7 apps and websites to strengthen 21st-century skills

Being a student today is really different than it used to be, even just a decade ago. Students today use, navigate and even make technology. And they’re often expected to communicate, interact and present just as they might in the workplace. Teachers can help students strengthen these vital 21st-century skills with these Android-friendly apps and websites, recommended by Common Sense Media.

For more information, check out the full reviews of these apps and others on Common Sense Media’s website.

  1. Amazing Alex

    Price: free-$2.99

    Subjects: science (engineering, gravity, physics)

    Skills: thinking and reasoning (hypothesis-testing, problem solving, solving puzzles); creativity (combining knowledge, imagination, making new creations); self-direction (initiative, work to achieve goals); communication (presenting or multiple forms of communication); tech skills (using and applying technology)

    Grades: 4th-8th

    Amazing Alex is a crazy-contraptions physics puzzler that challenges players to think and create with a handful of everyday objects and tools. By empowering kids to create fun and elaborate cause-and-effect interactions—and create and share their own puzzles—the app fosters hypothesis-testing skills and safe, structured peer interaction. Kids use trial and error and develop simple engineering skills that just might spark interest in building some real-world machines and devices.

    The graphics, menus and navigation are top notch. Difficulty ramps up slowly at first, engaging a range of ages, but then increases to a reasonable level for fourth graders and up. The free version has plenty of levels to keep kids busy plus eight puzzles of the week and thousands of kid-created puzzles, as well as occasional interrupting full-page ads.

  2. Animoto Videos

    Price: free (with paid in-app upgrades and free educator upgrade available)

    Subjects: language and reading

    Skills: creativity (combining knowledge, imagination, making new creations); tech skills (digital creation, social media, using and applying technology); thinking and reasoning (decision-making); communication (multiple forms of expression)

    Grades: 7th-12th

    Animoto Video Maker is a video slideshow creation tool that allows teens (Animoto requires users to be 13 or older) to combine pictures, video, music and text for digital storytelling on a mobile device. The app connects to an auto-generated Animoto Web account so teens can create, share and access their videos on a computer, too. Kids use an in-app camera to capture images or import images from their camera roll, then add music and text to make a 30-second video slideshow. Unlimited-length slideshows are available with paid upgrades or with a free educator’s upgrade (email address required). Animoto stores all the videos kids create within the app and in their account on the Animoto website.

    Animoto excels in its simplicity and impressive final product. The app uses “Cinematic Artificial Intelligence” to analyze music, photos and video clips to produce customized and orchestrated transitions between photos and video clips. There are helpful in-app editing tools to allow teens to spotlight, rotate, duplicate or delete images within their video slideshows. The text tool lets teens add relevant messages, statistics and captions to entertain and educate their audiences. Animoto offers students and teachers a great way to document and present any school experience–class assignments, field trips, science experiments, school plays and more–in a skillful and engaging way, all with the added benefit of easy sharing.

  3. Evernote

    Price: free

    Subjects: language and reading (writing)

    Skills: self-direction (academic development, working efficiently); tech skills (using and applying technology)

    Grades: 6th-12th

    With a history of rave reviews on the business, personal and home management fronts, Evernote has moved into the classroom. This productivity app can shift the way kids manage information in school and the way teachers share it. As a cloud-based storage system, it allows teachers and students to share and access information from multiple devices and locations. The developer’s website has many ideas for teachers on using Evernote for lesson planning, classroom management and instruction.

    The interface is easy to use, especially for the touch-screen generation. Notes save quickly and can be accessed easily. With audio, text, and image capabilities, Evernote can track almost any piece of information and make it searchable. In a time when many teachers have their personal smart phone and a tablet for school, Evernote takes away the worry of not having the right device when needed.

