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3 Ways to Ensure a Groovy Back-to-School Transition


3 Ways to Ensure a Groovy Back-to-School TransitionMost STEMists enjoy the free time afforded during winter break.  Students get to sleep later in the morning, participate in late-night family gatherings, and hang out with friends without the worry of completing project assignments or homework. Although a winter holiday is much needed, it can present challenges when it’s time to get back into the educational groove.

In fact, many teachers find that grades drop in the third quarter.  And, though this is not true for all students, there are several reasons a drop in grades may occur.  Some say it is the more challenging curriculum in the third quarter, and others blame the long winter break that causes students to get too relaxed and lose focus.

Here are 3 ways to ensure a smooth and groovy back-to-school transition for your STEMists to help them make the grade.

Get Organized

Now is the time to clean out your backpack.  STEMists should completely empty their backpack and go through each folder and binder, pulling out already-graded papers, old project outlines and other items they won’t need for the next semester.  Be sure to include working pens and pencils, and fill binders with a new supply of paper.

STEMists should also declutter their workspace at home.  Whether a STEMist does homework at a desk in his bedroom or has a designated space in the family room or den, a clean and clutter-free area will allow for a more productive and stress-free environment.  Make sure to clear a space for new incoming homework assignment materials and discard old papers.  File them into a file folder or file drawer.

Set Goals

STEMists will experience a true sense of accomplishment by setting and meeting personal goals. Whether it’s to get a better grade in math, make new friends, join a club, keep their room clean, or even read the entire Harry Potter series, people who set goals are more likely to be successful.  Ask your STEMists to set at least two goals for the remaining grading quarters in their school planner.  Be sure to check them off after they are met. Also remind your STEMists to use their planners each day to help prioritize homework and in-school assignments.

Exercise Your Brain

Keeping your mind active is as important as physical exercise, and will help the brain stay fit and focused while out of the classroom.   Engage your STEMists brains with board games such as Monopoly, Scrabble or Risk.  Jigsaw puzzles also keep the mind in tip-top shape!  Or, try one of the many free brain training apps that offer brain exercises to help your STEMists keep their minds in good working condition.

BrainHQ – Brain Training Exercises:


Posit Science claims BrainHQ is the only brain training program clinically proven to improve memory, speed, and attention. Top scientists provided input into the challenges in this app, resulting in a training system that comprehensively improves brain function, from the most basic elements of perception through the most complex elements of memory, thinking, and decision-making.



Sophisticated, scientifically designed brain training for anyone, Lumosity is part of the Human Cognition Research Project and offers a personalized brain training program that includes a personal brain trainer, 40+ scientific-based games, and a variety of brain tests to assess your performance at different points in time.

A monthly-themed Groovy Lab in a Box is another way to keep your STEMist’s brain fit and focused to help transition from winter break to a back-to-school routine.  The Groovy Lab in a Box challenges STEMists to use their natural creative skills to complete investigations and an engineering design challenge!  Recently named in Popular Mechanics 100% Wholesome Holiday Toy Guide, Groovy Lab in a Box challenges enhance STEMists’ ability to retain knowledge and to think like engineers—all while having fun!

8 Groovy Music Apps

“Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.  Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents.” 
― Ludwig van Beethoven

8 Groovy Music Apps

An integration of music in the classroom can create a multisensory learning environment that is proven to improve retention and memory, increase concentration and enhance focus.

“Music stabilizes mental, physical and emotional rhythms to attain a state of deep concentration and focus in which large amounts of content information can be processed and learned. Baroque music, such as that composed by Bach, Handel or Telemann, that is 50 to 80 beats per minute creates an atmosphere of focus that leads students into deep concentration in the alpha brain wave state,” says Chris Brewer, MA, FAMI, author of Music and Learning (1995).

We couldn’t agree more! In addition to stimulating and motivating, music complements STEM subjects and is great for the STEMists’ souls!

Below are eight music -themed apps that will provide fun learning while motivating your STEMists in their quest for knowledge:

Sound Uncovered – Free by Exploratorium

Sound Uncovered

Sound Uncovered, an interactive book for the iPad, demonstrates the basic principles of sound in an interactive and playful way.  STEMists will discover the world of acoustics, with features of various aspects of sound and music in ‘magazine’ style that make you realize just how much goes into hearing and producing sounds. Sound Uncovered teaches you all about the space between your ears and how our brain deciphers sound.  The app is a must-have for any age to experience fun auditory illusions, unique voice recordings and the creation of sound waves.

Music Theory – Free by Bold Learning Solutions, Inc.

Music Theory by Brandscape

This app offers an excellent review of music theory with flashcards to help STEMists focus on studying large amounts of information.  The app features music symbols and key signatures to composer trivia. STEMists can design their own flashcards where progress is recorded, stored and listed with each round of note cards they review. Plus, you can create flashcards in any study subject organized in the fashion you choose and tailored to a specific test. STEMists will truly excel in their studies with this app. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. 

Pickup Tunes – Free by RunFly Studios, LLC

Pickup Tunes

Many STEMists can play a song just by hearing it, whereas others need to read the music notes, or practice over and over again to develop the right sound.  Pickup Tunes is an app that will engage STEMists as they learn sound patterns in association to the music notes that represent that pattern.  STEMists will learn to recognize notes by repeating their sounds in this interactive game.  They will progress to various levels as their skills increase, and the program automatically saves your scores and progress.  Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

Note: The free version provides an introduction to the app, but the paid version ($4.99) will be needed to continue to progress.

