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Digital textbooks get a boost with new offerings

Discovery Education expects to release other subjects and grades levels of Techbooks in the future.

Apple recently made a splash when it unveiled its iBookstore, featuring digital textbooks for high school math and science education from McGraw-Hill and others. Now, Discovery Education has given digital textbooks another jolt with the release of its own high school science offering—and a middle school social studies product as well.

Discovery Education’s new “Techbooks” expand on an instructional delivery model that Discovery launched for K-8 science in 2010. Much more than just digitized versions of static textbooks, the Techbooks include videos, embedded assessments, and other interactive features that leverage the power of the internet, the company says.

With the Techbooks, “we started from scratch with new content, interface, and tools designed to specifically address learning objectives from a digital perspective,” said Kelli Campbell, senior vice president of global product and content strategy for Discovery Education. “Because we didn’t have to build an experience that mirrored a print publication, we were freed from the linear page format, which allowed us to build a platform specifically designed to promote inquiry-based learning. We developed the Techbook platform so that our chosen instructional model guides the path instead of a page.”

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Discovery’s Techbook series is cloud-based, meaning students can access the materials from wherever they have an internet connection; the company says that’s because not all school districts have the funds to give every student his or her own device. The Techbooks are also platform-agnostic to work with whatever hardware a district or student might have—iPads, tablets, mobile devices, laptops, or desktops.

More than videos

Launching in classrooms for the 2012-13 school year, the social studies and high school science Techbooks are inquiry-based and stem from the 5E model of instruction (engage, explore, explain, extend, and evaluate) used across the platform, Discovery Education said.

Updated with content in real time, the Techbooks give teachers the opportunity to incorporate current issues into their curriculum. The resources also include an assessment component that measures students’ progress and recommends individualized resources.

The lessons embedded throughout the Techbooks offer teaching strategies for different types of instruction, such as whole-group, small-group, or one-to-one.

Based on the feedback from districts that have implemented Discovery’s Techbook for K-8 science over the past school year, the company has integrated a number of enhancements.

“The Core Interactive Text path through the program is especially interesting,” said Campbell. “Our framework recognizes that coupling informational text with multi-modal content on the same topic, at varying reading levels, provides an unparalleled experience for 21st-century learners. As students are reading, interacting, listening, viewing, and analyzing content, they’re practicing skills that are critical for success in tomorrow’s workforce. We’ve also added more highlighting and note-taking tools, deeper Spanish-language content, and additional resource types promoting higher-order thinking skills.”

“Since School Town of Munster began using Discovery Education Techbooks, students’ problem solving and critical thinking skills have really improved,” said Maureen Stafford, director of program instruction and assessment for School Town of Munster, in a press release. “According to results from a national standardized achievement test, more than 45 percent of grade 8 students are now scoring in the top percentile in science. The opportunity to learn with multimedia tools raises the bar for all students as these resources reach all learning styles.”

Discovery Education also provides on-site and ongoing staff development to help teachers integrate the resources into their instruction, the company says.

The High School Science Techbooks feature interactive glossaries, explorations, informational text, and hands-on and virtual labs for addressing the following subjects:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Earth and Space Science
  • Physics

The Middle School Social Studies Techbooks feature multimedia reference libraries; interactive maps, explorations, and activities; primary source documents; informational text; and model lessons for every concept. They include the following subjects:

  • United States History
  • World History
  • World Geography and Cultures

“Two simple words: Techbook or textbook? My students always answer Techbook,” said Jodie Hardenbrook, science lead at Odyssey Academy in Minnesota. “The Techbook gives me resources that are standards-based and visual. Even my struggling kids can get the major ideas that they can’t get looking at a book. When we are competing with Facebook and the internet and cable, it is even harder to motivate students and get them excited. Discovery makes adding some excitement to the classroom easy.”

According to Campbell, Discovery Education expects to release other subjects and grades levels of Techbooks in the future—some that could even incorporate student content creation rather than content consumption, broader tools for collaboration and sharing, and a broader application of non-traditional assessments and methods for scoring and tracking these enhancements.

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