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Twenty new curriculum software products for schools

Here are some of the curriculum software products showcased during the 2013 ISTE conference.

At the 2013 International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference in San Antonio last month, a number of ed-tech companies introduced new curriculum software products, or enhancements to existing curriculum software. Here are some of the highlights.

Benesse America announced that schools can sign up for free, three-month pilot licenses of its StraightAce supplementary eLearning system for middle school math and language arts (grades 6-8). The curriculum can be used on virtually any device, the company says—including computers, tablets, and even smart phones—and Benesse claims that 15 minutes of use per day can lead to higher test scores.

The software can be used with teacher-led instruction, or students can work on it from home or wherever they have internet access. The teacher version includes a dashboard for tracking students’ growth and assigning specific content to certain individuals, allowing for more personalized instruction.

In exchange for the free pilot, Benesse asks that educators offer their feedback on the software; to sign up, go to

Brain Parade, whose See.Touch.Learn. app was named one of the 10 best mobile apps for education in 2013 by eSchool News, unveiled a school site edition for the app that includes training and support.

See.Touch.Learn. provides a personalized picture card learning tool for iPad users. It’s being used to teach vocabulary or English as a second language to elementary students, or to teach daily living skills to special-needs children. The app includes more than 4,400 photos and other images, grouped into dozens of categories, and users can upload their own images, too. It’s easy for teachers to create their own lessons using the software, and there’s also an online community where users can upload, download, and share lessons with each other.

Individual licenses of See.Touch.Learn. include free and premium versions, and the new school site edition includes on-site training and support, for $1,995 per school.

Capstone Digital discussed enhancements to its myON reader, a complete literacy solution that gives students anytime, anywhere access thousands of award-winning digital books online. The enhancements include apps that that enable students to access the service from any Android device and even the Kindle Fire HD. (An iPad app already was available.)

myON is a personalized literacy environment offering more than 5,000 enhanced digital books from more than 32 publishers. Its intelligent technology suggests new books for students to read, based on their indicated preferences and their ratings of books they’ve already read—like Netflix for reading. The digital platform also makes parental involvement easy, and students in one-to-one computing programs who don’t have home internet access can download books offline for at-home access.

Conceptua Math announced the rollout of a comprehensive, cloud-based math curriculum for students in grades 3-5.

The program is organized into month-long Big Ideas, units that are aligned with the Common Core standards and designed to foster deep conceptual understanding. Daily lessons include Openers and Closers, which are teacher-facilitated classroom discussions that employ interactive whiteboards or other front-of-the-room technologies. Students log in to Guided Lessons, where they receive visual instruction and practice.

The curriculum adds whole number operations, place values, measurement, geometry, and data analysis to the company’s Conceptua Fractions content that has been available since last year. Sunnyside Unified School District in Tucson, Ariz.; Henry County Schools in McDonough, Ga.; and Grandview School District in Grandview, Wash., are the first three districts to adopt the new program. Sunnyside chose Conceptua Math as its core math curriculum for grades 3-5 based on its use of Conceptua Fractions during the 2012-13 school year. In that time, students’ understanding of fractions nearly doubled as reflected in yearly achievement tests, the company said.

The Digital Harbor Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to technology education, has teamed up with BattelleEd and Arizona State University to launch STEM Core, a curriculum focused on building technical skills among students in grades 8-12.

STEM Core is a Common Core aligned, blended-learning curriculum focused on science, technology, engineering, and math education. The online program is inquiry-driven and fueled by hands-on activities that link the development of technical skills to growth across the curriculum in language arts and communication, mathematics, and design thinking, its makers say.

Created to blend online video content with a school’s in-person instruction, STEM Core creates a hands-on learning environment that uses cutting-edge tools and methodologies to teach technology topics. For example, students can learn mobile game development using the Corona SDK framework.

Discovery Education announced enhancements to its Discovery Education Streaming Plus service, including a new feature that enables teachers to create custom assessments to accompany the service’s instructional videos.

