App of the Week: 3D solar system

Ed. note: App of the Week picks are now being curated with help from Graphite by Common Sense Media. Click here to read the full app review.

What’s It Like? 

Arloon Solar System lets students explore the sun, Earth, moon, and our neighboring planets in detail. Kids use interactive technology to manipulate parts of our solar system to observe scientific phenomena like phases of the moon, tides, and eclipses. Users can also drag and drop planets to compare their sizes or zoom in on one planet and read a list of facts.  Then they can test their knowledge in the Space Station and earn badges for challenges they complete.

Price: $4

Grades: 1-8

Pros: Kids can zoom, rotate, read, and explore, making meaning on their own from what they find.

Cons: Kids can’t click on specific objects to learn more; there’s less interactivity here than in other apps from this developer.

Bottom line: A detailed, thought-provoking tool for taking an interactive journey through the solar system.



Knewton launches free, open adaptive learning platform

‘Friendly robot-tutor in the sky’ delivers on-demand, hyper-personalized learning

open-adaptiveAdaptive learning provider Knewton has launched a free, open personalized learning platform. Any individual can create or use state-of-the-art supplemental lessons to provide students with unique learning paths in real-time.

Knewton’s adaptive-learning platform transforms any content into a data-rich version of itself, then bundles together those pieces of content that are best for each student based on exactly what she knows and how she learns best.

Knewton will host open content and free supplemental lessons on a wide variety of subjects and grade levels, starting with K-12 math, English, science, and history.

“Think of it as a friendly robot-tutor in the sky,” said Jose Ferreira, Knewton founder and CEO. “Knewton plucks the perfect bits of content for you from the cloud and assembles them according to the ideal learning strategy for you, as determined by the combined data-power of millions of other students.”

A student who wants to learn algebra can select the corresponding assignments and start using her own free, personalized learning application comprising all algebra. Or, to improve her skills at particular algebra concepts, she can create her own lesson for just those concepts. Knewton’s open platform is as broad as the content that users upload. Once enough users add content on a given subject it automatically springs to life and becomes adaptive.

Knewton is a signatory to the Student Privacy Pledge. Knewton only collects and analyzes student data that Knewton believes can improve learning outcomes, and only the student (or her parent) controls with whom Knewton shares those data. Knewton does not sell student personal data.

For students, Knewton captures metadata and stores it in students’ private profiles. Every time a student uses Knewton, lessons become even more personalized and effective for her in particular and for others similar to her. Over time, the compounding effect of each student’s activity makes learning new concepts easier for every student.

“Educators have created unfathomable quantities of high-quality learning materials,” said Knewton COO David Liu. “Until now, much of this content has been trapped on teacher’s PCs, meaning some of the world’s best materials are only used by handfuls of students. Knewton finds the best pieces of content for students and teachers based on learning outcomes to improve efficacy and save time.”

Material from a press release was used in this report.


3-state study sheds light on math learning resource

Sixth and seventh graders saw improvements in math assessments after using LearnBop in classroom studies, company says

math-studyInteractive math learning system LearnBop, a partner of Fuel Education, released results from a 3-state efficacy study showing students that used its product made a 7-10 percentile point gain in sixth and seventh grade math skills assessment.

Using both a control group, which did not use LearnBop, and a group that used LearnBop, the study compared the pre- and post-test assessments of more than 800 students. The study found that after only 16 hours of use, students with LearnBop outperformed other students receiving traditional classroom instruction by 7-10 percentile points.

“This news comes at a crucial time,” explained LearnBop founder and CEO Bharanidharan Rajakumar. “Math scores in the US continue to decline in the face of tougher standards. Students need tools not just to help them master the basic concepts for any STEM related field but to learn them faster without sacrificing time for liberal arts topics. It is vital that students have access to new ways of successfully mastering math skills.”

The LearnBop platform uses a unique step-by-step approach to learning math, mirroring the personalized support that a student would get in a one-on-one tutoring session. Each step covers a concept students need to understand in order to solve the original problem they were assigned, which means that data on student performance regarding fundamental concepts is collected as students learn.

