzzle, they earn progress toward Systems Thinking Skills masteries, such as Systems Designer, Resource Manager, and Dynamics Designer.

Water Bears is a novel effort at helping teachers visualize and assess students' systems thinking development. It's an ideal exercise for students in late elementary and early middle school, and it will keep them engaged through the entire catalog of puzzles. This app teaches procedural and systems thinking, resource management, problem-solving, systems analysis, efficiency, and logical thinking. By allowing students to figure out how to use one skill at a time, the lessons to be learned are accessible by even young students.

Some students may jump right in and begin building, but need to modify their design as they go. Others will pre-plan their system, and then just build it without the need for modification. Since the puzzles aren't timed, students are free to play and experiment with their ideas and design their system in a way that works for them. However, if trial-and-error solutions aren't desired, students can begin by thinking about the problem that is to be solved, consider the available materials, and design a system that will solve that problem. Consideration and pre-planning will minimize any trial and error.

Students with red-green color blindness may struggle with the puzzles, but those with language or reading difficulties won't be bothered by the lack of help or instruction. Interested students will work their way through the puzzles fairly quickly, so the game could be improved with additional puzzle packs to download, and/or an option to design your own levels.

Overall Rating

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

The colorful interface, cute water bears, and empowering gameplay -- with gradually increasing difficulty -- will pull students in and keep them solving puzzle after puzzle.

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

Skills are taught one at a time, with higher levels and challenge puzzles combining skills. This enables students to design systems that solve problems within the given constraints.

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

The app itself has a color wheel guide, and each puzzle has a tip or hint to help players learn how to use the given tools. There's no other help available, however.


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