I’ve been teaching science at the high school level in the South Hills of Pittsburgh for almost a decade now, and I’ve seen tremendous changes in that time. One of the biggest changes I’ve seen is in student attention spans.

Goldfish used to set the lower limits of attention span; but as any educator will tell you, post-pandemic, it’s easier to keep a goldfish’s attention than it is a student’s. Most educators will agree with me that the parsimonious solution is to simply blanket ban cellphones. Unfortunately, not all administrators agree and thus we still have the smart phones doing dumb things to contend with. So, how can we steer into the skid and use devices (phones and computers alike) to engage the students in meaningful and productive ways that drive learning?

The answer lies with edtech that inspires student curiosity. Educators have long known that curious students are more engaged and focused, which helps them learn and retain new information. Here are five “must have” digital resources that will help inspire students to pursue and demonstrate their curiosity in the classroom:


Eventually you reach a point where you can’t stand seeing another Google Slides bland presentation, or you’ve used up your stock of big paper and posters just aren’t an option anymore. Canva allows students to make more professional looking posters online, or more advanced slideshows as well now. You can create templates your students build off of, or you can have them start from a blank canvas. Canva is great for two students working together, much more than that and it can get a bit clunky working on one poster/ slideshow. Canva is great when you want students to do some research and present their findings in a creative and visually appealing way. It’s much easier to move things around than a Google Doc, and the end result of the slideshows just has greater artistic integrity than a Google Slides. Canva is a great way to do a final project spread over a few days at the end of the year when you’re looking for something that’s meaningful, but also can be stretched until the last school day in June.


Flashcards are about as archaic as a typewriter, yet they were always a helpful means of review. Quizlet can be incredibly beneficial for individual review. You can use Quizlet to let students make their own study sets as an engaging review day activity. It’s worth noting that Quizlet uses AI to generate definitions, so students can complete a set in as fast as they can type in or copy and paste the words. I would suggest not supplying a list of vocab, but rather having the students either come up with what they think will be on it, or couple it with a word search that has the terms. Quizlet live is my favorite way to use Quizlet; it’s similar to Kahoot, but limited in scope. The main drawback is you are able to use less than twenty terms when you play, but the gameplay is engaging! I often use Quizlet when there is a larger unit and two days worth of review may be called for. It’s great for breaking up state testing / final study prep if you’re using worksheets or a book.

Discovery Education

Sometimes you need something in a pinch and it’s important to know where you can go to find engaging videos or interactives you can trust. Discovery Education provides you with a wealth of ready-to-use resources in a seemingly endless array of topics. Virtual field trips are a great way to explore and learn about real life career options for students. These can range from country music to NASA and outer space. These can be watched live as they happen, or you can watch them recorded afterwards. Pivot interactives and PhET interactives are a great starting point to either build your own virtual lab, or use one provided by Discovery Education. Pivot Interactives help provide students with genuine data to analyze on their own and draw conclusions from their findings. I’ve been using the PhET gravitational force lab for years to help teach a concept students can’t really see in the real world, but can understand within the context of the simulation. You can also help inspire curiosity with Mystery Science lessons! These are perfect for jumpstarting a lesson, or combine a few together to fill a day!


Ever wish your Powerpoints could be more interactive? Looking to assess student’s understanding immediately after lecturing on a slide? Nearpod lets you present a slideshow on the board or student’s personal devices and allows you to control the slides they are on. You can put multiple slides on at once, or individual slides and advance one by one. Nearpod allows you to present a slideshow if your projector is broken and it also allows you to take the classroom anywhere! So if you’ve got a lecture to give but it’s a beautiful day outside, you can still have class outside. Nearpod is essentially if Powerpoint included built-in multiple choice, short answer, or drawing questions. My favorite use of Nearpod is during our ecology unit and having the students draw their own foodwebs and then sharing and commenting on each one. Nearpod allows you to share the student’s responses with everyone, but only if you want. This helps you preview and prevent any answers you don’t want to be shared. You can upload your pre-existing Powerpoints into Nearpod, so you don’t need to build from scratch!


A touch of gamification can truly increase student involvement by an astounding degree. If you dangle just a handful of bonus points in front of your students they’ll type that code in and play away. Kahoot is my favorite educational app to use when it comes to review day. Kahoot lets you assess knowledge in a number of fun and engaging ways from labeling an image, sorting answers, typing answers, using a number line, true and false, and even more! Kahoot lets you make your own games, even able to import questions from a Google Doc! If you’re not looking to build your own review game, then you can visit the marketplace and either purchase courses from verified educators (like myself), or subscribe to channels. Kahoot can really drum up some excitement with your students while covering the content you want to either review or teach. I’ve used Kahoot at the end of the lesson numerous times, but even to introduce new topics as well! If you’re looking for an educational app that really holds your student’s attention as well as lets them learn, then Kahoot is my topic pick for your classroom!


Bonus: one thing that always holds true for keeping students’ attention is competition. Before phones became so prevalent, I used to make a slew of review games ranging from picking up popsicle sticks with questions or tasks (talk with an English accent for example) to hiding fifty Punnett squares around the room that spelled out a code. A little bit of competition goes a long way, and if you can tie up their phones with an app like Kahoot that inspires that, it’s a win-win for everyone in the classroom.

Engaging students and empowering them to pursue and demonstrate their curiosity has always been one of every teacher’s greatest challenges. However, edtech offers an opportunity to leverage students’ natural affinity for digital media and technology for learning. While these tools may not be for everyone, they can serve as a starting points to building the engaging modern learning environments students need and deserve.

About the author

Sean O’Brien teaches science at Bethel Park High School, which is located just outside Pittsburgh, PA, and is a member of the Discovery Educator Network.