Macworld's 2011 App Gems Awards

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App Gems: Top education apps

The iPad has been making in-roads in the classroom ever since its 2010 debut. If Apple’s tablet is going to continue progressing to the head of the class, it will be with apps like our two favorite educational offerings leading the way.

Toontastic

An iPad app from Launchpad Toys, Toontastic is a creative learning tool aimed at the younger set (ages 4 through 7 for some of the app’s categories, and 8 through 10 for others). It’s obvious when you launch Toontastic that kids will have fun with it for a moment. What’s not so obvious is how they can lose themselves in the app and their imaginations—and they’ll be eager to share their creations with you. The app playfully walks young animators through the process of creating full cartoon stories. They pick the setting, the characters, and the soundtrack, and they can record the characters’ dialogue, too. All told, Toontastic is a brilliantly executed app that keeps kids entertained, and fully engaged to boot.—Lex Friedman

Virtual History Roma

Older students—or anyone with an interest in history, really—can enjoy an immersive experience of their own with Virtual History Roma. A kind of e-textbook from Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, Virtual History offers a lot of interesting data on emperors, battles, daily life, and other facts about Roman civilization. But instead of simply relying on text, the app incorporates images, graphics, and other visual techniques to make that information spring to life. Hold your iPad out and spin around to get a 360-degree view of Imperial Rome. A rotating 3D cutaway gives you an up-close look at the Colosseum. Overlays superimpose the architecture of ancient times on top of the streets of today. It’s an inventive way of conveying information that illustrates the new ways the iPad can help us learn.—Philip Michaels

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