Common Sense


Top Reference Tools

Remember the imposing shelves of dictionaries, encyclopedias, and atlases you grew up with? Times have changed. Now, hundreds of handy reference tools can be accessed on just a single device. The tools on this list range from dictionaries and thesauri to archives of primary sources and extensive databases full of research information. They're a big change from the outdated tomes of the past, offering students up-to-date info on just about anything that piques their curiosity. What's more, many feature rich multimedia and interactive content that'll wow students.

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Top Picks


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General Reference Tools


Enormous illustrated encyclopedia offers kid-friendly history, science

Bottom line: A kid-friendly reference tool for science, technology, and social studies topics.

Britannica School

More interactive support and instruction than Wikipedia -- for a price

Bottom line: Over 140,000 credible and up-to-date articles are presented with social media savvy; the research here is engaging and accessible.

Wolfram Alpha

Calculations, computations, algorithms give kids just the facts, ma'am

Bottom line: Given a wealth of fact-based data, kids can apply findings in creative and meaningful learning activities.

Data USA

Elegant treasure trove of data could fuel lessons and projects

Bottom line: An efficient research tool that makes it easier to incorporate stats into a host of lessons or projects focusing on the U.S.

Google Scholar

Academic search engine, an excellent source for credible research info

Bottom line: This smart tool can help teens locate credible material for paper and report writing, general research, and other school projects.

Health and STEM Tools


Easily accessible, kid-friendly database for the littlest researchers

Bottom line: Delightful, safe introduction to the world of research, databases, and reporting, with interesting articles and helpful teacher supports.

American Chemical Society

Chemistry resources for teachers and kids, straight from the experts

Bottom line: Use the site to stay current on chemistry topics and tidbits, and to research some of your queries; just keep tabs on your time.

Science360 for iPad

Amazing images, videos, and fact-packed text on many science topics

Bottom line: This massive science video, image, and info site has something new for everyone.

Center for Young Women's Health

Maturely covers difficult physical and mental health issues

Bottom line: Girls can go here to get answers on health and wellness issues that affect them.

Encyclopedia of Life

Superb crowdsourced knowledge bank teems with life for kid biologists

Bottom line: It's jam-packed with vetted information on all living things; kids can become part of a vibrant community of science-minded folks.

Math Open Reference

Visually plain, no-frills collection of math simulations

Bottom line: Free collection of math interactives and geometry construction tutorials.


Definitive periodic table with all the bells and whistles

Bottom line: You won't need any other once you have probed the depths of this truly complete reference resource.

WorldWide Telescope

Treasure trove of astronomical imagery and facts

Bottom line: A bit like a jazzed-up textbook, the game curates an incredible amount of top-notch content great for learning about the universe.

A.D.A.M. Interactive Anatomy

Explore detailed images with powerful, customizable anatomy curriculum

Bottom line: A stellar tool that tops other 3-D interactive anatomy sites with its extensive curriculum-building capabilities.


High-quality multimedia brings biological research to life

Bottom line: Superb multimedia tools and lesson plans help kids explore biology through real-world examples.


Explore the world's nuts and bolts in this fab interactive info hub

Bottom line: Interesting, well-researched articles make this free resource a gem.

Sex, Etc.

Reliable, unbiased sex ed site keeps it real for teens

Bottom line: An engaging and informative destination for sex ed teachers and students.

Geography and Humanities Tools

Google Earth

Cool geographical exploration tool has endless classroom applications

Bottom line: Google Earth is an engaging and completely open-ended app perfect for use across the educational spectrum.

Barefoot World Atlas

Visually stunning 3-D globe piques students' interest in world facts

Bottom line: Dive right in to world geography with a beautiful, interactive globe full of narratives and photos of different cultures and traditions.

Library of Congress

Visit our largest library's online collection of multimedia goodies

Bottom line: The Library of Congress delivers the best of America's past and present, but it's a little tricky to navigate.


Vast word reference features tons of content and word games

Bottom line: Powerful tool crammed full of games, classic reference information, and flexible controls.

Earth 3D - Amazing Atlas

Interactive atlas has rich customization and 3D points of interest

Bottom line: App will get students exploring the world instantly, and extensive features will hold their interest.


High-quality customizable maps help students understand their world

Bottom line: This map app takes time to learn to use but offers both teachers and students highly useful tools for creating custom maps and interactive social studies and science presentations.

Geo Walk - World Factbook 3D

Dazzling look at the world via an interactive atlas

Bottom line: Credible resource for introducing students to the world, which is likely to encourage them to research areas of interest further.

National Archives

Access U.S. history with treasure trove of docs, genealogy, and other resources

Bottom line: NARA's website wasn't designed for kids, but they can definitely use it to research and learn about history, genealogy, and the U.S. population and government.

Digital Public Library of America

Organized digital library features piles of useful primary resources

Bottom line: DPLA is at the top of the list of high-grade, online primary source collections if teachers make effective use of what's on offer.

American Archive of Public Broadcasting

Comprehensive collection of public radio and television broadcasts

Bottom line: A valuable resource for teachers who want to incorporate multimedia into their curricula.

Wordflex Touch Dictionary

Amazing interactive visual dictionary makes exploring words exciting

Bottom line: Dynamic, highly visual presentation makes learning new words exciting.

Voices of Democracy

Vast collection of primary source documents a solid starting point

Bottom line: A great place to begin when you want to make history feel more real, but "begin" is the operative word; plan on creating your own scaffolding.

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database

Deep, complex database is challenging but a peerless research tool

Bottom line: This is a highly academic site for better and for worse; it's filled with deep, research-backed resources and primary sources but is intimidating without clear guidance.

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