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Awesome New Apps for Building, Reading, X-Raying and More

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A review of our favorite educational apps released or updated in the past month. (Read all of our Educational Apps series.) Below you’ll find a mixture of iOS, Android, and Web-based apps.

MINECRAFT (POCKET EDITION). We've written before about the educational potentials of Minecraft, the open-ended, world-building game. November marked a couple of important milestones: After being in alpha and then beta since 2009, the game had its official version 1.0 release this month. Minecraft also (finally) released an iOS app (iTunes). The "pocket edition" of Minecraft is missing a lot of the features of the PC version -- there is no mining and no crafting, for example. But the main function is there: You can still build structures in an incredibly creative and fun way. (iOS, $6.99)

uTALES. Like a library card you pay for, uTales offers a subscription service for digital picture books, such as The Ugly Duckling and Aesop's Fine Life for a Mouse. The startup offers Web and iOS apps for users to access e-books for $9.99 per month. That affords you unlimited access to the titles written and illustrated by a community of a 1,000 members. As Daniel Donahoo writes on Wired's GeekDad blog, uTales taps into its subscriber base to help crowdsource the types of stories that uTales should publish. "It is an interesting concept," Donahoo writes, "one step away from the growing number of iPad app bookstores out there. Worth considering, or at least trying out if you find yourself reaching for the tablet at bedtime." (Web, iOS, free app w/ monthly subscription)

KINDERTOWN. Kindertown aims to answer what is becoming a more common question among parents and educators: how do you find good educational apps? Kindertown is an app store (within the iTunes app store) that curates content aimed at kids ages 3 to 6 (iTunes). The app allows you to filter your search by platform (iPhone or iPad, for example), age-appropriateness, subject matter (such as math or language arts) and price. Once you find the app you're looking for, Kindertown will then prompt the iTunes App Store to open so you can download it. (Free, iOS)

AUDUBON BIRDS: A FIELD GUIDE. The National Audubon Society has updated the iOS version of its bird-watching field guide (iTunes). The app offers a number of new features, including eBird, the ability to locate birds in real-time based on recent sightings, locations of rare birds and maps to all the birding hotspots across North America. The app also offers a journal feature so that birdwatchers can track what they've seen and where. To help with identification, the app offers a rich image library with over 3000 images that help you recognize birds by gender, age and plumage. (iOS, $14.99)


X IS FOR X-RAY. As the title suggests, X is for X-ray (iTunes) is an e-book app that offers an X-ray view of everyday objects from A to Z. The app is made by Touch Press, the same company that made the popular Elements iPad app. The app is based on the X-ray photography of Hugh Turvey, Artist in Residence at the British Institute of Radiology. The photographs can be zoomed in on, rotated, and viewed in 3D. (iOS, $2.99)

GARAGEBAND. GarageBand has long been one of Apple's most popular educational titles, allowing users to play digital pianos, organs, guitars, drums, and basses. GarageBand has been available on the Mac but was released as an iPad app in conjunction with the release of the iPad 2. But up until now, it hasn't been available on the device that's far more likely to be in the hands of young children -- the iPod Touch. Apple updated GarageBand this month (iTunes) so that the music-making app can now do just that -- make music on iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch. If you've already purchased GarageBand for one of your iOS devices, the app will transfer to your others. (iOS, $4.99)

NOODLE WORDS. Noodle Words helps explain word meanings to children ages 4 to 7. The app (iTunes) is the creation of Mark Schlichting, well-known for his Living Books multimedia series. Noodle Words animates the different words in the apps ("spin" spins, for example) to help boost vocabulary. (iOS, $.99)

BATTLESHIP. This iOS version of Battleship is based on the pen-and-paper version of the game (which Milton Bradley eventually turned into a plastic ship and then electronic battleship game. (Ah, memories). The iOS version (iTunes) isn't created by Milton Bradley but it does allow you to play against others via Bluetooth or Apple's Game Center. (iOS, $.99)

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