Using LearnBop in their classrooms for the duration of the efficacy study, teachers were able to uncover the precise concepts students needed to study, and then utilize personalized learning resources to help students master those concepts, resulting in highly impressive and quantifiable improvements.

Every step in LearnBop’s system is tagged with a mathematical concept. This could be a concept based on a national standard, or a state standard. Additional state alignments are in development. Because every step is tagged with a concept, data on student performance is collected in real-time while students learn. This data is presented to teachers in dashboard reports immediately available at the end of each session, and is incredibly valuable and time-saving in identifying students’ specific knowledge gaps.

Results of the Efficacy Study can be found here.

Material from a press release was used in this report.


Epiphany Learning updates personalized learning tool

Research, observations inspired updates to the K-12 web-based personalized learning application

personalized-learningEpiphany Learning, a personalized learning ed-tech company, has launched version 2.0 of its Epiphany Learning Personalized Learning Application.

A year of research observing how learners, teachers and administrators use the student-centric, K-12 web-based personalized learning application inspired a number of pioneering upgrades enhancing the application’s performance for its users.

“At Epiphany Learning we’re on a mission to transform education by putting the learner back in the center of their education,” states Laura Henderson, founder and CEO of Epiphany Learning. “A mission requiring us to constantly evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of learners, teachers and administrators. We spent the last year researching user interaction with our application and version 2.0 is the culmination of our findings.”

New features included in the Epiphany Learning Personalized Learning Application version 2.0 include:

New Configurators: Schools can customize the application – and their personalized learning environments – at the district, school, grade and class level without custom development.

Teacher Dashboards: Teachers can access all classes, students and assignments by different levels and layers for ease of use in a more intuitive and user-friendly dashboard.

Co-Teaching Friendly: Complements co-teaching environments by letting teachers easily share information among colleagues/co-teachers.

Standards-Based Grading Support:
a. Supports the Standards Mastery Reporting Tool (SMART) system – a new grading system, created by teachers to report student mastery of concepts and skills.
b. Standards-based, or SMART grading, allows assignments to be graded based on one or many standards instead of one generic letter or number grade.

Updated K-2 Profile:
a. Now picture and audio friendly, version 2.0 encourages young learners to upload their own sound clips and photos, and attach them to goals they create.
b. The Learning Inventory has been changed from a question, word-based format to an image-only format.
c. The overall appearance of the profile has been modified, making it more visually appealing and functional for K-2 learners.

Material from a press release was used in this report.


5 things you should know about Periscope for education

Pros and cons for educators considering Twitter’s new live video streaming service

periscope-classroomEver since Twitter introduced its live streaming service, Periscope, earlier this year, educators have become enamored. It’s not hard to understand why. The video app is integrated right into your Twitter account and boasts an impressive number of education applications, from broadcasting a riveting unconference discussion for a global audience to impromptu blended learning for students. But while opportunities abound, so do privacy and other concerns.

Here are five things you should know about this new technology and its implications for schools.

It’s easy to use.

On the home screen, you can see video streams from the people you follow on Periscope—and if someone is streaming live, that video feed will appear at the top. You can watch Periscoped videos live or replay them, but the video replays are only available for 24 hours before they disappear.

Anyone following you on Twitter can click on the link that’s embedded automatically in this tweet to watch your live stream. Viewers also can comment on the video stream in real time, and these comments appear as text messages on the screen.

Schools are getting creative with it.

Since Periscope launched this spring, educators have discovered tons of useful applications for the app, such as for streaming virtual field trips or for staff development.

Jerry Blumengarten, a retired New York City teacher who collects and shares information about ed-tech resources online as Cybrary Man, has created a web page devoted to Periscope’s use in education.

Blumengarten streamed a visit he made to the World Trade Center Museum through Periscope, and he said the app can be used to share similar virtual field trips with students, who can comment and ask questions of the video’s host in real time.

