As school resumes, and parents and educators try to address COVID learning losses, app and software developers are feverishly launching new online tools to help bolster the education experience.
But not all digital educational tools are created equal, and parents and teachers may not always know the best resources to use. In 2013, Common Sense Media — an independent nonprofit dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology — launched a ratings and review process for learning media that is unbiased and free. The ratings aren’t influenced by developers or funders, and Common Sense never receives payments or other compensation for its reviews.
The philosophy behind the ratings is to connect educators and parents or caregivers with quality learning experiences that help develop critical thinking skills and build conceptual knowledge. Victoria Saylor, Common Sense Arizona’s family and community engagement manager, encourages parents to choose content that has the most learning potential and that promotes a well-rounded experience. “Online experiences should be fun, engaging and educational,” she says, adding parents should help kids “learn how to choose high-quality content so they make good choices when you’re not right there next to them.”
“First, consider what your child’s interests are, and use our ratings and reviews to find the best EdTech tools and apps to encourage learning,” says Saylor. “This will help your child stay engaged and help make connections to learning. The best apps are those that encourage critical thinking and provide opportunities to extend learning beyond the time they are using it.”
Co-using apps and online games is another good way to learn more about your child and help them develop critical life skills, such as how to get along, communicate, manage their time and emotions, and how to make decisions, Saylor says. It also gives parents a glimpse into what type of learner their child is and where they excel or might need additional support.
The ratings used by Common Sense are based on a research-backed, 14-point rubric developed specifically to evaluate the learning potential of education media. Over the years, the rubric has been modified based on experiences and shifts in teachers’ needs. Some of the reviews feature in-depth privacy ratings as well. Reviewers are typically leaders in edtech and learning media, scholars in child development and learning, instructional designers, K-12 subject area experts and school technology leaders. They average eight years of classroom experience.
“As always, it’s important to encourage a balanced approach to media and technology use, making sure to balance online and offline activities,” Saylor says.
Common Sense has a Tech Balance program that can help as well. This free text message offering provides families and caregivers of children ages 3-8 ed tech recommendations and other advice for learning. To sign up, text KIDS to 21555 for English or FAMILIA to 21555 for Spanish.
10 quality online learning tools
The Common Sense seal program recognizes outstanding educational media. These Common Sense Selections for Learning selections are best-in-class media resources and tools that facilitate great learning experiences for students and educators. For more on the best learning media for kids, visit commonsense.org/education
- BrainPopJr.com. This subscription-based educational video, game and activity site for K-3 offers smart, original content with colorful graphics and punchy music.
BookCreator.com. Even early elementary students can use this tool to produce and publish their own simple books or comics with images, videos and audio. And older students who are ready for more of a challenge won’t feel limited.
Flipgrid.com. The app and website features an interactive message board where teachers can pose questions and students can post video responses. Guests can be invited, too!
FraxMath.com. Third- through fifth-graders join a team exploring the galaxy and must use fraction concepts to complete each mission.
Global Problem Solvers. This free animated series (gpstheseries.com/en-us) brings problem-solving to life. A diverse team of international superheroes work together in each episode to brainstorm solutions to a global issue while modeling empathy, social consciousness and creativity.
Lalilo.com. In this K-2 literacy program, students journey through different worlds and meet cartoon characters. Along the way, they complete activities, read books and progress on a well-structured learning path.
Mathnation.com. This math instruction and practice app/website features instructional videos, workbooks, quizzes, tests and support content for algebra and geometry.
MyHero.com. In this international digital storytelling community of writers, artists, filmmakers and activists, everyone is encouraged to share a story about their hero via essay, short film, poetry, a song and/or visual art.
ReadtoLead.org. Students take on a leadership role in a small community recently affected by a hurricane. They manage people, solve problems and do a fair amount of reading, writing and decision-making.
Sutori.com. This tool makes timeline creation and presentations feel fresh and new.
Ilana Lowery is the Arizona director for Common Sense Media, an independent nonprofit dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology by empowering parents, teachers and policymakers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.