  4. Doodle Fit

    Price: free to try, or $0.99-$1.19

    Subjects: math (geometry, shapes)

    Skills: thinking and reasoning (applying information, decision-making, logic, part-whole relationships, solving puzzles)

    Grades: 2nd-6th

    Doodle Fit is an engaging geometric puzzle app with cool features and great flexibility. With 110 levels and multiple solutions for many of the puzzles, Doodle Fit will keep kids solving problems for quite a while. Each puzzle challenges them to study the whole to see where blocks can and can’t fit. Early puzzles are quite approachable for second and third graders, but difficulty ramps up quickly.

    The app tracks total time and number of moves used to solve each puzzle. It’s simple and streamlined, although it does connect to Facebook and has some in-app purchase options. Players can share high scores via the Game Center social network, but participation is optional.

  5. Google Maps

    Price: free

    Subjects: social studies (cultural understanding, exploration, geography, global awareness)

    Skills: thinking and reasoning (applying information, asking questions, collecting data, part-whole relationships); self-direction (achieving goals, goal setting, initiative, personal growth); tech skills (using and applying technology)

    Grades: 5th-12th

    Google Maps is essentially a map and navigation tool based on Google Earth with some very cool bells and whistles. Along with map layers like traffic, transit lines, Wikipedia, nearby services and friend mapping, there’s also solid navigation for driving, walking, riding the bus or bicycling. Navigation provides highlighted alternate routes, optional text-list display with voice guidance, street-level views with rotation, a peg man to drag around and easy zoom controls.

    In the classroom, Google Maps can be used in a wide range of subjects, from social studies and math to science and classroom expeditions. Google provides a guide for teachers using Google Maps. The few downsides are that it drains power like most navigation tools, and you must exit the app when you exit navigation. The main menu button is not always available, so moving around can get tricky.

  6. History Pin

    Price: free

    Subjects: language (naming, presenting to others, reading comprehension, storytelling, text analysis, writing); social studies (cultural understanding, events, exploration, geography, global awareness, history); arts (photography)

    Skills: creativity (combining knowledge, producing new content); self-direction (initiative, personal growth, self-reflection); communication (conveying messages, multiple forms of expression); collaboration (group projects, respecting others viewpoints); responsibility and ethics (honoring the community, respect for others); tech skills (digital creation, evaluating media messages)

    Grades: 6th-12th

    History Pin is an innovative way to explore and share historical photos across the globe and through time; it’s a social tool that can help broaden students’ understanding of history. Users can define any range of dates between 1840 and today, or browse collections like Protest, 1906 Earthquake and Fire, Facial Hair Through Time, and Seaside Collection. Registered users can also contribute by pulling from their device’s gallery or by taking a current photo through the app, sometimes to create an “overlay,” or a modern version of a historic photo taken from the same vantage point.

    Some places are better represented than others, but there’s something to look at in nearly every region or country in the world—even a couple of Korean War posts pinned to North Korea by an American. Many contributors are historical organizations such as the California State Library, or family groups like Rowley Family History.

  7. Trainyard

    Price: $2.99

    Subjects: math (counting, geometry); science (engineering, motion)

    Skills: thinking and reasoning (analyzing evidence, applying information, hypothesis testing, logic, prediction, solving puzzles); creativity (combining knowledge, developing novel solutions)

    Grades: 3rd-7th

    Trainyard is a train routing puzzle game that’s easy to learn but hard to master. Game play offers a simple goal: Get the color-coded trains from their outlets to their correct stations. As the game progresses, students encounter new obstacles and techniques coupled with effective tutorials that pop up during play.

    Students can learn real railway concepts like switching tracks, train car merging, crossovers and collisions. Geometric concepts such as symmetry and asymmetry, timing (based on counting squares), and color mixing make for a concept-packed experience. Levels named after Canadian provinces provide a bit of geography icing on the top. Students earn stars for each puzzle completed. About 150 levels ramp up slowly, but the harder challenges can stump even puzzle-loving adults.

This article is commissioned by Amplify Education Inc. The views expressed are the author’s own, and do not represent those of Amplify Education Inc.