Digital Reading Room: Breaking it down

[As tablets get more powerful, with more memory and sharper-looking screens, their apps are getting a makeover. Increasingly, mobile apps employ multimedia—combining words, pictures, audio, and video—in new and interesting ways. In our Digital Reading Room series, we’ll look at some eye-catching multimedia apps and tell you which ones deserve a place on your mobile device.]

The wait will soon be over for fans of Breaking Bad, who can get set for Sunday night’s premiere episode with the help of an enhanced iBook. In less welcome returns, Congress will be back in session a month from now, but a pair of history apps aimed at students deserve a high approval rating.

Breaking Bad: Alchemy

Even dedicated fans of Breaking Bad may not have noticed many of the innovative cinematographic techniques used throughout the series; Breaking Bad: Alchemy describes and demonstrates many of them.

Breaking Bad enters the second half of its final season Sunday, and in the eight remaining episodes, we’ll learn the fates of Jesse, Hank, Saul, and others among the still-living friends, foes, and relatives of Walter White. (We’ll also learn who is a friend of the mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher, aka Walt, turned meth kingpin, aka Heisenberg). To prep for the end, you could binge view the previous 62 episodes. Alternatively, you can read and view Breaking Bad: Alchemy, an enhanced iBook.

On a surface level, Breaking Bad: Alchemy provides a well-packaged, detailed overview of the series to date. But its real value lies in the hundreds of behind-the-scenes details provided by series creator Vince Gilligan and executive producer and director Michelle MacLaren, as well as other crew members including the series’ costume designer, prop master, special effects coordinator, and head cinematographer. Most, if not all pages in the book include one or more interactive elements, including 360-degree set views, short videos of key moments, stunning full-screen images, audio commentary, and pop-up text boxes.

In other words, if you’re counting down the hours to the August 11 premiere, the time will pass much more quickly (in a gruesomely fun way) if you lose yourself in Breaking Bad: Alchemy.

Where to Get It: $8; iBookstore

The Verdict: An enjoyable download for fans of the show

Constitution by Kids Discover

Aimed at middle schoolers, Constitution by Kids Discover describes and illustrates how the U.S. Constitution came to fruition after the Revolutionary War, and does so in a fashion that is both entertaining and nuanced.

Constitution is the 12th iOS educational app released by Kids Discover, and the app maker has clearly discovered a winning formula in developing mobile offerings that are interesting, engaging, and well-written. Aimed at upper-elementary and middle-school students, Constitution combines photos, illustrations, maps, quizzes, readable reproductions of the Constitution and Bill of Rights , and brief narrative explanations to tell both the history of the original documents (and disputes between the states) as well as their evolution.

The app is organized into eight chronological chapters, discussing the Articles of Confederation, the Constitutional Convention, and the ideas that led to the formation of the three branches of government. The disputes about slavery between Northern and Southern states—and how these were resolved—are also detailed. In addition, the narrative stresses how economic and political issues, as well as lofty humanitarian ideals shaped the document and delayed its ratification by some states.

The best thing about Constitution by Kids Discover is that it tells a story depicting real difficulties and disagreements between the founders, highlighting how the early union of the 13 original states and its enduring strength, was anything but inevitable.

Where to Get It: Free (though for a limited time according to the developer’s App Store listing); iOS App Store

The Verdict: Definitely download.

Congressional Moments

The Congressional Moments app enables students and teachers to view detailed images of primary sources from the Library of Congress collection, including handwritten letters and journals, photos, flyers, posters, and other types of materials.

It’s unfortunate that those who produced Congressional Moments didn’t figure out a better name for this app. It’s not a misleading name, but it doesn’t convey what the app is for, either. Developed by the Center on Congress at Indiana University in affiliation with the Library of Congress, the app aims to help high schoolers learn to use primary sources in their research, as part of the LOC’S larger Teaching with Primary Resources program.

In other words, it’s not an app about some of the greatest achievements of the House and Senate. Rather, it’s an excellent teaching tool. It includes short videos explaining the creation of child labor laws, the Civil Rights Act, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the National Parks Service, the Marshall Plan, and the passage of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote.

Other sections of Congressional Moments explain the differences between primary and secondary sources, display galleries of different types of primary resources (letters, paintings, photos, posters, and so on), and delve into how close examination of these sources can be difficult but often rewarding. A final section provides specific guidance to students on how to view, with a critical eye, 10 different types of primary sources.

Where to Get It: Free; iOS App Store

The Verdict: Definitely download for high school history teachers and students.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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