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Curriculum and instructional technology

TI introduced a new color-display handheld with 3D graphing capabilities.

A new way to deliver digital content that combines video distribution with the functionality of a learning management system, reading software that uses music to engage both sides of the brain at once, and a personalized online workspace for students to organize the information they find from search engines to create reports were among the many instructional technology products on display at recent ed-tech conferences.

Brightpoint Literacy exhibited Orbit Strategy Zone, which can help educators boost instructional effectiveness and zone in on one strategy at a time using interactive whiteboard-compatible resources for grades 3 and 4.

The College Board, which administers the SAT and the Advanced Placement exams, touted SpringBoard, an official pre-AP program for English Language Arts and Mathematics for students in grades 6-12. SpringBoard is also aligned with the Common Core State Standards in these subjects.

CompassLearning is combining an inquiry-based approach to instruction with students’ love of video games to develop a new online science curriculum for middle school students. CompassLearning Odyssey Middle School Science, to be released in June, combines live action and animation in a story format to engage students, says Melanie Pritchett, director of education policy for CompassLearning. One multimedia lesson, called “The Mind Keepers,” sets up a storyline in which the animated characters must save the planet’s watersheds. Students watch videos in which live-action news reporters and other experts explain where river water comes from, where it goes, and what impact watersheds have on the environment. Teachers can use these videos as lesson starters, or they can use them to launch more intensive project-based learning, Pritchett said.

Curriculum Advantage shared a success story concerning Texas’ use of Classworks instructional units, which are built and correlated to state standards. Classworks automatically sifts through test data to create a unique set of assignments for each student, the company said.

Discovery Education announced that its Science Elementary Techbook has been adopted by the state of Florida for use as a core instructional resource in elementary-level science classes. Florida joins Indiana, Louisiana, and Oregon in adopting the digital resource, Discovery said, adding that its Techbook costs less per student than a traditional textbook and includes inquiry-based lessons, as well as “5-Minute Preps” that give educators valuable refreshers on science content. “I’m challenged each day to create a stimulating, 21st-century learning environment that engages my tech-savvy students,” said Osceola County science teacher Debbie Bohanan. “A rich digital resource like the Discovery Education Science Techbook has the ability to transform my instruction and bring the wonderful world of science alive for all my students, regardless of their [preferred] learning style.”

eInstruction demonstrated its new Mobi View, a wireless tablet device that the company calls “the industry’s first mobile interactive whiteboard with an interactive touch-screen display.” At $449, Mobi View delivers the same functionality as a fixed interactive whiteboard (IWB), eInstruction says—untethering teachers from the front of the classroom and allowing them to move around the room while they teach. With Mobi View, content can be projected to any surface with the same interactive capabilities as a traditional IWB. The device offers one-touch access to annotation tools, favorite files, folders, applications, websites, and a touch-screen keyboard. Pairing Mobi View with eInstruction’s Mobi Student-Centered Learning Pack can transform classrooms into student-centered collaborative environments where students can project their work simultaneously, or one at a time, to learn from one another, the company says; Mobi’s multi-user capabilities allow up to nine groups to contribute content to the lesson display simultaneously, from anywhere in the room.

Electronic Learning Products highlighted independent research suggesting that students using its TUNEin to READING (TiR) program typically make a full year of reading progress after just nine weeks. TiR is a reading intervention program that uses music to help struggling readers in grades 3-12. Its patented method works because it engages both sides of the brain simultaneously, thereby building a greater number of neural connections than reading alone, the company says. Six years of research at the University of South Florida have found that using TiR for at least 90 minutes per week can improve the performance of struggling readers by an average of a full grade level in just nine weeks.

Herff Jones-Nystrom, a publisher of hands-on and technology-based social studies products for K-12 education, has updated its StrataLogica product with new features and functionality. The product presents curriculum-based content in an interactive and collaborative learning environment by helping educators and students create, share, and collaborate on assignments and products, and educators are now able to share product-based content on social media sites as well.

Inspiration Software’s Webspiration Classroom is a new online thinking and collaborating tool that takes the company’s software into the cloud. Developed to keep students from falling behind in English and language arts, Webspiration Classroom offers visual tools to help students plan their essays and improve their writing skills online, from any internet-connected computer, Inspiration said.

iParadigms demonstrated Turnitin2, the latest version of its plagiarism detection software. Turnitin2 features GradeMark, which lets students view their marked and graded submissions after the assignment post date set by the instructor has passed. PeerMark, another Turnitin feature, facilitates peer review of student papers by enabling students to review and respond to their classmates’ work using topic guidelines and metrics.

Ken-a-Vision’s new “kena” digital microscope connects to a computer via a USB port and easily disconnects from its base to offer a more portable lens. The detachable head makes it easy to magnify a variety of objects in the classroom, while the base allows for easy viewing of slides. It’s built to withstand even the clumsiest of hands, the company says, and it’s simple to maneuver and magnify objects. Students can use it during experiments or to show the rest of the class anything they’ve found that is interesting.

