There’s an App for That

Whether we are shopping at the grocery store, beginning a new exercise regimen, or looking at the night sky, there’s no doubt mobile applications provide assistance with everyday activities. In fact, when family or friends observe us engaging in some routine but seemingly archaic activity without technological assistance, we are often informed “there’s an app for that.”

Well, it doesn’t stop with our personal lives. The usefulness of mobile applications has made its way into classrooms and other education arenas, all over the world. More and more schools view mobile learning as one of the best ways to integrate technology into education. These learning tools are flexible, portable, and cost efficient answers to modern learning needs (and requirements). Additionally, many students have mobile learning devices at home, are comfortable using them, and take them everywhere anyway.

With today’s emphasis on STEM education and the upcoming release of the Next Generation Science Standards, technology is a tool to embrace. This article outlines ten mobile applications that can be used to enhance Project Learning Tree activities.

As an educator, I realize that one of the most difficult things with using educational apps is finding the time to go through the half million or so available to find the one you need. As an educator, I realize the price of apps is also not to be ignored.

These ten recommended apps were identified with Project Learning Tree in mind…and are completely free for users to download. They provide a jumping off point for getting started, showcasing the variety of apps out there. Use the list below as a trailhead, realizing it is more than okay to blaze your own path. The app title and image link to the Apple store. If the app is available for android, you’ll find a link to the android market under “devices.”


Price: Free
Size: 50.8 MB
Devices: iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad (Android version in development)

Leafsnap uses visual recognition software to help identify tree species from individual leaf photographs you take in the field. This application contains high-resolution images of bark, flowers, fruit, seeds, and more. Currently Leafsnap specializes in tree species found in the Northeastern United States, but expansion to include all US regions is underway.

PLT Activity Correlation:
PreK-8’s 2, 20, 21, 22, 61, 64, 68, 78 (and more!)
Early Childhood’s 3, 4, 5, and 11
Focus on Forests’ 1, 2, 3, and 8
GreenSchools! School Site Investigation

WildObs Observer

Price: Free
Size: 5.7 MB
Devices: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, and Android

WildObs Observer allows users to search for and identify thousands of species of mammals, birds, snakes, plants, and more. Log your wildlife encounters for your own calculations or upload them to a national database for comparison.

PLT Activity Correlation:
PreK-8’s 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 22, 23, 24, 45, 46, 47, 48, 88 (and more!)
Early Childhood’s 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10
Biodiversity’s 1, 2, 3
Focus on Forests’ 1, 2, 5, 7
GreenSchools! School Site Investigation

WildLab Bird

Price: Free
Size: 38.3 MB
Devices: iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad (try iBird Lite for Android)

Use WildLab Bird to learn the basics of bird identification. This application uses audio, photographs, maps, and the process of elimination to help identify over 200 bird species. Sightings can also be entered into a national bird watching database for comparison.

PLT Activity Correlation:
Good for use with all activities correlated to WildObs Observer, with the addition of PreK-8’s Activity 25.


Price: Free
Size: 9.4 MB
Devices: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, and Android

AllTrails helps users to get out and discover the outdoors. Use it to plan a national park visit, find a hiking path near home, or map a new trail of your own! AllTrails can help you find local places to run, hike, bike, fish, and more in the outdoors. You can even upload photos and images to trails you create.

PLT Activity Correlation:
PreK-8’s 1, 3, 4, 5, 21, 23, 35, 36, 46, 48, 54, 61, 71, 80 (and more!)
Early Childhood’s “Taking Neighborhood Walks” experiences (all 11 activities)
Focus on Forests’ 1, 2, 3
GreenSchools! School Site Investigation


Price: Free
Size: 0.1 MB
Devices: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, and Android

A more technical application, SoilWeb allows users to access GPS based, real-time USDA-NRCS soil survey data. Using your geographic location, this app retrieves soil type summaries, including soil series names and image profiles.

