Common Sense Review
Updated October 2013

Word Wonderland (Elementary)

Challenging arcade-style space game fails to integrate real learning
Common Sense Rating 2
Pros
Multiple user profiles and levels could span a broad range of abilities.
Cons
No instruction or help is provided to help kids understand the word categories.
Bottom Line
Space game encourages critical thinking, but targeted language learning is ineffective.
Amanda Bindel
Common Sense Reviewer
Classroom teacher
Common Sense Rating 2
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 3

The arcade game play is fun and challenging once kids figure it out (use the Tips section found in Settings).

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 2

The learning approach seems more like an afterthought than an essential part of playing the game. The educational aspects aren't explained, accessed legitimately through gameplay, or tracked.

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

Multiple user profiles track kids' individual progress but do not provide reports of skills mastered. The Tips section provides instructions for the games, but no information is included about the learning terms and concepts.

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How Can Teachers Use It?

Ideally, this app would help with spelling, vocabulary, and reading, but the challenge of thinking is lost in the game's execution, and kids can just match letters without understanding any of the targeted concepts. When it comes down to it, Word Wonderland (Elementary) is a fun arcade game that's designed to be educational but doesn't quite make the grade. Any classroom use should follow direct instruction and include careful teacher monitoring to assess kids' understanding through observation and questioning.

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What's It Like?

Word Wonderland (Elementary) is an educational game intended to help kids practice different ways of sorting words. In this arcade-style word game, kids explore different space worlds, guiding a space crab along a complicated obstacle-ridden path to his destination. To clear the path, kids have to sort words into their proper categories -- from vowel sounds at the easy level to Greek/Latin roots at the expert level. Kids choose from four levels of challenge -- easy, medium, hard, and expert. They can work on concepts like short and long vowels, r-controlled vowels, blends, digraphs, prefixes, suffixes, diphthongs, endings, and Greek/Latin roots. The Tips section in Settings includes tutorials showing each feature -- stars, arrows, machines -- and how to use them, although nothing in the Tips explains the targeted learning concepts.

A free Lite version is available that lets kids try out two levels in each of the four worlds.

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Is It Good For Learning?

The problem with Word Wonderland (Elementary) is that the critical thinking kids must do during the gameplay isn't related to the word skills the app is intended to teach. There's no explanation of any of the word concepts. What is a diphthong? How does r control a vowel? The word sort ends up being an activity in which kids just match the letters in words to letters on the space path. Given the suffix -ion, for example, kids could just find the word ending with -ion (e.g., suction) and drag the suffix into place. No critical thinking or understanding is required. The tutorials are focused on explaining the intricate rules surrounding the logisitics of navigating the space path -- the arrows, stars, and machines -- and maneuvering the space crab along the path. The arcade gameplay is fun and challenging, once kids figure it out (see the Tips section in Settings), but the whole learning approach seems like an afterthought. The educational aspects of the game aren't explained, accessed legitimately, or tracked. Multiple user profiles track kids' progress but don't provide reports of skills mastered. The Tips section offers instructions for the arcade play of the game, but no information is included about the learning terms and concepts.

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