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Nico & Nor Coconut Star
Pros: Age-appropriate; plenty of support for teachers with unit and lesson plans; companion app is a sensible follow-up.
Cons: The only spoken and written language is English.
Bottom Line: Coconut Star, along with its companion app, are great additions to any pre-K–1 physical science unit.
Teachers can use Nico & Nor Coconut Star as a part of their force and motion curriculum. The developers provide excellent unit plans on their website and teacher app. Lessons are between five and 15 minutes in length -- just right for this age group. Teachers should realize that the app is by no means the centerpiece of instruction in the developer curriculum. Instead, students learn about force and motion with activities using teacher-guided movement and discussion. For instance, one lesson has students experimenting with little and big pushes using cubes on a rug. Another has students drawing and sharing how they observed moving objects. When Nico & Nor Coconut Star does come into play, it's used to reinforce learning that students have had through pushing, pulling, throwing, singing, and more.
Of course, teachers don't need to follow the developer's curriculum. Teachers can incorporate Nico & Nor Coconut Star as they see fit for individuals, as a center for small groups, or for the entire class.
Nico & Nor Coconut Star is a physics-based iOS app designed for early learners. Students begin with a boot that swings like a pendulum and must select a small, medium, or large force that will get the coconut to roll on top of a platform with a star on it. The character, Nico, models where learners should touch the screen on the first level. If the coconut goes too far or not far enough, students will be told to try something different or to use more or less force. Students are soon introduced to ramps of various inclines (the app uses the age-appropriate term "steep"). Students will also discover how smooth and bumpy surfaces affect how their coconut rolls. Levels progressively get more challenging but aren't adaptive. When students make mistakes, the app will give helpful advice, such as trying something different or using more force.
The developers have created a companion app, called Nico & Nor Ramps Journal, which students use to document their experience with rolling objects down real ramps. After taking a picture of the object (such as a soccer ball), they predict which ramp will move the object further. They then videotape the experiment and record results by dragging an icon of their object to show how far it went using each ramp. In the end, students compare their prediction with the results of their experiment. This helps youngsters gain some familiarity with the scientific method.
Nico & Nor Coconut Star could find a home in any force and motion curriculum for young learners. The app contains no distractions or artificial rewards; students will feel rewarded when they successfully use their knowledge of force and motion to complete each level. Touchscreen controls and navigation are a simple process. The app will provide students with simple feedback to help them succeed independently, but teachers shouldn't expect the app to adapt levels to student performance. Even with no adult guidance, students would likely increase their understanding of force and motion. Having the separate companion app helps keep things simple for kids, as they won't need to navigate any complicated menus or accidentally switch tasks. It also allows kids to journal their real-life experiments using simple digital tools.
The only language option is English. Nico & Nor Coconut Star could reach more students if it were available in more languages.