Kurzweil Educational Systems showcased the Kurzweil 3000 Version 12 for Windows, an all-in-one reading, writing, and study skill support software that helps struggling readers to learn from the same content as their peers. The software supports the principles of Universal Design for Learning and is used in Response to Intervention programs, Kurzweil said.

Learn360 provides K-12 educators and students with streaming video, audio, and accompanying support materials—including more than 8,900 digital video titles that are correlated to state standards. Teachers and students can search for content by subject area, grade level, or the standards they are looking to meet. The company recently partnered with Film Clips for Character Education to add more than 100 fully licensed film clips from award-winning Hollywood movies. The clips come with teacher guides to help teach character education for students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12. The clips address a wide range of common problems in today’s schools, from bullying and peer pressure to respecting diversity.

Lesson Planet displayed its search engine for teachers, which lets educators search from more than 350,000 teacher-reviewed online lessons and worksheets; narrow searches by grade, rating, subject, and more; differentiate instruction with lesson plans tailored to students’ learning styles; and share strategies and resources with fellow educators.

MindPlay previewed a phonemic awareness tool that will launch in March and is intended to accompany MyReadingCoach. The phonemic awareness tool is for children who are not quite ready for phonics. The tool has been piloted in schools throughout the nation and will featured 44 instructional lessons.

Netop introduced Vision 7, the latest version of its classroom-management software. The new version improves the software’s usability by adding text labels and bubbles that pop up to explain certain features when you scroll over them, Netop says. Teachers can use the Demo button to share their computer screen with students, and they can use a button called Showcase Student to allow a single student to share his or her screen with the class. A button called Live View lets teachers supervise a selected computer in a new, larger window in real time. Netop also highlighted its GAP (General Assistance Program) grants, which help educators integrate Vision into their classrooms. Grants range in value from $150 to $1,100, depending on the size of the implementation; more information is available at

netTrekker launched igotta, a personalized online workspace for students to organize, analyze, and use the information they find from netTrekker’s kid-friendly search engine or from other online sources to create reports, writing assignments, presentations, and projects. The product combines note-taking features, citation tools, and outlining tools in a single cloud-based environment, netTrekker says. It will be sold as a separate product according to a subscription-based model.

To help meet the demand for better science instruction in the nation’s schools, PBS TeacherLine has teamed up with NASA to offer a series of free, self-paced professional development modules around the topic of global climate change. These three- to five-hour online modules are intended to increase teachers’ knowledge of the science behind global climate change and give them classroom resources to share with their students.

As of press time, there were four of these modules available to teachers. The first module offers an introduction to global climate change and discusses the evidence of climate change from different parts of the Earth. It also considers what it means to live on a planet with a dynamically changing climate. The second module explores the relationship between the increased concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere and the historical record of global temperatures to help teachers explore whether humans are responsible for global climate change, and to what extent. The third module helps teachers make the topic more immediately relevant to students by examining local climate data, and the fourth module looks at other scientific theories about global climate change, such as whether variable energy output or the Earth’s nearest star might be responsible.

Peoples Education demonstrated Practice Path, an online, standards-based practice and skill-building tool that lets students practice their reading and math skills, while showing their progress toward mastery of these skills. New to the product as of January is the ability for educators to toggle back and forth between reports showing students’ progress toward state standards and toward the Common Core standards in reading and math that many states have adopted.

PLATO Learning announced a new portfolio of Global Languages courses for high school students. PLATO has partnered with Middlebury Interactive to provide online courses in Spanish, French, German, Latin, and Mandarin Chinese, as well as Advanced Placement Spanish and French. The company also announced two additional online AP courses, AP U.S. History and AP Chemistry. PLATO’s AP courses are available as a comprehensive library on a subscription basis.

PrepMe, a company that provides college readiness programs, announced its ACT course, which is full aligned with the College Readiness Standards developed by ACT Inc. The College Readiness Standards are grouped by strand (Math, English, Reading, Writing, and Science) and score ranges (1-36) derived from the ACT scoring scale. PrepMe’s alignment considers both the objectives addressed in Lessons and Test Items, and the cognitive complexity of that content, in order to correlate the ACT Course with the College Readiness Standards, says the company.

Qwizdom has developed a free online learning platform for students in grades K-8, called Qtopia, with thousands of ready‐to‐use practice materials—including educational activities, games, and homework—that are accessible from any internet-connected computer. “What we have created is an online community for students and teachers that makes learning successful, measurable, and fun,” said Darin Beamish, CEO of Qwizdom.

Students can personalize their own account with customizable avatars, called Qtopians, who grow with each student as they overcome challenges and earn rewards. The site’s activities feature automatic grading, instant feedback, and data tracking, allowing educators to save time and paper when assigning homework, and online messaging and reporting tools make it easy for teachers to keep parents informed on their student’s progress and assignments.

Qtopia was piloted in January by a variety of instructors, including technology teacher Marty Harrington at Gray Elementary School in Georgia. “With Qtopia, I have seen students [who] are typically unmotivated perform better while having fun and enjoying it,” she noted.

