The new calendar year is (finally) here, but we’re already smack-dab in the middle of a tumultuous school year. As districts across the country continue to cope with an ever-evolving global pandemic, educators continue to face a slew of instructional challenges.
Thanks to mobile technology, today’s teachers have resources that simply didn’t exist just ten years ago, and the exponential growth of this technology couldn’t be timelier. As a quick example, look no further than the One Laptop Per Child (opens in new tab) project, which was conceptualized in 2005. At a moment in history when the average laptop cost $1,000 or more, the initial goal of OLPC was to put cheap, internet-capable clamshells in the hands of children around the globe. Fast-forward 15 years later, and we live in a society in which cheap laptops and smartphones are practicality ubiquitous, and speedy, reliable WiFi is largely available for the masses. (Chromebooks (opens in new tab) and Google Classroom (opens in new tab) are another success story for educators this past year, thanks to cheap, lightweight form factors and a dead-simple OS.)
Here’s the good news: Kids are adaptable, and with the proper instruction, anywhere in the world can be their classroom. You just need to put the right tools in their proverbial tool belts.
And while every child’s scholastic journey is subjective (especially now), there are plenty of websites dedicated to the augmentation of that journey, if you know where to look (opens in new tab).
Whether you’re a parent, teacher, or just the local babysitter, educators of all types should find something useful in these cloud-based resources that are designed to keep youngsters curious, to infinity and beyond.
NASA STEM (opens in new tab)
Does your kid get all googly-eyed when they stare up at the stars? Take their astronomical interest to the next stratosphere with the STEM side of NASA’s website, which is loaded with free K-12 content related to aeronautics, astrophysics, planetary science, space exploration, and much more. If you have an aspiring astronaut on your hands, enroll them in the NASA Kids’ Club, which provides a safe, friendly space to learn about the organization and its myriad missions. (For students pre-K through grade 4.) From mobile apps to interactive photo galleries to hands-on science activities, NASA STEM is an out-of-this-world resource for students and teachers of all ages.
Project Gutenberg (opens in new tab)
Looking to instill a love of the written word? Good news! The primary directive of Project Gutenberg is super simple: To encourage the creation and distribution of ebooks. There are no membership fees, no dues, and no apps required. With a library 60,000 titles strong (and growing), the focus is on books in the public domain, so this is an excellent place to find all the classics from authors such as Shakespeare, Poe, Dante, Lewis Carroll, and thousands more. Bookmark this website for any bookworm in your family.
Duolingo (opens in new tab)
Throughout the past year, 30 million people attempted to learn a new language (according to Duolingo), with 300 million users worldwide having already taken advantage of this educational platform, which includes an app and syncable desktop component. Duolingo makes language-learning feel like a game, and it’s scientifically proven (opens in new tab) to be an effective tool. Duolingo itself is free for anyone to use, but you can avoid ads with a Pro subscription.
The Activity Mom (opens in new tab)
Founded by a mother of two with a masters degree in teaching, this website features the collective knowledge of other masterful mothers who have teaching experience themselves. It’s an organic, homegrown resource for a multitude of educational activities. (For example, this DIY Penny Spinner (opens in new tab) craft will keep your grade-schooler busy all afternoon.)
EmbraceRace.org (opens in new tab)
Featuring useful articles, webinars, action guides, and anecdotal audio clips, this site’s resource page is a fantastic place for parents to turn to regarding matters of racial division and inequality. Founded in 2016 by two parents (one black, one multiracial black/white) to foster the community their family needed, EmbraceRace.org has evolved into a wonderful resource for households of every color.
Reading Eggs (opens in new tab)
Designed for children between the ages of 2 and 13, this comprehensive reading program has three different tiers of learning and was developed by a highly experienced team of teachers, educational writers, animators, and web developers. It zeroes in on a core reading curriculum of skills and strategies to increase students’ phonemic awareness and overall reading comprehension. The program also comes with accompanying apps for Android and Apple devices, opening its classroom to the world.
Starfall (opens in new tab)
Founded in 2002, Starfall began as a free public service to teach children how to read. Over the past two decades, however, it’s expanded offerings to include language arts and mathematics for pre-K through third grade. As children progress, the program utilizes exploration, play, and (most importantly) positive reinforcement to encourage inner confidence. Memberships range from $35 to $270 per year, but there are lots of free printable resources, too, such as customizable word and picture cards (opens in new tab).
K12.com (opens in new tab)
If you’re thinking about homeschooling your child full time, this is an excellent place to start. In addition to tuition-based private schools and standalone courses, this site also offers tuition-free K-12 education taught by state-certified teachers. It also includes a variety of low-cost options for those affected by pandemic-related school closings. From STEM to summer courses to special ed, this is truly a one-stop-shop for online learners of all ages.
And even if you’re not on the hunt for a full-fledged homeschooling program, you can still take advantage of free literacy tools, such as specialized learning camps and a library of more than 17,000 ebooks. K12.com’s curriculum encourages students to learn at their own pace, and to date, more than a million have used its services.
Khan Academy (opens in new tab)
Khan Academy is an award-winning nonprofit that offers a plethora of multidiscipline resources for students, parents, teachers, and homeschoolers—for free. Practice exercises, educational videos, and a personalized learning dashboard are just some of the tools utilized for both elementary school students and older teens.
With its sheer amount of content, Khan Academy is a worthy ally in the world of socially distanced education with such unique subjects such as computer programming and animation, personal finance and entrepreneurship, art history, and English as a second language.
Fascinating Education (opens in new tab)
Aimed at high school students looking to advance their knowledge of chemistry, biology, physics, and other subjects, Fascinating Education uses a “right-hemispheric” learning approach to teach science with easy-to-follow step-by-step instruction. There are a variety of annual subscription options available, and many of them cost less than $100.