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eight apps

8 apps you should check out before school starts

With the right apps and a tech-savvy educator, students can get even more from lessons

Apps can be a valuable resource for educators who have access to mobile devices and who want to engage students with digital resources.

While they’re a fun resource, teachers don’t always have time to search through apps and ensure they’re appropriate for students–this means everyone misses out on what could be a memorable learning activity.

The editors of Common Sense Education review and rate apps for students of all ages. Common Sense Education helps educators find the best ed-tech tools, learn best practices for teaching with tech, and equip students with the skills they need to use technology safely and responsibly.

Check out this list of apps, ranging from kindergarten through high school and touching on topics such as STEM, history, and vocabulary.

1. howtosmile: Useful science resource aggregator promotes diverse lessons
Before planning your STEM-based lessons, search the free resources on howtosmile. Try a few different keywords based on what you need to cover with your students, and narrow the results down by grade level and class time. When the resources include information about standards alignment, those standards are included. If you’ve registered on the site, organize your findings into thematic lists, integrating outside links as well. Read other users’ comments and join the community of educators by contributing your own feedback. The activities linked to on the site will engage students with hands-on projects, videos, games, and other meaningful material.

2. Photo Stuff with Ruff: Materials science photo app gets kids examining their surroundings
Teachers can use Photo Stuff with Ruff in their early elementary classrooms for materials science lessons. Combine this app with foundational lessons covering substance properties. Then have students search throughout the classroom, out on the playground, on a field trip, or even on a class hike for materials, textures, and patterns requested within the app. Students can also use the front-facing camera to add selfies to the scenes. Then have students compare their creations with their classmates, showing off what they chose to use for each texture. Since Ruff tells kids what to do, audibly and in print if captions are turned on, this app works well for prereaders.

3. Membean: Deep, data-driven vocabulary tool challenges learners
Assign students a weekly vocabulary practice goal and provide time in class for practice, or assign as homework. Students get a notification when they’ve reached their daily goal. They can continue practicing or quit early if necessary. Teachers can schedule assessments in regular intervals or push out an assessment immediately. Teachers get immediate reports of the student’s accuracy, practice time, assessment results, and more. Even dubious minutes are noted–alerting teachers if students may be multitasking (or cheating) with multiple browser tabs open or if students are answering too quickly, signaling they may not be reading the text.

4. Loom: Create, present, and assess with free, effortless screencasting
One of the most frustrating questions teachers hear after explaining directions at length is, “What are we supposed to do?” Enter Loom, a user-friendly screencasting tool that lets you record your screen–anything on your screen–and share it quickly and easily with your students. Record directions once for students so that they can watch again if they have questions. Aside from obvious flipped classroom uses, teachers can take advantage of a multitude of other possibilities: Create short how-to videos, model exemplars of anything from poetry annotation to lab safety procedures, or send quick reminders home, adding links to your videos to direct viewers to additional resources.

5. ARIS: Create valuable Pokemon Go-style learning games for iOS devices
ARIS can be used by educators to create games for any part of their curriculum. Students of any age can play the games, but only older students and adults will be able to create them. Games can be simple or complex quests. Imagine a science lab where partners take their iPads and complete a scavenger hunt by pointing the camera at certain equipment. Suddenly, their teacher is on the screen explaining the proper use and function of that equipment and “gives” them that item digitally. Once students have all of the items, they can be ready to do an experiment.

6. PBS KIDS Kart Kingdom: Lively, colorful exploration app teaches strategy, tool-making
Assign PBS KIDS Kart Kingdom for students to use in the classroom or at home, and follow up in the classroom with questions about their game experiences. What needed to be done to craft new gadgets? How were the gadgets helpful in completing quests? How did students use teamwork to solve problems? After everyone has had a chance to play the game sufficiently, talk about other kinds of systems in your students’ lives, such as sprinkler systems, bicycles, or even students’ own bodies, and discuss how all of the parts work together to make things happen. What are some of the components in each system? What important role does each component serve? Then encourage them to create their own systems for solving problems.

7. Ink Blott Underground: Strategic vocab game gets students digging into roots and affixes
If it’s implemented simply (i.e., by just having students play through the game), teachers can use Ink Blott Underground to introduce or reinforce word stems: roots, prefixes, and suffixes. English language learners may particularly benefit from the game, since Latin and Greek roots form the basis of many languages, and familiarity with these roots and affixes could help them to build vocabulary more quickly. All of this is done in a way that will keep students engaged; however, the game’s slow progression may discourage teachers from giving up too much class time to let students play. That’s OK, as many students will go home and play on their own time–definitely a plus!

8. Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database: Deep, complex database is challenging but a peerless research tool
The variety of maps, essays, charts, databases, images, and more make the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database website an essential resource for inquiry-based projects and instruction related to the slave trade. For instance, if you’re teaching a particular time period and usually rely on Google images to find illustrative charts that kind-of (but not really) match a presentation you’re giving, use this site’s interactive timeline and maps to pinpoint specific years, locations, and information to share more specific and illuminating information. Teachers can create document-based question (DBQ) prompts using the collection of images and documents available under the Resources and Images tabs. Students can create their own DBQ prompts by gathering seven primary sources from the site that would support a prompt they create.

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