Choosing Favorites: Common Sense’s Favorite Tools for Young Children Guest Blog by Tanner Higgin

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TEC Center’s director, Alexis Lauricella, PhD has established a TEC Center initiative to increase the early childhood technology research being conducted at Erikson and continue communication of research about children and technology. As part of this initiative, the TEC Center’s blog is welcoming guest writers to translate their academic research to practitioners, teachers, parents, and industry creators by blogging about their recent publications. This post is from Tanner Higgin, Director, Education Editorial Strategy at Common Sense Education, describing the efforts for developing resources for early childhood educators.

The following was written by Tanner Higgin, Director, Education Editorial Strategy at Common Sense Education
July 31, 2019

It’s become a cliche to say that edtech is a wild west but many educators still struggle to identify and find useful relevant technology for their classrooms. According to our research report The Common Sense Census: Inside the 21st Century Classroom, there’s a significant breakdown between what schools and districts value and purchase for teachers and what teachers actually value and use. In fact, one third of teachers report they were provided with technology they haven’t used. The top reason why? The technology wasn’t relevant to students’ learning. In order to help educators find ways to make the technology more relevant to students’ learning, we created Common Sense Education’s 50 Favorite Tools list, which we  launched this year at ISTE in Philadelphia. 

At Common Sense we’ve doubled-down on being a strong, independent voice for teachers. Our mighty editorial team of two works alongside our freelance reviewers (all current or former educators) to test and evaluate tools for the things teachers care about: student engagement, creative pedagogy, and support for teachers and different learners. However, we also understand that each individual teacher knows what’s best for their classroom — not us, not administrators, and not researchers. With this in mind, we try to recommend but not prescribe. Our hope is that teachers try the tools out for themselves, and hopefully report back on how it went. 

When developing the Common Sense Education’s 50 Favorite Tools list, our team took stock of the past six years of in-depth evaluation of edtech and selected special tools that — as educators ourselves — we would’ve loved to use. These aren’t the 50 highest-rated tools: these are the tools that have stuck out and stuck with us. They’re tools that embody our philosophy toward learning and that any teacher should know about. They’re all dynamic learning experiences and some grounded in research while others are messy, weird, and never intended to make it into classrooms. Nevertheless, they’re all pedagogical stars, facilitating student-centered learning experiences that build skills and conceptual understanding. Equally as important: each of the tools passed our privacy program’s minimum safeguards for privacy.

So is it still a wild west? Well, as Tony Wan at EdSurge has reported, there’s still a lot of money in edtech. In fact, 2018 tied with 2015 for the largest amount of funding of the decade. However, that money is going to fewer projects (112 in 2018 vs. 162 in 2015). Even with this shrinkage, there are far more apps, games, and websites for learning out there than we — or anybody else — has time to properly evaluate. In short: the west might not be expanding but it definitely remains wild, and teachers still need help finding that perfect app. 

Thankfully, we’ve learned a lot about what tools teachers need and use to help us select the most promising tools for review.

While you can check out the full list for yourself, I’ll highlight a few selections that represent what we value in edtech.


Screenshot of Bandimal

One-liner: Captivating music creation app for young musicians
Grades: PreK-K
Price: $3.99
It’s minimalistic by nature, but packs a musical punch. Young kids can create and react to music without formal training, and, magically, it always sounds good. 

Book Creator
One-liner: Magically easy way to create and publish digital books and multimedia
Grades: 3-12
Price: Free, Paid
It’ll pay off all year long no matter the subject or lesson. And while there’s no shortage of other storytelling tools, it’s in a league of its own in terms of balancing ease of use with robust features and possibilities.
One-liner: Design, build, and share new things offline and online
Grades: 3-8
Price: Free
A model for how to foster a healthy, kid-driven community. Students can learn to create just about anything they want, and then show off their skills. It also has some of the best visual design and personality in edtech.

One-liner: Crop, customize, and remix online video content with interactive tool
Grades: 3-12
Price: Free, Paid
According to the Common Sense Census, video is the most-used tech in classrooms, and EdPuzzle makes video work better for classrooms. Allows for easy editing of videos and adding learning activities like quizzes and voiceover.

Screenshot of Magnus Kingdom of Chess

Magnus Kingdom of Chess
One-liner: Gentle chess puzzle game ideal for young newbies
Grades: 1-8
Price: $7.99
A lighthearted storyline and gradual learning curve make chess strategy a complete delight for beginners of all ages. Unwrapping one concept at a time, players will feel like masters by the time they play with a full board. 

Teaching Tolerance
One-liner: Thought-provoking classroom resources support diversity education
Grades: K-12
Price: Free
Addresses essential and tough-to-teach topics like immigration, gender, and bias that are more important than ever to discuss in classrooms. Everything’s here that teachers need to lead discussions with confidence: lessons, texts, tasks, films, and more.

One-liner: Innovative combo of live instruction and adaptive online math lessons
Grades: K-5
Price: Free, Paid
A model of how to do a curricular resource right by blending digital and non-digital activities. It features excellent scaffolding for the online student experience and then pairs with live group instruction. Math teachers get tons of useful data to reinforce conceptual understanding and correct misconceptions.

The Common Sense Education’s 50 Favorite Tools list and other early education tools are available for no cost at


Please use the following citation for reference:

Higgin, T. (2019, July 31). Choosing Favorites: Common Sense’s Favorite Tools for Young Children. TEC Center at Erikson Institute. Retrieved from

Tanner Higgin

Tanner Higgin is Director, Education Editorial Strategy at Common Sense Education where he leads the editorial team responsible for edtech reviews and resources. Previously, he taught writing and media literacy for six years, and has a PhD from the University of California, Riverside. His research on video games and culture has been published in journals, books, and online, presented at conferences nationwide. Prior to joining Common Sense Education, Tanner worked as a curriculum developer and researcher at GameDesk, helping to design and launch and the PlayMaker School. While at GameDesk, he co-designed the United Colonies alternate reality game (ARG) with Mike Minadeo. This ARG is to date one of the most sophisticated to be implemented in a K-12 environment. Outside of education, Tanner has been a Technical Writer-Editor for the Department of Defense, a web designer, and co-editor and co-creator of a print literary journal.

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