Computers and, later, Web 2.0 have changed the way young people learn. Now apps are set to do the same.
An “app” is short for software application. For example, Angry Birds and Facebook are popular apps on mobile devices. More than 30 million apps are downloaded to mobile devices every day. There are apps to help manage time, convert measurements, lead a healthier lifestyle, and for fun. A good percentage of apps are by nature educational.
Most teenagers have cell phones. And iPads are outselling personal computers. There are now an estimated 1.5 million iPads in U.S. classrooms, and with new digital textbooks introduced this year, that number will likely grow.
Before using apps, remember that learning objectives come first; recommend specific digital tools and communicate clear guidelines to help students meet expectations. Consider, too, whether apps should be used in guided instruction, or if they should be relegated to self-directed learning time. Many teachers now use the Flipped Classroom model, where class time is used primarily for discussion and collaborative work. Digital tools help students develop knowledge and skills prior to class, and help them contribute more substantively to discussions and project work.
So which apps can help build global competence? With a world of possibilities, what follows is a short list of mostly Apple iOS apps to help you get started. To download, go to the Apple iTunes store, search for the app by name, and click on the price button to synch with your device. Several of these apps are available for Android and other devices, too.
View artworks and artist bios from around the world. Play a quiz game; high scores can be linked to an online social gaming site. Parental controls allow teachers and parents to censor nude forms in art as necessary. (Grades 6-12 /iPhone / $0.99)
Love Art: National Gallery London
With one of the greatest collections of Western European art in the world, the National Gallery app shares over 250 pieces in a way that allows kids to touch the art. Includes commentary by artists, writers, and experts. (All ages / iPhone, iPod, and iPad / $2.99)
The Elements: A Visual Exploration
This one helps students learn about the periodic table in a hands-on way. Each element has various objects associated with it–many international. For instance, copper (Cu) features a Persian weave chain, a Chinese ritual bronze, and more. Each object can be rotated or viewed in three dimensions. Get current market prices for some elements, like gold. (Grades 8-12 / iPad / $13.99)
CDC Solve the Outbreak
Students become the detectives as they try to save lives by stopping the outbreak of diseases around the world. Students get clues, analyze data and solve the case while learning about diseases and outbreaks in an engaging way.
Free for iPad.
This interactive, engaging app allows you to look at the Earth’s continents and oceans and how they have changed over the last 4.5 billion years. Look through layers of data such as atmospheric composition, temperature, biodiversity, day lengthy and solar luminosity.
Choose a local observation site and use this app to record plant changes and animal sightings once a week. These findings will contribute to the nature tracking project from the USA National Phenology Network.
Grades 4 – adult / iPhone, Android / Free
Project NOAH (Networked Organisms And Habitats)
Students can join citizen scientists around the world by tracking wildlife in the local habitat. Activities include photographing animals, documenting observations, classifying findings using the community field guide, and sharing with the project to participate in missions and earn digital badges.
Grades 4 – adult / iPhone and Android / Free
iLiveMath: Animals of Africa and Asia
This app series combines math and zoology. Going beyond math equations and flash cards, iLiveMath tests students with illustrative questions and challenges their applied math skills. The iLiveMath series (including Animals of Africa and Animals of Asia) uses photos, videos, wikis, and sound to stimulate learning via various levels of difficulty. It targets 1st through 6th graders on basic concepts of calculating time, weight, and other measures. (Age appropriateness vary by app / iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad / $4.99 each)
This multilingual, talking app helps students learn fractions in English, French, or Spanish. It has multiple levels. (Ages 4-12 / iPad / $2.99)
Everyone knows 1 + 1 = 2. But did you know Dot + Line = 6? Take your math skills to the next level while learning the ancient Maya’s remarkable number system in this fast-paced counting game! (Late elementary school to adult / iPhone or iPad / free)
English Language Arts
This app by the International Children’s Digital Library allows students to create their own storybook by adding text and images (including photos or images they draw), and sharing their books via email. (Grades K-12 / iPhone, iPod Touch / Free)
Another storybook creation app, this one allows students to create their own stories as cartoons. Students learn about a story arc, how to create characters, and about other cultures, customs, and lifestyles through stories created by their peers around the world. (Grades K-12 / iPad / Free)
The Flat Stanley and Flat Stella characters have traveled the globe connecting children to the world. Students track their travels and document their adventures. No longer confined to cardboard cutouts, this free app enables students to create their own digital Flat Stanley or Flat Stella. Students can customize the character’s hair, features, and clothes and superimpose Flat Stanley or Stella on photos. Share photos and stories via email, Facebook, as well as the Flat Stanley map and network. In combination with a digital storytelling app such as StoryKit, VoiceThread, Animoto, or Scribble Press, the possibilities are endless. (All ages / iPhone, iPod touch, iPad / Free)
ICDL Books for Children
The International Children’s Digital Library brings thousands of children’s books from over 60 countries to young readers. (Preschool and Elementary / iPhone, iPod touch, iPad / Free)
Designed to empower citizen journalists around the world, this app enables students to create high-quality stories and news reports using a mobile device. Engage students in creating and sharing a range of audio, video, and photo projects using the examples, lessons and templates provided.
