Shifu Plugo

Augmented reality app has appealing STEM puzzles, room to grow

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Price: Free, Paid
Platforms: Android, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch

Pros: Kids enjoy working together to solve various problems and puzzles with the physical Plugo Count and Link manipulatives.

Cons: There are limitations for classroom use plus some gameplay issues; activities could use a greater variety of math language; multiplication problems ask for the total instead of the product.

Bottom Line: Shifu Plugo is a good AR product that, with continued development, could be great for collaborative learning.

Teachers can use Shifu Plugo to have students play games to practice basic addition, subtraction, and multiplication facts as well as adding and subtracting numbers within 1,000. Yes, most kids would prefer these games over worksheets, but ultimately it's skill and drill. Most of the math games seem to be designed for the youngest learners, with questions like "What number is lower?" and "What number comes before?" and "How many mushrooms do you see?" K-2 students would likely enjoy the repetitive nature and pleasing visuals of these games. Teachers will find that questions appropriately increase in difficulty, and students will receive immediate feedback on whether they answered correctly. Although the games can be played individually, students will likely benefit from working with a partner to solve problems. 

You may notice your students gravitating toward the puzzle games, which are more likely to appeal to all K-4 learners. You'll watch students firing up their neurons using logic and working memory to solve these puzzles. In one game, students see an image that they must reconstruct with the Plugo Link. As students build, hints are accessible along the way. In another, they use the links to link rotating gears together or create a structure that helps move a pipe carrying water. There's also an activity that's a fun variation of a word find. Like the math activities, these games lend themselves to partner work. In this context, students will also practice their cooperative skills.

Shifu Plugo is an augmented reality (AR) app for Android and iOS that works with unique magnetic manipulatives and a gamepad. The gamepad has a magnetized playing area to place these special pieces. The Shifu Plugo app uses the device's camera to see the manipulatives as students play, matching their corresponding actions on the screen. The gamepad and pieces feel durable enough for classroom use, and the gamepad firmly grips the device placed inside it.

In Plugo Count, students place numbers up to three digits long on a small three-pronged play piece to answer questions. Each math game is relatively similar, using quality graphics and sound; several involve answering questions to move characters along in their journey. In Plugo Link, students use the magnetic hexagonal pieces to build structures that solve the on-screen puzzles. For example, each tile may represent a gear, which must be connected to a start and finish gear so that all gears rotate. There are other upcoming Shifu Plugo products, such as Letters and Tunes, which aren't a part of this review. 

Shifu Plugo Count and Link are good for learning but have room to grow. While the math is essentially skill and drill, the puzzles provide opportunities for students to build, experiment, and work on logic-related skills. Many teachers will appreciate that kids are mostly using real objects instead of a screen. One issue is a game where students solve basic math equations such as 3 + 5, 7 x 8, or 34 +97+ 64 (division, fractions, word problems, and more are under development). During multiplication problems, the astronaut asks for the "total" instead of the "product." Many teachers will consider this a grievous error. A smaller issue is that the astronaut's dialogue doesn't always match the captions, and sometimes contain code such as <br>, which may be confusing for some kids. Overall, there's a missed opportunity to use a breadth of math vocabulary. For instance, for 6 + 2, the question students hear might be "What is the total?" Supplying more types of questions, such as "What is the sum?" or "Six add two equals?" or "If the addends are six and two, what is the total?" -- or even "Six and two equals?" -- would give students more exposure to various math terms.

There are also a few gameplay issues. In some games, if players don't remove their pieces before the next question starts, the Shifu Plugo may get confused and score the student as incorrect. Getting the wrong answer this way may frustrate some players. An improvement would be to not transition to the next question until the Shifu sees that the digits are cleared.

Shifu Plugo has some limitations for classroom use. Teachers can select the operations they want students to use so that students can stay only within addition, subtraction, multiplication, or a combination of them. However, it seems possible to create only two different profiles. The profiles don't store student performance, so teachers won't be able to use it for assessment or track what students have accomplished. A similar issue is that there's no limit on the number of hints students can use -- and the hints give away the correct answer.

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Overall Rating

Currently, the math games will mostly appeal to younger learners, while kids of all ages will enjoy the other puzzles. Games often lend themselves to partner work where students can practice their cooperative skills.


The math games are a fun form of skill and drill but miss opportunities to build math vocabulary. The spatial-reasoning puzzles are solid and promote the use of logic and working memory.


The in-game hints will give students the answers and have unlimited uses. Other than this, the app does a good job of guiding setup and play, though a couple of games are a little more trial and error.

Common Sense reviewer
Shaun Langevin
Shaun Langevin Technology coordinator

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