“I think it’s great to be able to do something like that, because many people can’t get to these locations,” he said. “Especially for kids—you’re opening new doors and taking them out of the classroom and into the world to explore. It’s extremely valuable.”

Blumengarten also noted some of the early applications for professional development, he’s seen. Recently, he said, there was a session on Periscope at a recent Edcamp he attended, and he decided to stream it with Periscope. “I had over 70 people watching it in my network all around the world and thanking me for letting them see this.”

The Mid-Career Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education has created the Twitter account @periscopeEDU and the hashtag #periscopeEDU for discussing and exploring educational uses of Periscope.

Program leaders also have created a Google Doc with several ideas from educators, such as having students stream “Shark Tank”-style pitches and get real-time feedback from a panel of experts online—or having them watch streams of live news events and come up with questions for the broadcaster.

Privacy is a big concern.

Andrew Campbell, a fifth grade teacher in Ontario, has been experimenting with Periscope as he tries to decide whether to use it in his classroom. One concern he has is privacy.

“Because it’s under the Twitter umbrella, all of the feeds fall under the Twitter terms of service, and so all of that video can be used by Twitter and shared with third parties for marketing purposes,” he said. “As a personal user, that’s one thing—but as an educator, you have to think carefully about how comfortable you are with sending video of your students out to be used like that.”

Periscope does include some privacy features that educators can use to protect their students. For instance, if you don’t want your location to be revealed when you begin streaming, you can turn the location sharing off. You can turn off the option to send out a tweet when you begin streaming, so your stream is limited to those who follow you on Periscope and not Twitter. You can make the live chat functionality available only to your Periscope followers, and you can make your stream available only to certain users, such as parents or administrators.

Some see Periscope videos as “disposable.”

Another issue to consider is the ephemeral nature of the video on Periscope, Campbell argued.

“It’s basically producing disposable video,” he noted. “I worry what message we’re sending when we introduce that into the classroom. Are we telling our students that their learning is disposable? If I send a student’s presentation out on Periscope, and it’s only there for 24 hours and then it’s gone, what sort of a statement does that make about what I think about that student’s presentation?”

Periscope’s supporters point out that once you finish a video stream, you can save the video to your phone and then upload it to a cloud storage service such as Dropbox or Google Drive for archiving.

It won’t be right for every situation.

As with any technology tool, it’s important to consider what you’re aiming to accomplish—and whether Periscope is the best tool for the task.

Campbell said the quality of the video can be choppy at times, compared with high-quality video streaming services such as uStream, which his school has used to stream live events in the past. For formal events such as graduation, Periscope probably isn’t the best streaming tool, he surmised.

“It seems to me that the main advantage Periscope has is that it’s very convenient,” he said. “It’s on a phone, and the bandwidth requirements for it are less, so it can be set up pretty quickly. It’s a quick and dirty way for capturing and streaming video right away.”

Similarly, Campbell isn’t sure it’s the best tool for recording classroom activities in most cases. “I’d probably just record these on my phone and then upload the video to YouTube,” he said, explaining that if something unpredictable happened, he could then edit the video or choose not to upload it.

But Periscope does hold promise as a platform for streaming or watching live events while also getting or giving real-time feedback—provided it develops a critical mass of users.

“By broadcasting something that’s happening in a classroom to a wider audience, you’re able to get some sort of interactive feedback happening in real time—which is not something that’s currently available [elsewhere],” Campbell concluded.

The former Editor in Chief of eSchool News, Dennis Pierce is now a freelance writer covering education and technology. He has been following the ed-tech space for nearly 20 years. Dennis can be reached at


Debunking the myth that good teachers shouldn’t use curriculum aids

Expecting teachers to go it alone hurts school improvement. It’s time to reframe the debate

curriculum-teachersThe myth that good teachers have the Midas touch and therefore don’t need curriculum programs has been around for decades. This myth paints teachers as curricular experts who are best positioned to create instructional plans tailored to particular students. It also reflects the prevalence of low-quality and uninspired textbook series that have dominated the market throughout the latter half of the 20th century. Some packages simply did not have much to offer, while others talked down to teachers, as the oft-used phrase “teacher-proof curriculum” suggests.