Android / Free
Flight of the Pamplemousse
Book for elementary students involving travel through dreamlands and France. Accompanying educator guide available.
$1.99 on iPad (50% discount for educators)
A website and related storybook apps that has activity, games, and bedtime stories from around the world. (Preschool and Elementary / iPad / each story is $0.99)
This multimedia story and activity app is based on the award-winning children’s book What Does It Mean To Be Global? by Rana DiOrio with illustrations by Chris Hill. Writing, art, music, and educational activities in Spanish and English are designed to help children learn about cultures, languages, and values from around the world. (Ages 4 and up / iPhone and iPad / $1.99)
This Quest Visual app instantly translates signs, menus, labels, anything written into Spanish and French (more languages are promised soon). Try it in a scavenger hunt activity. (Grades 1-12 / iPhone, iPad / Free, but accompanying dictionaries, if you want them, are $9.99 each)
FREE [Language] Tutor
Games in Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish engage language learners. Good for beginning students. To find this app, insert desired language in the title, for example, “Free Chinese Tutor.” (Grades 1-12 / Free for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch / Free)
Translate written English into more than 50 other languages, or you can flip it and translate other languages into English. Some languages (not all) come with a text-to-speech button as well, so you can hear how to say it and see how it’s written. And a few languages have voice recognition translations. This is a great app for English language learners and foreign language classes. (Grades 6 - adult / iPhone, iPad / Free, but deluxe versions start at $3.99)
This language learning app provides series of lessons mapped out so that students must master each level in order to unlock the next. Learning activities include written and verbal/audio translation as well as fill-in-the-blank and multiple choice. Students are motivated to keep learning with progress markers and badges, but the highlight of the experience is after mastering certain levels, learners are asked to help translate real pages on the Web. Current languages offered are English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish.
iPhone and Android (May 29) / Free
These apps are designed to make language learning fun. Each app includes interactive games that teach vocabulary and conversation skills in one of 13 languages including Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish.
All ages / iPhone and iPad / Free
Spanish Word Bingo
Practice over 150 Spanish words in 10 different categories by playing four different games. Allows you to track and view words that you got wrong.
Free online or .99 cents for the iPhone iPad app
This app helps you learn essential phrases (including slang), practice speaking into a translator, and teaches you about local culture. Languages include French, German, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese, and Spanish.