Discovery Education Streaming Plus also features more than 155,000 dynamic digital learning objects supporting all subject areas and learning styles, the company says—including videos, skill builders, games, audio files, images, writing prompts, and encyclopedia articles. In addition, the enhanced service includes model lessons and video clips that demonstrate for educators what the new Common Core State Standards look like in action. The service will be available to current Discovery Education Streaming customers at no additional cost.

Espresso Elementary demonstrated how its online teaching and learning resources for students ages 4-11—which feature topical Learning Modules, pre-created Mini-Lessons, and classroom-appropriate news stories—have been upgraded to run on tablet computers and a range of mobile devices. Espresso’s interactive, video-rich classroom activities provide an engaging learning experience for students and help them connect what they learn with the world at large, the company says.

FundingFactory showcased its free EcoBuddies eWaste recycling curriculum for schools, which it launched earlier this year. Designed for students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, EcoBuddies helps students understand the environmental impact of electronic waste, while gaining subject-area knowledge and applying it to real-world projects.

The cross-curricular environmental education program includes lesson plans, classroom activities, quizzes, and a soon-to-be-released online interactive habitat. The curriculum is available online at no charge to FundingFactory participants. Schools can sign up for free with FundingFactory to recycle used printer cartridges, cell phones, and other small electronics in exchange for cash or points redeemable for new products in the company’s e-Rewards catalog.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) and Educational Testing Service (ETS) revealed enhancements to their Criterion online writing evaluation service. Developed by ETS and distributed by HMH’s Riverside division, Criterion helps students plan, write, and revise essays, focusing on major Common Core themes such as higher-level writing and logical reasoning. The software provides immediate feedback on students’ essays, HMH says—helping them hone their writing skills.

Enhancements to the service include a new peer review tool that allows students to comment on each other’s work, as well as customizable reports that enable teachers and administrators to review class, school, or district performance. In addition, the next-generation Criterion service is now tablet compatible, HMH says—making it possible to access reports, projects, and student portfolios from anywhere at any time. launched Inquiry, a new project-based learning curriculum for teaching 21st-century skills. Developed for K-8 students, Inquiry includes six core curriculum projects per grade level. Each project is based on a theme that continues from grade to grade, building on previously acquired subject-area knowledge and technology skills.

“More educators are turning to project-based learning and at the same time are looking to build their students 21st century skills,” said CEO Keith Oelrich. “Inquiry brings these trends together by providing a project-based approach to integrating technology into core curriculum instruction through grade-level appropriate projects.”

LEGO Education introduced its first product to address language-arts instruction, StoryStarter. Designed for children in grades 2-5, this supplemental product teaches students the basic mechanics of a well-composed story. It includes a LEGO brick set, a curriculum guide, and access to StoryVisualizer, an interactive, web-based program for digital storytelling.

Students compose a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and they build a scene from the LEGO bricks depicting each of these phases of their story. Then, they take pictures of their LEGO scenes and use the StoryVisualizer software to turn these into a storyboard.

“Using StoryStarter, student engagement is much higher in my classroom, as well as the quality of work. I like how the children think through the whole story before they begin writing,” said Sarah Marsolek, a second grade teacher at St. Joseph Catholic School in Wichita, Kan. “My principal has been very impressed with the writing pieces I’ve displayed in the classroom. It is evident that the program is helping my students to write better.”

Lexia Learning has developed a next-generation version of its popular Lexia Reading product. The new version, called Lexia Reading Core5, provides structured, sequential, and scaffolded instruction in the five key areas of reading—phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension—for students of all abilities from pre-kindergarten through grade 5, Lexia says.

In development for three years, the product was built from the ground up, based on the Common Core standards—but it retains Lexia’s research-based, proven methodology. Students work independently, at their own pace, through animated activities. If a student struggles with a task, he or she is presented with a scaffolded approach to the skill. If the student continues to struggle, he or she receives skill-specific, direct instruction in the software, and if necessary, explicit, teacher-led instruction using Lexia’s scripted lesson materials. This personalized approach to skill development enables at-risk students to close the gap more quickly, while on-level or advanced students can continue to progress with limited support from their teacher, the company says.

