App Review
Middle School Confidential 2: Real Friends vs the Other Kind

Quizzes spark engagement in authentic teen scenes

  • Chapter 2 scene "Tuesday at lunch" illustrates what happens when challenging honesty is served up with a bit too much kidding.

  • Close up of Michelle shows how emotions can swirl around in confusion.

  • Later chapters detail the short romance of Monique and Jack whose breakup is precipitated by an emotional tug of war with neglected friends.

  • Quiz questions at the end of each chapter give kids a list of fairly common responses to social situations and black and white feedback on incorrect responses.

  • Correct responses elicit a generalized description of what real friends do.

Quick Take
Pros: Real teen issues are presented with respect and emotional authenticity. Characters are alternately tough yet vulnerable, admirable yet fallible.
Cons: Audio of teen voices and some comic relief would pull kids in even more. More content and slightly less preachy dialog would boost the experience.
Bottom Line: Great tool to catalyze discussion without sending kids into their shells.
Learning Scores
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?
This graphic novel plugs right into a popular medium for teens. Music could be a bit more bouncy and tied to the social action rather than the background.
Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 4
Great tool to approach tricky personal subjects without embarrassing anyone. Kids might make fun of it a bit, but they'll absorb the messages either way.
Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 3
Credits and "About the author" provide some additional resources for parents. Audio of character dialog would expand accessibility.
Our Review
What's It Like?

Middle School Confidential 2: Real Friends vs the Other Kind is the second in a three-part series of app-based graphic novels about Jack, Jen, Abby, Mateo, Chris, and Michelle, plus a new popular girl, Monique, who asks Jack out even though Chris likes her. Through eight chapters, the gang encounters challenges like eating problems, interrupting conversations with texts, bossiness, hurt feelings, using people, crush rejections, popularity, dating, problems at home, and breaking up. End-of-chapter morals and quizzes as well as the kids, themselves, offer up ways to stand your ground, ideas about when and how to communicate, and strategies to avoid hurting other people's feelings.

The story runs sequentially from beginning to end with about four pages per chapter and three quizzes total. Pages are swipable and zoomable, but tap to advance is still a bit slow and sometimes unresponsive. The information button at bottom right leads to a main menu page with navigation hints and chapter navigation, as well as access to cast profiles, credits, author and illustrator profiles, and information about the other books in the series. The first page of the story incorporates dialog boxes outlining navigation controls.

Is It Good For Learning?

No matter how you communicate with teens, it can be challenging to get an authentic response. But throw out these all-too-familiar scenarios like a bit too much burn, going along with the popular girl, and neglecting friends, and you get an authentic catalyst for discussion (despite the occasionally didactic language). The addition of quizzes -- a sort of mix between social studies class and a teen zine sidebar -- adds tons of engagement value to the experience. As with so many social skills tools, teens may feel it's a bit babyish, but tweens looking into the abyss of middle school will eat it up. None of the advanced storylines like dating and eating disorders provide these younger kids with inappropriate information -- just solid tools to handle it when it comes along.

One of the quizzes has 10 items and all 10 "correct" answers are B, which would be predictable in math class but follows certain personality test norms here. Middle School Confidential 2: Real Friends vs the Other Kind does right by the first in the series and even extends the experience with more advanced interpersonal scenarios and follow-up quizzes.

How Can Teachers Use It?

You can use the second book in the series in all the same ways as the first plus a bit more with the quizzes. Administrators and teachers could recommend the app as an at-home resource for parents. Classroom or subject area teachers, for example, English or social studies, could lead small group discussions following a whole-class read using the opportunity to practice speaking and listening skills like defining roles, acknowledging contributions, and demonstrating multiple perspectives through reflection.

Kids could be assigned in groups or individually to create graphic novels on social topics of their own choosing or write alternate endings for the scenarios in the story. Small-group work could include comparing individual answers to the quiz questions and making up new answers that are "wrong" or "right." Any student-created responses that don't clearly fall into one category or the other could spark a discussion of the grey areas in friendships and communication. Adult or peer counselors could use the stories to spark individual conversations or later appointments.

This review of Middle School Confidential 2: Real Friends vs the Other Kind was written by

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