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Instructional Materials

groupSchool and public libraries have much more than informational resources available to youth. Whether you're addressing specific curriculum standards for a health unit or designing informal learning activities for a Saturday crafts club, electronic materials are available to faciliate learning.

Young people enjoy mobile apps because of their ease of use and portability. For instance, teens can practice for the SAT, learn Spanish, or review science videos using their smartphone.

From the very youngest children to mature young adults, there are endless opportunities for electronic materials in learning. Fish School HD teaches preschoolers letters, numbers, shapes, and colors.

Interactive Alphabet helps young children learn the alphabet through a touchable tour and interactive games (below left). With Writing Wizard, young children learn to write letters and words (below right). Talking ABC... is another favorite.


Super Why is only one of many PBS Kids learning apps available for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch. In Martha Speaks Dog Party, children play vocabulary games and in Corporal Cup's Food Camp, users learn about preparing healthy recipes.

Super Why

Go to the PBS Kids Mobile Downloads website. Explore the many PBS Kids Apps available for download to iPhones, iPads, and other mobile devices. Demos are provided for many of the Apps.

Software and Apps

Over the past decade there's been a huge turnover in instructional software publishing. Companies have been bought, sold, and rearranged. Although many companies distribute software, very few producers remain. You'll find that many software packages provide online resources, tools and lessons to go with their software. For instance, Tool Factory contains many online materials.

Broderbund and Scholastic still have software available on CD-ROM. You'll also find that most companies have shifted to the production of mobile apps rather than computer-based software.

Rosetta Stone is a great example of software that has bridged computer platforms. One of the most popular tools for language learning, it's available in both traditional CD-ROM as well as online and on mobile apps through subscription.

rosetta stonerosetta store

Increasingly, learning resources are moving to online subscriptions. For instance A.D.A.M. Education provides award-winning resources for science and health including animations, 3D images, and quizes.

Go to A.D.A.M. Education and explore an online demo.

You'll find exciting electronic materials for children and young adults across subject areas and grade levels. 

Freddi Fish BoxWhen computers first became popular as educational tools, many of the instructional resources were simple drill programs designed to help students practice skills such as math or spelling. Instructional software has evolved to include sophisticated simulations and problem-solving software.

The problem solving series Freddi Fish (shown on right) by Humongous Entertainment focuses on the adventures of a supersleuth fish who explores underwater caves, canyons, and reefs while solving problems.

Today, many companies provide their software as a download rather than on CD or DVD. For instance, Crazy Machines is a game involving creating machines. Like many of the new software packages, it's downloaded from the Internet to your hard drive. Updates are available online as well as a demo.

Think about how these resources might be integrated into your library. For instance in the public library, parents often ask for ways to help their children with study skills and academic skills.

Many learning opportunities are available on mobile devices such as iPhone, iTouch, and iPad. A growing number of educational producers are developing applications across the curriculum. These are particularly popular with home-school parents. For instance, iHomeEducator is a company that specializes in educational applications for the iPad. They produce a series of apps called iLive focusing on topics such as science, math, and language arts. The website contains lots of demonstration videos to give you a feel for the apps.


Tutorials present step-by-step instruction teaching new concepts. They are designed to provide new information along with examples and nonexamples of concepts. In addition, practice and feedback is often incorporated into the program. Tutorials work well when introducing new concepts, reviewing difficult ideas, or providing enrichment

Essay Express from Fablevision helps young people learn to create short essays through a series of fun activities. Download a free trial to see how it works.


Some tutorials are linear. In other words, they provide the same information and examples to all learners in a predetermined order. Sometimes called "electronic pageturners" they don't address the needs of individual students. On the other hand, branching software provides alternative paths through the program. Each student receives that instruction he

Mavis Beacon BoxThe strength of tutorials lies in their consistency and accuracy. They allow students to work at their own pace and provide individualized practice and feedback which is difficult to do in the traditional classroom environment.

Typing software such as the popular Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing from the Broderbund is a great example of popular tutorial software.

You've probably seen tutorials for applications software. These packages take new users step-by-step through all the skills needed to use the software. Many new computers come with tutorials to get you started using the technology.

Want to learn how to plan an instrument? The computer is patient. Many packages will provide a student with endless examples and practice to assist the student in learning the concept. For example, Guitar for Dummies is one of many software options in the Dummies series available through eMedia. The package contains more than 80 lessons on CD-ROM. These are particular popular in public libraries.


Think about both formal and information learning situations. For instance, many young people like to learn sign language on their own.


When selecting tutorials consider the instructional strategies incorporated into the program. Ask yourself:

It can be confusing for a student to learn one approach on the computer and be expected to demonstrate a different technique in class. Is the software a good use of instructional time in your classroom?