The perception that good teachers reject textbooks and design their own curriculum has been a persistent belief of educators over the years. Researchers have long noted unease about using teacher’s guides among many teachers, regardless of whether the curriculum in question was a traditional textbook from the 1980s1, 2 or a more innovative program reflecting the vision outlined in the widely adopted National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Standards of the 1990s.3, 4

Under the current era of the Common Core State Standards, this myth is playing out in some districts and schools in a different way. Teachers are encouraged to use the new standards as their guide for what to teach and are expected to gather and develop instructional resources to determine how. Curriculum resources of any kind are viewed as unnecessary, redundant to what teachers already do or should be doing.

This myth has great appeal. It is embraced and retold because it treats teachers’ expertise with great reverence. This is its wisdom: teachers are critical curriculum designers and are well positioned to tailor instructional designs to the needs of their particular students. When measured against curriculum materials, teachers win every time. Curriculum programs might be taken up as an impermanent solution during periods of transition, or for inexperienced teachers, but moving away from relying on them is generally viewed as the ultimate goal.

When taken to its logical conclusion, though, the fallacy of this myth quickly emerges: curriculum materials and teachers do not do the same type of work. In short, this myth is based on and promotes an image of teachers as solo performers and of curriculum programs as props or scripts. Although these perceptions appear to honor teachers, they actually work against teaching and school improvement.

Revising this myth requires a careful look at the distinct contributions that well-designed[i] curriculum programs and skilled teachers offer to the enactment of instruction. Doing so can lead to a reframing of the teacher-curriculum relationship as a collaborative or participatory one.5 Through making sense of and planning with curriculum guides, teachers immerse themselves in a partnership with the authors—a partnership to which both members contribute in mutual and complementary ways.

In their work, curriculum authors draw on a “big picture” map of the curriculum and an understanding of how concepts and skills develop over time and in relation to one another. This map is informed by knowledge of content and research on learning. The curriculum development process typically involves rounds of field testing in real classrooms; developers are able to incorporate insights from these trials in their revisions, including knowledge of how students are likely to respond to given tasks.

Teachers, on the other hand, bring to this partnership indispensable knowledge of their particular context and students, their prior knowledge and experiences, and their own learning needs. By drawing on their own experience, expertise, and pedagogical skills, along with local resources when planning with curriculum materials, teachers make adaptations to suit their students’ needs and, when enacting the curriculum, they steer interactions with students through important content.

Rewriting the myth: Good teachers partner with curriculum resources

Recasting this myth involves actively reframing good teaching as partnering with curriculum authors. School leaders can initiate this reframing by encouraging teachers to use curriculum guides as tools and resources in planning instruction and as anchors when enacting lessons. Teachers’ expertise must be seen as essential to curriculum use rather than in conflict with it. Moreover, deliberative, purposeful use of curriculum materials can be recognized as a form of expertise to be fostered.

Strategies for school leaders

  1. Create opportunities for teachers to explore, deliberate about, and work with curriculum resources in collaboration with colleagues. Specific lessons, representations, or instructional approaches in curriculum guides can provide a basis for productive inquiry in a professional learning community.
  2. Consider selecting curriculum materials that are thoughtfully designed and respectful of teachers’ expertise. Curriculum programs vary in the extent to which they engage with teachers as professionals. Materials that are transparent about design rationales and intended learning pathways support reasoned deliberation and customization more than guides that simply prescribe teacher actions.

Excerpt from “Rewriting Myths about Curriculum Materials and Teaching to New Standards” (Chapter 5) by Janine Remillard and Joshua Taton from “Challenging Standards: Navigating Conflict and Building Capacity in the Era of the Common Core” (Rowman & Littlefield). It is reprinted with permission from the authors.


1. Ball, D. L., & Feiman-Nemser, S. (1988). Using textbooks and teachers’ guides: A dilemma for beginning teachers and teacher educators. Curriculum Inquiry, 18(4), 401–423.