Kids Ear Training – Free by Ariel Ramos

Recommended for the younger crowd (children 9-11 years old,) Kids Ear Training is best suited for STEMists who have received prior musical education. The app features two learning modes with many levels that increase in difficulty as you progress and offers some customization features. STEMists will learn instrument families such as brass, woodwinds and strings, in addition to gaining a better understanding of sound concepts such as pitch and intervals.  Compatible for iPad.

Note: Kids Ear Training is safe for all ages; it does not contain social media or external links, ads or in-app purchases.

Ultimate-Guitar Tab– $2.99 by Ultimate Guitar

Get interactive lessons or learn guitar from scratch! The Ultimate-Guitar Tab  app can be accessed online or offline, and complements practice sessions for students learning how to play acoustic or electric guitar or ukulele.  With favorite tabs and chords available, and easy to use search a library of 400,000 songs, students can play along with their favorites helping them build their playing skills. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. This app is optimized for iPhone 5.

Pandora Radio – Free by Pandora Media

Pandora Radio can provide a venue for your STEMists to investigate and discover different types of music. Pure enjoyment and opens minds to the endless possibilities of song!  Available for iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android, Kindle Fire.

MSOLearn – Free by Melbourne Symphony Orchestra


MSOLearn provides STEMists an interactive audio-visual exploration of an orchestra, featuring the different instrumental families, individual instruments and the musicians who play them. The App encourages appreciation for all parts of an orchestra and provides stunning graphics and uncompressed audio.

Jam – Free by DreamWalk


What STEMist doesn’t secretly want to be a rock star?  Jam is the ultimate in groovy music fun!  Your STEMists will rock out with their own virtual band.  The user can sing into a digital device, and Jam will miraculously turn the song into a Masterpiece—regardless of your musical ability. Easy to use, Jam will detect pitch, key and song structure before producing original backup music to accompany song.  Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. This app is optimized for iPhone 5.

Do your STEMists love music and sound?

Be sure to check out “Good Vibrations” Groovy Lab in a Box where STEMists will investigate sound, pitch, vibration, sound waves, and an Engineering Design Challenge:  Using only the materials from your Groovy Lab in a Box, can you design and build a new musical instrument that plays at least three different pitches?

STEM Apps Beyond the Classroom

STEM Apps Beyond the Classroom

Are you concerned that your child spends too much time playing meaningless games on the smartphone or tablet? Don’t fret! Apple features over 65,000 educational apps, designed specifically for the iOS platform that reaches all levels of education.  But, with so many apps to choose from, parents may find it challenging to know which apps are best for their children.  Here are a few apps that teach STEM-related (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) material that are educational, but fun and entertaining.

Rube Works: The Official Rube Goldberg Invention Game by Electric Eggplant in partnership with Kalani Games and the Heirs of Rube Goldberg and published by Unity Games

Age: 8+

Where to download: iTunes App Store; Google Play; Amazon App Store; Mac App Store

This app combines puzzles, humor and creative problem solving in a whimsical environment.  Users enter the wacky world of Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Rube Goldberg (1883-1970) to learn the logic of physics through the connection of oddball items, inventing machines that solve problems.

Tinkerbox HD by Autodesk, the creators of AutoCad and other engineering tools

Age: 10+

Where to download: iTunes App Store

Moving away from whimsy, Tinkerbox uses an industrial-looking design in its app.  The physics-based puzzler and engineering tool assists users to create their own virtual inventions. STEMists and their parents will dive into this app to learn engineering basics, mechanical concepts and other science facts.  Machines built in the Invent mode can be shared with friends. Plus, high scores on the physics puzzle game can be shared through the Game Center’s social network, if desired.

iLiveMath Animals in Africa by iHomeEducator

Age: 6+

Where to download: iTunes App Store

Animal lovers should check out iLiveMath Animals in Africa  . This app combines math word problems with the enjoyment of learning about the lives of animals in Africa.  This app uses entertaining pictures, videos and sound to help first- through sixth-grade students gain mathematical confidence by answering questions related to some of their favorite animals!

Solar Walk: 3D Solar System Model by Vito Technology

Age: 8+

Download: iTunes App Store

The recent reintroduction of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos on ABC primetime programming has children and adults all over the country interested in the universe and all its wonders, once again.  Astronaut wannabes and space enthusiasts will get lost in the awesome graphics of Solar Walk.  Rated a best app of 2010, 2011, 2012 by Apple, Solar Walk is a spectacular model of the solar system displaying planets and satellites with remarkable detail and accuracy. Users navigate through space and time with scrolling, tapping, and zooming capabilities. 3D graphics highlight and complement learning about planet composition, trajectory, temperature, history, and more.  Plus, users can study the layers below the surface with views from various angels.

Solar Walk’s 3D mode can be connected to a 3D television or viewed with red/blue 3D glasses. Click here to get them for free online or make them yourself!

Other Apps to Mention

Space enthusiasts of all ages also might like to experience NASA’s free app, which offers a news feed on the latest news in the science community, information on each space mission, entertaining videos on space travels, and much more.

Montessori Geometry, by Les Trois Elles Interactive also is ideal for children 5 to 10 years old. This app, designed by Montessori teachers, offers multiple levels of instruction through 3D graphics, and teaches about the different shapes, definitions and vocabulary associated with geometry.

Engineers Decide by author and educator David Janoszis an interactive iBook ideal for STEMISTs age five through ten. This iBook is all about things engineers do. It encourages children to apply their imagination to create new things that make our lives better. Full of colorful artwork and interactive videos, Engineers Decide is a wonderful way to show how engineering careers shape our lives, inspiring the next generation of STEMists to get excited about STEM.

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