New curriculum products for schools

CompassLearning Odyssey 2011 also has added more breadth and depth to its high school social studies lessons by including historical overview activities that analyze and critique major historical eras, enduring themes, turning points, events, and people in the history of the United States, the rise of nation states, and more. The enhancements also bring the software up to date, with information as current as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the death of Osama Bin Laden, and the recent tornadoes in Joplin, Mo. As with the rest of the company’s software, formative assessments are included for each individual activity.

Game-based learning

CompassLearning’s new middle school science content consists of four courses designed with a game-like framework. It uses a combination of animated avatars and live characters to guide students through a mastery of concepts; students are challenged to “save the world” as they complete various challenges and activities.

This game-based approach is one of many unveiled in recent months; another is Qtopia, an online service from Qwizdom Inc. Qtopia offers a variety of interactive games and challenges that allow students to practice their skills in a fun online environment. Students can proceed at their own pace through lessons and activities that consist of questions, answers, and explanations, and they can customize their experience by creating their own avatars.

The basic service is free, but an enhanced version (available for an annual subscription) provides access to additional games after school hours, as well as district-wide tracking and reporting features.

Another game-based approach is taken by Sokikom, which has unveiled a multiplayer online “social learning” math game. The online environment is designed to help students in grades 1-6 build math skills. The game features animated characters, and students play games that address real-world problems as they move through different units within the game.

Video streaming

Discovery Education has teamed up with digital curriculum company Shmoop to include Shmoop’s Literature Guides and Biographies in its Discovery Education streaming PLUS program, which includes more than 150,000 video clips and digital learning objects.

Written by Ph.D. students from Stanford, Harvard, UC Berkley, and other top universities, Shmoop’s content is known for its sense of humor and references to pop culture. For example, Shmoop introduces students to The Great Gatsby by comparing the novel to the television shows “Real Housewives” and “The Sopranos.”

“Shmoop content is wonderfully engaging and fun for today’s students,” said Kelli Campbell, senior vice president of Discovery Education. “Shmoop Learning Guides are a valuable addition to the curricular content in Discovery Education streaming PLUS. Shmoop’s use of current events and pop culture helps students see how these topics are applicable today.”

Learn360, a top competitor to Discovery Education in the video streaming space, has touted its own service as a more cost-effective option for schools. “We’re becoming an alternative to the other services because of our price point,” said the company’s Michael Ensign, who added that Polk County, Fla., expects to save between $30,000 and $40,000 by switching to Learn360’s video service.

Although much smaller than Discovery’s video collection, Learn360’s library of 9,300 educational videos includes content from Discovery Channel competitors such as The History Channel, National Geographic Channel, and A&E, as well as the Public Broadcasting Service. Ensign said his company has begun selling customized, scaled-down versions of its service to school districts that already use Discovery Education streaming to “fill in the gaps” that might exist in their video coverage. Learn360 also recently announced a new “Plug and Play” media server option, which allows customers to host the video content locally instead of streaming it over the internet.

eSchool News Staff

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