Review by Jenny Bristol, Common Sense Education | Updated November 2013

TheBlu

Stunning ocean environment but a lack of learning content

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Teachers say (1 Review)
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Grades
7-12 This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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5 images

Pros: It's got great style and a wide range of wildlife to see.

Cons: A lack of initial content forces users to use the social sharing options or spend, and there's not much to do.

Bottom Line: Despite a great message, cool concept, and awesome visuals, the learning content is limited, and social networking and up-selling too often intrude.

TheBlu is best experienced individually, but a single classroom computer could hold a class shared habitat. Students could casually explore and curate a habitat in their free time, much like a classroom aquarium. Teachers can challenge students to collect facts about specific fish and plants and to translate this information into a more formalized research project. Note that the need to purchase a larger range of fish, plants, and habitats limits content and coverage. There's also the opportunity to get students thinking about virtual currency and online privacy, but this would need to be supplemented with outside resources since TheBlu is merely an example for discussion and doesn't aim to teach students about these issues. 

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TheBlu allows students to explore a 3-D ocean observing and collecting fish, plants, and other sea creatures. The ocean is divided into different habitats populated by other users' fish, but students can also curate a private zone featuring only their fish. While moving through the ocean, students can click on interesting things they see, learn a little bit about those things, and find out the names and locations of the users who "own" those fish. There's an astounding diversity of ocean life to see, but information is limited and many creatures and plants must be purchased with real money or credits earned by spreading the word on Facebook. 

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There's some engaging information here, and the environment is nice to look at, but ultimately the learning is so limited and ineffective that it feels more like a novelty than a classroom-ready experience. There's a general lack of consistency and depth that makes education integration feel like an afterthought. For instance, a clownfish's information might cover food, while a hammerhead shark's information might be about habitat. The amount of content available to new users is also lacking, and users must spend money to unlock new fish or earn credits by sharing the game with friends and family through Facebook or email. Though beautifully designed, TheBlu is ultimately more of an interactive screensaver and light social networking activity than an engaging educational experience. It also forces students and teachers to wrestle with issues of online privacy and virtual currency, which can lead to good discussion but can also be a hassle. 

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Overall Rating
2

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?
3

The great visuals and premise seem engaging initially; however, the lack of player control, input, or choice beyond buying new creatures leaves much to be desired.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?
1

With interesting but brief bits of information, there is some learning to be had. However, with no context or reinforcement, kids must dig deep to learn a lot.

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

TheBlu is not intuitive, and almost no directions are given. Most of the support helps users make purchases.


Common Sense Reviewer
Jenny Bristol Homeschooling parent

Teacher Reviews

1
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Featured review by
Matt H. , Other
Other
North Allegheny School District
Pittsburgh, PA
1
Great visual representations, but offers an extremely limited opportunity for learning to occur.

Overall, I believe that this program could be used as an instructional tool to support a lesson or learning activity. However, I would not focus my lesson or activity around the use of this tool. For example, when talking about oceans, I would use TheBlu as a visual representation of what animals/habitats look like. I would do this because the program does provide nice graphic visual representations that will capture the attention of students.

However, this interest will soon be lost if students are required to use the program themselves. Ultimately, this tool serves the purpose of a virtual field trip to the oceans, with little or no learning opportunities provided for students.

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