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Pros: Kids who like to build and test machines will be motivated to learn through trial and error.
Cons: Help and hints are minimal, which could cause frustration. Lacks background physics and engineering content.
Bottom Line: Most kids will need prior understanding of basic engineering and physics principles to enjoy this typical physics-based puzzler.
It could be fun to use the challenge mode of Apparatus as an opening activity at the start of the school year or prior to a physics-based unit. Have kids work in small groups to complete each challenge. Regroup as a class after the first few challenges and discuss group results and strategies. Use this as a way to introduce and discuss such concepts as unbalanced forces, gravity, and simple and compound machines. The more advanced levels are great for older kids. Finish the unit with the sandbox mode: Have kids work in groups to build the most creative machine. Kids can then share their creations with classmates or with the open community, but teachers should be sure to closely monitor that forum.
The goal of Apparatus is to get one or more marbles into a box by using movable wooden planks and immovable metal bars. Additional objects -- including batteries, wheels, and a hammer or wrench to attach pieces of wood -- come into play as the game progresses. Success is heavily based on using such physics concepts as gravity, momentum, and unbalanced forces. Luckily, kids aren't penalized for trying again and again until they succeed. There's also a sandbox mode where kids create their own puzzles and share them with an open community.
Kids can learn to apply principles of physics to build machines. They also learn to solve problems through trial and error, which is an extremely important lesson in science. Using such concepts as unbalanced forces, momentum, and gravity to get a marble into a box is an effective learning strategy. Even better is kids' ability to watch their machines in action, and to learn from failed attempts. The game doesn't guide or instruct kids with regard to physics and engineering principles, however. This means kids with no background in these disciplines could either succeed randomly and not understand what they're doing, or fail repeatedly and become frustrated. The game can be a fun way to practice mechanics, but teachers will need to do a lot of legwork first.