13 Tech Tools That Spark Critical Thinking

February 14, 2014
Ellen Holderman
Common Sense Education

CATEGORIES Technology Integration, Tools

In light of our focus on STEAM and critical thinking this month, this week's Top Picks List Friday features tech tools that spur critical thinking. This is an update from the last time we highlighted games, apps, and sites that are great for critical thinking. Students love opportunities to sink their teeth into problems that don't have clear answers. It's oftentimes out of this murkiness that new perspectives and ideas emerge. Treat your students to these terrific games, apps, and sites and watch their new perspectives lead to more complex understandings of the world.

To see the rating of each app, game, or website, visit the Top-Picks List, Tech That Spurs Critical Thinking


Youth Radio
Youth Radio is part of a nonprofit that gives kids hands-on training in all aspects of new media and journalism, allowing them to have a voice in the national dialogue. It is also a great resource for kids interested in media careers. Read full review.

Lifeboat to Mars
Lifeboat to Mars is an ecosystem simulator hosted by PBS Kids Go! An interplanetary ark transports microbes, plants, and animals from Earth to Mars to create an ecosystem capable of supporting terrestrial life. Read full review.

TED-Ed is a website featuring a curated series of educational videos on a huge variety of subjects. Between the high-quality videos and the extensive lesson plans, TED-Ed is a great resource for students looking for inspiration, education, and maybe even some fun. Read full review.

Sid Meier's Civilization V
Civilization V is the latest entry in the historic Civilization franchise, the premier turn-based strategy series. Players expand and grow civilizations through time, pursuing historically based -- but ultimately fictionalized -- scientific, political and societal advances as they explore the world, stake their claims, and grow their cultures and cities. Read full review.

Geoguessr is an addictive online puzzler that tasks students with guessing the location of Google Street View images from around the world. It can be a great -- addictive, even -- motivator for thinking about geography and culture, and for building reasoning and critical-thinking skills in self-directed, small-group, or whole-class settings. Read full review.

The Republia Times
The Republia Times is a browser-based game that's part of a growing genre of smaller games that explore serious, challenging, and often political social issues. The player assumes the role of an editor overseeing what articles appear on the front page of a newspaper in a fictional country that's just had a political revolution. Read full review.

Minecraft is a sandbox game that rewards players for collecting and combining resources into new, useful items that enrich gameplay and help further exploration and creativity. Although it has an “End” zone for players who want to fight the game’s boss (a dragon), Minecraft has no plot - the story is up to the player to define. Read full review.

Papers, Please
Papers, Please is a simulation video game that puts students in the role of an immigration officer for the fictional communist nation of Arstotska. Students can learn how detailed, textual investigation, along with evidence analysis can develop skills that greatly help with writing, reading closely, and applying information to particular contexts. Read full review.

Your Commonwealth
Your Commonwealth is an international site created by young people for young people who are interested in addressing global concerns such as injustice, poverty, and the environment. Read full review.

Youth Voices
Youth Voices is a vibrant home for young writers seeking an authentic audience and a space to publish writing across a wide range of genres. The site is essentially a social network, so students can easily align their interests and make meaningful connections with other young writers. Read full review.

Spent is like a jazzed up, text-based, choose your own adventure, but with a powerful message about social justice. Players are thrown into the tough -- often impossible -- life of someone living on the poverty line; they choose a job, get a set income, and must make choices based on events that pop up. Read full review.

Historypin is a map-based website that allows "people to come together, from across different generations, cultures and places, to share small glimpses of the past and to build up the huge story of human history." There are three main ways to use Historypin: Students can explore the map, pin their own content, or curate content found on the site. Read full review.

Scribblenauts Remix
Scribblenauts Remix, originally a console game, pushes the boundaries of puzzle games with word-driven problem solving. A uniquely open-ended experience, Scribblenauts Remix allows kids to imagine solutions and try them out by spelling out solution words. Read full review.


What websites or apps do you use to promote critical thinking? Sign in to comment below.


Paul Wakfer
Retired Math/Physics Prof and lifelong philosophy teacher
Was U of Toronto, now the Internet

I find all these examples somewhat disappointing because these are all still set within the boxes of current society and social thinking, which is not likely to really provide fundamental solutions to any of the world's problems. What is needed are some tools which teach a person to ferret out all the basic assumptions of both science and society, to question every one of them, to come up with radical alternatives and to not immediately deny the possibility of these, but rather follow them to either prove that they are not possible or show that, perhaps with modifications, they might actually work practically - and even be better than what exists.

Paul Wakfer
Retired Math/Physics Prof and lifelong philosophy teacher
Was U of Toronto, now the Internet

Actually to add to my previous comment a computer game along the lines of Civilzation V could present the player with the opportunity for creating a totally different social system rather than all the ruler/ruled variations that have existed virtually everywhere to date. If a game-creator wants some ideas, I will be glad to share them.