critical thinking / Parent resources / Tech ed / websites

14 Educational Websites Students Will Ask to Visit This Summer

digital summer copyThe most popular website at my school is Minecraft–hands down, starting in 1st grade (I’m amazed parents let six-year-olds use this sometimes violent game, but they do and students do and the mania starts). Because kids would live in this blocky virtual world 24/7, I only let them play it two lunch periods a week. Those days, my lab is always packed. Kids have no idea they’re learning math (estimation, geometry, shapes), science (geology, rocks, minerals), building, or softer skills like thinking and reasoning, problem solving, hypothesis-testing, risk-taking, and collaboration. They don’t realize they’re exercising that delicate skill called ‘creativity’ or care that Common Sense Media raves that “Minecraft empowers players to exercise their imagination and take pride in their digital creations as they learn basic building concepts.”

As I watched students play (and play and play and play), I started to understand what it was that enraptured them so thoroughly: It’s the thinking. They make decisions that result in consequences and ultimately require more thinking. Players can’t go on auto-pilot. They must engage their brain.

OK, I get it. No way will I reinvent the education wheel when I’ve stumbled onto the golden goose: Simulations–not those shallow ones that walk players through the ‘right’ answers, but the deep, multi-layered type that are hard to find in the virtual world. I’ve had one (called SimTower) on my lab computers for ten years. Third graders discover it and play it as often as I let them–which used to be every lunch hour until Minecraft replaced it–right through until fifth grade when the shine wore thin and they needed something new. It’s listed below, but you can’t buy it. It’s only available as ‘abandoned software’ from the link.

Here are a few more you can tantalize your children with whenever you need a break as Summertime Planner in Chief:

  • Bridge Builder—learn how to design and test bridges
  • iCivics—experience what it means to be part of a democracy
  • Making History: The Great War—WWI strategy game
  • MidWorld Online—learn French or Spanish while completing conquests
  • Minecraft (links to MinecraftEdu—fee required)
  • Mission USstudents role play the American Revolution or the Civil War
  • Past/Present—life as an American immigrant in the early 1900’s
  • SimCity—learn how to run a city
  • SimTower—learn how to run a high-rise

For shorter sessions, try these:

  • Coffee Shop—run a coffee shop business
  • Electrocity—learn how electricity contributes to the growth of communities
  • Lemonade Stand—run a lemonade stand business
  • Life (Insurance)—manage your life and see why insurance is important
  • Science simulations—lots of choices for 2nd-8th graders

Best news: These are all free.

Feel free to email this list–or the entire post–to all of your students. Then, they won’t misplace it!


Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculumK-8 keyboard curriculumK-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. She is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, presentation reviewer for CSTA, Cisco guest blogger, a monthly contributor to TeachHUB, columnist for Examiner.com, featured blogger for Technology in Education, and IMS tech expert. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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11 thoughts on “14 Educational Websites Students Will Ask to Visit This Summer

  1. Pingback: 14 Educational Websites Students Will Ask to Visit This Summer | Ask a Tech Teacher | Learning Curve

  2. How do you have your students do things like minecraft, where a login is required? I am going into my 2nd year of teaching computers next year to kinder-4th grade & just to get them to be able to log onto our network is a lot. Plus I’m not sure how it would be with getting parents’ permission, etc. Can you explain the logistics of that?

    • Surprisignly many students have their own emails or access to their parents. I’m fine with using parents because then they’re in the loop. Some sites allow throw-away email addresses–because they only use them if the student lost the log-in. Then I take the opportunity to discuss ‘throw-away’, passwords–concepts along that line. A conversation always goes better when it’s authentic. By 5th grade, my students are on Google Apps so that takes care of any email issues.

      K-4–always an issue. So many students have log-ins for Minecraft, I never worry about it. There’s also a free online demo others can use (not as many options as the full version I’m told). With something like Minecraft, I definitely want parents in the loop. I do it as a lunchtime club, but if I was using it as a teaching tool (which I’m planning on), I’d go through MinecraftEdu so it would be a bit tamer.

      If you’re wondering about creating log-ins in the classroom (when students don’t have email addresses at all), here’s a post that tells you how to make that work (https://askatechteacher.wordpress.com/2012/08/21/tech-tip-104-need-email-accounts-for-registration-heres-a-fix/). Cool work-around.

      Log-ins are always complicated until students get used to it. Here’s what I’ve found: If they’re motivated, they seem to make it work. So, these websites will likely not be a problem as they are so enticing, students will remember their log-ins. Demo each site first to ‘sell’ them, and then let students go.

      I hope that helps!

  3. Not only does the violence bother me but also the fact that they can chat with anyone, anywhere. Also how can we get them to apply what they are unknowingly learning to their lessons?

    • You’re referring to Minecraft? I hear you on that. MinecraftEdu might be a better approach if you’re looking at rolling this out to the school.

      Here’s my thinking on Minecraft: It is so popular, we’re missing an opportunity not incorporating what it teaches into lessons. Students want to play it, so will listen. My students can tell me what educationally they’re getting out of the simulation and tell others. Even 1st graders get excited when they see the Minecraft icon on the desktop. Prior to letting them play, discuss what’s happening in the simulation. Set up tasks for them which reinforce what they’re learning. For example:

      measure gravity
      create contour/topographic maps using randomly generated mountains and/or free mapping tools available
      measure/evaluate area/volume by using a set number of blocks to explore how many shapes they can make with a specific area, or volume, or surface area.

      Here are more on my Minecraft thoughts–https://askatechteacher.wordpress.com/2012/11/02/weekend-website-115-minecraft/.

      As for chatting with anyone/anywhere, we turn those options off. That isn’t to say they can’t access them at home. Once you realize students are doing that from home (2nd/3rd grade), discuss it as a class. I teach a massive unit on Digital Citizenship, including privacy and online safety. I have students share their experiences. I answer questions about What to Do. We get it all out in the open. They may not listen the first time, but by the time we’ve had these discussions for 2-3 years, they will.

      Does that help?

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