Amplify aims to put a charge into teaching and learning with its debut of a new all-digital curriculum for teaching English Language Arts
Amplify , the ed-tech company owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., is best known for creating a line of education-focused tablet computers.
But that could change with its March 3 introduction of a new English Language Arts curriculum that “eliminates the need for textbooks altogether,” said Amplify CEO Joel Klein.
In a special briefing for the press on Feb. 28, Klein—former chancellor of New York City’s schools—said only “great, rich content” would accelerate the use of technology in schools.
That’s what Amplify has aimed to create with AmplifyELA, a fully digital curriculum for ELA instruction in grades 6-8.
“This is not some old wine in a new bottle, like a digitized textbook with a few animations,” said Klein. “We’ve brought together world-class instructional materials, rich multimedia, and a powerful analytics engine that will transform the way teachers teach and students learn.”
The Amplify curriculum includes a full year’s worth of scoped and sequenced materials with the Common Core in mind, featuring lessons on personal narratives, fiction, informational texts, poetry, and foundational documents.
Lessons include video clips of dramatic readings, such as actor Chadwick Boseman reading a passage from Frederick Douglass’s autobiography; story animations by Academy Award-winning animators; and “quests,” or experiential lessons that immerse students in texts through role-playing, close reading, evidence gathering, and discussion.
(Next page: Examples of ‘quests’—and what makes the new Amplify curriculum truly unique)
For instance, students can solve Edgar Allan Poe’s murder, seek treasure as Tom Sawyer, or debate signing the Declaration of Independence as a member of the Second Continental Congress, among other experiences.
These adventures engage students in active learning and help them develop Common Core skills such as critical thinking and the use of primary sources, Amplify says.
Besides the texts embedded in the lessons, each student has access to an electronic library with more than 300 works of fiction and nonfiction.
But this library is presented as a multiplayer game world called Lexica, in which students accumulate points by reading new texts and interacting with characters from literature. Students can explore this world at their own discretion, outside of school.
What makes the Amplify curriculum really stand out is how “smart” the system is at personalizing instruction.
For instance, every time a student asks for help in defining an unfamiliar word, the system keeps track of this and adds the word to the student’s personal playlist. It then makes sure the student sees this word again in context at least seven more times as he or she is playing games, completing activities, or exploring Lexica, to ensure this word becomes learned.
In launching the curriculum, the company’s goal is to “increase by three times the amount that students are reading, writing, and getting feedback” on these activities, said Amplify President Larry Berger.
Amplify already offers supplementary curriculum for ELA, math, and science—but this is the company’s first comprehensive, core curriculum product for schools. It includes a dashboard for teachers to track the progress of each student or the class as a whole.
Schools won’t need to have Amplify tablets to use the curriculum; it’s HTML5 web-based and will work on any device. Native apps for iOS and Android devices also will be available.
AmplifyELA will be ready for purchase by the start of the 2014-15 school year. The curriculum will cost $45 per student, per year, Amplify said, though volume discounts might be available.
Follow Dennis Pierce on Twitter at @eSN_Dennis .