April 26, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Time for a Little Common Sense: Evaluating Apps, Games, and Websites | Tech Tidbits

One of my professional development opportunities this summer was to attend the Innovative Education Colorado conference at Copper Mountain. This was a three-day learning extravaganza designed to pack my brain full with new ideas. I attended numerous sessions and found a ton of inspiration. CSM logoOne session in particular taught me about a tool I will be sharing with my teachers this fall: Common Sense Media (CSM). This is an independent, non-profit organization that provides resources to help parents and educators teach kids how to use technology and media safely and productively. According to the presenter, Brian Dino, who works for CSM and Denver Public Schools, the average U.S. student spends 53 hours a week in front of a television or computer screen. That’s more than a full-time job! Our children need guidance and positive modeling to help them navigate the deep end of the internet. CSM offers tools to do just that.

While you may already be familiar with the free Digital Literacy and Citizenship Curriculum provided by CSM, you might not be aware of Graphite, the platform created to provide parents and teachers with unbiased reviews of apps, games, and websites. CSM uses a rubric that evaluates these tools according to their learning potential, rating each product in graphitescreen - Copyterms of engagement, pedagogy, and support.

If a student shares a new app they’ve discovered and you want to know whether the app is educational, go to the Graphite website and search for the app under “Reviews and Ratings.” In need of a fun app to motivate students? Graphite allows users to search by subject, level, cost, and type. Reviewed products are also mapped to the Common Core Standards to help users focus on particular curricular areas. The site also includes reviews from teachers who have actually used the product in the classroom, as well as suggestions of how to incorporate the tool into  lessons.

Be sure to download the free Common Sense Media App as well. It provides reviews and ratings for music, games, apps, websites, movies, TV, and books for educators on the go. In the “My Kids” section of the app, users can click on “Add Kid” and enter a child’s name and age and get recommendations geared specifically for that child, based on age and gender. I plan to use this for good book recommendations for the library (I often struggle to find good “boy” books), as well as websites to include on the library website. The reviews contain a wealth of information in clearly labeled sections, including:  “What parents need to know,” “What’s it about?”, “Is it any good?”, “What kids can learn,” and “Families can talk about.”

Common Sense Media’s website and app offer an invaluable curation service to help librarians navigate the digital tools available to us. Use CSM to find great resources you can recommend to your teachers, students, and parents. Share it in your faculty meetings and at Back-to-School night, too.

See also:

Common Sense Media Unveils Graphite, New Review Site for Apps, Digital Content

Graphite: the new educator/consumer guide for ed tech tools


Krista Brakhage is a teacher librarian at Poudre High School, Fort Collins, CO.

SLJTeen header

This article was featured in our free SLJTeen enewsletter.
Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered to you twice a month.

Maker Workshop
In this two-week online course, you’ll create a maker program that aligns with your budget and community needs, with personal coaching from maker experts—from libraries and beyond—May 23 & June 6, 2018.


  1. All of us need to be aware of the technology that is used by our children. Not just the elementary student but all the way through high school. I am glad to see that there web sites that will help all parents help their children make good decisions about the appsw in use.