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5 stimulating web apps that will engage K-5 students

Sheree Schulson, a second and third grade teacher at Parkside Elementary School in Coral Springs, Fla., shares five interactive apps for K-5 students

Educational apps have huge potential for today’s students.

As the world is ever changing, so are the students we teach. We, as teachers, can’t just open up a textbook and teach a lesson like we did 10 years ago. Modern day students have grown up in a world of iPads and smart phones—a world of constant stimulation.

Now, they need teachers who can provide lessons that are just as stimulating. We must evolve with the learner and update our teaching strategies so that they are engaging, motivating, and hold our students’ interests.

Here are a handful of web tools I’ve used in my elementary classroom that will create a stimulating educational environment.

Voice Thread

This is an interactive collaboration tool that lets students add audio or text commentary to videos and images. Their peers can then log onto the website and add their own comments or draw right on the original document. The kids really love to read and listen to everyone’s feedback.

It’s very easy to figure out how to use this tool. For example, you can post a math problem, and each student could respond showing how to solve it using the Voice Thread tools. In my classroom, I posted a world map on to the Voice Thread application and asked students: Where did your family originate from? Each student circled the area and explained it either by video, audio, or text. They loved it.

You can use a Voice Thread for storytelling, deep thinking, or even as a research tool. For example, I had students research parts of the human body, and then they posted their facts onto human body diagrams that I posted. The end result becomes a showcase of what the students have learned. Teachers are always looking for ways to see if their students are mastering concepts. Often, they have students take a test or write a report. Using Voice Thread as an alternative form of assessment allows teachers to evaluate students’ knowledge creatively—plus, it’s free!

(Next page: More engaging apps)


Voki allows people to create their own talking, animated character, which can range from a dog to the President. Students type in what they want their Voki to say, and the Voki repeats it back, word for word. Users can make the animations easily and send them via e-mail or attach them on a website. I use Voki not only to announce the selected Student of the Month, but also for more serious projects where students might make the Voki teach the class a concept in social studies, science, or health.

Students love using Voki because they can select their own characters, sounds, and backgrounds. Sometimes kids are nervous about speaking in front of the class, so this is a great way for students to express their ideas in a fun, stress-free way. More outgoing students also can feel free to use their own voice for their Voki.


BrainPOP is an educational website that includes hundreds of animated movies for students to watch, in subjects ranging from music to engineering. The videos include cute characters that add a little bit of humor to what otherwise might be a dull topic. I often use BrainPOP to introduce my lessons. For example, if I were about to teach my class about idioms, I’d log onto BrainPOP and click a video on the subject so that my students can gain background knowledge. This makes it much easier to continue on with the lesson. After viewing the videos, students can take quizzes to see how well they retained the material.

Kids are very stimulated by computer graphics and animations, so BrainPOP is a great tool to incorporate into your lesson. I would say I use it about three times a week. My school pays a yearly fee for subscriptions to BrainPOP and BrainPOP Jr. (which is for grades K-3 specifically). While school and district subscriptions are available, teachers interested in the service also can purchase a classroom subscription.


Students can only last a certain amount of time before they stop listening. During a hectic school day, a teacher might need to stop what he or she is doing for a “brain break”—such as doing some indoor exercises or throwing a ball and incorporating educational questions. If none of those sound appealing, try the website GoNoodle!

GoNoodle provides classrooms with awesome brain break videos on different themes. You can select a relaxing or energizing video, depending on the time of day. The website requires you to sign up for its service, but it’s free to use. My favorite video is called “Flow,” and I use it before administering any major testing. While students are instructed to take deep breaths, the video uses wonderful imagery of a balloon flying through the air. It’s very relaxing.

I believe these brain break videos improve student academic performance. When students are not stressed, they end up making better choices while testing. So if you have some students who have test anxiety, I recommend using GoNoodle.

(Next page: The final app that Sheree recommends)

QR Codes

I haven’t tried this last one just yet… but I had to include it because I am so thrilled about the idea. Every year I try to find something new to use in the classroom, and recently I discovered how Quick Response (QR) codes can be creatively incorporated into the classroom.

Here’s what you can do. After your students read a book, have them create an audio or visual book review. Upload their work to your website and create a QR code out of it. (There are many easy-to-use QR code generators online that can be found through a quick Google search.) Then, print out and place the QR code on the back cover of the book so that future readers can scan it with their smart phone or tablet. After listening to or reading the review, students can decide whether they want to read the book.

You can also have students create QR codes for a research project. Let’s say, for a project-based learning activity, a group has to create a bulletin board with all of their research findings. Have the group create a podcast explaining their bulletin board. Post it on a website. Then create a QR code for that web link. If you attach the QR code to the bulletin board, anyone who sees it will be able to access the student’s own explanation of the project.

Sometimes teachers ask themselves, How can my kids showcase their work in a fun way? This can be your answer. QR codes are just another way to present information in a creative and unique way. I’m so excited to use them in my classroom this year.

Sheree Schulson is a second and third grade teacher at Parkside Elementary School in Coral Springs, Fla.

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