Friday, February 3, 2012

New Apps, Sites, and Guides for Students and Families

We're always on the hunt for new and useful tech tools that can aid students and families in their pursuit of learning achievement. Today, we present our latest findings. As always, if you have a tip on a tool that's new to us, or if you have a personal story you would like to share about how you and your family are using apps or web tools to enhance your academic experience, let us know in the comments.

Starfall ABC’s

This site is divided into four sections so that kids of different skill levels can all benefit. Level 1 is dedicated to learning letter sounds, Level 2 does a nice job of walking kids through the process of sounding out words, and by Level 4, kids can choose from plays, Greek myths, comics, and other genres to practice their reading skills; a child can click on an unknown word and the website will read it correctly.

For kids just learning their alphabet and matching the sounds with the letters, there is an app available as well. Available for "iDevices," the Starfall ABCs app costs $2.99. It’s a fantastic tool with lots of repetition and imagery to help the sounds stick in children’s minds. There are even some simple games. It should be noted that the other reading levels available on the website are not currently available on the app. 

Montessori Crosswords

This app, available for $2.99 from the iTunes store, has earned continuously high ratings from users. Children are shown a picture and asked to drag letters from the alphabet into boxes to spell the word. They can hear each sound by tapping on it, reinforcing phonics skills. The game tracks the number of words spelled and also breaks the words into categories (“words with consonant blends,” “simple words with 3 sounds,” etc.)

Sound Literacy

Sound Literacy is an amazingly insightful tool for building a huge number of literacy skills. Children can use the app to practice learning basic skills like letter-symbol associations and phoneme segmentation or build sophisticated vocabulary using roots and affixes. Users can customize the letter tiles by adding their own letter combinations and colors (all short vowels can be blue, for example), and children can drag and drop the letters to carry out an almost endless variety of tasks. The biggest limitation to Sound Literacy, however, is that it is best used in conjunction with instruction. It is an excellent tool for students who work with a tutor, however, or whose parents wish to walk their kids through literacy-building exercises in more depth.


There are many apps that allow users to make and organize lists, but iProcrastinate has been among the best received. Like many other app offerings, tasks can be color coded, arranged in different ways, and synced between computers and devices. One of its most attractive features is its ability to offer ways to break tasks down into parts. This can be a blessing for any student with a tight schedule, but it’s an especially insightful and critical support for students who struggle with sequencing and for whom large tasks seem especially daunting.


For students who prefer to read on a screen, have limited space, or just want to save money, Kno website is an appealing option for accessing college textbooks. Instead of buying books from a store or online, students can purchase and download books through Kno. The service also allows students to practice good active reading techniques, like highlighting and note-taking with a sticky note feature, and students can record audio or video during lectures and take pictures of important notes on the board. Features not included in any textbook are three-dimensional diagrams (great for science courses) and a “quiz me” button that tests students on the material in portions of the textbook.


Phonemic awareness*, the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds in language, is essential for learning to read. While most children don’t require much work to develop their phonemic awareness, others cannot hear the difference between ship and sip or determine that rock and sock rhyme but rock and rack do not. For children struggling to hear and differentiate between the sounds of language correctly, HearBuilder software may be a useful teaching tool. The software, designed for students from kindergarten to grade 4, helps children develop nine areas of phonemic awareness, including syllable blending, syllable segmentation, phoneme deletion, phoneme addition, and rhyming. The lessons can be set to different levels of difficulty according to student skill. Customer reviews have been positive, and research, available for perusal on the HearBuilder website, has indicated that the product is effective.

*Note: The terms “phonemic awareness” and “phonological awareness” are often used interchangeably, though their meanings differ slightly. Phonemic awareness refers to the ability to hear phonemes, or the smallest units of sound, in language. Phonological awareness involves both sounds and letters and so goes beyond simply hearing sounds.

NYC Elementary School Guide

Lacking the bells and whistles of the apps and software listed above, a decidedly low-tech resource may nevertheless be helpful to New York City parents of young children interested in finding the right public school match for their child. The Department of Education has just released its 2012-2013 Elementary School Directory, with information about the registration process and on individual schools.

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