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Years ago when I was a first grade teacher, I was always trying to plan creative ways to teach my students about fire safety during National Fire Prevention Week. I had favorite books for read-alouds and an entire folder of fun activities featuring Sparky, the fire hat wearing Dalmatian that I hoped would teach important lessons that would help them stay safe. Every day that my students came in to the classroom for National Fire Prevention Week, they expected to do something fire-safety related with Sparky.
Created as the mascot for the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in 1951, Sparky is a symbol that my students loved and came to associate with fire safety through their worksheets. These days Sparky has gone digital and the new The Case of the Missing Smoke Alarms (free for iOS and Android devices through iTunes and Google Play) app is designed to empower a new generation of kids to learn about fire safety with their favorite Dalmatian with play on a mobile device.
Designed for ages 6-8, this easy to navigate app would be appropriate even for younger ages. Two options on the home screen direct kids to Read the Story or Play the Game.
About The Case of the Missing Smoke Alarm
The story of The Case of the Missing Smoke Alarms is a Scooby-Doo type mystery that begins outside Aunt Dotty’s house when Owen, Rosalie, Nina, and Sparky see an intruder running off with balloons and a cake who also happens to drop a smoke alarm. Upon entering the house, the gang notices clues involving smoke alarms. The text reinforces the importance of smoke alarms and eventually, the clues help them solve the mystery! Sorry, no spoilers but parents will appreciate that on one page, Sparky even says “zoinks” like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo does!
Educational value of The Case of the Missing Smoke Alarm
As a former teacher who spent many years evaluating software for a large DC Metro school system, I have a pretty critical eye when it comes to educational apps for kids but found The Case of the Missing Smoke Alarms story to be thoughtfully designed for educational purposes.
I appreciated the differentiated learning opportunities for various levels of readers. The Read the Story feature has an option to read the story independently or have it read to them by tapping on the speaker button to the right of the text. Beginning readers who tap on the speaker button can hear the story read to them as text is highlighted. Not only does this assist emerging readers in following the story but it also aids in their development of sight-word vocabulary to read words that occur most often in text (often referred to as high frequency words) faster.
While there is no replay button for younger kids to hear the text repeated, it’s easy enough for them to scroll back a page using the left arrow at the upper left corner of the screen and forward again to hear it read again. I only wish that the text was a tiny bit bigger on smartphones! I think an iPad Mini or Galaxy Tab would be optimal for viewing text at a size that doesn’t strain young eyes.
Tapping on the pages of the digital book also reveals other surprises for kids to keep them engaged. Younger ages might just tap around but older children will notice the sparkles that guide them to find all of the fire safety tips in the 24 screen story.
The digital book ends positively reinforcing all that has been learned through the story.
The Case of the Missing Smoke Alarms also features an interactive game where kids tap the screen to fly Sparky to collect batteries for his smoke alarm. Kids can unlock additional levels by solving some basic addition and subtraction problems and word problems too.
Game play could be tricky for ages younger than the intended audience of 6-8 year olds because of the math problems but also because of the coordination it requires to fly Sparky to collect batteries. I’d love to see a version of the app for younger ages with a shorter story, larger text, and a game that incorporates the smartphone’s built in accelerometer for tilt-to-play game play.
Through the app, kids can also access the music video, What’s That Sound by Recess Monkey that plays throughout the game. Additional music videos featuring Steve aka SteveSongs from PBSKids.org can be found on the Sparky School House website and through video channels like SchoolTube and YouTube for classroom and home access.
Sparky School House is also a treasure trove for lesson plans on important fire safety topics for teachers and homeschooling families with kids in grades PreK-3. Lessons are aligned with Common Core State Standards and include guides to help kids follow the choreography in the videos.
Additional educational fire safety resources and activities for families
- Sparky’s Birthday Surprise App- Another digital book in app form that teaches the importance of fire safety skills. Free for iOS and Android.
- Sparky’s Match Game– Kids are instructed to listen for the sound of the smoke alarm and click on the door while playing a Memory type-matching game. The ease of game play makes it easy for preschoolers to learn about the importance of leaving the house when the smoke alarm goes off.
- Downloadable printable worksheets- From helpful tools like the Home Fire Escape Plan Grid and the Home Safety Checklist to fun activities like the Kitchen Safety Hidden Pics, Sparky.org features age appropriate printables for home and school use.
- Rescue Dogs, Firefighting Heroes, and Science Facts eBook is free to download as a PDF, iOS, through Amazon Apps, or for Nook and Kobo readers.
I was compensated for my time in reviewing The Case of the Missing Smoke Alarms but all opinions are my own. Images courtesy of the National Fire Protection Association.