Free to try; $9.99 for full access to one language
Today in History
This app lists notable international events in history as well as important figures’ birthdates and deaths. Use this app for quizzes, facts of the day, or home practice. (Grades 3-12 / iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch / Free)
Meat, grains, fruits, paper, and clothing–all require water to produce. The Virtual Water app informs consumers about their daily water footprint. Use this app to help students learn more about the earth’s precious resource and the relationship between water and food security. (Grades 4 and up / iPhone, iPod touch, iPad iOS / $1.99)
History: Maps of the World
Explore maps from around the world, including ancient maps. You can search by country, category, topic (money, transportation, etc), or era. Other apps by the same company (which cost $4.99 each) include Maps of Asia, Africa, Oceania, Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. (Grades4-12 / iPhone, iPad / Free)
Fly around by swiping your finger, zoom in or out by pinching, and browse layers including places, photos, and Wikipedia articles by tapping on the screen. (All ages /iPhone, iPad, and Android / Free)
National Geographic World Atlas
Explore the nations and territories of the world with National Geographic maps. View maps in the traditional “Executive” and “Classic” styles or seamlessly transition to satellite and road maps from Bing. This app also offers a library of maps that can be downloaded for offline use. (All ages / iPhone, iPod touch, iPad / $1.99)
With an intuitive and flexible interface, this app makes it easy to navigate the CIA World Factbook including geography, government, economics, communications, transportation, military, and transnational information. Maps and comparisons make it easy to locate and compare data across countries. (Grades 4-12 / iPhone, iPod touch, iPad / $0.99)
This app from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) provides comparative information about global economic indicators including population, migration, energy, technology, education, health, and the environment. (Grades 4-12 / iPhone and Android / Free)
Kids World Maps
A visually appealing tool with easy navigation between political and physical maps as well as maps highlighting cities, deserts, mountains, or rivers. (Elementary / iPad / $0.99)
GeoBee Challenge by National Geographic
Master this game, and you’re ready to become the next National Geographic Bee Champion! Challenges come in three rounds: multiple choice questions, interactive map questions, and the bonus round where students match National Geographic photos to their locations on the map. (Grades 4-12 / iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Android, and NookColor / $1.99)
Geo Walk HD – 3D World Fact Book
This app makes learning about the world interactive and a lot of fun. Navigate the globe to discover points of interest. Tap the cards to zoom into interesting images and information. Search by topic or filter for specific categories: places, animals, plants, people, or events. (Grades 4-12 / iPhone, iPod touch, iPad / $2.99)
Stuck on Earth – Free World Travel Guide
“The ultimate for photographers, explorers, and daydreamers,” this app is a great way to explore and discover fascinating and beautiful places around the globe captured by talented photographers worldwide. (Grades 4-12 / iPad / Free)
This National Geographic Society app explores the challenges of a growing human population in a world with limited resources. See informative videos, interactive maps, in-depth articles, and photography. (Grades 9-12 / iPad / $4.99)
Stack the Countries
Quiz students on country capitals, landmarks, geographic locations, and more. They can touch, move, and drop the animated countries anywhere on the screen. They must build a stack of countries that reaches the checkered line to win each level. (Grades 7 – 12 / iPhone, iPad / $1.99)
Ansel and Clair’s Adventures in Africa
In this educational adventure game, alien Ansel and robot Clair explore three regions of Africa – the Nile Valley, the Sahara Desert, and the Serengheti Plains. Through their interactive journey, they learn about the animals, environment, history, geography, and culture of Africa. Kids will enjoy the animations, games, puzzles and engaging storyline, taking photos along the way for their travel journal.
Ages 4-9 / iPad / $4.99
This app enables students to compare how the world used to look with how it looks today. They learn about history by exploring the photos, videos, audio recordings, and stories pinned to the map, which is searchable by place, date, and Google streetview. Students are encouraged to contribute to the collection and create tours. How to guides, resources and activity ideas are provided for school projects. Created by WeAreWhatWeDo in partnership with Google.
Ages 16 and up, or with parent/guardian permission / iPhone, Android, Windows Phone / Free
Tap Quiz Maps World Edition
Learn countries of the world through this global geography game.
Free for iPhone and iPad
Middle and high school to adult.
Boom Boom! Revolution
Boom Boom cards turn random acts of kindness into a social game. Participants perform intentional acts of kindness¬–or underground acts of guerilla goodness–stated on the cards, then pass the card forward. Players inspire each other and celebrate their good deeds by documenting and sharing their stories via the app or Boom Boom Cards website. (All ages / iPhone, iPod touch, iPad / Free)
And Something for Every Category
This tool enables users to create interactive images by adding tags with embedded music, video, text, images, and links. Teachers can use Thinglink to connect students with multimedia resources and students can use it to explore new concepts and share their ideas.
iPhone and iPad app coming soon (http://app.thinglink.com)
Honor Moorman and Heather Singmaster contributed to this story.