25 Critical Thinking Apps For Extended Student Learning

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25 Critical Thinking Apps For Extended Student Learning

by TeachThought Staff

Critical thinking apps aren’t the sweet spot of mobile app design.

Most of the more popular apps are focused on social media, productivity, or what always seem to be mindless games (we’re looking at you Kim Kardashian and Candy Crush). The fact that most apps don’t force users to think critical doesn’t mean that it isn’t possible, however. The lack of cognitively demanding apps is more of an indictment of the users than the technology itself.

There are many apps that do promote critical thinking–and often extended critical thinking and learning at that. These aren’t clinical “critical thinking building” programs either, but rather often enjoyable exercises in strategy, tactics, and problem-solving thought. So below we’ve collected 25 of these critical thinking apps. Most are for grades 8-12, but several are for students as young as kindergarten.

Helping students think critical is less a matter of direct instruction, and more a matter of providing them with access to dynamic tools with unique and playful barriers or goals that require the best strategy they can muster, while providing instant feedback to the player as they go. Though they’re not learning specific academic content in most of these apps, they are practicing extended thinking over a period of time that encourages to look at digital circumstances with a critical eye.

25 Critical Thinking Apps For Extended Student Learning

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1. Plag — Information Network Analysis

Developer Description

Grade Levels: 8-12+

“Plag is an essentially different way to spread information. The idea for Plag is to create a perfect medium for spreading information as wide as it deserves to be spread, without any boundaries.

Plag works like a virus. When you spread information, it goes to the users who are closest to you physically. The infected users can spread information exponentially further or they can resist the epidemic by keeping the information to themselves. Everyone has a fair and equal chance to be heard by the whole network right from the start – there is no friending or following on Plag. If your information is interesting to people, it can eventually spread to the entire world.”

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2. Flight Pilot Simulator 3D

Grade Levels: 6-12+

Developer Description

Unleash your inner Maverick, become a pilot and conquer the skies.
+ Fun and challenging missions on beautiful scenarios
+ 20 realistic planes: from single engine props to jets, airliners and military aircraft.
+ Explore a huge open map with tons of surprises in free flight mode
+ Immersive scenarios: emergencies, rescue missions, rough landings, fires, races and more!

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3. Plague Inc.

Grade Levels: 8-12+

Developer Description

“Can you infect the world? Plague Inc. is a unique mix of high strategy and terrifyingly realistic simulation. Your pathogen has just infected ‘Patient Zero’. Now you must bring about the end of human history by evolving a deadly, global Plague whilst adapting against everything humanity can do to defend itself.”

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4. Minecraft: Pocket Edition

Grade Levels: K-12+

Developer Description

“Explore randomly generated worlds and build amazing things from the simplest of homes to the grandest of castles. Play in creative mode with unlimited resources or mine deep into the world in survival mode, crafting weapons and armor to fend off the dangerous mobs.”

5. Critical Thinking

Grade Levels: 8-12+

Developer Description

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6. Civilization V (Note: For Mac, not iPad) (Note: Editor’s Choice award from TeachThought)

Grade Levels: 6-12+

Developer Description

“Civilization V: Campaign Edition brings all the features and functionality of the single-player campaign to the Mac App Store. Become Ruler of the World by establishing and leading a civilization from the dawn of man into the space age: Wage war, conduct diplomacy, discover new technologies, go head-to-head with some of history’s greatest leaders and build the most powerful empire the world has ever known.”

7. Assembly – Design

Grade Levels: 6-12+

Developer Description

“Assembly has a vast library of shapes that easily snap together to create anything you can dream of. Smart guides makes positioning shapes easy and precise. Infinitely zoom into the artboard for even the most detailed artwork.”

8. AutoCAD 360

Grade Levels: 8-12+

Developer Description

9. Shakespeare In Bits: Romeo & Juliet

Grade Levels: 7-12+

Developer Description

“Understand and appreciate the linguistic richness of Shakespeare’s plays with the original play text, broken into easily digested ‘bits’. In-line translation helps you to understand difficult words and phrases within the context of the original play text.

Each title includes hours of high-resolution animation with professional audio soundtrack, helping you to decode and comprehend Shakespeare’s fertile prose quickly and efficiently. The text, presented side-by-side with animated action, is easy to follow with portions of text being highlighted as they are spoken in the play. The integrated combination of text, audio and graphics is designed to facilitate learners of varying abilities and learning styles.”

