Apps: Back-to-school helpers

iStorybooks is like an e-reader for small children,

iStorybooks is like an e-reader for small children, with the added option of having a narrator read the books aloud. (Credit: Handout)

School supplies are no longer restricted to pens, folders and anything else you can find in a stationery store. Rather, many of the best learning tools around can fit into your pocket. These days, there are mobile applications for smartphones and tablets that can do everything from teaching your young child how to hold a pencil to keeping your older kids on top of deadlines and extracurricular activities. Here are five back-to-school apps you should download.

iStoryBooks
(iPhone, iPod Touch, Android; free)

iStorybooks is like an e-reader for small children, with the added option of having a narrator read the books aloud. Selections include classics like "The Three Little Pigs" and "Little Red Riding Hood." There also are several educational books available that teach everything from ABCs to geography to sound association. Parents can choose what books kids can find within the app's library. iStoryBooks also introduces a new story every two weeks and provides up to 25 free selections.

Chalk Walk
(iPad; $2.99)

It's not without irony that one of the best ways to teach kindergartners how to hold pencils with a proper pincer grip requires the use of a touch-screen tablet computer. That is exactly the mission of Chalk Walk, an iPad game that has young learners practice drawing and tracing lines while holding their thumbs and index fingers together. Developed in part by Frances Judd, a longtime kindergarten teacher and digital education advocate, Chalk Walk also includes a basic word-construction game in addition to offering challenges that develop motor skills.

Number Line
(iPhone, iPod Touch; free)

While Number Line targets elementary students between second and eighth grade, the fun and mildly addictive math game will challenge most parents as well. The premise is simple: A row of fractions, percentages and decimals are presented in random order. It's up to the player to arrange the figures from smallest to largest. On its own, it isn't hard. But with a ticking clock in the backdrop that measures bonus points at each level, it becomes a little more difficult to quickly and accurately determine whether 45 percent is larger than 3/7. In many ways, Number Line puts traditional flash cards to shame.

iStudiez Pro
(iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad; $0.99)

Help your high schooler stay on top of term-paper deadlines and exam preparation with this productivity application designed specifically for students. Entries are color-coded based on subject, and information that gets entered into iStudiez also syncs with your calendar. The app provides notifications when assignments are due, and also includes a GPA calculator. While there is a free version, it pays to invest the 99 cents in iStudiez Pro.

Wikipedia Mobile
(iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android; free)

For parents who cringe at the thought of their middle and high school students using Wikipedia to help write term papers, pause for a moment. Yes, Wikipedia's database of information is in large part curated by amateurs as opposed to historians. However, as long as Wikipedia research is complemented with other sources, there is immense value in the service, which is available as a free app for most smartphones and tablets. Most of the information published in Wikipedia is community-vetted, which isn't always the case with Google search results. -- Appolicious.com and Tribune Media Services

Must-see TV, but not on NBC

At least one company benefited from U.S. Olympics fans trying to circumvent NBC's coverage during the London Games. Mountain View, Calif.-based AnchorFree released data to Reuters showing a major bump in users who installed its ExpatShield, which gives U.S. users an anonymous IP address in the United Kingdom. Presumably many used the product to watch the BBC's real-time online streams of the Olympics. -- Reuters

Facebook's stock plummets

Facebook has not only lost cachet on Wall Street, its stock has fallen at its Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters. Glassdoor, a website that yearly rates the best companies for "work-life balance" based on employee reviews, doesn't include Facebook on its 2012 list. In 2011, Facebook was rated seventh. Topping the list this year: Virginia-based not-for-profit Mitre Corp. -- Peter King

Video-game maker hacked

Blizzard Entertainment, maker of the popular online games "Diablo III" and "World of Warcraft," said it uncovered "unauthorized and illegal access" to its network, allowing hackers to retrieve players' email addresses and their answers to personal security questions. While Blizzard said there was no evidence hackers stole credit-card information or billing addresses, it recommends players change their passwords. --Peter King

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