Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Review of Okta's Rescue - NCTM Illuminations

Okta's Rescue is produced by NCTM – essentially porting over an activity from their Illuminations website  – and it's free!

This app will support children in developing skills and fluency in counting, recognizing numerals, subitizing (counting groups automatically), recognizing odd and even numbers, and even addition and subtraction (as a children try to figure out how many more Oktas they need to collect on a second pass).  

Before using Oktas Rescue a child should first have mastered numerals and number words and be able to count physical objects accurately and efficiently.

Playing the game:
The game is simple – the player (child) is asked to capture a given number of Oktas (Octopus) and then click on  a pipe to suck them up (rescue them?). To capture the Oktas you draw a region around them – but you don’t have to capture them all at once you can continue to add Oktas until you believe that you have capture the required number. You repeat the process as many times as you can before a timer runs out.

The good:
The presentation of the captured Oktas in an organized form helps children to count by twos, and builds up their ability to discern larger sets of numbers with a quick glance.

The process to capture Oktas involves outlining a region using your finger (and although you get some funky pinched regions sometimes, the process works surprisingly well most of the time) . 

Option to turn on target – shows an outline of the number of Oktas that need to be rescued.    This supports children in building fluency with counting organized sets of numbers and recognizing odd and even numbers.

Custom settings allows parent or teacher to adjust the difficulty of the challenge to meet the needs of the child.

Presentation is interesting and engaging without too many extra details to distract (except timer ticking down)

You can turn the sound effects on or off.   And the sound effects provide some useful feedback (success or failure to capture the right number of Oktas)

Some Frustrations:
If you select too many Oktas you are stuck – I cant seem to deselect any. 

When you go to flush the Oktas away (suck them up?) if you have the wrong number waiting above the tube – they slide sideways instead of down when you open it – this form of feedback will be a bit too subtle for some kids (the sound effect is more effective). 

The timer – having a timer tick off  in front of you can be distracting.  Granted the app is designed to help children develop efficient counting skills, but  I am not a fan of counters adding stress to a game.  Some children may overfocus on the timer and end up performing poorly and gain nothing for their time.  An alternative would be to present 10 screens/challenges and report both the accuracy in terms of the number captured and the speed.

The instructions/help screens are extremely limited – it would be nice to have a page somewhere that explained why we were moving the Oktas over to an area where they are sucked away.  How is this related to saving them?

The region selection tool appears to degrade over time – to the point that sometimes the region just doesn’t show at all.  Some might count this as a feature – but really it appears to be a glitch – shutting it down and restarting (in OS 5.0) seems to restore the feature to its original form.

There is no record keeping or user names so the parent or teacher must observe the child as they play (or immediately after they finish a round) the app in order to assess them.   

My list of frustrations is a bit long, and I hope they might be helpful to the designers of the app if they choose to generate a second version - but don't let it dissuade you from downloading this app.

Although the app has some quirks and limitations, I believe that Okta's Rescue is a worthy app providing a sound learning experience for children.

Watching a child play with this game will give a parent or child an idea of how well the child has mastered number words, symbols, counting, subitizing, and even addition and subtraction to a degree.  

Learning can be enhanced by asking the child to describe what they see on the screen and to share their strategies.  Mastery should always be the primary goal - if the child is struggling - it might be best to move back to counting sets of physical objects for a while.