Lighten the load: 6 back-to-school apps to help students in and out of classroom

Lighten the load: 6 back-to-school apps to help students in and out of classroom

July 30th, 2013 by Casey Phillips in Life Entertainment

To anyone who remembers the strained back muscles and poor posture of school days spent lugging around a stuffed backpack, substituting a 1-pound tablet for 40 pounds of textbooks should be a no-brainer.

A study released in March by the Pew Internet and American Life Project reported that 23 percent of American teens ages 12 to 17 own an iPad or similar tablet device. In its second annual survey of students and tablets in 2012, the Pearson Foundation found that 69 percent of high school seniors say they believe tablets "will effectively replace textbooks within the next five years."

In Hamilton County, educators are seeking to leverage the proliferation of tablets to students' and educators' advantage. Hamilton school officials announced last year a 1-to-1 technology initiative to equip all 42,000 public school students with an iPad or other tablet device. The county also is exploring a possible "bring your own device" policy to allow students to take advantage of smart devices' usefulness in the classroom.

Out of the box, tablets are natively equipped for functions such as online browsing and multimedia consumption, but with the right third-party apps, they can serve a variety of other roles to help students in and out of the classroom. That's an appealing target to aim for, but first, teens and their parents need to know how to select the right apps from the hundreds of thousands of titles that are available.

Here are six to consider:


• What it is: A notation app that allows individuals and groups of users to create, store and share their documents, audio recordings and images. Content saved to an Evernote account is accessible on many devices, via a desktop application or via a web browser.

• How they'll use it: Save your class schedule as an Evernote document so it's always with you or on the nearest Internet-connected computer. Share your notes and research with other students during group projects. Refresh for an upcoming quiz by reviewing a lecture recording. Take snapshots of whiteboards and handwritten notes to preserve them for later.

• Cost: Free

• Available for: Android, iOS

Evernote Peek

• What it is: A study app that allows users to create "quizzes" to help them memorize and review information. The app is built for - but doesn't require - Apple's magnetic smart cover, allowing students to lift a single panel to show the clue or the whole cover to reveal the answer. Pictures also can be attached to aid in associative learning. The app keeps track of whether the user gets the question right or wrong.

• How they'll use it: Memorize chemical symbols or equations. Review important dates in European history. Pair authors and painters with their most famous works. Study up on German phrases before das Quiz.

• Cost: Free

• Available for: iOS

ABBYY TextGrabber + Translator

• What it is: Using an optical character recognition algorithm, TextGrabber extracts text in saved images or photos taken with the tablet and turns it into an editable document. As the name suggests, the app also features a translation function that can convert words into and out of 40 different languages. Converted images can be shared via email, social media update or sent to an Evernote account.

• How they'll use it: Instead of the drudgery of sitting in the library, pouring through books and taking notes by hand, TexGrabber lets students take a snapshot of the page, select the information they need and save their hands a great deal of cramping. The text won't be formatted correctly, and it's not 100 percent accurate, but no optical character recognition technology is, and it's faster than handwriting.

• Cost: $6

• Available for: Android, iOS

Encyclopaedia Britannica

• What it is: A mobile version of the legendary 250-year-old scholarly reference series. The slick app packs more than 80,000 entries. Users can save their favorite articles, swipe through galleries of images, and use the LinkMap function to see a visual representation of the connection between related articles.

• How they'll use it: Most of the information is behind a paywall, it covers fewer topics and is updated less frequently than Wikipedia, but the EB has a weighty academic reputation that makes it more reliable for research papers, eliminating much of the hassle of vetting other web-based sources.

• Cost: The app is free, but access to the library is a $15 annual subscription. (An annual subscription to the Encyclopaedia Britannica website is $70 per year.)

• Available for: iOS, but a similar app, "Encyclopaedia Britannica 2013," is available as a one-time, $20 purchase for Android devices.

Quick Graph

• What it is: A capable application that can fulfill most of the functions of scientific graphing calculators, which can cost as much as $150. Features include the ability to graph multiple equations simultaneously (and in color), manipulate and retrieve information from graphs by touch and to display graphs in 3-D.

• How they'll use it: Check with the mathematics teacher to find out the policy about tablet use, but even if students can't use one during in-class or standardized testing, this app's capabilities mean a graphing calculator is one less thing your student will need to cart around every day.

• Cost: Free, but some advanced functions such as implicit graphs are only unlocked in a $2 premium version.

• Available for: iOS, but similar graphing calculator apps are available for Android as well.


• What it is: A mobile, dedicated version of the same computational knowledge engine that lets services like Apple's Siri, Android's Iris, Microsoft Bing and other services interpret and answer questions written in natural language. Can interpret questions on a variety of topics, from the distance between Mars and Pluto to notable facts about Bob Dylan.

• How they'll use it: Think about how the actors in "Star Trek" interact with the ship's computer. Students frustrated by the halting language of effective web searches might find it easier to formulate questions as if they were asking a teacher. Need to know about Marie Curie's birthplace or when carbon becomes a liquid? Just ask "Where was Marie Curie born?" or "What is the melting point of carbon?" Easy.

• Cost: $3

• Available for: Android, iOS

Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP