I’ve written about Osmo several times in the past that it uses a base and a mirror to incorporate physical objects or analog designs into iPad apps that teach math, spelling, coding, and more. I’ve always loved the way the system allows kids to play with tangible objects, while harnessing the power (and the bells and whistles) of the software.
Two years ago, Osmo was acquired by Byju’s, an educational company that was looking to expand beyond India with more English content. They recently published BYJU Learning Suite, which combines BYJU Learning App featuring licensed Disney characters with magic workbooks powered by Osmo technology. The app offers five grade level options, from Kindergarten to Grade 3. I was sent a set of 3rd grade books to try with my daughter, as well as an app subscription.
The application itself can be used without the filing cabinets and the Osmo base. It’s subscription-based, at $ 9.99 per month or $ 99 per year. Each subscription allows up to 3 children to have profiles. The app allows you to scroll through various topics in English or Math, then within each topic you can choose various activities. Most include videos to watch – some also have interactive games or homework assignments, all guided by storytelling.
I was mainly interested in the learning suite, as the workbooks are the part that uses Osmo technology. There are several numbered workbooks available for math, language, and reading, with titles such as “Playing with Words” and “Shapes and Measure”. (I found it odd that the first two language books had numbers in the titles, “Have fun with the letters 1” and “Spell Well 2”, but none of the other books have numbers in the titles. )
The grade level kit is $ 199.99; in addition to the workbooks, it comes with a one-year subscription to the learning app, the Osmo base and reflector, and 3 WizPens used with the workbooks. (Kindergarten to Grade 1 kits also include 12 magical colored crayons, but since I was reviewing the Grade 3 kit, I didn’t have them.)
In case you aren’t already familiar with Osmo, there’s a base that holds the iPad upright at a slight angle, and then a piece that snaps onto the top of the iPad. the iPad to see the area directly in front of the base. Osmo apps use it to recognize the different components placed in it, from letter and number tiles to pizza making components to designs.
In the app, you tap the workbook icon on the top right and the screen will switch to portrait mode. A little girl named Jane appears and greets you, and gives you some instructions on how to do this: you place a Magic Workbook in front of the screen, open a spreadsheet, and the app recognizes the book and page you’re using. . (If you have seen Monster Osmo, you will be familiar with how the onscreen character Mo appears and talks to you, looks at your paper, etc.)
The worksheets are illustrated with various Disney characters, and Jane introduces each sheet, telling a little about that character’s story and associating it with the assignment. These are stories that are not printed on the worksheet itself. Often a story will be about a few worksheets, so there is a bit of continuity.
The worksheet is pictured on the screen (in Jane’s thought bubble) and she will stand up and watch as you fill in the things. When you’re done, you “tap” the purple button at the bottom of the page to see how you’ve done. (The app recognizes when the button is hidden, although we noticed some detection issues when my daughter was wearing purple nail polish.) If your answers are correct, Jane congratulates you; otherwise, Jane tells you where you might have gone wrong or points out incomplete sections and asks you to try again. (WizPens can be deleted.)
My daughter noticed – and played with – some of the limitations of machine vision. For example, for some sheets that require checking a box for a multiple choice question, she found that Jane doesn’t care if you use a check mark or a drawing or write a word down, but it still shows up. as a check mark on the screen. Some of the pages had mazes, and she noticed that if you stray too far from a line Jane can’t see the line and thinks you left a space – it was a little frustrating and my daughter must have go back and make corrections before Jane recognizes that she had completed the maze.
The app has a progress report button that shows the topics you’ve been working on, and a detailed report that shows which learning concepts have been included in the lessons you’ve completed. A general dashboard shows the number of topics covered, as well as a breakdown of the different types of activities (games, videos, books and songs). “Learn More” allows you to take a closer look at the reading, math, or worksheet to show which specific topics have been covered. And “Skills” gives a breakdown of the types of skills that were addressed in the activities.
The only weakness of the report is that “Worksheet” appears as its own categories and is only broken down into “math” and “reading”, and instead of showing you a “path” of topics, it shows the cover. of the workbook and tells you how many worksheets have been completed. It’s not even clear to me if the spreadsheet is factored into the skill allocation or if it only includes the app-related activities items only.
We found that my daughter enjoyed doing the worksheets overall and getting the story elements as she progressed. From my observation it seemed that the math worksheets were about the right level of difficulty – she needed to think through some of the questions but could answer them quickly; the language and the reading seemed too simple. For example, a task about identifying the word that belonged to the “word family” was to select which word had the same ending as “tin”: bin, sheen, teen or scene. My daughter has always been a pretty strong reader (plus we haven’t been to regular school for a year and a half now), so it’s hard for me to know for sure if this is really about ‘a third year job, but it seemed a bit easy for me.
My daughter also told me that Jane can be a bit annoying at times. I had the impression that Jane spoke like one would speak to a very small child. Even though she is described as a child herself, she gave the impression of an adult who doesn’t differentiate between talking to a three or ten year old, and I think my daughter felt condescending upside down when she had to sit down through explanations that already seemed obvious to her. Besides the fact that Jane only has a limited number of sentences to tell you that you did a good job, and her cheerful voice can get a bit old. I guess that can depend a lot on each child. You can ignore his introductions, but that also means you are ignoring the story elements as well.
I love that the worksheets give my daughter the chance to deepen her math and language skills on her own – she doesn’t have to wait for me or a teacher to check her answers before to be able to move on to the next activity, and she can also work at her own pace. The incorporation of Disney characters and stories is a good boost, especially since these aren’t just recap scenes from movies, but include original content.
With the different skill levels of kids, I think it would be nice if there was a way to do an assessment in the app before subscribing and then get workbooks related to current abilities your child – maybe you get grade 1 math but grade 3 reading for a grade 2 student who is a little behind in one area but advanced in another. It reminded me a bit of a story I just read in IA 2014, science fiction stories based on predictions of where artificial intelligence might be in twenty years. There was a story about how AI could be used in education, to handle some individualized tasks for students, for example, checking worksheets and giving feedback. Jane isn’t able to have an actual conversation with your kids, sure, but she allows kids to work at their own pace and continue without having to wait for a teacher or parent to write down each worksheet. before continuing.
Overall, I like the idea of BYJU’s Learning Suite, especially with physical workbooks, despite a few complaints here and there. I don’t think it’s ready to replace school (online or otherwise) yet, but it could be a good addition. I thought it would have been really nice to have something like this last year when schools were fully online and my daughter felt zoomed out – being able to do physical worksheets (and not having to just keep papers in front of the webcam) maybe a welcome change. I expect this technology to continue to develop and evolve, possibly becoming even more personalized in the future.
To learn more about BYJU’s learning suite, visit the BYJU learning website.