Our readers’ top ed-tech picks for 2012

SPARKscience (PASCO Scientific)

SPARKscience is an inquiry-based platform for students to lean science. It includes probe and sensor technologies for students to capture data, as well as software to help them visualize and analyze their results.

Peggy Lubchenco, teacher education program lecturer for the University of California, Santa Barbara, said she used the SPARKscience products as part of a research team in Antarctica last year. “As a secondary science teacher, my role was to provide outreach to schools, sharing with them the amazing science that takes place in Antarctica,” she said. “I can confirm that the PASCO instruments worked without fail at minus-40 degrees Celsius! The PASCO SPARKscience solution is intuitive, rugged, and versatile.”

John Simpson, an eighth grade science teacher in Round Rock, Texas, credits the products with helping to raise student achievement in his classes: “More hands-on labs, plus increased engagement and relevance through technology, have resulted in greater success and growth in … test scores—40 percent in 2010-11, in fact.”

Special Education Administrative Software (Computer Automation Systems)

SEAS is a web-based suite of software modules for managing special-education tasks, including Individualized Education Program (IEP) creation and compliance, Medicaid billing, and administrative reporting. Numerous readers cited the time they’ve saved by using the software to automate these tasks.

“SEAS sends reminders to special-education teachers and administrators when a student’s IEP or reevaluation is due. [It] provides a back-up system of all forms in case confidential files are damaged or lost. SEAS forms can be accessed from home or from anywhere internet access is available. [The software] has greatly reduced the time it takes to complete special-education paperwork,” said Deborah Johnson, school psychologist for the Jenks Public Schools in Oklahoma. Another reader said the software’s IEP creation module has saved “numerous hours of work” for educators in her school.

ST Math (MIND Research Institute)

ST Math is a supplemental program that takes a visual approach to learning. The software taps into the brain’s innate “spatial temporal” reasoning ability to visualize and solve math concepts and problems, its makers say. Through a carefully engineered sequence of visual puzzles, students work at their own pace to solve increasingly difficult problems that eventually require them to think multiple steps ahead in space and time—and they receive instant feedback about why a solution works or doesn’t.

Chris Liang-Vergara, director of blended learning for Louisiana’s FirstLine Schools, is using the software with kindergarten through ninth graders and said it provides “outstanding access to math concepts and number sense in ways the students have never experienced them before.” As a result, students are exhibiting “high motivation and renewed energy around math.”

Study Island (Archipelago Learning)

Study Island is a web-based system designed to help students master their content standards. It includes academic content that is designed to be fun and engaging, and it consists of practice, assessment, and reporting tools built around each state’s standards. Because it’s web-based, students can use the system at school or at home.

“We first began using Study Island with just the low-achieving readers at our junior high setting,” said Listena Prickett, a reading specialist with Oklahoma’s Altus Public Schools. “We were amazed at the end results, which were [that] every single student who completed every standard [earned] a ‘blue ribbon’ to show mastery of that particular reading skill—[and] all passed their state standardized reading test at the end of that year.” As a result of this pilot project, she said, the school has purchased all subject areas for the entire student body to use.

SuccessMaker (Pearson Digital Learning)

SuccessMaker is software that differentiates and personalizes reading and math instruction for students in grades K-8. Designed to accommodate a full array of different learning styles, SuccessMaker provides instruction, practice, and assessment that is correlated to the Common Core standards.

Bruce Ferko, a third-grade teacher in the Dallas Independent School District, said his students “have shown significant gains in achievement scores” on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills exams as a result of using the software. He added that students’ self-esteem “skyrocketed” as they proceeded through the program’s scaffolded learning sections.

Madalyn Romano, coordinator of the Lower Hudson Regional Information Center in New York, said the software is used in more than 20 districts in the region to differentiate instruction. She called it “the best program on the market.”

eSchool News Staff

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