Comets is a tightly focussed app and should be viewed as part of a bundle of apps that can be bought as needed to form a complete astronomy package. In itself, it is quite a short app and this is reflected in its price, although you may still feel a little surprised at how quickly its full content is viewed.
The science of comets is explained in a written section that strikes a good balance between covering the information and being readable by children. By necessity of the subject matter, there may be a few words that are unfamiliar or seem technical but they are easily understood in context.
The app has clearly been updated to keep abreast of recent events with the Philae Lander but this has introduced an unfortunate contradiction in the text. It talks of both the lander reaching the comet in the future and yet also refers to it in the past tense, with a description of the landing. This app was produced in 2014 before the probe landed. Therefore, the voiceover is in the future tense, not the past. This could easily be fixed but as it stands it is quite glaring.
The next section is a well-produced animation that talks the user through what comets are and the history of how we know what we do know about them. It is very nicely produced with clear narration, a consistent and polished aesthetic and some interesting facts. Its quirky style injects humour into the experience but may be a little distracting in its abstract nature for others. For example, when referring to junk in space, a shopping trolley makes an appearance. Clearly, this is a jokey representation but for some, it might be a little too surreal for an education app.
An excellent use for this video would be for a teacher to show it on a class display as an introduction to an appropriate lesson. It will provide easily understood facts for children to build on in discussion and future work on the subject.
The third section of the app uses on-screen flashcards. Children can use these to learn and remind themselves about comets in bite-sized chunks. They are easy to quickly scroll through and, again, well-written for the target audience.
Finally, there is a multiple choice quiz. Each answer is marked immediately and presents some extra feedback alongside its response to the user’s answer. There are only 6 questions which are enough to check that children have understood the app’s content but will limit its long-term use.
Users of this app must remember that what it offers is choice. Its content could have been joined with the other astronomy based ones from the developer for a higher price, but by splitting those up, users can just have the one section useful to them. This does make it feel a little thin on content but a short children’s book containing the same information, but without the fun animation, would cost more.
Teachers and parents looking for something to feed a child’s interest in astronomy should test the water with this app and then look to expand the experience with the others once they see the response to it.