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Plugged In

Seven helpful back to school apps

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While the long summer break may be great for laid-back vacations, family time, and outdoor pursuits, it's not so hot for academic performance. Studies show students can lose as much as two or three months of progress in core areas like reading and math over the course of the summer.

In other words, as they head back to school in the next few weeks, your kids likely have some catching up to do. So send them off with a head start, courtesy of an Android or iOS tablet and one of these top-rated educational apps.

Look & Learn: Animal Alphabet (iPad)

National Geographic's enviable reputation for quality educational products precedes it. Its latest iOS release, aimed at preschool and pre-K kids, won't disappoint. Packed with animal-themed games that'll help budding linguists with their alphabet skills, Look & Learn's fun presentation and slew of gorgeous pictures made it a big hit with our wee testers -- and likely a good bet for your little ones, too.

Math Evolve (iOS)

Multiple-award-winning math title Math Evolve bills itself as "A Fun Math Game," and believe it or not, they're not overselling it.  Many apps mix learning with arcade action, but few do it quite this well, and almost none do it with this degree of parental involvement, feedback, and control.

Want to direct your child towards particular areas of emphasis, watch their progress, and tweak the game's difficulty as they go? Easy. Want to let them pick and choose their own way? No problem. Want to post your child's achievements to your Facebook account? Sure, you can do that, too. (But please don't, for the love of all that's good and holy. Nobody wants to see that.)

Chalk Walk (iPad)

Second nature to most adults, getting your pencil grip right is the key to comfortable, neat, and efficient handwriting. It's nowhere near as easy for kids, however.

Chalk Walk will help your child strengthen their grip, improve their motor skills, and give them a solid grounding in the fundamentals of hand positioning. It's cleverly hidden beneath an appealing sidewalk-chalk look that'll make them forget they're learning.

Stack the States (iOS)

Currently topping the App Store educational rankings, this lighthearted geography game makes the tedious business of learning the shapes of the states, their locations, and their capitals surprisingly enjoyable. Never again will you confuse Wyoming for Colorado, Vermont for New Hampshire, or Hawai'i with...well, if you've ever confused Hawai'i with any other state, you might be beyond help. Stack the States supports just about any iOS device, but thanks to a new update it looks extra-snazzy on the latest Retina-equipped models.

AnyMemo (Android)

Need to memorize some vocabulary, practice some math, or brush up on geography before the semester starts? Top-rated AnyMemo is one of the most popular Android flashcard apps out there. It's been around for a while, but regular updates keep it fresh. It can import flashcard databases from just about anything, including cloud services and its own slew of free offerings on its web site.

Erudio (iOS)

Complex, feature-rich task management software is all the rage in the business community -- just check out the success of Omnifocus and David Allen's "Getting Things Done" methodology.

Here's an iOS app that applies the same sort of approach to schoolwork. It'll help students track courses, times, grades, assignments, and due date -- plus its handy location-aware reminders will make sure you never forget to ask your professor that important question. The downside? You'll never be able to claim you forget your homework again.

Star Chart (Android)

Stargazing is easy. Figuring out what you're looking at? Not so much. All those stars look pretty similar, and when there's five or six thousand of them visible to the naked eye, it's easy to get lost.

So hook yourself up with Star Chart on your Android device (or the similar Star Walk on iOS). All you have to do is point your tablet at a celestial object of interest, and it'll use a combination of GPS, tilt sensors, and black magic to tell you exactly what you're looking at. There's no better way to bring science to life.

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