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Best Educational Apps for Tweens and Teens

The best apps to turn your child's smartphone into an educational tool that is also really cool.

By Christina Tynan-Wood

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Apps
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Right now, stocking up on stuff like notebooks, printer paper and erasable pens is a no-brainer—but only ingenious moms know which apps can turn a tablet or smartphone into a bona fide educational tool. (In other words, rather than play Minecraft or fire off random texts for hours, your tweens or teens could actually learn something!) Worthwhile options that don't feel like schoolwork abound for iOs, Android and Windows devices. Suggesting them might boost your cool mom cred—my two teens are impressed, at least a little, when I tip them off to an app they enjoy.

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Math Bingo

Solving numeric problems gets a player closer to hollering "Bingo," and each score earns cartoonish bug rewards. Even if your kids are beyond basic addition and subtraction, the multiplication drills can be just the ticket for, say, a fourth- or fifth-grader still mastering the times tables. You'll feel free to ditch the dog-eared flash cards. iTunes, 99 cents

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Sound Uncovered

Inspired by the nifty hands-on displays at the Exploratorium museum in San Francisco, this virtual exhibit on sound allows a user to make a recording, learn how her brain interprets it and generally fiddle around until it makes sense. Along the way she'll learn quite a bit of science. Better yet, the "How Old Are Your Ears" tool (which tests how hearing changes with age) might persuade her to dial down the volume on her headphones. iTunes, free

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YouTube

Videos of rapping tweens, cuddly cats and who knows what else make parents view YouTube as the enemy of homework. Not so with the YouTube app and a subscription to Crash Course (terrific 10-minute lessons in history, literature and science) plus other educational channels at youtube.com/education. The awesomely entertaining John and Hank Green of Crash Course (youtube.com/crashcourse) have an enormous following among 13- to 17-year-old boys. iTunes and Google Play, free

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Presidents vs. Aliens

Sure would be nice if your son knew as much about past U.S. presidents as he did about the heroes in Minecraft, huh? Download this and he'll soon be able to name the 27th commander-in-chief and rattle off who occupied the Oval Office during the Louisiana Purchase, which heads of state were Republican and more. Best not to ask yourself why it's so much fun to fling presidents' heads at invading aliens. Just accept that it is. iTunes, 99 cents

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MindSnacks

Anyone who makes it to level 10 in one of these clever games is probably ready to toss around a little French (or Spanish or any of five other languages). Quick reflexes are a must, otherwise your character dies. But, more important, learning vocabulary words is required to keep playing. A fun fix for a student stumped by venturing beyond his mother tongue. iTunes, free for app and first lesson, then $4.99 for additional content

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Khan Academy

Of course you can find the venerated Academy through any Web browser and on YouTube, but install the app and all the math, science and other lessons—typically tracking along with your kid's core course of study—are a tap away. iTunes and Windows Store, free

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iTunes U

This innovative app offers access to a deep well of free educational content from top schools and prominent libraries around the world. Just tap to study history at Yale, physics at MIT, sociology at Berkeley and much more. iTunes, free

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TED

Redirect their developing intellects away from mindless TV and toward some of the most fascinating thinkers of our times. Brilliant doctors, artists, game designers, writers and scientists are changing the world with ideas. Install the TED (motto: Ideas Worth Spreading) app and watch. New videos are added weekly. iTunes and Google Play, free

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Edmodo

If the teacher is using it, your student has always on access to class. So when you ask, "Do you have homework?" he can visit the virtual classroom, where assignments are posted and accessible. iTunes and Google Play, free

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Operation Math Code Squad

Set loose your agent—or agents (this can be a multiplayer game)—to make the world a safer place. Pressure mounts as players disarm evil devices while the clock ticks, and math facts are the weapon of choice. Don't be duped by the easy problems at the beginning—the computations required to disarm devices get harder as things move along. The app tracks progress so that Agent M (that's you, Mom) can double-check. iTunes, $2.99

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Learn Algebra

This course starts at the very beginning, breaking concepts down into one-page classes that allow for practice until your kid gets it. Makes the dreaded solving for x substantially less intimidating. Google Play, free

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BrainPOP

Tim (cartoon boy) and Moby (his robot) explaining science, math and more with humor and goofy animations? Yes, please. The free app delivers the movie of the day. If you have a Brainpop.com account ($10 per month), you can access them all from the app. iTunes, Google Play and Windows Store, free

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Dino Walk

Venture back in time to the Jurassic period and spin the globe to see the continents and the animals that lived then and there. Venture forward to the present day and watch as the continents split and dinosaurs are replaced by mammals. Younger kids will get lost in the immersive visuals, and older ones will come away full of facts. iTunes, $2.99

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TI-Nspire

Finally, a fully functional graphing calculator app from the experts at Texas Instruments. TI-Nspire does much more than calculate: It can create graphs from data and plot statistics, then store everything neatly on a tablet. iTunes, $30

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Organization 101: Virtual Schedule Aids

OneNote: This app creates a virtual three-ring binder that fits on a tablet but expands to work on the Web or a computer. Create a notebook for each class, adding sections for each day or project. Take notes, capture audio, and save files, scans and video. If you have Microsoft Office 2013, you already own the desktop version. iTunes, Google Play and Windows Store, free

Evernote: Jot to-do lists, grab Web clippings or dictate ideas to be instantly transcribed right on the tablet. Evernote keeps track of it all and syncs to phone, tablet or computer. To find something specific, just type a key word in the search bar. iTunes, Google Play and Windows Store, free

MyHomework: It's one thing to be smart. It's another to do the assignments, turn them in on time and be prepared for tests. This app helps students stay on top of what's due when and upcoming exams. If the teacher uses the companion tool, Teachers.io, it's a cinch to join the class within the app (MyHomework account required) and download info, assignments, files and announcements. iTunes, Google Play and Windows Store, free

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