Monday, January 16, 2012

Magic School Bus: The Future of E-Learning

My first-grader was excited to use a coupon at his school's paperback bookstore the other day, and I stopped him. He had in his hands a copy of The Magic School Bus: On the Ocean Floor, and I, as if moving in slow motion, pointed back toward the bright yellow bookshelf and told him to pick another book. I was experiencing a complete out-of-body moment, hearing my voice from some far away place tell him, "We can download this book. It will be way better on the iPad."

And it is.

Bypassing a paper book for a digital one is still a new thing to me. And I am squeamish about it sometimes, fearing that my favorite neighborhood haunt, 57th Street Books, will disappear because I opt for an app instead of a former tree. So moments like the one at my son's school make me itchy.

But let's face it, digital books can do things that paper cannot. And in some realms, such as the informative, nonfiction picture book world where Magic School Bus dominates, the digital version is unbeatable. One look at the Oceans app, and the future of e-learning becomes clear.

The first real interactivity comes when young readers tap the bubbling water near an illustration of a sea urchin. A screen rolls down, and quick-hit bulleted points about sea urchins appear beneath a short video clip of an actual sea urchin. Budding naturalists can watch a spiny purple creature scoot along the ocean floor -- not just an artist's rendering of it, but actual undersea footage.

Interactive games demonstrating how various sea life swims teach the difference between a whale's means of locomotion vs. a squid's vs. a jellyfish's. Detailed photographs of sea stars, limpets, periwinkles, and others offer real-life examples of sea animals kids might not otherwise get to know. More video clips of flounder drifting among rocks drive home the benefits of camouflage.

Aside from showing kids the habitats and behaviors of undersea life, as well as showing phenomena like hot water vents and ocean waves, the app offers a variety of entry points for literacy learning. The read-along narration illuminates each word in red as it is spoken. Little fingers can tap the dialogue bubbles and hear the kids and Ms. Frizzle ask questions or comment on the scene as they read the words in the speech bubble. Whether a pre-reader or a confident one, the app is accessible to many levels.

Priced at $7.99, $1 more than the paperback, this book is packed with opportunities for interactive, exciting learning. Consider it a kid-friendly Jacques Cousteau adventure, right at young readers' fingertips. Magic School Bus: Oceans presents the best digital media has to offer young learners. Worth checking out immediately.


  1. Kate, in your last paragraph you say "this book" is a dollar more than the paperback, and I wonder whether you used that phrase intentionally instead of "this app." I'm not objecting--just pointing out the ways we are coming to accept that "books" some in many forms.

  2. Oh, I think my daughter would LOVE this. We got the Grover book "The Monster At The End Of This Book" as an iPad app. I loved that book as a kid, but I have to say the app is hilarious. My 2 and 4-year-old can't get enough of it. It's interactive and I like how it highlights the words as they are read. I have to believe that helps with word recognition.

  3. I wish I had an iPad! There's some truly amazing stuff out there!

  4. Love the story Kate. I am researching for a presentation on the future of learning. It's stories like this that really capture what it's all about.
    Do you mind if I retell it?
    If you get a chance, have a look at this youtube clip on the same topic.
    "A Magazine Is an iPad That Does Not Work.m4v"

  5. The magic school bus is an excellent way to learn. Useful information