PLT Activity Correlation:
PreK-8’s 8, 24, 48, 70, 71, 77
Focus on Forests’ 1, 2, 5, 6
GreenSchools! School Site Investigation

Zero Carbon

Price: Free
Size: 1.1 MB
Devices: iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad

Zero Carbon can calculate an individual’s carbon footprint by looking at a person’s daily habits. Once you know the amount of greenhouse gases your lifestyle is producing, this app offers tips on reducing that number. Zero Carbon also shows how your statistics stack up against world averages, and it can be connected to Facebook, for sharing results.

PLT Activity Correlation:
PreK-8’s 31, 73, 84, 85, 86
Focus on Forests’ 1, 8
Forest of the World’s 6
GreenSchools! Energy, School Site, and Environmental Quality Investigations


Price: Free
Size: 13.0 MB
Devices: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad (SmartMeasure for Android)

EasyMeasure uses the height of the camera lens and its tilt angle to calculate the distance to objects of your choice. Simply aim your mobile device at any object, and this app displays the distance towards that object on top of the camera image. Upgrades can be used to also calculate object height.

PLT Activity Correlation:
PreK-8’s 21, 66, 67, 68
Focus on Forests’ 1, 2, 8
GreenSchools! School Site Investigation

Fairy Tale

Price: Free
Size: 124.0 MB
Devices: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad

This story production tool can be used to create a personal story and enhance it by adding your own drawings, audio, and animation. The illustrations can be moved, expanded, reduced, or rotated with touch, and you can record your own voice as narrator.

PLT Activity Correlation:
PreK-8’s 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 18, 26, 40, 44, 47, 62, 63, 74, 76, 77, 78, 89, 91, 95
Early Childhood’s “Reading and Writing” experiences (all 11 activities)

Easy Chart

Price: Free
Size: 2.4 MB
Devices: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad

This is a good tool for teachers and classrooms. Easily create bar, line and pie charts that you can customize, save and e-mail or upload. The charts you create can be saved using multiple color schemes and in multiple sizes. The app also works without an internet connection.

PLT Activity Correlation:
PreK-8’s 4, 6, 16, 22, 25, 27, 28, 36, 38, 41, 46, 67, 73, 77, 80
Early Childhood’s 1, 3, 4, 5, 9
Forest of the World’s 1, 2, 4, 8, 9
Focus on Forests’ 1, 3, 7, 8
GreenSchools! All Five Investigations

Learn Sign Language

Price: Free
Size: 4.3 MB
Devices: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad (ASL – American Sign Language for Android)

This app introduces users to the world of communication by sign language. You learn from video clips, choosing from a wide variety of topic areas, including weather, colors, animals, shapes, feelings, family words, and more. Other free language apps are also available (Spanish, French, Italian, German, etc.)

PLT Activity Correlation:
Early Childhood’s 1, 2

Many of these recommended free apps are “trial” in size, meaning that if you want to do more than the basic features allow, inexpensive upgrades are available (usually for about $1). In my experience, however, the free apps provide more than enough technology to get the job done. Many applications also offer “lite” versions, which provide a limited number of trials before purchase is required.

Like any good shopper, I recommend taking advantage of free trials and reading consumer reviews before making any app purchases. As often occurs with technology, applications seem to be outdated shortly after purchase, soon to be replaced by something newer, better, faster, etc.

The bottom line: don’t miss out. Using mobile technology has proven to increase student motivation and the number of educational applications available will remain on the rise. In short, there is no limit to the learning possibilities that are, quite literally, at your fingertips.

So, challenge students to give those texting thumbs a break and to exercise their brain instead. They will soon see that learning has never been more fun or convenient.

Jaclyn Stallard is Manager of Education Programs for Project Learning Tree. Kyle Cooper, PLT Program Coordinator, also contributed to this article.

Jackie Stallard

Jackie Stallard

Jackie is Director of Curriculum for Project Learning Tree. Jackie oversees the next generation of PLT’s PreK-12 environmental education materials, as well as other instructional materials and resources. She also directs strategic alliances that advance curriculum implementation with other environmental education and sustainability resource providers.

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