Apps, Programs and Websites
Apps, Programs and Websites for Parents, Teachers and Kids
Science
ARKive

Grades: 5-9

Level of Difficulty: Low

Bloom’s New Taxonomy: Application, Comprehension, Knowledge

Schank’s Cognitive Processes: Experimentation, Judgment

Costa: Level I and II

Website: http://www.arkive.org/

ARKive is primarily a website devoted to the storing of thousands of pictures and videos of animals, plants, and fungi. There are supposedly over 100,000 pictures and videos available for viewing. Much of the focus throughout this website will be on conservation and highlighting the plight of endangered species. The pictures and videos on this site are, however, nothing short of awesome. There are topical units available for teachers and parents, some of which include topics such as: climate change, camouflage, coral reef conservation, reforestation, and snakes. The site also has learning games and activities, though some of them are slightly disconnected from what the kids are learning. Unfortunately, a few of the games are relatively pointless and have little value as a learning tool. Quizzes are also available, and they are fun to take, but a few are on topics so narrow or obscure as to be also relatively worthless. The site is appropriate for individuals, groups, or entire classes. The website has a slant toward animals and ecosystems of Great Britain.

Overall: This is a great 5 star site for pictures and videos of nature. It is weaker (3 star) on the curricular end of the equation. Four Stars overall ★★★★

Citizen Science

Grades: 5-8

Level of Difficulty: Moderate

Bloom’s New Taxonomy: Evaluating, Analyzing, Applying

Schank’s Cognitive Processes: Prediction, Modeling, Diagnosis, Causation, Influence

Costa: Level II and III

Website: https://goo.gl/nZ5Kbh

Citizen Science is an unusual science program because it really is an interdisciplinary project. It combines the science of gathering evidence to determine what is happening in the ecology of a lake with the introduction of needing to talk with various stakeholders around the lake to also determine the public policy. One of the more interesting parts of the program is the ability to quickly manipulate nine different inputs affecting the ecology of the lake and see how it affects the outcome of ten different outputs. For example, kids can manipulate the amount of manure being treated, the amount of buffer strip planting, and how many rain gardens exist around the lake and watch how it affects the phosphate levels, algae, plankivore, and clarity levels of the lake. The program is rather cartoonish and involves a talking muskrat, so be ready for that.

Overall: I would consider using this in a flipped classroom or as a unit for homeschoolers. The interaction of science and public policy is a unique approach because pure science doesn’t always prevail over local politics. Adults know that but middle school kids don’t. Five Stars ★★★★★

Coaster Crafter

Grades: 5-9

Level of Difficulty: Moderate

Bloom’s New Taxonomy: Creating, Evaluating, Analyzing, Applying

Schank’s Cognitive Processes: Modeling, Experimentation, Diagnosis, Planning, Causation

Costa: Level II and III

Website: https://goo.gl/wjFNcB

This is an excellent website to help kids understand beginning physics, particularly the concepts of force and motion. The creators of this site have developed a game atmosphere to teach force and motion, using roller coasters. What middle school kid doesn’t like roller coasters? The object of the game is to design a better roller coaster. There are varying levels of difficulty and a methodical process for moving through the game prevents kids from wildly skipping the science and going directly to mindlessly running a roller coaster. Each part of the roller coaster must be completed before kids are allowed to move forward. There are lots of teacher materials available and interviews of scientists which can be shown to the kids. This game has some more difficult vocabulary and concepts and fifth and sixth graders may find themselves over their heads, but I think they can still get some essential learning components out of the program.

Overall: The physics concept of force and motion may never be the same again after playing this game from start to finish. Five Stars ★★★★★

Discover Science

Grades: 5-9

Level of Difficulty: Moderate

Bloom’s New Taxonomy: Analyzing, Applying

Schank’s Cognitive Processes: Predicting, Experimentation, Evaluation, Diagnosis

Costa: Level II

Website: http://www.calacademy.org/explore-science/

This website is provided courtesy of the San Francisco California Academy of Sciences Museum. The lesson plans and science kits provided will be based on the California standards. This could be either welcoming or annoying, depending on in which state you happen to reside. Still, most science standards are fairly coherent across the United States, so I wouldn’t worry about it too much. If you find a great lesson or kit available and it happens to have been made in California, do you care? I don’t think so. This site provides lectures, research, news, videos, webcams, and a video gallery to help middle school kids see science in action. As a bonus, the kid will get to see actual scientists working on real-life problems and situations. Sometimes kids will also be able to look through three webcams and observe science in action.

