Are you still looking for good ideas for stocking stuffer this Christmas? Thinking of something different? Thankfully, technology makes it possible to give something out of the conventional gifts that are available in brick-and-mortar stores. How about purchasing some fun educational apps that promotes literacy, math, coding, and critical thinking skills?

It seems like there are millions of apps and games out there on the market, some are free, while some come with a minimal payment. The problem is that many parents are not sure which one has good educational value. As the first official blog of Excellerate Digital Advanced Learning, we would like to take this opportunity to share some of our favorite picks.

There are just so many great apps and software available, so we have a feeling that this might not be our last blog about recommended apps.

Free <Everyone>

When was the last time you heard ‘I want to play the math game!’? This app helps make math fun, and both parents and kids can enjoy the experience together. The daily problems are based on real life scenarios and little by little, they help to grow your problem-solving skills!

Best Math Puzzle Games for iPhone and iPad in 2019

$2.99 <Everyone>

Code sounds like a very complicated task for parents who are not familiar with the field, but this simple puzzle game will teach you programming logic as you play regardless of your age. Its cousin app, SpriteBox will also expand your coding skills to syntax-based programming language such as Basic Swift and Java Syntax.

<Grades K-4> $4.99

From our experience, we observed that many older Algebra students struggle to learn the problem-solving steps without learning the concepts behind what they are doing, leading to wider gaps as they progress to advanced math. Dragonbox Algebra 5+ app does a fantastic job in helping kids grasp basic algebraic concepts and operations, and it helps them understand the reasons and concepts as well, setting them up for Pre-Algebra and Algebra success. The multiple-award winning app presents concepts and “problems” in an engaging puzzle-like environment that is easy for even younger kids to understand and figure out. 

Thinkrolls 1, 2, Kings & Queens, Space

<K-3> iPhone, iPad, Android, Kindle Fire $2.99 – $6.99

Thinkrolls is an elementary student-friendly physics-based puzzle game that is fun for upper elementary students (and adults) as well. Kids have to figure out what special blocks do, and use logic to solve each level. Parents can set up levels and customize the challenge level for each child. Kids get unlimited chances to experiment and learn problem solving, critical thinking, and logical thinking-ahead skills along the way.

Pettson’s Inventions 1, 2, 3

<1-6> iPhone, iPad, Android, Kindle Fire $4.99 – $5.99

Thinking of injecting some creativity and humor in the learning process? Pettson’s Inventions is a fun middle and upper-elementary student-friendly puzzle game would fit the bill. Kids have to arrange a series of cause-and-effect chain reactions using everyday materials (and creatures) to accomplish a task, much like a Rube Goldberg machine. Kids can experiment and learn through the many quirky and challenging puzzles that are presented artfully as well, and they are encouraged to think “outside of the box” and be creative in their approaches. In the deluxe version, there is a player-versus-player mode where two people can compete against each other. We highly recommend this game for families to play together.

We would like to hear from you! What is your favorite or recommended education apps?


Third-grade homework was excruciating for both 8-year-old Daniel and his mother Monica. She recalls when he would stay at the dining room table for two to three hours to complete a single assignment. Sometimes Daniel simply refused to work, declaring an assignment was too difficult before even taking a good look at it. “He would just sit there with the pencil in his hand and do nothing,” Monica said. “It was really bad; we both got mad.”

And this was only third grade. Monica wondered how much harder it would get to tackle schoolwork in the years ahead. But things actually got easier—much easier.

This past fourth grade year went swimmingly as Daniel started Excellerate Digital Advanced Learning with More Than Scores And Tests. After a few months of Excellerate Math (with just a bit of math homework help) and Language Arts, Daniel began to show confidence in all academics. He started doing his homework on his own; Monica didn’t have to drag him to the table anymore.

“Now, he just tries, even if he doesn’t know the material,” Monica said. “He keeps reading the instructions, reading a question again and again until he understands. He is trying and is not afraid of making mistakes.”

