Acrobots

App review by
Debbie Gorrell, Common Sense Media
Acrobots App Poster Image
Easy interactive physics tool lacks depth and focus.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this app.

Educational Value

Kids can learn how various factors affect moving objects. They can use a slider tool to change factors such as gravity, speed, balance, and size and then observe how these changes affect interactions among figures called acrobots. There also are eight preset combinations of factors that kids can select. The idea behind this tool is intriguing, but it falls short as a fully engaging tool and solid learning resource. There aren't any descriptions of the factors that can be adjusted. Though some are self-explanatory, kids may be left wondering what "stickiness" and "detail" mean. Because it was really meant for entertainment, it also lacks learning goals, so many kids likely will play around with the settings and make observations without understanding any of the physics concepts at play. With solid grown-up guidance, Acrobots might have more significant learning potential, but through casual observation and play, kids might not pick up much.

Ease of Play

It's very easy to tap and change settings. Instructions are lacking, so kids will have to discover some of the features, such as the ability to drag and shake the acrobots, on their own.

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What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Acrobots is an interactive tool based on physics concepts. Kids can drag figures, called acrobots, around the screen and watch them interact with other acrobots. Kids also can change settings to observe how various factors such as gravity affect the movement of the acrobots. It's entertaining for a while, but the shallow experience will leave kids and parents wanting more.

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What's it about?

ACROBOTS is very easy to use. At the start, a number of colorful acrobots appear on the screen. Icons for making changes are in the upper-left corner of the screen, but they are a bit difficult to see against the black background. Kids can tap a plus sign to add and a minus sign to take away acrobots. They can tap the lightbulb to change the screen from black to blue and the acrobots to all black. By tapping the bull's-eye icon, kids can access settings for eight factors and eight preset combinations of factors. Factors include size, gravity, balance, stickiness, atmosphere, speed, legs, and detail. Kids can use their fingers to stack or drag acrobots around. They also can shake their devices to randomly scatter the acrobots.

Is it any good?

Acrobots gives kids an opportunity to experiment and observe the effects of natural phenomena on moving objects in a virtual setting. Though it's truly only for entertainment, it also uses actual physics concepts, which confuses its intent a bit. There's actually a lot of potential for kids to learn, but very little learning support is built in. It's a good conversation starter, but be prepared to do a lot of the legwork to get kids to think about what they're doing and how it relates to science.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the different available settings. Work together to figure out what some of the more ambiguous settings, such as stickiness and detail, mean.

  • Have kids use a journal to record the settings they adjust and how this affects the movements of the acrobots.

  • Discuss real-world examples of the physics concepts. Ask questions such as, "How does speed affect the motion of two cars that collide?"

App details

For kids who love physics

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