While access to Qtopia is free of charge for educators and students, an extended version, Qtopia Plus, is in development and will feature more customization, access to state standards‐aligned curriculum, animated avatars, supplementary lesson and answer explanations, and district‐wide reporting capabilities, the company said.

Reading Plus introduced its Silent Reading Fluency Intervention, which is a component of its Response to Intervention multi-tier model. Reading Plus features assessments, computer-adaptive intervention, and fidelity monitoring to help teachers identify struggling readers and deliver targeted intervention.

Renzulli Learning introduced Renzulli NextBook, an activities database for kids that provides secure, real-time messaging and anytime, anywhere access, says the company. Students can take a virtual fieldtrip to a museum, interview a favorite author on the web, or explore a historical site without leaving the classroom. The NextBook’s student profiler provides an understanding of an individual student’s academic strengths, interests, and learning and expression styles. It also provides activities and projects that match the student’s profile and the desired curriculum standards.

SAFARI Montage introduced the Digital Curriculum Presenter, a new way to deliver digital content that combines video management and distribution with the functionality of a learning management system (LMS). The system resides on a school’s network between its student information system and its LMS software, and it allows teachers to create “playlists” and schedule the delivery of classroom video and related content to certain groups of students. It works with any IMS-compatible software, such as Blackboard or Moodle, and it “leverages the work that teachers do in [these systems] to drive digital instruction through a single interface,” said company CEO Andrew Schlessinger.

School Specialty’s iNeo/SCI Virtual Labs for science can be carried out on a computer, allowing students to take part in science experiments that couldn’t normally take place in a school environment. The Content-Area Vocabulary Builder allows for students struggling with vocabulary and reading comprehension to improve their understanding of science concepts.

Shmoop aims to make test prep more engaging by using pop culture references and colloquial language to reach high school students. Shmoop’s unique style of communicating to students keeps their attention while delivering big results on tests like the ACT, SAT, PSAT, and AP Exams, the company says.

SkillsTutor introduced a version of its Math Fact Fluency program that is aligned with the new Common Core State Standards in math. Math Fact Fluency is a research-based online program that helps students master basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts. “The program replaces fingers and flashcards with … individualized instruction and engaging practice opportunities to lead students from procedural understanding to declarative knowledge of facts,” said SkillsTutor President Adam Hall. A division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, SkillsTutor is about to release a version of its software that is tailored for use on iPhone and iPad devices, Hall added.

The Software and Information Industry Association’s Education Division announced the release of “Don’t Copy That 2, School Version,” which is part of SIIA’s ongoing effort to help K-12 teachers educate their students about the ethical and legal use of copyrighted materials such as software, books, articles, music, and movies. The video addresses the dangers of piracy and the importance of respecting the creative output of others.

TechSmith invited one of its customers, science teacher Dan Spencer, to discuss how he has used the company’s Camtasia software to turn the traditional teaching model on its head. As we first reported here, Dan creates screencasts of his lectures using Camtasia, then posts them online for students to download and watch on their own as homework. Instead of lecturing in class, he uses this time as an opportunity for students to practice the concepts they learned at home, when he’s available to help them and answer their questions. This inverted teaching model makes content delivery the focus of homework and practice the focus of class, instead of the other way around—and Dan has seen great success as a result. “Because of the screencasts, my students are all able to work through the curriculum at their own pace,” he explained. “Since I’m not lecturing in class, and students can access the information whenever they need, I can now spend that extra time helping students one-on-one.”

Texas Instruments introduced the new color-display TI-Nspire CX handheld. The TI-Nspire CX offers a set of fully integrated tools that allow dynamic links among multiple representations of a problem. Its color display enables students to better observe patterns and make connections between math and science concepts and real-world learning, TI says. With the TI-Nspire CX and TI-Nspire CAS handhelds’ new 3D graphing capabilities, students can explore concepts from multiple points of view to develop deeper conceptual understanding.

Toon Boom, which provides animation courses and software for K-12 and higher-education students, demonstrated its Flipboom Lite application, which is free for iPad users. The company’s software is used by large studies including Disney, DreamWorks, Fox, Paramount, MGM, Universal, and Warner Brothers. It is used in K-12 schools for animation lessons and as a tool to illustrate scientific and mathematic concepts.

Vernier Software & Technology has created new probes and sensors for the devices. The Anemometer, High Current Sensor, 30-Volt Voltage Probe, and Melt Station are designed to measure and collect scientific data ranging from wind speed to melting temperatures. The palm-sized, impeller-type Anemometer measures wind speed in the range of 0.5 to 30 m/s (1 to 67 mph) and is designed specifically for students of all ages to conduct wind study measurements in the field. The High Current Sensor is used to measure current in the range of -10 to +10 Ampere. The sensor can be used in experiments that involve currents larger than 1 A, such as solar panels, hand generators, etc.

VizZle announced the launch of the VizZleGram, a new service that teachers, speech therapists, and occupational therapists working with students in the autism spectrum can use to share interactive lessons with parents, after-school programs, and tutors. Educators can send a VizZleGram to anyone with an eMail address, and the recipient can play the shared lesson.

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