Six ed-tech tools for social studies instruction

Here are reviews of six high-quality apps, tools, and websites that can help teach social studies concepts, courtesy of Common Sense Media and its new Graphite service—a free database of teacher-written reviews of learning technologies.

studies-learningGoogle Earth

Learning rating: 4
Grade range: 3-12
What is it? Virtual globe shines with breathtaking features, endless possibility.
Pros: The social studies learning possibilities really are endless; it’s easily integrated into learning activities across the curriculum.
Cons: Differences in photo details and quality by location limits users to what’s available for viewing—which is still stellar in most cases.
Bottom line: Outstanding features, interactivity, and astonishing versatility—the virtual total package for kid explorers.
Full review:


Learning rating: 5
Grade range: 6-12
What is it? Assortment of exceptionally well-designed games demystifies government.
Pros: Cute games enhance the educational and social studies content on this website.
Cons: You might want to play each game first, given a wide variety in depth.
Bottom line: This excellent addition to a civics classroom simplifies complex topics.
Full review:

Mission U.S.: Flight to Freedom

Learning rating: 5
Grade range: 5-8
What is it? Gripping, choice-driven story of slave life and resistance.
Pros: With comprehensive lessons plans, this game is easy for teachers to use—and immersive for their students to play.
Cons: Some of the events might be emotionally intense or distressing for some kids.
Bottom line: A compelling, first-person way to learn about slavery in the U.S., as well as the lifestyles and politics of the time.
Full review:

National Geographic Kids

Learning rating: 5
Grade range: 1-6
What is it? Stunning photos and in-depth stories of Earth’s peoples and wildlife.
Pros: Tapping into an expertise in photography, international coverage, and wildlife reportage, this website provides an amazing array of learning and social studies resources.
Cons: Some of the wildlife videos and photos show predators in scenes that could scare very young kids.
Bottom line: This amazing collection of multimedia resources teaches kids about animals, habitats, countries, and cultures.
Full review:

Sims City

Learning rating: 4
Grade range: 6-12
What is it? Exciting city simulator is great for online play.
Pros: This version of SimCity is more intuitive and less difficult than its predecessor.
Cons: The game suffers from a fuzzy artificial intelligence as well as avoidable technical glitches.
Bottom line: SimCity does a great job teaching kids about cities by putting them in control of designing them, but this game needs a constant internet connection.
Full review:

Stack the Countries

Learning rating: 4
Grade range: 2-6
What is it? A whole world of facts, maps, and fun waiting to be stacked.
Pros: An amazing amount of factual information about 193 countries is packed into this app.
Cons: No audio, so kids can’t hear the correct pronunciation of countries and capital cities, which are sometimes difficult to pronounce.
Bottom line: Kids learn about the world through easy-to-use flash cards and exciting stacking games.
Full review:

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