Back-to-School Tech Roundup
From study aids to power providers, there are gadgets and apps to consider for your favorite students of every age. August 13, 2019
For the Elementary Agers
Billed as a “screen-free smarter phone” this clever, parent-driven device is an alternative to cell phones for young children. It’s essentially a closed-network walkie talkie set, but brought into the 21st century with features like a GPS tracker and nationwide range. This means when your young children are in after-school activities, or at scheduled play dates, you have the comfort of knowing they are a button-push away if an emergency arises, but without the multitude of dangers a phone can introduce to little ones.
Reading is one of the most crucial skills developed in early education. And while good ol’ fashioned books will also do the trick, it’s sometimes difficult to get kids to look at things without a screen. That’s why an app or two that is targeted towards your child’s age and literacy level can be helpful as you work in tandem with their teachers to develop his or her reading ability.
For preschool and early grades, apps like Sight Words, Endless Reader, and Teach your Monster to Read can be great for helping kids build the basic phonics skills and vocabulary to set them up for later success.
If your child is a little older and has those concepts down, the Reading Prep Comprehension app from Peakaboo Studios is a free option for readers in grades 3-5 that helps ensure they are processing what they’ve read appropriately, with stories from various genres with accompanying questions. Additionally, paid versions of the app are available by specific grade level for deeper dives into comprehension practice.
For the Middle Graders
It’s a given: digital literacy is a necessary skill. And it’s about more than the ability to download apps, stream movies, and connect to the Wi-Fi in a new location. It involves the formation of a digital intuition children will use to learn and operate computer programs and electronic systems for years to come. It also includes understanding how to navigate the Internet for academic and professional purposes.
That’s why many schools are moving toward the 1:1 model of requiring each student to have a tablet or computer in the classroom. But if your child’s device isn’t being provided or specified by your school, you might be at a loss for what device is right when a student isn't even in high school yet.
The Dell Chromebook is an option that has many benefits for this age group specifically. First of all, it’s affordable and durable…and anyone who has met a middle-schooler can easily understand the value of those qualities. But it’s also known for a long battery life, a helpful feature for kids with busier schedules and a tough learning curve when it comes to increasing responsibility. Additionally, it offers the simplicity of using Google programs exclusively, rather than a Microsoft or Apple operating system and package, meaning they can get practice using word processers and spreadsheets, or building presentations, all without the risk or complication of a system that could be infected by malware. Lastly, it allows for a significant amount of parent control to block websites, restrict app access, disable modes, etc. to ensure that students are using the device and its Internet access appropriately.
Student Planner Apps
In addition to likely learning the foundations of Algebra and all about those 17th century explorers, in middle school students are expected to establish the habits that will help them manage their time and coursework throughout their high school and college years. Developing organizational and study skills during this phase can be critical, and since their phones are likely already in hand, why not use them for the task? With apps like the myHomework Student Planner or iStudiez, your child can enter their classes, homework assignments, upcoming project deadlines and exam dates to keep track of what is coming up, and even schedule automatic notifications to ensure nothing gets forgotten.
In-Wall USB Chargers
With more of your child’s learning, and entertainment, being tied to devices that need to recharge daily, it might be a good time to consider swapping a standard outlet for a USB charging alternative. Available in options that range from those with a combination of traditional plugs and USB ports, to those featuring four USB connections for charging many devices at once, there is an option for any home. Consider installing it beside your child’s desk or preferred study spot, or even create a charging station to share the functionality with the entire family.
For the High Schoolers
If you haven’t already invested in a pair for your teen, noise-cancelling headphones might be a good back-to-school spend this year. For starters, high school students, especially those who are involved in athletics and other extra-curricular activities like debate or drama, likely have to master the art of multi-tasking and focusing in less than ideal environments. Whether it’s to help them get a bit of assigned reading done on the bus ride back from an away game, or just to save your own ears from having to listen to their music, headphones can really come in handy. Plus, if your student is taking a foreign language, or even struggles to concentrate when reading for English, audiobook accompaniment as they read along has proven beneficial to comprehension, and quality headphones can help make that a better experience for your student.
Along with the increasing difficulty of their studies, high school is a time of increasing independence. Especially if your child is at the age where they are driving, or might be getting rides from friends or classmates. In case of emergencies, your teen having a mobile phone to contact you and any help they need is a blessing…so long as that phone is charged. This is one reason that portable chargers are a wonderful invention. While they do require the forethought of having been charged themselves, these battery-boosters can be great for kids who might be spending all day at track meets, FFA competitions, student council conventions, without ample opportunities to charge their phones before climbing back into cars or onto buses. The specs and price points of portable chargers vary, but the Xcentz option linked above is compact and affordable, plus supports both USB-A and USB-C to cover a wide variety of smartphone types.
Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus CE Graphing Calculator
Texas Instruments has been a trusted brand in educational technology for a long time, but the latest iterations of their oft-lauded graphing calculators are truly impressive, most notably perhaps the TI-84 Plus CE version with its backlight color screen. If your high school student is going to take any combination of Geometry, Trigonometry, Pre-Calc or Calculus, Chemistry, Physics, and Statistics, investing in this calculator might be a wise choice. Not only is it pre-programmed with a lot of functionality for these subjects, it is also approved for the standardized tests required by most colleges (SAT and ACT) as well as AP exams. And, if your student will be continuing on with any of these types of courses in college, the quality and functionality of this calculator is ready to move on to higher education alongside your son or daughter.
For the College Kids
Echo Show 5
Mornings are hard on most people, but they can be especially rough on new college students. Those first few weeks of being unaccustomed to a new space and routine, while no longer having mom or dad as an alarm clock backup, can be as challenging as they are exciting. This is why the suggestion for such an elaborate device in place of a standard alarm found its way into this article. The capabilities of the Echo Show 5 have a lot of benefits that work particularly well for university life. First, they can set multiple alarms and have them repeat on various days of the week – perfect for heavy sleepers and for those whose class schedule varies day to day. Plus, the alarm volume and the screen brightness can both be gradually ramped up for more natural waking (definitely kinder on sleep-deprived students), and the alarm tone or music can be customized. Additionally, there are plenty of non-alarm related features that can help make dorm life a little easier – like Alexa-enabled voice command to check the weather before getting dressed, or making video calls to check in with the family at home.
Desktop Power Center
Freshmen dorms are not usually the most glamorous or modern of residence halls, and off-campus housing can really run the gamut. So, if your student needs more access to power for their various devices – which is likely – a desktop power center can be easily added to the top of a desk, table or nightstand as a simple solution. It ensures ample plug and USB connections, while making for a lot less clutter than a tangle of adapters, extension cords and surge protectors.
College is about more than just learning (though we all hope there is a lot of that, of course), it’s also often a period of forming lifelong friendships and making treasured memories. Tangible photos help your student highlight and share some of those special moments, picking them out of a seemingly endless digital camera roll and creating an opportunity to revel in them. HP Sprocket printers make it easy to edit and print photos from a phone, in various sizes – perfect for personalizing a dorm wall, making a scrapbook of the year or for sending letters home about roommates, friends and neighbors, complete with photos of all the new faces.
Get organized with an easy project that will charge your phone in style.