According to a recent Princeton Review survey, 64% of American children feel they can’t turn to their parents for academic help—because those dopey old grownups aren’t up to speed on whatever’s being taught in schools these days.
But fear not, parents: Technology is here to help. We tracked down eleven tech tools that could save your kids—and you—much stress this school year when it’s homework time. Whether your students need help with math, a new (virtual) calculator, an online study group. or just some help staying focused, these websites and mobile apps could be just what they (and you) need.
Somewhere in your student’s past was a concept she couldn’t grasp, a school year where she lost her focus, or a teacher with some marbles missing. Such things leave holes in a student’s learning. When it comes to math and science in particular, which are always building on past knowledge, those holes can become long-term problems.
ALEKS.com is an adaptive tutor—specializing in math and science—that assesses what your student knows and then helps fill in any missing pieces, fixing past mistakes and helping her get ready for what’s next. If her teacher is using the program, she can get a code in class. If not, it’s $19.95 per month, after a free trial.
“What’s the quadratic equation? Who invented the zipper? What is Newton’s second law?” Kids always have questions. Kids doing homework have more questions than you want to answer. Brainly is a fun, social place to get crowdsourced answers. Kids who are nerdy about Newton can exchange data with other students who might be Poindexterous about polynomials. Asking questions is good, getting quick answers is better. But giving students a chance to play the expert for their virtual peers? That could be best of all. Free.
Let them watch cartoons! Yep, even during homework hour—as long as they’re watching these cartoons on BrainPop. Tim and his robot Moby explain everything from the workings of the human body to black holes, all in funny animations that are just a few minutes long. Don’t understand photosynthesis or the Magna Carta? These two will explain both while making you laugh. When homework hour is long past and your kids are still explaining the solar system to you? You’ll thank me. Some classes are free; full access is $10 a month.
Does the school-supply list ask for a scientific calculator? Instead of going out a buying a dedicated handheld model (have you seen the prices on those things lately?), save yourself some cash and install this calculator app from Apalon onto your student’s iPhone, iPad, or Android phone or tablet. It does basic calculations, of course. But rotate the device, and the app turns into a heavy-duty scientific calculator—slick and pretty. This is one calculator you will always be able to find. (Currently $1 for the full version.)
Got a distracted kid? (Who doesn’t?) This app could help him focus by blocking out everything that isn’t homework. Install this app on your Windows PC (Mac version is coming), set up the calendar with times when only the sites and programs you specify are allowed will work, and watch the homework get done without the myriad distractions of social media, silly cat videos, and Reddit gaming powwows. Free for basic version.
(Another alternative in a similar vein: the Stay Focused add-in for Chrome lets you create lists of allowed or blocked sites and set times when those rules will be in effect. Free.)
One man—Sal Khan—with great wit and a way with a digital stylus is using technology to transform the way the world learns everything from basic addition to advanced physics. If you install only one app on your student’s tablet (iOS or Android) or if you bookmark only one site on her computer, make it this one, and do it now. Then watch Sal’s Ted Talk video (with a cameo by Bill Gates) to find out about the revolution that’s happening in learning. Don’t be left out! Everything here is free.
Motion Math Cupcake
If your student can’t make it through the full homework hour without stopping to play a game, make it this one. Turns out that running a cupcake-delivery business—managing the cash register, shopping for ingredients, delivering the goods before the customers get frustrated, and making a profit—requires a lot of math. This game ($5, for iOS) is fun, but also requires players to master multiplication, addition, and word problems–perhaps without even realizing they’re doing so.
You can’t do the homework if you don’t know what it is. A paper planner just lies there—if your student can find it in the first place. But this app (for iOS, Android, Windows, and Chrome) lives on the one device she can always find– her smartphone—and reminds her from there when assignments are due. If her teacher uses the companion app (Teachers.io), even better: He can publish the homework right to students’ MyHomework planner, and it will show up on her phone. Free.
Written by a team of snarky grad students, Schmoop is a study guide covering everything from that inscrutable piece of literature to all those math topics you can’t grasp, all with plenty of attitude. It provides concise advice on everything a high school student needs to keep up and maybe even get ahead. Hit the Math Shack when geometry is bending your brain, tap the Test Prep section to bring home the digits on the SAT, or hit the Essay Lab writing prompter when that blank page just keeps staring back.
Cramming for tests is a big part of being a student. Study Blue lets kids skip the making-flash-cards-and-highlighting-notes part of that ordeal. Think of it as social media for test-cramming: Members can upload and share notes, flash cards, and quizzes—and lots of them do. You can find study materials for almost any subject–perhaps even the very class you’re taking. You can also meet friends here to study (or find people you don’t know who are studying the same subject) as well as download those study materials to iPhone, iPad, or Android. You can do lots of this for free; for full access, a StudyBlue Pro account costs $80 a year (or $8 a month for one semester, $18 for just one month).