You might not think of smartphones and tablets as tools for students, but they play as much a role as pencils, paper and Trapper Keepers. Pick the right apps for a mobile device, and you’ve got a portable calculator, note-taker and learning aid all rolled into one.
With kids headed back to school, it’s time to take a closer look at the apps that should be going to class with them. We’ve looked at a bunch of apps for a wide range of grade levels — from elementary school up to high school — and these are our favorite mobile apps for students.
Apps for elementary school students
Khan Academy Kids (Android, iOS): The non-profit educational site Khan Academy provides a wealth of free educational videos and online lessons, and its Khan Academy Kids app continues in that same vein. Kid-oriented videos and courses help your student work on language skills, math, logic, and emotional development, and it’s all presented in a child-safe environment and format.
Amazon FreeTime Unlimited (Android, iOS): Look to Amazon FreeTime Unlimited for a fun-filled child-friendly space filled with books, movies, TV shows and videos from a variety of kid friendly and educational brands, including Disney, PBS, and Nickelodeon. A parental controls system makes it easy to set limits, configure educational goals (and choose appropriate media), restrict categories, and find conversation starters and discussion questions to help connect with what your kids are watching and reading. The app also includes a safe web browsing mode that lets kids access a carefully curated collection of sites and videos. Users can try out the service for free for a month, and subscriptions cost $2.99 per month for Amazon Prime members, and $4.99 per month for everyone else.
BrainPOP Featured Movie (Android, iOS): BrainPOP is an educational media stalwart with a wealth of animated videos aimed at K-12 students, and now, BrainPOP's mobile app brings these videos right to your kid's smartphone or tablet. The Featured Movie app brings a small library of free videos as well as a daily featured movie and quiz; subscription options increase the number of videos you can view while unlocking the full BrainPOP mobile library of educational videos and quizzes.
Epic (Android, iOS): With access to more than 35,000 children’s books, audiobooks, educational videos and quizzes, Epic is a $7.99-a-month subscription service that’s basically the Neflix of education. Epic allows kids to explore a vast library of child-safe content, with material designed for kindergarten up to 7th grade reading levels, with personalized reading recommendations helping you find new material. An Epic for Educators version aimed at librarians and educators is available for free.
Dragonbox Algebra 5+ (Android, iOS): DragonBox Algebra 5+ is a genuinely clever educational math game that skillfully hides the fact that it's teaching your kids algebra. Targeted at kids aged 5 and up (really!), the $4.99 DragonBox Algebra starts out with simple logic puzzles that have kids matching symbols together to clear one side of the screen. Each puzzle adds new quirks and game rules that cleverly mirror the basic rules of elementary algebra, until in no time at all, your kids are unknowingly balancing the sides of an algebraic equation to isolate a treasure box symbol, gradually replaced with an X. The game features 10 chapters with 200 puzzles in total, and covers addition, division and multiplication. A more complex version, Dragonbox Algebra 12+ (Android, iOS) tackles beginning algebra elements more thoroughly for an older crowd.
Prodigy (Android, iOS): Another app that gamifies math, Prodigy uses an MMORPG-like framework with challenges that you defeat using your math skills. The game keeps track of your profile, customizing its selection of challenges based on a player’s strengths and weaknesses. Its math questions are aligned with state level and common core curricula. The core of the game is free, though a premium subscription tier allows for faster level-ups and access to members-only areas of the app.
Apps for middle school students
OneNote (Android, iOS): Comprehensive, well-organized study notes are incredibly helpful for study and reviewing your lessons. OneNote is a powerful, multi-platform note-taking app that helps keep your notes in sync across your mobile devices and desktop or laptop. So students can turn to OneNote to organize and keep access to their notes, typing them out in class and reviewing them at home or on the go. Your school might even provide an Office 365 account for students, which offers extra features to an already impressive note-taking package.
Dictionary.com (Android, iOS): Educational materials can be loaded with technical terms and unfamiliar words that can confuse students. Dictionary.com’s mobile app is a handy study companion that lets students quickly look up the definitions and pronunciations of difficult words. The app also combines dictionary and thesaurus functions into one app, so students can look up synonyms and antonyms, too. While the core dictionary function is free, in-app purchases get rid of advertising and add more features like a rhyming dictionary, medical terms, and idioms.
