Sadly, geography is really getting pushed by the wayside in a lot of elementary classrooms. There is so little time to cover everything, so geography is often reviewed but not taught to mastery. I have taught both upper elementary and middle school, and a lack of geographic knowledge impacts students as they move into higher level classes. Students have difficulty identifying with other cultures in world history, in part because they have no idea where the people are located nor the geography of the area. I have even had students that couldn’t name the ocean that borders our state – and we only live 30 minutes away from the beach! How can students understand regional differences in Colonial America or how geography influenced regional developments in U.S. history if they can’t even name the states?
For time pressed classrooms, or even parents who want to supplement learning at home, apps are a great way to get kids interested in geography. I found a lot of apps are just “quiz me” apps, but there are some terrific atlases as well as interactive games. Here are eight outstanding apps for elementary (and middle school!) students.
Cost: Free with animal pack; Add-on packs are $1.99 each or $4.99/bundle
Focus: U.S. Geography
This app is actually geared toward primary grades, but it was so good I wanted to include it. It features a cartoon USA map, and information is placed at appropriate locations on the map. For example, with the free animals pack, specific animals are placed where they live. Users can click on the animal, and a photo of the animal pops up with a paragraph of information that is read aloud. What I really like about this app is that it has a lot of games for kids to play. There is a basic puzzle game and a quiz, but there are also an ordering game, identification, and a sorting game. Parents can track which learning objectives students have completed and whether or not they have finished the games.
There are two drawbacks for this app. The app is great for a parent with one child, because the app is set up to track one user. However, if there are multiple users, there is no way to tell what each one actually did on the app. The other con is that it is pretty pricey. It is worth it if your students will really use it, but otherwise it’s a lot of money.
Cost: $4.99; additional apps $0.99
Focus: World Geography
Although this is also a cartoon atlas, it packs a lot of information in it. One of the cool aspects of this app is that the Earth spins just as if you had a globe in your hands. Users can also zoom in on the globe. Small images are located all around the globe. When the user clicks on them, the topic is said and a paragraph of information can be opened. Students can also choose to have the paragraph read to them. For more information, there are four atlas packs available for purchase: North America, Great Cities, International Soccer, and World Art. Parents can also buy a Puzzle Pack, which provides a way to check students’ learning. The quizzes include animals, landmarks, cultures, countries, and more!
Again, the atlas is a bit pricey, but it does pack a lot of information. The starter atlas is nice, but I think users would eventually need the add-on packs for more to do. Another issue with the atlas is that there really is no easy way to track what a students has done on the app. This app would really require self-motivation to learn about the world – otherwise I could see a kid just clicking on things and spinning the globe. If your student is interested in the world, then the app would definitely be a hit. Otherwise, parents and teachers would really have to spend a lot of time monitoring students.
Cost: $4.99 each
Focus: U.S Geography or World Geography
You can download the free version of the app, but it limits you to 20 questions per day. At first, I really didn’t want to pay for the Geokids USA app, but I pretty quickly decided to pay for the full app. These apps allow multiple users to create profiles or play as a guest. There are three play modes: adventure, learning, and challenge. Learning mode in the USA game includes flags and states, as well as quizzes on both of those plus capitals, big cities, landmarks, rivers, state seals, and more. In the world app, quiz choices include countries, capitals, flags, oceans & seas, mountains, landmarks, flags, population, and even area! Challenge mode is made for geography whizzes – the app names a location and the student has to place a pin on the map. The closer the pin is to the actual location, the more points the student earns. In both games, the user earns either diamonds or armies for completing levels, and then uses them to collect countries on the map.
Honestly, I love these apps. Minard makes fantastic apps that not only teach the user but also incorporate incentives to keep on learning. The apps also includes information for both geography novices and experts. The apps were pricey at $4.99 each, but they have a high engagement level compared to some of the other geography quiz apps. In my opinion, they are worth the money if you plan to use them in a center or as a learning game.
Availability: Apple & Android
Focus: U.S States & Capitals
I spent a lot of time looking at the huge number of quiz apps out there. The main issue I had with most of them was that the user had to identify a state solely on its shape. From my years of teaching geography, I don’t believe that is the best way to teach the U.S. states. I wanted my students to be able to identify their location on the country map – not just identify them (and there are so many rectangular states.) If you want students to practice locating states and capitals, I feel like State the States is the best app for that. The app shows the user a blank USA map, and the user clicks on a state and then scrolls to select its name. If correct, the state turns green and its state flag pops up in the alphabetized list. Users can start by filling in the states or capitals they already know, narrowing the map down to the ones they really need to practice. This is much better then a random state being shown in isolation.
The only drawback with this app is that teachers cannot track students progress on the app. However, for a free app, it is completely worth using for practice. Students really have to think about what they know, because there is no “guess and check.” They actually have to identify the state or capital from the entire list rather than multiple choice. I completely recommend this app.
Cost: $2.99 each
Availability: Apple & Android
Focus: U.S. Geography or World Geography
We have had the original Stack the States and Stack the Countries apps for years! Stack the States 2 is even better than the original with improved graphics. Up to 6 players can create accounts on the apps, which allow them to collect states or countries as they complete levels. To complete a level, the student has to correctly answer a question. If correct, he or she gets the state/country to stack, then drop it on the platform and stack them up. In order to complete a level, the user has to stack the states/countries until they reach above the line – so students have to plan how to drop them so the state/country doesn’t roll off. (The line gets higher as the levels progress.) In States 2, some of the platforms are not solid lines, so the student has to plan how to bridge the divide in order to stack the states. Bonus games are unlocked as players earn more states or countries.
These apps are just a lot of fun – they definitely jazz up learning geography! However, there are a few cons to the apps. Each one includes state “flashcards” – but I would call them information cards, because the user cannot use them as a self-quiz. It would be better if students could quiz themselves using these cards. Also, in States 2 there is an interactive map that allows users to overlay a state’s elevation, cities, and landmarks. Stack the Countries is set up like the original States app and only shows the countries on each continent. It would be really nice to have the interactive map added to the Country game. Finally, I believe the majority of younger students would find the questions difficult. However, these apps could easily be used with 4th grade and up, especially if the class has been studying geography.
Cost: $1.99 each
Focus: U.S. Geography
All of the apps I have used from this company are good solid quiz games. For the price, they offer a nice selection of questions and cover straightforward facts. I like that the app provides immediate feedback and shows the correct answer when the wrong one is picked. Another pro is that the app repeats questions from different levels, forcing the user to review information. The answers are scrambled when the questions repeat, preventing users from simply memorizing the location of the correct response.
One of the cons to this app is that it doesn’t really teach anything – users need to have background knowledge in order to do more than just guess at the answers. Another con is that it can get a bit dry after answering a lot of questions.
These are my favorite geography apps. If you have another one students love, let me know! I would love to hear from you.