Back-to-school apps and technology


Back-to-school apps and technology

8:55 a.m. PDT September 12, 2016

There are a handful of apps and devices to check out for the new school year — and not just for students.

Students, parents and educators might find these applications and technology useful.

Statesman Journal Reporter Natalie Pate tried the following to give some helpful insight.


These free applications are available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

Field trip

  • Who: Students, educators
  • What: Make anywhere you go a learning opportunity with this app, which tells you historic locations, facts and information as you explore the location of your choice.
  • Cost: Free
  • Pate insights: This app is really fun, especially when exploring new cities. It will show you everything from historic markers and public archives to local art and “best of the road” top places to go. It gives pictures, descriptions and related articles on each location. You can also plan tours and trips, and save your favorites. You’ll find some fun, quirky things with this app. I would turn off the notifications for this app though — otherwise you will get a notification any time you walk past a historic site, which is more frequent than you might think. Also, be aware that this app uses your GPS, so it can drain your battery if you aren’t careful. Make sure to close the app when you aren’t using it. 

  • Who: Students, parents, educators
  • What: Digital planner and task manager, rated a “must have” by the New York Times
  • Cost: Free
  • Note: There are in-app purchases to expand the app
  • Pate insights: I’m a big planner, so this app is useful to me. You can sort your to-do items into categories — personal, work, groceries, movies to watch, etc. — and schedule them based on when you would like to get them done — today, tomorrow, in two weeks, next month, etc. Once you complete a task, you just swipe through the item and the app crosses it off the list. The more items you cross off, the more positive, encouraging messages the app will give you, such as “You’re on fire!” and “You rock!” Be careful, it’s a sensitive app to touch; no matter how you tap, swipe or click, it does something. The basics are nice, but I wish users didn’t have to pay to get all the fancy bells and whistles.


  • Who: Parents, students
  • What: Quick way to share your location using GPS tracking in real time with friends and family
  • Cost: Free
  • Pate insights: If you want to give your friends and family your ETA or want to make sure a friend or family member gets home safely — like when walking home from school — this is a good app for you. Follow the person on a map as they get to their next location. It’s good for planning and peace of mind. Only those you share your location with can see your Glympse. It will send a text when you share your location that you are on your way. Since it uses GPS tracking, this app can also drain your battery; however, the app has a feature to expire the app once you arrive.


  • Who: Students, parents, educators
  • What: App that will lock phone when you are driving — when moving more than about 15 miles per hour — and will send automatic messages to anyone who calls or texts.
  • Cost: Free
  • Pate insights: This app is a must-have for safety. If you try to do anything on your phone when the car if going fast enough, the app will interrupt with notification after notification saying “Keep your eyes on the road.” Keep that in mind when you need to use the GPS. For general use, the app will prompt you, but when setting up, you will need to adjust your notifications. The app will always be running, you don’t close it or it won’t work entirely. A new feature on the app is an “arrival notification,” which lets your family and friends know you’ve arrived somewhere safely. You can also earn monetary awards on this app to reward you for driving safely. There is a special “Driver Portal for Parents” too.


  • Who: Parents, educators, students
  • What: Quick resource for medical emergencies and procedures, including CPR and choking.
  • Cost: Free
  • Pate insights: This app was recommended to me in a CPR training. When emergencies happen, we don’t always remember how to handle the situation. This app is easy to use and, I would imagine, helpful in an emergency situation. At the start, you just tap CPR, AED or CHOKING. As an example, for CPR the app will have you select the general age of the person who needs help (i.e. adult, child), and then it will give you a video with instructions to walk you through the emergency procedure. An important thing to remember — you will need the sound on to hear. Some apps will make the sound come on even if your phone is silenced or on vibrate, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with this app.


  • Who: Students, educators
  • What: A quick way to translate and look up words from about 90 languages
  • Cost: Free
  • Note: There are discrepancies on the quality of translations from similar apps. This should not be used to complete foreign language work for students.
  • Pate insights: This is an easy-to-use translating app. You can pick which language you want to translate and what language you want that word or phrase(s) translated into using text or voice commands. The app stores your past requests to look up easily later and you can save your favorite phrases as well. This would be a good app for students doing quick vocab look up, especially if studying abroad. However, the translations are usually pretty literal — you might not get the best translation or a translation the way a native speaker of the language would express the same thing.

