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5 apps you’ve quite possibly overlooked


With powerful apps and facilitation from a confident educator, students can get even more from lessons

Apps can be a valuable resource when students have access to mobile devices and can, with a teacher’s guidance, engage with digital resources.

Sure, apps are fun, but teachers are often short on time and can’t always search through piles of apps or their reviews to ensure the apps are appropriate for students. But 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 online videos, citation resources, and coding tools.

1. ZoteroBib: Fewer clicks and less clutter equal a new go-to site for citing sources
Add ZoteroBib to your class website or to your students’ list of references for research papers or projects, and your students will thank you. Students can easily type in a title or paste in a URL, select the citation style, and export one or more quickly-generated citations. Students will still need a primer ahead of time, as well as some trusty references like Purdue’s OWL, to check and tweak whatever citations they generate. While ZoteroBib is a handy resource, it makes mistakes, so make sure students know to double-check and modify.

2. Surviving Mars: Colonizing Mars is in our future, but why wait?
Surviving Mars is a great game to explore the science of colonization and the realities of living on a planet with no atmosphere. Any class that currently uses SimCity or the like could use Surviving Mars in a similar fashion, maybe best in an afterschool setting or as homework (since a single game can take dozens of hours). The game could easily be played over multiple sessions, interspersed with other assignments, and would make a good companion piece to the recent book (or movie) The Martian. The game keeps track of a score already, so it would be possible to use a high score list in class; maybe divide the class into groups and compare their aggregate or average scores to each other so that it isn’t so competitive. Team members would then be compelled to help each other out, sharing tips and tricks for successful colony management.

3. Check123: Free online video library keeps it short and sweet
Teachers can use Check123 to introduce content. The short videos are great for lesson hooks or defining a new term during a lesson. The lesson feature, though, is what makes Check123 really useful. This feature is tailor-made for the flipped classroom. Teachers can create a video lesson in less than 10 minutes. First, select one or a few videos on a particular topic; the Smart Search feature allows teachers to search for videos based on a URL or pasted text. Then insert a couple of questions into the videos to check for understanding. Quiz questions help teachers know if students were paying attention, and students will know they didn’t miss the key concepts. Share the URL with students and require them to watch before coming to class. With very little prep work, students are ready for discussion and teachers can maximize class time.

4. Lightwell: No coding required–visual app design for the rest of us
App design isn’t just about designing apps. Much like making a movie or creating a game, app creation can be a great way for students to share knowledge, solve problems, and make learning fun. Because Lightwell doesn’t depend on prerequisite programming skills; it can be integrated into any subject area, not just computer science classes. Creative writers can design an app that tells a story and make it more interesting with alternate endings. Instead of writing a paper, students can share their research with an app. Do you have a unique curriculum? Recruit students to build a custom study tool for your classes.

5. RaiseMe: Proactive tool lets students earn scholarship money in high school
While RaiseMe is geared more toward students than teachers, educators can support students by encouraging them to build positive digital footprints, apply for scholarships, and think seriously about college–especially if they haven’t before. Students may be motivated to see money add up with improvement in grades and increased GPAs. Teachers can use RaiseMe as a real-life learning tool to help students gain experience with budgeting for college. Career teachers and counselors can help students see how the work they put in today can translate into academic and financial benefits down the road, putting students in the driver’s seat and showing them that college can be a reality.

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Laura Ascione

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