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Free online curriculum expanding to middle grades

By Maya T. Prabhu, Assistant Editor
May 6th, 2010

SAS Curriculum Pathways offers inquiry-based activities in English, math, science, social studies, and Spanish.

SAS Curriculum Pathways offers inquiry-based activities in English, math, science, social studies, and Spanish.

An online instructional resource for students in grades 8-12 that has been available to schools free of charge since December 2008 soon will include content for sixth and seventh graders as well.

SAS Curriculum Pathways, from North Carolina-based SAS Institute, a leading maker of business analytics software, provides web-based lessons and activities in the core subjects of English, math, social studies, science, and Spanish.

Lessons take an inquiry-based approach that is intended to develop students’ higher-order thinking skills. The educational software has won a CODiE Award from the Software and Information Industry Association for best K-12 instructional solution overall in 2008 and best instructional solution for English in 2009, and it’s a CODiE Award finalist this year in math.

SAS has invested roughly $75 million in the development of Curriculum Pathways over the last 11 years, said company spokesman Trent Smith. But “we decided even a minimal charge was a barrier to adoption—so we removed it,” he said.

“Shrinking budgets and pricing structures should not stand in the way of America’s students receiving education technology that will engage them and better prepare them for today’s work force,” said CEO Jim Goodnight in announcing the software giveaway a year and a half ago.

Bruce Friend, director of SAS Curriculum Pathways, said the online resource would include content reaching down to the sixth-grade level—aligned with educational standards—by the end of the year. The company also will focus on ramping up lessons in the STEM fields, he said.

Curriculum Pathways’ professionally developed lesson plans, simulations, and interactive activities utilize a “blended” learning model, Friend said.

“We’re not an online course, but we can help teachers [supplement] their lesson plans,” he said.

Jo Anne Hudson, a middle school math teacher in California’s Poway Unified School District, has used Curriculum Pathways at her school for the past three years and said the program offers effective learning tools.

“The lesson plans they provide are very well thought out and planned. They’re exactly like the plans I would make if I had the time to create them myself,” she said.

Hudson said she has seen some increase in her students’ test scores after using the lessons, but much of their improvement is seen in things that can’t be quantified.

“I’ve noticed that when students use the [interactive activities] in certain subjects, their unit scores and their state scores are better in those areas. Plus, it gives them more confidence going into any testing situation,” she said.

But Hudson noted that she’s altered the Curriculum Pathways materials that are mainly designed for use in high schools to meet the needs of her middle-school students.