GRE Prep

  • Who: College students, future graduate school students
  • What: A tutoring app to prepare you to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). The app comes includes flashcards and practice tests in math, verbal and writing
  • Cost: Free
  • Pate insights: As someone interested in going to graduate school, this app helps me keep up on daily practice, so I don’t end up spending a lot of money on prep materials and never actually use them. With the app, you can take practice tests, track your test results, do questions of the day for math and verbal, make and study flashcards and find a tutor near you. It also has pre-made flashcards for hundreds of concepts.


  • Who: Parents, educators
  • What: App that saves extra change from purchases and invests to save up money
  • Cost: Free
  • Note: Some have warned against small-change investments. The Statesman Journal is not giving financial advice.
  • Pate insights: To get started, you’ll want to decide which bank account you want linked to the app and make sure your bank account is mobile ready. Set aside a few minutes to set up your profile. You can decide to invest for various reasons, including long-term and short-term investments, a major purchase or for children. If you aren’t used to talking about your finances and don’t have a background knowledge on investing money, it may take a little to fully understand, but it walks you through the steps well and there are a lot of advisors involved in the app to help you set up a financial profile. Once set up, you can invite friends to join the app and each get $5 when they invest. In the “round-up” section of the app, you can see how much is being rounded up and invested with each purchase you make and check on your savings as frequently as you’d like. If you would like to donate the money you save, you can and there are specific apps to do just that.

Find more apps on the App Store online.


Verizon Wireless officials gave the Statesman Journal some suggestions for back-to-school devices.

For elementary school students:The LG GizmoPal 2 and GizmoGadget are alternatives to smartphones and introductory devices to keep kids connected.

Both smart watches have calling capabilities for pre-programmed numbers, GPS location accessed by a parent’s phone, and a waterproof, “kid-friendly” design.

Kids can also play games with these. They are in a wristwatch style, so kids won’t lose them easily.

In a nutshell, the GizmoGadget is a little more sophisticated than the GizmoPal2). You can add up to 10 contacts compared to four, it counts steps and can record voice messages, among other features.

Both devices are a good stepping stone for parents who don’t want to get their kids a smartphone yet, but want to be able to communicate with them if needed.

Cost: LG GizmoPal 2 ($79.99 + $5/month) and GizmoGadget ($149.99 + $5/month)

For middle and high school students:

Tablets and “phablets” are a lightweight way to take tech into the classroom.

The Verizon Ellipsis 8 is packed with an 8-inch HD display, fast processor, and robust battery life for all-day use. With the Samsung Galaxy S7, students can easily stay ahead of class using the Galaxy S7 stylus pen to take notes.

Cost: Verizon Ellipsis 8 (retail is $249.99 or $10.41/month) and Samsung Galaxy S7 (retail is $672.00 or $28/month)

For college students:

For the student living away from home, parents can keep an eye on their driving habits with hum, a versatile device that plugs into a student’s car, tracking speed and monitoring for maintenance.

For long lectures and all-nighters, the Moto Z Force Droid has a 48-hour battery life and is the fastest-charging smartphone with Turbo Charge for a quick boost. “Pair it with the Insta-Share Projector Moto Mod for a pocket-able presentation sure to impress the class,” officials said.

From my experience, the projector was pretty cool and very easy to use.

Cost: Moto Z Force Droid (retail is $720.00 or $30/month), and Insta-Share Projector Moto Mod ($299.99)

The Hum has a $29.99 one-time equipment fee + $20 one-time activation fee, and then $10/month for the service (added to your Verizon bill). However, Verizon has a promotion happening now that if you are a new driver licensed in 2016, they will waive the activation and equipment fee.

Contact Natalie Pate at, 503-399-6745, or follow on Twitter @Nataliempate, on Facebook at or on the Web at

Published by Natalie Pate

Natalie Pate is a freelance journalist and author based in Salem, Oregon. She wrote about education for more than seven years at the Statesman Journal and now covers education and other topics throughout the Pacific Northwest. She is originally from Colorado and earned her B.A. in Politics and French from Willamette University.

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