Overall: This is a great site for finding supplemental materials for your classroom. This is also a boon to the homeschooling parent. Four Stars ★★★★

Journey North

Grades: 5-9

Level of Difficulty: Low to Moderate

Bloom’s New Taxonomy: Analyzing, Applying

Schank’s Cognitive Processes: Experimentation, Diagnosis,

Costa: Level I and II

Website: http://www.learner.org/jnorth/

This web-based program is all about having middle school kids follow the seasonal changes as it relates to animal migrations, plant growth, and changes in the amount of sunlight an area receives. The site is full of information on all of these topics and best of all—it’s free. In the program, kids can record and share their observations of plants, birds and animals, watch webcams, follow migratory maps, watch calendar maps of the different seasons, and observe weather and climate maps over a calendar year. There are also useful vocabulary activities and ideas on topics such as distinguishing facts from opinions and comparing and contrasting ideas. This site is probably going to be used as a resource in the classroom by teachers or homeschooling parents or even accessed by kids looking for something to do beside playing video games or watching television.

Overall: There is more to this site than what you initially think when you hear about the program. Watching the moving twelve-month calendar climate map is almost worth going to the site all by itself. Four Stars ★★★★

PLEx: Life Science Suite

Grades: 5-9

Level of Difficulty: Moderate

Bloom’s New Taxonomy: Analyzing, Applying, Understanding

Schank’s Cognitive Processes: Prediction, Modeling, Experimentation, Causation

Costa: Level I and II and III

Website: https://www.filamentgames.com/products

Because learning is so visual, I really like the units available from this company. Science teachers will quickly recognize many of the topics as being key to what is required by many middle school state standards—such as photosynthesis, genetics, force and motion, and human physiology. There is a teacher dashboard so it is possible to monitor individual students. The only downside of these programs is that they cost money and as a result, the average typical science teacher may have no opportunity to use them. Even at a cost of $3 per student (assuming the bulk discount applies), the cost of a typical teacher with five sections of kids, could easily surpass $750. And if 60 teachers in a building of a 1,000 kids had access to that kind of money to buy programs, it could easily cost the principal $45,000 a year. I can tell you for a fact that only very wealthy schools can afford this kind of money on an annual basis. If you are in one of these schools, great, good for you. If you are not, you’ll have to look at cheaper alternatives. However, parents and teachers who can afford it should seriously look at these science units. Parents, these are much better birthday presents than the latest movie videos or video games.

Overall: These aren’t perfect science units but they are better than most. Five Stars ★★★★★

Science Buddies

Grades: 5-9

Level of Difficulty: Moderate to High

Bloom’s New Taxonomy: Creating, Evaluating

Schank’s Cognitive Processes: Modeling, Experimentation, Planning, Describing

Costa: Level I and II and III

Website: http://www.sciencebuddies.org/

This is the go-to website for information on how to successfully create a science project for the science fair. A big bonus of this site is that information is presented for the teachers, the parents, and the students. Thus, all three groups can equally use the site. Each area—no matter what the group—will get helpful advice on guidelines and timelines to be paying attention to as preparation for the science fair builds. The site includes checklists, handouts, grading rubrics, and project ideas. There is even an “ask-the-expert” area and the ability to filter for the difficulty or time needed to complete a project. As a bonus, Science Buddies also includes information on careers in science.

Overall: If I were thinking about getting ready for a Science Fair and I had no idea what to do, this is one of the first sites I’d go to for advice and guidance, no matter whether I was a parent, teacher, or student. Five Stars ★★★★★

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