Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Improve your visual/spatial skills with Dragon Shapes: Geometry Challenge


Bottom Line: Creative take on tangrams, with an engaging storyline to pull in all types of kids. A must-have for kids from 5-10 to improve visual-spatial skills and geometric relationships.

If you'd like to download Dragon Shapes (iPad/iPhone, free with in-app purchase), please use this link to show Smart Apps for Special Needs some love:

App-Warning-Buttons-NO-ADS-(100x100) App-Warning-Buttons-NO-ADS-(100x100) App-Warning-Buttons-NO-ADS-(100x100)What's free: Level 1, with 14 puzzles.
What's not free: the remaining 36 puzzles, available with an in-app purchase of $2.99.

Every once in awhile, I review an app that makes me smile from the moment I start. Dragon Shapes: Ds1 Geometry Challenge, by Lighthouse Learning, caused that reaction for me. Not only is the interface easy to use and engaging, but the topic itself is also a creative look at learning shapes and developing visual-spatial skills.

Dragon Shapes opens with an animated story. After listening to the story, the puzzles start. All levels include an info screen before starting the puzzle, demonstrating the specific skill to be used (such as dragging a shape, rotating a shape or combining shapes to make a picture) or teaching more about the shapes. (“Remember, a triangle has 3 sides.”)

The puzzles themselves are like tangrams, and include titles such as “The Art of the Square,” “The Mysterious Butterfly,” and “The Trapezoid Sailboat.” This info on the title screen helps prepare the user to visualize the shapes together, not just as individual pieces.

Ds2As the user traverses the path, the puzzles get more complicated. Never fear, though — there are hints available in any level. One feature of the app I love is that these hints are not immediately available. This delayed prompting helps facilitate the user first thinking about the problem, without immediately defaulting to the easy way out. This pause happens after every hint, too — a new hint is available when the light bulb in the upper right corner lights up. These hints make all levels accessible to a wide variety of learners, too — those who might need a little assistance to get started, along with those who can solve them all with just a little brain power.

The pieces themselves are brightly colored, and oriented off of the puzzle in a variety of ways, requiring Ds3 the user to manipulate them just as would be done in an actual tangram puzzle. The creative names of each puzzle engage the child to think about how shapes fit together, too. Who doesn’t want to make a pentagon turtle, after all?

My visual-spatial skills grew while I was working through these levels. I now know how five equilateral triangles can work together to make one pentagon. Sure, this might be basic for those of you with strong visual skills, but for those of us who might normally fail at things like reading a map and fitting pieces together, this is a great learning tool for understanding geometric relationships.

At the very beginning, and then after every chapter (about 13 levels), a story is told about a brave warrior and his attempt to find where the dragon has gone. This is a chance to see the shape puzzles in action, and it holds the interest of younger learners, too. I’ve tried many times to get my kids interested in tangram puzzles, but they’ve mostly resisted. After playing once and getting involved in the story, my 9-year-old son said, “Oh, the puzzle game! Those are great, even though some of them are hard. Can I work on that one for you?” (I then had to steal the iPad back to finish this review!)

Ds4The only feature keeping this from being a 5-star app for me is that the text on each intro screen is not read aloud.  Words like “quadrilateral” and “trapezoid” might not be easily understood by the younger kids who play this app, or by those who struggle with reading.

Even so, Dragon Shapes: Geometry Challenge is a must-have for educators and parents, especially those in the target range of 6-10 years old. However, even younger kids will benefit from learning how shapes fit together, and with a little parent support can learn to manipulate the shapes. With 50 puzzles in all, from easy to difficult, this app definitely comes out on top.

 Heather H. has little geometric relationships understanding. That's her excuse for her messy desk, at least. was paid a priority review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.

Originally posted on Smart Apps for Kids

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