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10. Literary Analysis Guide

Grade Levels: 7-12+

Developer Description

“Literary Analysis Guide is a reference tool for students of literature, rhetoric, and writing. The elements of literature are arranged around three clickable interface wheels. Touch any term on the wheels for a detailed definition, examples from literature, questions to ask, and an example essay paragraph which analyzes that term. Students can also reference an illustrated version of each analysis paragraph which highlights the topic sentence, textual evidence, and analysis portions of text.”

11. SPEEDSim: Spatial Population Ecological and Epidemiological Dynamics Simulator

Grade Levels: 9-12+

Developer Description

“Spatial Population Ecological and Epidemiological Dynamics Simulator (SPEED Sim) is a tool that enables hands-on interactive exploration of the spatial dynamics of various computational models in population ecology and epidemiology. The app also provides several cellular automaton models as an introduction to these kinds of simulations.”

12. Block Earth

Grade Levels: K-12+

Developer Description

“Block Earth is an app for building, browsing and sharing worlds and mini-games. It works in a Minecraft-style world of blocks, with realistic animals and advanced shading. Download to explore thousands of readymade worlds and games, or build your own. Ride horses or even dragons, if you can land on one. Build a railway or a roller coaster to ride.”

13. Animate Me! 3D Animation For Kids 

Grade Levels: 3-12+

Developer Description

“Create 3D animations of cartoons in a simple and intuitive manner on your tablet or phone. If you’ve ever wondered how they bring characters to life in animation movies like Frozen or Toy Story, this app is for you. Kids can learn to make 3D animations that showcase their creativity and storytelling abilities.”

14. Opposing Views

Grade Levels: 10-12+

Developer Description

“At Opposing Views, we report the news and let you debate it. We deliver the day’s most pressing, important and unbiased news. Instantly access news that will make you think, laugh…”

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15. Game Of Life

Grade Levels: 8-12+

Developer Description

“Game of Life is a cellular automata simulation based on the well known Conway’s Game of Life.”

16. Sugar Shake

Grade Levels: 9-12+

Developer Description

“Shake and tilt sugar molecules to set off chemical reactions and earn points! This game features a cast of protein characters based on real structures found inside our cells. Explore the structure and function of ten of the tiny proteins that break down sugar in the cell. In each level, tilt different sugars to their matching proteins, setting off chemical reactions and avoiding obstacles.”

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17. TinkerBox HD – Autodesk Inc.

Grade Levels:

Developer Description

“If you can imagine it, you can build it with TinkerBox. TinkerBox is a fun, free-to-play physics puzzle game. While it is full of interesting science facts and teaches basic engineering concepts, TinkerBox is more than just educational! Take the tools in your hands to explore your creativity and imagination with Invent mode. Build outrageous machines, share them with your friends, or download popular inventions online. Stretch your brain through the devious Puzzle mode. Get immersed in physics-based puzzles and mechanical concepts, where your only hope for success is your creative problem solving.”

18. SimCity BuildIt – Electronic Arts

Grade Levels: 6-12+

Developer Description

“Solve real life challenges like traffic, fires, and pollution. Provide services like power plants and police departments to meet your citizens’ needs, and boost your population with parks and education. Keep traffic moving with grand avenues and streetcars. Complete fun challenges to shape your society.”

19. Artificial Life

Grade Levels: 9-12+

Developer Description

“Oddly hypnotic and relaxing, Artificial Life is a simulation of the growth and evolution of microorganisms – basically artificial life forms. Initially, each organism is given a random set of rules governing its behavior. If the rules end up being useful for survival, the organism may live long enough to mate with another organism and pass its genetic code on to some offspring.

Over time, the organisms with the most useful behaviors will pass on their genetic code, leading to interesting patterns of behavior unfolding before your eyes – flocking behaviors, solitary predatory tactics, scavenging, and hiding are some examples – and all this behavior is evolving from total randomness.”

20. Block Craft 3D : City Building Simulator

Grade Levels: K-12+

Basic Description

Like Minecraft, with a greater focus on crafting.

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20. The Sims

Grade Levels: K-12+

Basic Description

Build a life, make decisions, design homes, prioritize relationships, maintain personal health, focus on actions and decisions that promote health, happiness, and well-being.

For other “micro-life simulations,” consider:

21. Chaos Lab

22. LifeSim

23. SimpleLife 

24. Artificial Life

25. Game Of Life

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25 Critical Thinking Apps For Extended Student Learning