AntiSocial (Android): Social media and other mobile distractions can be ubiquitous in the modern world, working like a time-sink for undisciplined students. AntiSocial is a monitoring app designed to show you just how much time you spend on your phone and with particular apps, with easy-to-interpret reports that compare usage to other users. You can then use this data to create app blacklists that limit how often you can use a particular app. You can set a timer per use, an overall time budget, or even blacklist an app; you can also block out particular hours of the day where you can’t access a particular app.
iStudiez Pro (Android, iOS): iStudiez Pro is a freemium study planner and schedule management app built with students in mind. Designed to be easy to use and cross-platform, iStudiez Pro can accommodate a variety of schedule styles, from classic weekly schedules to A&B weeks, rotating and block schedules. Students can input the details of each classes’ teacher with contact details. The app comes with a homework planner that reminds you of due dates and to-dos. A flexible Today view that highlights your upcoming classes and deadlines. While the app is free, certain features, such as cross-device syncing, require a premium subscription to unlock.
myHomework Student Planner (Android, iOS): myHomework Student Planner is another schedule planner built with the busy student in mind. The app allows users to set and track their class schedules and log their homework requirements. Everything’s easily viewed through a home screen or today widget. Students can sync their data between devices in the free tier, with premium subscriptions unlocking extra options like customization, file attachments, enhanced widgets, and schedule sharing.
Quizlet (Android, iOS): Flashcards are a useful learning tool, whether for rote memorization or spee- testing your skills in a variety of disciplines. The Quizlet digital flashcards platform lets you create your own flashcards for study, or you can download study sets created by other users, sorted by a variety of topics. You can use Quizlet’s test exercises for specialized lessons like languages or for standardized test prep such as for the SAT or ACT. The app is free to use, with premium subscription tiers removing advertising, and adding features like image uploading and offline access.
Apps for high school students
Otter Voice Meeting Notes (Android, iOS): As lessons and lectures become more complex, a good voice recording app can be an excellent study aid, allowing you to record and review difficult lectures later on. Otter Voice Notes is a smart transcription app, recording from your phone's internal mic or through a Bluetooth device. The app then automatically transcribes your work nearly in real-time, complete with punctuation, speaker ID, and searchable playback of your recordings. Users can edit transcripts to fix any errors, and then export transcripts to text or to other apps. The free plan doesn't even hobble the experience, offering users 600 free minutes of transcribed audio every month. A $9.99-per-month subscription ups that to 6,000 minutes.
Wolfram Alpha (Android, iOS): Wolfram Alpha’s computational knowledge engine is a veritable wizard at answering questions about a bewildering array of topics, from mathematics and biology to chemistry, physics, geometry, geography and more. Whether you’re looking for detailed solutions to a thorny math problem or the minutiae of history’s names and places, the $2.99 Wolfram Alpha app will help you find it, break it down, and analyze it, so that it becomes more than just another search engine.
MyScript Calculator 2 (Android, iOS): MyScript Calculator comes to the rescue of those of us accustomed to writing down equations on pen and paper rather than punching them into a calculator. A handwriting recognition system allows users to write down equations, with the app calculating the results. MyScript supports basic arithmetic, as well as percent, square roots, trigonometric (and inverse) functions, logarithms and constants such as pi and Euler's number. The iOS edition is up to version 2, adding extras like history, a memory function, multi-line support, dragging and dropping, and a ton of usability improvements.
Photomath (Android, iOS): Photomath turns a phone's camera into a calculator, with users able to use their camera viewfinder to scan and instantly solve math problems. Scan a problem, and the app displays the final answer along with a step-by-step breakdown of the problem's solution so that you can learn how to figure out solutions on your own. Photomath provides support for alternative answers, as well as a smart calculator for editing scanned equations and a new graphing mode. The app handles everything from basic algebra to linear, quadratic, and absolute equations and inequalities, systems of equations, trigonometry, and more with equal aplomb.
Desmos Graphing Calculator (Android, iOS): Graphing calculators are helpful tools for teaching calculus, but they can also be clunky and expensive. Given the sheer computing power available in your smartphone, it’s no surprise that there are graphing calculator apps that provide the same functionality for free, or a fraction of the cost of a dedicated calculator. Desmos Graphing Calculator is a free, powerful graphing calculator app that covers a wide variety of graphing functions and works fully offline without any problems. Users can input functions to display on a graph (with options for the Cartesian, polar, and parametric coordinate systems), using sliders to animate parameters, view output tables, input points, find the best fit line and more.
Khan Academy (Android, iOS): As with Khan Academy Kids, this app from the non-profit Khan Academy provides an incredible variety of free educational videos and content on just about every topic under the sun — from math and the sciences, to musical theory, civics and history. Students can use Khan Academy’s library of videos and courses to prepare and review for big tests like the SATs, or freely explore whatever catches their interest, while educators can mine the app’s video library for a wealth of educational content to enhance their lessons and lectures.
TurboScan (Android, iOS): TurboScan turns your mobile phone or tablet into a portable scanner, allowing you to quickly snap photos of your notes, library readings, or even your teacher’s chalkboard diagrams. You can then use the app to easily convert those scans into flattened images that you can save, with TurboScan automatically detecting the document’s edges and correcting for perspective. The result can be saved as PDF or JPG files for review during your next study session.