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TCEA 2013: New software for curriculum and instruction


Through a partnership with Samsung, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is bringing its HMH Fuse app for teaching algebra and geometry to Android devices.

Mobile apps for education were all the rage at the 2013 Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) conference in Austin this month, as developers of classroom software announced new apps for teaching grammar, learning algebra on Android devices, and turning iPads into collaborative learning tools.

But the news from the TCEA exhibit hall wasn’t just about apps, as a number of classroom software companies announced more traditional curriculum and instruction tools as well.

Here’s a roundup of new curriculum and instruction products discussed at TCEA.

Edmentum, formerly known as Plato Learning, announced a partnership with the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) to create a new product called MAPLink. It uses the diagnostic capabilities of NWEA’s Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) computer-adaptive exams to give students in grades 3-8 a personalized path to improvement in reading and math, using Edmentum’s Study Island skills-practice software.

Gaggle highlighted its iPad app, which gives iPad users the same access to Gaggle’s collaborative features, such as a cloud-based digital locker for storing files and accessing them from anywhere; GaggleTube, a safe alternative to YouTube for uploading videos; calendars, assignments, eMail, blogs, and discussion boards.

The Gaggle app is free, though users will need a Gaggle account to log in. Gaggle representatives said the app solves common challenges for schools using iPads, like how to store and share files for collaborative learning, as well as how to share classroom iPads without having to share eMail addresses or use a generic address—which leaves schools vulnerable to anonymous misuse.

Gaggle says it’s still working on getting its social wall and class pages into the app, and then it will develop a version that works on iPhones as well, followed by an Android version—which the company hopes to launch in time for the next school year.

Grammaropolis demonstrated its animated software for teaching grammar skills. Developed by educators, Grammaropolis depicts various parts of speech as animated characters—starring in songs, books, and videos—whose personalities are based on the roles they play in the sentence. The software is available online and via apps for Apple iOS devices.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) and Samsung Electronics have announced a partnership to offer HMH’s digital content—including an Android version of the HMH Fuse app, which offers a full curriculum for algebra and geometry—on Samsung’s range of Android-powered tablet devices, including the Galaxy Note 10.1. HMH also will bring hundreds of its content titles to Samsung’s Learning Hub platform, the companies said. HMH Fuse used to be available only for iPads.

Learning.com unveiled a new custom curriculum publishing tool that helps users build and publish customized digital units that align with their curriculum maps and instructional goals, using their own existing materials or the free and subscription-based content from Learning.com’s single sign-on portal. Subscribers to Learning.com need only one password to access content from their existing digital assets, as well as more than 300,000 learning objects from at least 60 content providers, the company says.

McGraw-Hill Education introduced a number of products at TCEA, including FLEX Literacy, a reading intervention program for students in grades 3-8. The program includes three components, the company said: adaptive online instruction, print-based reading and response, and projects.

McGraw-Hill also launched Reading Labs 2.0, which brings its color-coded SRA Reading Labs for supplemental skills work into the digital era, with a new online format; and Reading Wonders, a complete reading curriculum developed from the ground up to comply with the new Common Core ELA standards. Reading Wonders can be completed entirely through print, entirely online, or through a combination of methods. With the introduction of these products, McGraw-Hill now has solutions to meet a wide range of literacy needs in either print or digital format, the company said—“taking teachers from where they are to wherever they want to go.”

In addition, McGraw-Hill is launching new versions of its LearnSmart courseware for K-12 schools. These adaptive learning programs, which previously were available only for the college market, are the only products to assess students’ level of confidence in their answers, which factors into the programs’ algorithms. The LearnSmart programs also deliver learning analytics to instructors, so they can see in great detail how individual students, groups of students, or entire classes are progressing.

The LearnSmart programs are powered by technology from the Danish company Area9, in which McGraw-Hill just acquired a 20-percent stake. The first LearnSmart programs for the K-12 market cover U.S. history and biology.

Odysseyware highlighted SPARC, a new set of assessment tools and instructional materials to support the Common Core State Standards. SPARC helps teachers accurately identify the competency levels of students in grades K-8 in relation to Common Core standards, and it provides supplemental materials for targeted skills remediation and practice to help students achieve mastery of the standards. These engaging mini-lessons focus on one skill per lesson, the company said. “Our … goal is to get students to ‘own’ the skill with dynamic learning activities, audio, video, animation—the works,” said Jen Salta, vice president of product development.

PBS Kids showcased the classroom edition of its PBS Kids Play! service, a game-based adaptive learning environment for students in pre-kindergarten through first grade. It’s a cross-curricular program with activities that are aligned with the Common Core standards in reading and math, and it aims to engage students in learning through play.

Activities feature popular characters from PBS Kids television programming, and the system tracks students’ progress through assessments that are embedded in the course of play. Teachers can view students’ progress by class, student, or individual skill, and the classroom edition includes free home access for students. The service is available through one or two-year licenses starting around $20 per student, per year, with discounts available for larger institutions.

Vernier demonstrated four new science probes at TCEA: (1) a goniometer, which measures the angles of joints to determine their range of motion and can be used for biomedical engineering (as in the design of prosthetic limbs); (2) ethanol sensors for Advanced Placement science labs; (3) a radiation monitor that’s $100 cheaper than the company’s current version ($169 versus $269), making it more accessible for K-12 classrooms; and (4) an optical dissolved oxygen probe that doesn’t require calibration, making it faster and easier to use than older versions.

With school guidance counselors having to do more with less and thousands of employers struggling to find skilled workers, WIN Learning demonstrated a solution at TCEA: Its Personalized Career Readiness System helps middle and high schools prepare their students for college or a career.

This series of web-based programs helps students prepare for their future through personalized, project-based learning and career exploration, WIN Learning says. It creates individual career plans for students based on their interests, helping them see the relevance of their education. Users can analyze current and projected labor market data, identify required education and training for potential career pathways, measure students’ individual career readiness and skill development, and build mastery around the foundational, behavioral, and attitudinal skills that employers demand.

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