Namoo – Wonders of Plant Life (for iPad)

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Namoo – Wonders of Plant Life ($3.99) hits all the right chords for an educational iPad app introducing elementary-school students to plant physiology. It's informative, it's interactive, and it includes gorgeous graphics that show the different parts of a plant and how they function. Namoo should whet the interest of budding botanists in (as the app's name suggests) the wonders of plant life, and it's worthy of an Editors' Choice award for educational iPad apps.

Namoo is compatible with the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch. I tested it with an iPad Air 2, taking advantage of that tablet's relatively large screen to display the app's beautiful graphics. It's also available as an Android app.

Namoo is easy to navigate. At the center of the Home screen is a slowly rotating 3D rendition of a tree, with a cutaway view of the ground showing its roots. You can speed or slow the rotation by tapping on the tree animation, but it's there purely for decoration. In each corner of the screen is an illustration of a different part of a plant: flower, leaf, root, and trunk—this the visual menu for navigating to the meat of the app. Tapping the flower enlarges it and takes you to a section titled From Flowers to Fruits. Touching the leaf takes you to a page with four sections: Leaf, Leaf Anatomy, Plant Cell, and Photosynthesis. Subjects under the root are Types of Roots and Root Tips, and under the trunk are Trunk and Stem.

Each section explores one or two basic concepts related to the part of the plant indicated by the label. For instance, the Leaf section introduces photosynthesis and transpiration, including a brief introduction. In this case, for example, it says, "Leaves use the sun to transform water and carbon dioxide into organic nutrients and oxygen. Plants adapt to the air temperature by evaporating water." This section includes two sliders, one to show the effect of temperature on these processes. The other, shows the effects of the change from day to night. Other sections have interactive functions that are launched by touching or swiping the screen. For instance, in the section on root tips, you can swipe the screen to water the root.

At the screen's lower left are two buttons. One contains an icon showing three stacked horizontal lines representing lines of text. Touching it takes you to a textual description, augmented by illustrations, of the current section. For example, if you're on one of the pages on roots, touching the button calls up a descriptive page called Types of Roots, which covers not only the four types of roots (conical roots, taproots, fibrous roots, and tuberous roots) highlighted in the section, but also discusses several additional root types. The other button, which shows a label, toggles on and off labels identifying various features in the illustrations.

At the upper left of the screen is a Home button. Navigation in the app is forward only; you can't go back to the previous screen (except by starting over), and the Namoo experience could be greatly improved by adding a back arrow. Still, from the Home screen, any page in the app is only few screens away, so it's not a huge problem.

Conceptually, Namoo bears some resemblance to the iCell app, which shows 3D representations of a generic plant cell, animal cell, and bacterium. It labels various cell features, and discusses these components and their function. Namoo, which is geared to children aged 9 to 11, is more elegantly designed and provides a smoother user experience. It contains slightly more information than iCell, but still can only provide an overview of the basics of its subject matter.

For that reason, the one other feature I would very much like to see in future versions of the app is suggestions for further reading. If Namoo is used in a classroom, a teacher might provide this guidance, but that's no help to the homeschooled students or to curious kids investigating the natural world on their own.

Namoo – Wonders of Plant Life uses beautiful, interactive graphics and engaging descriptions to introduce elementary-school students to the life of plants. Although geared to students of ages 9 to 11, the material should be engaging to older students, even adults. As an educational app with a winning combination of good descriptive text, beautiful illustrations, and interactive graphics controlled by sliders or swiping the screen in providing a solid overview of plant physiology, Namoo earns an Editors' Choice award for educational iPad apps.

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