2014 was a terrific year for learning apps. As more schools put tablets in kids' hands, edtech developers are rising to the challenge. Of the hundreds of apps reviewed on Common Sense Education this year, these 10 stood out as some of the most innovative, effective, and enjoyable apps I've seen. They span grades and content areas, and include creation tools for both teachers and students.
Cookie Monster's Challenge (iPad)
The unique games in this collection help young kids build essential school-readiness skills such as self-control, focus, persistence, memory, and problem-solving. All require kids to listen attentively and follow directions, and each game intelligently builds in complexity. Kids just keep trying until they respond correctly.
This is the first release in a series of free apps and off-screen learning activities for the preschool classroom. Kids learn to identify quantity, up to five, without counting. They also experiment with recognizing numbers both by numeral and quantity of objects, and with comparing numbers quickly, by sight. The pedagogical approach is rock-solid and is strongly supported by in-the-classroom research. The best feature here is the stepped scaffolding that clearly and patiently provides struggling kids with the extra help they need.
Hooked on Phonics Learn to Read Classroom Edition (Android, iOS, Kindle Fire)
This thorough, high-quality phonics program offers impressive benefits for emerging readers. The program includes 12 steps; each teaches rimes and letter sounds to help kids build words. Within each step, videos with catchy songs introduce letter sounds and sight words, and games help kids build words using onsets and rimes. Teachers will appreciate the mix of phonics and sight words, and kids will enjoy the variety of delivery and the predictability of how each step advances.
This absorbing adventure game helps kids ages 6 to 12 develop the skills that lead to emotional intelligence. The curriculum-based lessons interwoven into gameplay can support kids as they develop emotions-based vocabulary, learn social decision-making, build empathy, and increase their ability to handle stressful situations. IF... is a great tool to use in conjunction with other SEL curriculum materials.
Land of Venn (iOS)
Introduce or reinforce early geometry concepts with this captivating game. Kids learn how to use principles of geometry to defeat an evil wizard named Apeirogon and his monsters. By drawing points, lines, and shapes, kids stop the monsters, called Bookkenriders, from drinking all the Magic Juice found in the Land of Venn. The game addresses a handful of Common Core math standards, making it a handy curriculum support tool.
LightSail (Android, iPad, Chromebook)
Support students’ independent reading with this robust literacy platform. Students can use LightSail to check out texts from their school’s digital library and read the books directly on their devices. As students progress through a book, questions appear to gauge comprehension. Students have access to their own data, including per-page reading progress, earned badges, and Lexile score. Teachers can also view students' data in real time.
Nearpod (Android, iOS, Nook, Chromebook, Apps for Windows)
The go-to tool for interactive presentations and assessments, Nearpod provides opportunities for skill development across the curriculum and multiple ways to improve student learning. Teachers can interact with students as they move through the presentations and can view student responses in real time. Students enjoy the opportunity to take ownership of their learning rather than passively viewing a teacher-directed whole-class presentation.
Shadow Puppet Edu (iOS)
This easy-to-use free tool is a must-have for elementary classrooms. Students can create video slideshows, adding their own narration and text. Everything can be found and quickly added to the slideshow from within the app, which means one less step to walk students through and one less opportunity for distractions. Teachers will find many uses for Shadow Puppet Edu, plus about 30 project ideas are included in the Ideas section of the app, organized by topic.
Both a tool for creating interactive games and books and a vast library of pre-created games and content, TinyTap is a terrific resource and creation tool for teachers and students. Create your own game using the app's creation tools: Import or create images, then add interactive elements, including questions and answers, video, and audio. Or check out the app's Creativity Museum, a searchable collection of games and books created by teachers, parents, developers, and authors.
Twelve a Dozen (iPad)
If you're looking for a game that effectively combines learning and core math skills with gameplay, while also promoting deep critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, then Twelve a Dozen is a home run. Through 30 different levels that increase in difficulty, kids help the main character travel across the town, solving math-related challenges. Instead of specific, targeted practice or drill-style worksheets, kids get a highly engaging, meaningful learning experience.