Practice Programs

Drill and practice software was the first widespread application of computers in the classroom. Other than fancier "bells and whistles", many of today's approaches have changed very little since the 1960s. Knowledge Adventure is well-known for their traditional drill and practice software. The Jumpstart series focuses on age-appropriate levels that allow children to progress at their own pace. Reading and Math Blasters are intended to reinforce concepts and allow opportunities for students to practice.

Sunburst was one of the first educational software companies. In Sunburst's Key Skills for Math: Basic Number Concepts (see graphic below), students develop number sense, prepare for basic operations and measurement challenges, and receive reports on their progress.

Key Skills for Math: Basic Number Concepts

Advantage Elementary is a practical environment focusing on subjects areas such as math, English, and language learning providing lots of opportunities to practive with feedback. Programs are also available for middle school.


Although some software provides instruction in addition to practice, it is not intended to replace traditional instruction. Instead, it is intended to support classroom instruction. The strength of these programs is their ability to provide endless practice and immediate feedback to meet the individual needs of students.

Increasingly, producers are creating series of learning experiences for youth. For instance, SlateMath is a family of apps for kindergarten through grade 6.

Much of the new software for young children provides fun situations, modeling, and corrective feedback. Many of the situations let students explore for answers rather than being posed with traditional multiple choice questions on the screen. For example, the Reader Rabbit series by The Learning Company (now owned by Hougton Miffin Harcourt) is a popular way to teach and reinforce early reading and math concepts. Students search for words that begin with the "s" sound and listen to and read stories. Reader Rabbit products are available through both CD-ROM and mobile apps.

See out connections to familiar characters. For instance, children can read the Clifford books then use the CD-based software, website interactives, or mobile app.


A popular series by Edmark provides students with a positive environment to explore early learning concepts. The subject specific series includes Bailey’s Book House, Millie’s Math House, Sammy’s Science House, and Trudy’s Time and Place House. Some of these are also available as apps.

The Zurk series by Soleil Software featuring titles related to a rainforest and Alaskan safari are also popular.

Go to Edmark from Riverdeep. Explore some of the software such as Bailey's Book House, Millie's Math House, Sammy's Science House, Trudy's Time & Place, Thinkin' Science, and Thinkin' Things. Try some of their free downloads.

Many software packages help students practice for exams. The Princeton Review series provides help preparing for the SAT, GMAT, LSAT, and GRE.

You’ll find much of this software in the areas of math, language arts, reading, and foreign language where practice and repetition is important in mastery learning. A growing number of companies are provide integrated learning systems that include testing, standards-aligned software, lesson places, and management systems.

An increasing number of games are being produced for hand-held devices such as the Nintendo DS. Many of these involve opportunities for practice.

A majority of the apps available focus on practicing skills. For instance, Stack the States is a fun way to learn about the shape and locations of states (see below left).


In Rocket Math, children create rockets as a reward for solving math problems and in Idioms users try to identify the idiom. An progress meter shows how a user is doing (see above center). Many practice apps use a flashcard approach such as the Kaplan TOEFL Vocabulary Flashcards (see above right).


Before selecting this type of approach to learning, make certain the program fits your philosophy of teaching. Ask yourself:

You’ll find both effective and ineffective drill and practice software. Look for the quality of the feedback. Ask yourself:

When evaluating practice software, be aware of the screen layout. This is particularly important in spelling and math problems. Ask yourself:

Simulations and Gaming

Simulations help students apply their skills to "real life" situations by providing an environment to manipulate variables, examine relationships, and make decisions. This software is generally used after initial instruction as part of application, review, or remediation.

Virtual Business and Virtual History are a suite of simulations from Knowledge Matters.

Many simulations places users in a particular time or place. For instance in the Civilization series by Aspyr Media, users participate in the golden age of exploration in the 17th and 18th centuries by building, trading, exploring, and declaring battles on land and sea.

Image from 1701 A.D.

oregon trailThe Learning Company's series of social studies simulations are long-time favorites including Oregon Trail (shown on right), Yukon Trail, African Trail, and Amazon Trail. With teacher guided activities, these packages can give students a sense for what life was like in an earlier time. While working through the simulation, students might write a biography of one of the characters, explore information about historical locations along the trail. Oregon Trail is available on CD-ROM, Nintendo 3DS, and Wii.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to send students to the corner of the room to “play” on the computer rather than provide specific guidance in using the simulation. Much of the value of the software is lost without teacher direction.

Another classic computer program that remains popular is Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Now available in CD-ROM, Nintendo Wii and DS, and mobile app. Many different games are available along with lesson plans and teaching guides. There are also math adventures.

The Sim series by Electronic Arts, best known for SimCity, provides challenges in particular environments such as the human body and the world of ants. Civilization by Infogrames Entertainment provides an entire world for students to create and manage.