And Monica is not afraid to let him make mistakes. They learned this valuable lesson through More Than SAT’s academic coaching in Excellerate. In Excellerate, we blend the best learning technology with our personal academic coaching to help kindergartners to eighth graders move above grade level or catch up. The goals of the coaches are to help students: understand their learning habits, set and reach their own goals, and take ownership of their academics.

So as students come across new or difficult material in their Excellerate subjects, the coaches don’t feed students the answers but rather guide them through figuring things out on their own. Sometimes it’s just a matter of reading and rereading the questions and learning to avoid careless mistakes (building good learning habits). Oftentimes, students are being stretched to learn—as well as to learn how to learn. In that process, coaches ask the students lots of questions to get them to sift through what they already know, make connections between that and the new material, and get comfortable with what’s being introduced.

Monica found it especially challenging to apply these principles with Daniel when it came to reading and writing book reports and summaries because he has difficulties with such assignments. “I would say, ‘You have to write this and that,’ but now I ask him many questions about the book, and I know that if he can answer my questions, then he can write the report.”

Now she’s advising other parents to take the same approach in helping their kids with academics. “We need to ask a lot, listen a lot, and wait. It takes a lot of patience,” she said. “Before, I would push Daniel, ‘Faster, faster! Sit down and do it!’ But now I’m just waiting for him to figure it out mostly by himself. It’s getting much easier now because he’s starting to do the work on his own.”

After nine months so far in Excellerate, Daniel will move on to advanced Math in fifth grade. He will continue in Excellerate because he sees the before-and-after difference and enjoys now being able to help his classmates. “Before, I was doing average work,” he said. “But then I got better and smarter. It was easier to understand stuff, and I got faster. In Math, I would get done early in class and people would ask me if they got an answer right. If they didn’t get it right, I wouldn’t give them the answer but explain how to do it.”  

To find out more about Excellerate and to take advantage of a free two-week trial of up to eight sessions, visit


Study Skills

A dentist knows dentistry and a lawyer knows the law, but does a student really know how to study? Professionals go through training to excel in their field, but most students are never taught the tools of studying and learning. Someone with strong, consistent study skills and learning habits will eventually thrive more than someone who is “just smart,” especially as school subjects become increasingly difficult.

Jimmy Kim – cofounder of Excellerate and More Than Scores And Tests – underscores four essential study skills: 1) goal setting, 2) note taking and organization, 3) time management, and 4) self-regulation and social competency.

With goal setting, students are able to: set realistic goals; think and plan how to meet each goal; persist with positive motivation and focus; and synthesize and reflect on their own learning.

In note taking and organization, students are able to: prepare in advance for their learning; organize the information and instructions given; identify where they need help; and work in an organized way to solve problems and retain their learning.

Through time management, students are able to prioritize learning by: committing to specific times for academics, practicing consistency and punctuality, engaging without procrastination, and working at an appropriate pace. Students understand that the schedule and how they spend their time is a not just a reflection of what they need to do but more a reflection of who they want to become.

Self-regulation refers to students’ ability to regulate their emotions, delay gratification, control impulses, and struggle productively—with flexibility and adaptability—when they’re lost, confused, or “bored” amidst academic work. With social competency, students are able to advocate for support when needed.

The next four articles will detail each study skill and highlight checklist items in which students can assess how they’re doing in each area. Don’t miss one of these important articles!

To get hands-on training in coming alongside your children as they learn how to learn, register for our FREE workshop, Time Management: Study Skills Support Training for Parents!

Through a method developed at Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Innovation Lab, academic coaches teach these essential study skills in Excellerate, an innovative K-8 math and reading and enrichment program. To find out more about Excellerate, visit

More Than Scores And Tests offers a sought-after “Essential Study Skills” course and teaches study skills as a key part of ACT and SAT test prep services; to learn more visit