Apps, Websites and Games to Help Young Makers Thrive

July 23, 2014
By Educator Innovator

A friend recently pondered why so many kids create parodies of pop songs and public figures on YouTube. “Are kids losing the ability to appreciate other people’s work?” she wondered.

Fairly or unfairly, these words echoed in my head:

Kids should be seen, not heard.
Kids should consume, not create.

Teachers, as much as any group, see the joy students get when they invent their own painting, rap, or app. Yet, there are few frameworks or tests that connect student outcomes with making.

On Common Sense’s Graphite, our free platform that serves up the best apps, websites, and games for learning, our educator editorial team places huge emphasis on creating and making. This mentality is evident in our rating rubric, which stresses items like student empowerment and the ability for students to create learning artifacts. We also celebrate the spirit of invention on Common Sense’s Graphite by:

1) Surfacing products and Top Picks lists that promote media making.
2) Offering blog posts on topics like Maker Faire and ways to use media-making tools.
3) Encouraging teachers to add Field Notes (teacher reviews) with specific examples of how they’ve incorporated media production into their teaching.

And here are 7 of our Top Picks lists of apps, websites, and games to help your young makers thrive:

1) Best Tech Creation Tools
Students love to make their own creations — no matter what the topic. These terrific tools give them the right tools to narrate, animate, and dictate. Experiment with different formats to address a variety of subjects and topics.

2) Websites and Apps for Making Videos and Animation
Teachers know that video making is a tried and true way to get kids engaged in building, demonstrating, and sharing knowledge. These apps and sites have user-friendly tools and features that make it fun to get kids’ productions edited and polished.

3) Mind Mapping and Brainstorming Apps and Websites
These picks give teachers and students ways — both alone or in groups — to generate and organize ideas that refine and reinvent the traditional graphic organizer. These tools are particularly good for students who have challenges organizing their thoughts.

4) STEAM Apps, Games, and Websites
When their forces combine, science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM) are a super group of essential subjects that lead to long-lasting learning. Mix and match these picks to help students cultivate design sense and inventiveness.

5) Game Making Tools for Schools
By making games, students can show what they know. Game development is fun and challenging, energizing classrooms and getting students thinking in new, exciting ways. These picks are great options for entry-level creators and they ease kids into building.

6) Great Apps, Games, and Sites for Music and Composing
Students can listen to music, make it, or both as they experiment with rhythm, pitch, and lyrics. Watch them turn tunes from major to minor, hear songs arranged for a range of instruments, and make themed playlists.

7) Top Tools for Remix
Remix – or combing different media to make or say something new – is an essential 21st century skill. It gets kids making things, thinking in new ways, and digging into the essence of meaning. These picks run the gamut and get kids tinkering.

More digital products are being created today with an emphasis on digital creation. Our editorial team believes this increase is due in part to the maker movement and to the Connected Learning principles of production-centered, interest-driven design that are being infused into teaching by educator innovators. In concert with this maker surge, we see companies like Google thriving as they put these principles in place. Employees devote a percentage of their time to devising their own projects that are unrelated to their job function and more non-search related initiatives, such as self-driving cars and Google Play for Education, are cropping up.

Keep the momentum going. We have the power to inspire the next super coder, the next inventor of new age technology, the next cutting edge scientist, by giving kids a voice and the right platforms.

by Shira Lee Katz, Senior Director of Education Content at Common Sense Media
Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons, Stephen Chin, Steveonjava/cc BY 2.0