Go to the Sims from Electronic Arts. Explore the many Sims software options.

gutsSimulations can be used to prepare students for a field trip or real experiment. Frog dissection is a common activity in high school biology classes. Frog Guts is available for both iOS and Android.

While some simulations have a specific “mission” to accomplish, others are intended to help students explore a particular situation or environment. The Magic School Bus series by Microsoft lets students explore under the ocean, in the human body, or through the solar system. TheCluefinders series challenges students to complete adventures in reading, math, geography, and science.

Although simulations can be fun, they are often overused. In most cases, simulations should be used as a culminating activity after students have basic skills in the concepts being addressed in the software. Otherwise it is difficult for them to make informed decisions during the program. Without background skills, the simulation may become a game rather than a meaningful learning experience.

Firaxis Games is known for its Sid Meier's Civilization series including different time periods like Civilization Reolution available for game machines and as apps (shown below).

civil app

When selecting simulations, consider activities that are difficult to duplicate in the classroom other ways. For example, activities that involve dangerous situations, time consuming processes, spending money, or "impossible" projects like an interstellar flight.

There are many types of simulations. Physical simulations involve students in using objects or machines such as microscopes or airplanes. Procedural simulations involve a series of actions or steps such as medical diagnosis or frog dissection. Situational simulations involve critical incidents within particular settings such as interactions with customers. Process simulations involve decisionmaking skills related to topics such as economics, genetics, or geology. Students must choose among alternative paths.


When selecting simulations consider the amount of time you have to dedicate to the program. Some simulations can be time-consuming if done well. Also consider the grouping of students. Ask yourself:

Ask yourself about the content of the simulation.

Problem Solving

brainplayProblem-solving software is intended to assist students in developing skills related to making effective decisions.

Although similar to a simulation, more emphasis is placed on reasoning, logic, and critical thinking. For instance, Brain Play by Scholastic provide 4 CD-ROMs and workbooks to explore thinking across the curriculum for grades 1-3.

In Go Solve, youth learn to solve math word problems.

Problem solving software generally involves a set of procedures to accomplish some type of goal. Students may identify a problem, plan an approach, gather information, develop strategies, test hypotheses, and develop plans of action during the program. In most cases, the program focuses on a core set of principles or strategies. For example, the Thinkin series by Edmark contains thought-provoking activities for young children. Users try to repeat a series of sounds. They can also create a series of sounds and try the patterns in the dark. The Thinkin' Science program focuses on problem solving in science. Look for features that let the child or the teacher vary the level of difficulty. Teachers can choose by level or topic.

Words and Their Stories from FableVision Learning combines vocabuary building activities with critical thinking activities. BrainCogs from FableVision Learning engages learners in an interactive multi-sensory program focusing on developing thinking, learning, and study skills.


Scholastic is known for their apps. In the I Spy series by Scholastic, young learners go on adventures and become critical observers.

Go to Scholastic Apps. Notice their wide variety of learning software. Download and try an app.


Although some of these packages are content specific, others are general problem-solving tools. For example, Tom Snyder Productions has a series of programs called Science Seekers that deal with realistic concerns, interests, and problems facing young people such as the environment.


Go to Tom Snyder Productions from Scholastic. Try one of their trials for Science Seekers. Notice that resources are provided both online and on CD.

Many of the instructional programs combine instructional activities with games, simulations, and adventures. Some even have off-computer activities. Science Court from Tom Snyder connects video and animation with hands-on activities.

One thing to watch for in educational software is the appeal to individual children. Many programs use the child's name in the program. In some software, children select whether they would like to play with a male or female playmate. Some use fictional creatures rather than human children as their main characters, so it isn't possible to tell the race or gender. It is hoped that this will make all children feel comfortable relating to the characters.


When selecting problem solving software, consider your educational objectives. Ask yourself:


Beyond learning resources, much of the software for children and young adults falls into the category of edutainment or gaming.

BachThink about ways to incorporate software into popular library topics. For instance, combine the softwareChessmaster from Ubisoft with books and videos about chess. Think about popular topics such as cooking. Cooking Mama is educational software for many computer and game station formats. Combine it with cook books, videos, and live library demonstrations. Music is another topic that bridges education and entertainment. Discover Bach is great multigenerational software providing games, activities, audio, and audio materials.

Keep in mind that many of the new software programs are developed for gaming stations and hand held devices rather than home computers. Before purchasing these games, be sure that you explore different types of players to determine whether there's enough interest. For instance, the wii format is gaining support. Again, look for book and game connections such as Goosebumps. You can purchase Goosebumps games for PlayStation 2, Nintendo DS, wii and others.

