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Map Apps

Map leadIf history can be read as a series of interlocking maps, then teaching social studies can be thought of as more of a visual activity. Whether it’s for showing the westward trek in the U.S., how people made it from Asia to North America or the movement of troops during just about any war, the right maps can make social studies come alive.

The good news is that there are dozens of high quality map apps that are either free or cost next to nothing. The bad news is that few work on both iPads and Android slates, making it an either-or choice.

The next time you want to discuss how Hawaii came to be a state or why the Suez Canal was so importnat to the British empire, put the text book aside and reach for a map app. It’s all there.

Us puzzle mapsSometimes all you need is a little trick or game to teach a class the names of the states or European countries. That’s where the $2 United States Puzzle Map comes in. It not only has a game where kids drag the state to its proper position and give it a name, but as you play the game, the hints start to disappear. There’s also a trivia game to help them remember the difference between North and South Dakota. The prolific Jenny Sun has created a whole family of related Puzzle Map iPad games with ones for Europe, Asia and Africa, among others. 

GeacronAs its name implies, GeaCron involves the intersection of time and geography. Actually, it’s an impressive app that can show human history for the past 5,000 years in terms of land and people. You can keep the maps simple or layer in detail, like topography and events and roll the timeline forward or back to see the action. Tap or click on a name label to get details about the place and move around to see where the action is. It’s an excellent way to show the class what’s going on at different places in the world at the same time, such as the effect of the Napoleonic campaigns and our War of 1812. Just pick your time, place and scale, and you’re off. It’s an Android only app that costs $3.54.

Maps HistoryPut together by Seungbin Cho, Maps of the World has a slew of them, perfect for teaching about anything from early polar explorations to the battle for the Aleutian Islands during World War II. The free History: Maps of the World app only works on iPhones and iPads and lets you choose from hundreds of key maps that illustrate the before, during or aftermath of a change or conflict, sometimes all three. There are also versions of the app for showing the history of Asia, Oceania, America and the Middle East and the site is ad-supported. All have links to Wikipedia for detailed information and are overflowing with maps that can be printed or emailed to students.

Google mapsWhy rely on others to make maps for you when you can make your own set of historical maps for whatever the lesson plan is for the day. The key is learning the ins and outs of Google Maps. By taking a couple of hours to explore what’s possible with this amazingly deep program, you can get the idea of how to create your own teaching maps. There are ten lessons that run from the basics to 3-D imagery. It can turn jsut about any teacher or student into a map pro.

Old maps onlineWhen it comes down to it, you don’t need a tablet at all to view a series of instructive maps of the world. Old Maps Online is an excellent repository of antique maps that not only works in any browser window but has one of the best ways of finding a cool map for your lesson. On top of a basic map of the world is a zoomable rectangle that shows its geographic scope and a timeline above for the time period you’re looking for. The maps are generally of exceptional resolution and quality, range from 1000AD to the present. They come from the world’s greatest collections, including the Biblioteca Nacional de Colombia and the Utrecht University Library. Every map is a gem and a potential class lesson.




Chrome-Plated Windows

4. Frame - SolidWorks running on Frame (in Chrome, on Mac)Chromebooks are priced right for schools but because they don’t run Mac or Windows software, they can leave teachers wanting more. Frame can help by delivering Windows apps over the Web for students to use anything from Adobe’s Photoshop to Word. Rather than running the software locally, all the Windows apps are stored online and the heavy work is done at Frame’s server farm. The screen data is sent to each system, ready for interaction with the user. The software will be available later this year.

Fun, Games and Learning

Filament evolutionWhy fight with students and a dull textbook to teach biology when they can have fun getting to know how things live and grow. Filament Learning’s PLEx Life Science is meant for middle-school students and augments the traditional biology curriculum with games and interactivity that takes learning to a new level. It can either run in a browser or as an iPad or Android app for $130 a year for up to 30 students.


Freebee Friday: GoQuest, Young Student

GoQuest - PBLThere’s bad news and good news for those of you who like teaching with Compass Learning’s Renzulli Learning curriculum software. The Renzulli product will be discontinued, but Compass is putting the final touches on a follow-on program called GoQuest. The new software covers elementary, middle- and high-school subjects and runs in a browser window, so any recent computer will work.

 GoQuest picks up where Renzulli leaves off with its familiar profile questionnaire. The idea is that kids start by taking a 45 minute survey that quizzes them on their interests and learning style. Based on the answers, GoQuest prepares a personalized education program that draws from the company’s library of 40,000 curriculum resources.

GoQuest - ProfilerTeachers can create individual or group assignments and share them across a school or district with other teachers, but the real worth of GoQuest comes at the end of each learning section with a project that each student needs to prepare. Based on a timeline of deadlines, the teacher can track who’s doing what and is presented with a yellow light for students who are three days from a deadline and red for assignments that have been missed. GoQuest will cost $25 per student for a year when it starts commercial operation this fall, but for now you can try the beta.

Curriculum Mapping Made Easy

Curriculum trakIf mapping out your school’s curriculum is turning into a time sink that doesn’t seem to end, think about automating the task. Dynamic’s online Curriculum Trak is based in the cloud so any computer can be used and teachers can collaborate by doing different sections at the same time. The results can be shared across classes, other schools and even to parents.  A district with less than 400 students will pay a $475 set up fee, which includes creating school-specific templates, plus $600 a year. A free demo is available.

Pre-School Brain Power

Screen520x924With the current expansion of pre-K classes, getting kids ready for school has never been more important. Kiko’s Thinking Time is an iPad app that stimulates and exercises a small child’s brain, readying them for critical thinking. It all seems like games, but the app can improve learning capacity in three to seven year olds. The app is free but it costs $8 a month or $50 a year to use the 10 games.

Freebee Friday: Hour of Coding Power

Code studioOne of the best ways to teach how to turn ideas into working programs is to use Coed.org’s Hour of Code interactive lesson. Once you’ve introduced the kids to the art of programming, go to the site’s lessons where students (ad teachers) can make simple programs in a matter of minutes. Many have familiar characters, such as Elsa from “Frozen.” There are tutorials on JavaScript, phone apps and making games. It’s all free and ltos of fun.

Freebee Friday: Red, Blue and Green Letter Day

AbcEvery day can be letter day with ABC PreSchool Playground because this Android app can help preschoolers learn their letters with a trio of games. Your school’s smallest students can match letters with words, trace dots to form letters, listen to the letters’ sounds and color any of them.




ISTE UPDATE: The Learning Odyssey

Odyssey labOdysseyware has a slew of new curriculum for a variety of students and teaching techniques, from going beyond meeting the Common Core standards to new Tech Ed courses. The new materials include full math coverage of Common Core standards, 20 virtual labs, six new Career and Technical Education courses and test preparation classes for the most important standardized exams.

ISTE UPDATE: Kids Clean Up

After the storm bThe intriguing idea behind After the Storm is that the educational game deals with the days after a huge hurricane has devastated the town. The town’s sixth grade class takes over writing, editing and distributing the local online magazine. Along the way, they describe the damage and how the people are coping. The game emphasizes reading, writing and role playing and it is aligned with Common Core standards for everything from finding key ideas and details to writing informative and explanatory texts. It should go on sale later this summer.



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