Q&A: What Are the Best Education Apps For My Kids?

Monica Burns is an education tech blogger at ClassTechTips.com and Mike Sammartano is a secondary science teacher and the director of technology for the STEM Leadership Center. Both are Apple educators. 

We asked Monica and Mike some of our top questions about how to engage our kids, the best educational apps and technological tools for learning. 

Q: Homework is so frustrating. My daughter is learning math in a way that is so different from how I learned it. How can I help her? 

Monica: There are lots of resources on the web for helping parents support their children.  Check out a website like LearnZillion or try YouTube.  You'll find teacher-created tutorials on both of these sites that can help make homework time less frustrating.

Mike: This is a common complaint from parents, especially since the widespread adoption of the Common Core Curriculum. As more and more states are implementing this radically different approach to teaching and learning mathematics, app developers are building tools that can help not only students but parents become more comfortable with the material.  There is a Common Core Standards app that outlines the new standards. Additionally, tools like BrainPop and IXL are being updated with the new content. Keep your eye out for more and more Common Core-aligned apps popping up.

Q: My son is on his tablet all the time, but I can’t get him to spend 5 minutes on anything that seems educational! What can you suggest?  

Monica: Set rules for how your children use the device at home. Set a timer for 20 minutes of practice time, and then give your children the flexibility to choose a favorite app after they have completed their study time. This can be built into your after school homework routine. 

Mike: It’s amazing how app developers have been able to create interactive experiences that may appear like games, while in reality they are actually offering incredibly powerful learning experiences. I often see my students playing games like SimplePhysics or Tinkerbox, which on the surface look like any other video game. If you look closely at the challenges posed in these apps, you realize that there is a lot of learning going on, including engineering concepts and problem-solving. Look for apps that offer engaging challenges, rich graphics and interactivity, and the possibility to fail, but to learn from those failures and try again quickly and easily. Angry Birds is a great example of a game that offers a physics engine, fun visuals and sound effects, and the chance to learn from mistakes and apply that learning to future efforts. These types of games can be much more educational than you may think. 

Q: My kids love everything to do with computers, but I can’t even keep up with what they talk about at the dinner table.  How can I learn more and how can I help when they have questions? I don’t want to be left out. 

Monica:  If your children are excited about technology, they'll be quick to answer your questions and talk about a topic they love. You can check out new apps or trends in technology by reading different blogs, and then bring an idea or new app into the conversation.

Q: My daughter is so nervous about the state tests coming up. They’ve done a lot of math review at school, but she is scared about the English Language Arts and writing part. How can I help her prepare? 

Mike: The best way to prepare for the rigorous and challenging ELA assessments is by reading. Have your daughter read websites, e-books, digital magazines, blogs, and anything else that gets her reading. Then talk with her about what she’s read.  Discuss the main ideas and look for supporting evidence from the readings. By approaching pleasure reading with a critical eye, she will gain insight into the types of analysis she will have to do on state assessments. Having a digital device in your hand opens you up to an amazing amount of written content. Have her find things she’s interested in reading, and let her go.

Q: I loved Schoolhouse Rock as a kid. Is there anything like that for my kids? 

Monica: I'm a big fan of TED-Ed, which has engaging animated videos for students.  They present complex ideas in short cartoon clips that help children wrap their heads around a topic.

Mike: What immediately comes to mind is BrainPOP, a collection of dozens of engaging educational cartoons. I have used these videos with students in all grades, from kindergarten to high school.  They're concise, clear and entertaining.  BrainPOP also offers a variety of supplementary materials to support their videos, including interactive quizzes, links for further reading, and more. 

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