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Aardman's Full Steam Ahead edu-app shows great promise, early flaws

You know Aardman Animations, don't you? Cheese? Gromit? Were-Rabbits? They've teamed with the Science Museum and Brunel's ss Great Britain to create Full Steam Ahead, a free educational app that teaches children about ship design.

In each stage of the app, you're presented with a basic design. It's up to you to iteratively improve that design -- whether for load bearing or stability, and so forth -- to learn about a basic underlying engineering concept.

It's a brilliant idea and beautifully presented, but it's one that's showing quite a lot of early instability. In my testing, it repeatedly crashed on a clean, rebooted iPad. I was able to re-launch and pick up my exploration, but the sheer number of crashes really got on my nerves.

Being a developer, I connected my iPad to Xcode to see why this was happening. It turned out that the app was constantly being warned of excessive memory use and being terminated by the system watchdog. In addition to these crashes, the app would move really slowly at times and get caught up in lengthly transitions as the app "built" the ship to test.

Apart from these complaints, I very much liked this game. It provides exactly the educational experience of learning by doing, offering just enough in the way of tips (for example, pointing out that the student's focus should be on modifying the shape of the hull) to keep a student engaged.

While the vocabulary, overly fussy fonts and small text size might prove challenging to elementary school students (not to mention their myopic parents), I think Full Steam Ahead is a great match to any middle schooler, especially those with an inclination towards pursuing design and engineering.

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