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STEM apps

These STEM-oriented nonfiction apps can help intermediate students brush up on knowledge for the coming school year — or invite them to explore an engaging new subject.

What if we measured our lives in units other than hours, days, months, and years? Would life “feel shorter? Longer? More absurd? More precious?” Input your birthdate into How Many Saturdays? to see the estimated number of an uncommon unit of time that have occurred “since you were born” or remain “until you die” (which some users may find a bit morbid). How many times have you probably laughed? How many blue moons might you see? How does your lifetime compare to that of a goldfish, or a Bristlecone Pine? Tap to read more about any of the units of time, which span various disciplines. Straightforward text and appealing graphics present big ideas about time in an accessible way. (Exploratorium, 9–12 years)

Mammals opens on a natural history museum–like gallery featuring five creatures: bat, sloth, kangaroo, elephant, and tiger. Tap on any animal to learn more about its internal systems (muscular, cardiovascular, reproductive, etc.) and bodily functions. Optional labels identify specific body parts. There are also activities designed to simulate each creature’s vision, race any two of the animals, and compare the textures of their fur. Illustrations in muted tones are aesthetically pleasing — realistic enough to be educational, but not hyper-realistic. This is an easy-to-navigate exploratory learning app appropriate for a range of ages; a free downloadable digital manual adds to its usefulness. (TinyBop, 9–12 years)

Math curriculum supplement Reflex features an assortment of games based on specific skills — addition, subtraction, multiplication and division — and focused on “fact families.” The games are varied and responsive to a child’s learning, assessing fluency before incorporating new fact families into the mix. Games include “Alien Sundae,” “Quick Slither,” “Wind Rider,” and “Swamp Chomper” (Note: a few rely on cultural stereotypes). Students, parents, and teachers can monitor progress through fluency grids, charts, and reports. Though the app is geared towards classroom use, Reflex can also be accessed at home with a class login or family subscription. (ExploreLearning, 6–12 years)

For an accessible general-knowledge app, join Dot — star of the CBC animated TV series of the same name — in her browseable virtual encyclopedia Dotopedia. The home screen is designed like a website: a search bar at the top, a featured article front and center, and links to additional ones at the bottom. Each entry includes brief, easy-to-follow text and an accompanying photo in a clean layout. There are over 200 articles covering a wide variety of subjects; daily quests (“Go to the ‘Whoopie Cushion’ article and record the sound it makes!”) and other activities prompt users to explore further. (CBC, 6–8 years)

From the August 2017 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.



Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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