2. Heifetz, R. A., Linsky, M., & Grashow, A. (2009). The practice of adaptive leadership: Tools and tactics for changing your organization and the world. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Press.

3. Lloyd, G. M. (1999). Two teachers’ conceptions of a reform-oriented curriculum: Implications for mathematics teacher development. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, 2(3), 227–252.

4. Remillard, J. T., & Bryans, M. B. (2004). Teachers’ orientations toward mathematics curriculum materials: Implications for teacher learning. Journal of Research in Mathematics Education, 35(5), 352–388.

5. Remillard, J. T. (2005). Examining key concepts in research on teachers’ use of mathematics curricula. Review of Educational Research, 75(2), 211-246.

[i] Not all curriculum programs are designed with equal care or expertise. Well-designed materials are based on research findings and undergo rounds of field testing and revision. They assume teachers will make adaptive decisions and provide support for teachers to do so. For guidance on curriculum materials aligned with the Common Core Standards, leaders are encouraged to consult documents on the CCSS website that contains criteria for developing CCSS-based programs.


Music teachers invited to pilot-test assessments

Music teacher input needed for National Core Music Standards

music-standardsThis past summer representatives of all arts education groups gathered at the headquarters of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) to benchmark the “model cornerstone assessments” developed for each discipline’s national standards.

In 2014, the new National Core Arts Standards were released, and NAfME participated in their development, leading the way with the new National Core Music Standards (not part of the Common Core).

As the process continues, teachers in the music field are being called upon for initial pilot-testing of the model cornerstone assessments. These model cornerstone assessments help bring the National Standards into focus.

Following the initial pilot during fall 2014-spring 2015 to improve the assessments, this coming academic year NAfME is piloting all assessments.

Many more teachers in all areas of music are needed:
• 2nd, 5th, and 8th grade general music
• All types and levels of ensembles
• Composition and Theory
• Music Technology
• Harmonizing Instruments

This is a critical opportunity for educators to take the lead in developing music education standards, bringing their expertise from the field into the final development of their assessments.

Volunteers are needed to join in the pilot tests and are asked to sign up by visiting this page:

Material from a press release was used in this report.


PASCO launches inquiry-based STEM tools

Scientific instruments and more for physics and chemistry teachers

pasco-scienceTo provide teachers with new ways to involve students in hands-on, inquiry-based science this school year, PASCO Scientific is introducing new hardware, apparatus, and curriculum solutions to engage students in STEM subjects such as chemistry and physics, and motivate them to want to learn more.

For high school and university physics classrooms, PASCO introduces the 550 Universal Interface, a wireless sensor interface with measurement capabilities for any physics experiment. For high-speed data collection, it features two PASPORT inputs that are compatible with PASCO’s complete line of more than 80+ PASPORT digital sensors. It also includes two high-speed analog inputs, two digital inputs compatible with all ScienceWorkshop digital sensors as well as timing devices and photogates, and a built-in signal generator with voltage and current sensors. The 550 Universal Interface offers wireless or USB connectivity, and works with PASCO’s SPARKvue and Capstone software.

Another new solution for physics classrooms is PASCO’s Projectile Launcher with the new Smart Gate system. Designed for tabletop projectile experiments, the launcher allows students to investigate projectile motion, while the Smart Gate provides more accurate velocity measurements with dual photogates. The Smart Gate connects to most PASPORT interfaces and has an auxiliary port to daisy chain to an additional photogate.

Finally, PASCO’s new Advanced Physics through Inquiry 1 teacher guide helps teachers prepare students for the rigors of the Advanced Placement Physics 1 lab. It includes 15 labs, which are based on the College Board Learning Objectives and employ strategies found in open response questions on the AP exam. Each lab is presented in three ways — structured, guided inquiry, and student-designed — allowing teachers to choose the appropriate level of inquiry. The labs also include instructional videos, assessment questions, sample data, editable lab activities, and more.