Well-known publishers such as Discovery Education are also getting involved with the development of apps. Using a company called Phunware, they're creating apps for popular television shows such as MythBusters (shown below) as well as educational software. For instance, U.S. Geography explores regions of the United States.


Also look for movie connections. However keep in mind that the popularity of movie characters may be long or short. LucasArts has produces software and games based on popular movie characters such as Lego Indiana Jones that combines the movie and the love of Lego.

Go to Electronic Arts. Explore the range of popular electronic games for children and young adults.

Go to Legacy Interactive. Check out games based on TV shows. Check out Zoo Vet for kids.

Special Features

Look for apps that make use of the mobile aspects of the technology. Keep in mind that some of these apps require a wifi connection, while others will work in airplane mode or without wifi capability.

The Dot from FableVision Learning introduces youth to the book The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds. It includes the e-book itself along with a Meet the Author video, audio recording tool, discussion prompts, glossary, and interactive activities.


Audio Enhancements

audioMany of the English Language Learning tools such as A+English provide audio support to improve English speaking, listening, and reading skills. As you evaluate audio-enhanced resources, look for whether the app contains control over the audio volume or other features.

Many foreign language learning resources are available such as ByKi Arabic.

Karjan Beginner is an easy-to-use music and ear training application for learning about music and music theory.

Multimedia Enhancements

Many apps provide video or animation support. For instance, AlgebraPrep: Graphing contains instructional videos as well as practice tests. In Sign4Me, sign language is learned with 3D images.

videoSign Language

Internet Enhancements. Many of the game environments provide the option to connect to social networks such as Facebook. In Geomaster, users complete a map quiz game and can share their results on Facebook.

Read What Makes an App "Educational"? (September 8, 2010).
Read Learning: Is There An App for That? (PDF) by Cynthia Chiong & Carly Shuler (November 2010) and iLearn: A Content Analysis of the iTunes App Stores' Education Section (PDF) by Carly Shuler (November 2009).

Web-based Interactives

Interactives are much more than text, graphics, audio, and video information on a Web page. They provide an engaging environment where learners can organize resources, manipulate information, and even create new content. Students aren't simply consumers of information; they become part of an active, learning experience.

eye means readRead!
Read Interactives: Dynamic Learning Environments by Annette Lamb and Larry Johnson in School Library Monthly (January 2010).

Interactives may include elements of tutorials, practice, simulation, and problem solving games for a wide range of instructional situations.

Make interactives come alive with connected, off-computer activities. Combine a hands-on activity with data collection tools.

Go to Make Your Verdict. This website explores famous outlaws from around the world. Use the interactive to learn about the court cases. Then, hold a live mock trial.

Go to NASA City. After using the interactive create your own project in the classroom.

Preparing for the Oath is a great interactive that helps people prepare for the U.S. Naturalization Test. Shouldn't everyone have this experience?

By the time students are in high school, they've seen most of the online interactives. Reach beyond the classics and introduce resources where students can draw comparisons. For instance, use the interactives from the Puke Ariki Museum in New Zealand or the National Museum of Australia. Ask students to examine an interactive and compare this experience with a current classroom topic.

Online interactives are great for informal learning environments in public libraries. For instance, the mystery game Snapshot Adventures: Secret of Bird Island is an inexpensive download. Participants photograph birds during a cross-country adventure. Armed with a camera and a field guide, users must capture portraits of birds in close-up, in flight and perched in trees in order to complete your life list and solve the mysterious disappearance of your grandfather. Create a display with books and videos about birds. Create a bulletin board featured birds created during the game. Hold a bird watching nature walk around the library and invite the local bird club to participate.

Snapshot Adventures: Secret of Bird IslandSnapshot Adventures: Secret of Bird Island

try itTry It!
Try Mission US. Think about how you could connect these interactives to school curriculum or public library programming. How might they be connected with literature in your library?

Begin with the following list of general websites that contain interactive for youth.

The Arts

Check out the Hand Symphony.

ReadWriteThink Interactives


Go to Smithsonian Ocean. Notice the features.







Look for games and interactives to connect with books and reading.


Social Studies


PE and Health

Check out the Hand Symphony.






Financial Calculators and Conversions

Career Exploration

College Exploration

World Languages




Website Ads and Evaluation


Family, Consumer Science, Health

Child Development: Childhood Milestones

Family Living: PBS Interactives: FamiliesInteractive Health TutorialsTeen Girl Health,,Making Sense of Baby

Nutrition and FoodsAllRecipes,

Home Care and DesignRepairClinic,


life vestTry It!
Select an interactive. Design an assignment that combines an online interactive with a physical activity. Spend some time designing an assignment or programming activity with physical, virtual, and relevant elements into a content-connected activity that involves critical and creative thinking.

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