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STEM Apps for Higher-Order Thinking

These seriously fun apps help students develop and apply a conceptual understanding of science, technology, engineering, and math by solving puzzles, designing solutions to novel problems, and creating new inventions. It's important for students of all ages to engage in this type of critical thinking to prepare for college and career. Check out our list of tools that get students coding robots, engineering new creations, playing with games and simulations, and gathering and analyzing scientific data. 

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Top Picks


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Engineering and Inventions

Crazy Gears

Highly applicable STEM-themed free play; easy appeal for wide audience

Bottom line: A clear, simple, and fun introduction to science and engineering topics that may otherwise feel unapproachable for some kids.

Simple Machines by Tinybop

Excellent elementary NGSS engineering practices embedded in fun games

Bottom line: Fun gameplay lets kids explore important physics concepts in a solid standards-aligned context.

The Robot Factory by Tinybop

Improve designs, collect favorites in robot creation sandbox

Bottom line: A well-made and enjoyable STEM app that leverages what's great about play -- experimentation -- to spark engineering interest.

Inventioneers Full Version

Budding engineers create design solutions with fun physics puzzler

Bottom line: A fun, engaging way to boost critical-thinking and problem-solving skills while learning about important science and engineering practices.

Gizmos & Gadgets

Top-notch tool empowers kids to invent, build, and control wirelessly

Bottom line: Easy-to-use, versatile electronic invention set that works wirelessly with your hand-held device.

SAM Labs

Kids use block code and wireless blocks to program, design, and create

Bottom line: With some perseverance, it's a great fit for PBL and STEAM, helping students learn programming skills and engineering concepts through invention.


Stump students with innovative train-routing puzzler

Bottom line: Superb combination of logic, real-world learning, and train play.


Break down concepts in a new way with AR models

Bottom line: These 3D STEM models will certainly engage students when added to lessons, but usefulness is limited by a lack of creation options.

World of Goo

Stellar physics builder with wiggly, animated goo balls

Bottom line: A fascinating fantasy world and constant puzzle challenge pull kids into learning about building structures and geometry.

Coding and Robotics

Codeable Crafts

Animate stories with accessible drawing tools and coding blocks

Bottom line: Kids get a simple peek at computer programming principles by animating stories using their own creations.

Blockly for Dash & Dot Robots

Adorable robots teach hands-on coding skills

Bottom line: You can program robots with code blocks, with plenty of creative options and lots of fun.

Evo by Ozobot

Versatile mini robot tailor-made for teaching coding

Bottom line: Evo encourages students to be creative, emphasizing that coding is a tool in your pocket, not the end game.

Sphero Edu

Cool robots and creative play make programming irresistible

Bottom line: Hub for Sphero robots draws crafty kids who love making into coding, and it empowers them to be collaborators.

Swift Playgrounds

Brilliantly designed iOS coding app great for newbies or pros

Bottom line: If you have iPads or Macs, this is an inspired choice for learning how to create and tweak code.


Challenging game helps kids learn to think like programmers

Bottom line: Cargo-Bot is a simple concept that packs a challenging punch and teaches valuable programming skills.

Science and Math

Bugs and Bubbles

Fascinating graphics engage as kids practice pre-reading, STEM skills

Bottom line: Great bang for the buck with all the content and stages included.

Nico & Nor Coconut Star

Early education force and motion app ramps up student learning

Bottom line: Coconut Star, along with its companion app, are great additions to any pre-K–1 physical science unit.

Osmo Tangram

Fun hybrid puzzles with excellent classroom supports

Bottom line: Classic puzzler combines toys with digital play to engage and teach all ages.

Math Makers

Charming leveled puzzler slyly mixes fun with logic, essential math

Bottom line: These puzzles are a really fun approach to developing an intuitive sense of important math concepts, particularly for kids who feel that math is boring or inaccessible.

Shifu Plugo

Augmented reality app has appealing STEM puzzles, room to grow

Bottom line: Shifu Plugo is a good AR product that, with continued development, could be great for collaborative learning.

Playground Physics

Fun video app lets students track motion to explore physics concepts

Bottom line: This is a cheap way to get students out of their chairs to make physics real and tangible, empowering learners and encouraging curiosity.

Light & Color by Tinybop

Open-ended scientific exploration shines best with offline scaffolding

Bottom line: Free-play science-based exploration works best for students who love to discover things on their own with little guidance; others will need scaffolding.

DIY Nano

Turn kids into budding nanoscientists who explore the tiniest things

Bottom line: Scientist-reviewed videos and activities relate nanoscience to everyday life.


Approximate photos of real-world objects with virtual 3-D shapes

Bottom line: A quick way to make solids more tangible, especially when paired with good lesson plans that get students working directly with formulas.


Bring physics to life using lab sensors built right into your smartphone

Bottom line: Use your smartphone to gather data and study speed, gravity, waves, and other physics concepts.

The PocketLab

Gather and analyze live data anywhere

Bottom line: A science sensor that pairs with your device to gather and analyze data is perfect for inquiry-based learning.

Arduino Science Journal

Turn your phone into a lab sensor to collect and analyze data

Bottom line: Science Journal does a good job recording real-time motion, sound, and light data using phones.

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