A new solution designed specifically for higher education classrooms is PASCO’s new Polarimeter. Ideal for introductory organic and biochemistry experiments, the Polarimeter can be used in biology and physics classes as well. With this scientific instrument, students can measure the optical rotation of plane polarized light by chiral compounds. The Polarimeter features Bluetooth and USB connectivity, and works on iPads, Chromebooks, Android devices, and computers.

“An important part of our mission at PASCO is to provide the tools, support, resources, and training that educators need to show students how STEM fields relate to real-life situations and, thus, encourage them to pursue STEM-related careers,” said Steven Korte, CEO of PASCO Scientific.

Material from a press release was used in this report.


Minority youth develop community-enhancing video games

Entertainment Software Association, Hispanic Heritage Foundation award grants to 20 youths

games-minorityA new fellowship challenges minority youths to develop video games addressing social issues impacting their communities.

Twenty Fellows, ages 15-25, will receive grants to continue development of their projects and fly to Washington, D.C. this October and present their ideas to the White House and national community leaders.

The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) and Hispanic Heritage Foundation (HHF) Leaders on the Fast Track (LOFT) Video Game Innovation Fellowship are sponsoring the fellowship.

The Fellows will be selected for their vision, creativity and positive impact on their community. Previous ESA LOFT Video Game Innovation Fellowship winners used games to shed a light on a variety of subjects such as safe dieting techniques, teaching literacy through music, using racing-mechanics to complete algebra problems and promoting STEM career paths for women.

Applications are accessible online at and must be completed by September 15, 2015. Selected Fellows will connect with previous Fellowship participants through the award-winning LOFT Network to help complete their games.

“Through this creative partnership with the ESA, we are engaging youth on their terms, through video games and phone apps to make a positive social impact,” said Jose Antonio Tijerino, president and CEO of HHF. “We believe there is a link from playing a video game to developing a game to computer coding, cybersecurity and other workforce skills gap areas America is desperately trying to fill. It is important minority youth are encouraged to create.”

“The ESA LOFT Video Game Innovation Fellowship continues to show how games are more than a means of entertainment, but also a tool for progress in our society,” said Rich Taylor, senior vice president of communications and industry affairs at the ESA. “We are proud to offer this opportunity that will help foster real change in minority communities through the unique platforms video games provide.”

Material from a press release was used in this report.


New myON version looks to boost personalized learning

myON introduces new user interfaces and experiences for students and faculty, new writing tools and updated reporting features

myon-readingmyON has announced a redesign of its personalized literacy environment for PreK-12. myON spoke with administrators, teachers, library-media specialists, and students throughout the development process to ensure their feedback was incorporated within the new design and features.

myON 3.0 includes new student and educator interfaces, advancements in content recommendations based upon individual student interests and Lexile reading level, gamification, and improved enhancements to the state-of-the-art monitoring and reporting functions. All schools and district currently using myON will gain access to these new tools at no cost.

The addition of the new writing tool further enhances the myON Literacy Toolkit, introduced in 2014, which includes a suite of close/active reading tools. Using the new writing tools, educators can create assignments –complete with their own writing checklists — that direct students to write essays integrating their reading journal entries, graphic organizers and myON’s embedded dictionary, within the myON platform.

“We are extremely excited to launch myON 3.0” said myON President Todd Brekhus. “Now, each of the 6 million plus students and educators on myON will have access to even more engaging content, additional tools to support the connection between reading and writing, deeper insights into project-based learning, a new interface and so much more. The feedback from our school, district and community partners, whose input guided our work, has been overwhelmingly positive.”

These enhancements to the award-winning myON environment are launching as the myON collection, consisting of more than 10,000 enhanced digital titles from Capstone and over 60 publishing partners, continues to grow on a regular, monthly basis. The collection is comprised of 70 percent non-fiction and informational text, 30 percent fiction, with 10 percent of the overall collection comprised of dual-language text.

Originally launched in 2011, myON has earned national industry recognition for its disruptive and innovative approach to providing students with 24/7 online and offline access to a complete library of “just right” books, which match their individual interests and reading levels.

Material from a press release was used in this report.