A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this app.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Our Choice is a book by Al Gore about climate change policy with beautiful images and animated graphics, but that it is generally written for an older audience. The app updates his 2009 book of the same title, and all profits go to a nonprofit organization founded by Al Gore. The content focuses on big-picture issues such as world population, the economics and science of various energy sources, and the politics of making governments take action. There is one chapter on recycling and energy efficiency at home, but this text emphasizes what we can do as a group more than individual steps. While some parts read like a textbook, there is a deliberate agenda and a political tone. The text is accompanied by many high-quality pictures and animated graphics with a wealth of information, particularly about the United States. For example, teens can see their state's capacity for geothermal, solar, or wind energy. The app uses adult vocabulary, including specific scientific and economic terms. Some sensitive images and issues are mentioned, including abortion and war. Despite the emphasis on girls' education, almost all of the voice-over speakers and profiled innovative thinkers are men, which may reinforce stereotypes about women and science. Because of the app's size, you will need to download it while you have access to a WiFi network or from your iTunes account.
Is it any good?
OUR CHOICE is an innovative improvement on standard textbooks and e-books, with a relatively easy interface. By presenting an e-book as an app, Al Gore can include stunning photos, graphics, and videos that present tons of information in creative ways. For example, teens will connect with the videos like the one about William Kamkwamba, who built a wind turbine with spare parts when he was 14 to power a single light bulb in his home in Malawi. Compared to other apps, though, this is heavy on one-way transfer of information by an author/narrator, rather than true two-way or networked interaction to facilitate learning and response. (One exception is the memorable wind turbine graphic that spins in response to blowing on the iPad microphone.) The information is very current, including a photo of the nuclear reactors in Fukushima, Japan.
If you and your teen are interested in climate change, this is a great app to explore together as there will be a lot to learn for both of you. However, while the author is up-front about his agenda, the political tone may deter some learners. Also, some standard e-book features like searching are missing. However, the platform seems like a good sign of things to come.
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