As students work in the program, Lexia’s proprietary “Assessment Without Testing” technology gathers norm-referenced performance data—without stopping the flow of instruction to administer a test—and adjusts each student’s learning path accordingly. Teachers and administrators receive real-time reports on individual student progress toward mastery of the Common Core standards, as well as student-specific action plans to provide intervention and improve performance on year-end assessments.

Lexia Reading Core5 will be available online and on the iPad this month. Existing Lexia Reading customers will be transitioned to the new product automatically at their current subscription rate.

McGraw-Hill Education presented its latest digital solutions that address two key trends in K-12 education: the Common Core State Standards and the rise of personalized teaching and learning through the use of technology.

The company demonstrated two of its latest reading programs, released earlier this year: McGraw-Hill Reading Wonders, which it calls the first K-6 core reading program built from the ground up to address the Common Core standards; and SRA FLEX Literacy, an adaptive online literacy intervention program for grades 3-8.

Mimio discussed its new MimioScience product, a collection of interactive lessons that are among the first to address the Next Generation Science Standards. The product features 75 interactive whiteboard units that provide more than 225 high-quality lessons for students in grades 3-8. These lessons cover the areas of physical science, Earth and space science, engineering, life science, and science processes.

Moving away from presenting science content as a list of facts to be memorized, the MimioScience curriculum is organized into a set of practices to be performed. Every grade-appropriate activity, tested for effectiveness by students and teachers alike, ties a particular scientific concept or principle to a science practice, Mimio says. In this way, MimioScience supports the goal of the Next Generation Science Standards, which is to identify what students can do, not just how many facts they can recount. Each lesson works on Mimio interactive whiteboards and those developed by other vendors.

In June, the company released 26 physical science units (about 80 lessons) and 18 science processes units (about 54 lessons). This winter, Mimio will release seven engineering and technology units and 18 earth and space units (about 54 lessons). Twelve life science units (about 36 lessons) will be available for downloading in April. The price of the MimioScience interactive lessons is $1,299 per school, per year.

Promethean launched CoolStreet, a free, multi-device educational app for teaching economics. The app allows teachers to take advantage of mobile devices, ActivBoards, ActivTables, and laptops to complete a simulation that reinforces basic economic principles through practical application, Promethean says.

CoolStreet engages high-school-age students in a real-world exercise of running a business, with the goal of maximizing market share and earnings. Players own pizza shops on the same street, and when the game begins, they compete for business against each other during a “Pizza Battle.”

During the game, players are encouraged to review financial statements, growth charts, and operational statistics. With these data, they can make changes to store operations. Each pizza shop is taken “public,” and shares of the stock are traded and monitored. Teachers use data captured during the game to reinforce lessons and supplement course content.

CoolStreet is a Windows 8 Store app, and its development was guided by Promethean’s alliance with Microsoft. It can be downloaded for free under Games or by searching for “CoolStreet.” A Windows Live ID is required to access the Windows Store.

Super Duper Learning, which offers online content for English language and special-education instruction, announced new apps that will enable users of its four online modules to access the content on iOS devices.

The first of these free apps, which will be in the Apple App Store for back to school, addresses Phonological Awareness. Following Directions will follow later this fall, and the final two, Auditory Memory and Sequencing, will be available by the end of the year. All of the apps feature game-based learning activities, the company says.

Texthelp showcased version 11 of its Read&Write Gold for PC, a customizable toolbar that integrates with common Windows applications and provides language support to students of all ages and abilities—especially those with learning disabilities and English language learners.

Version 11 features new text-to-speech voices, support for Google Docs, enhanced support for Chrome and Firefox, and the ability to leave “Voice Notes” in Word documents, which can be used to insert instructions or create audio responses. These features join the program’s other abilities, which include spell checking, text and picture dictionaries, word prediction, vocabulary builders, and more.

TCI is developing a new K-8 science program, Bring Science Alive!, that will be built from the ground up to align with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The online program will be available in 2014 and will feature student-centered lessons, investigations, and simulations. Educators interested in helping TCI create this program can sign up to take part in focus groups, test lessons, complete surveys, and more at this link.

Wanderful Interactive Storybooks unveiled an interactive storybook collection for Android devices. These 13 apps are based on award-winning children’s books such as Harry and the Haunted House, Arthur’s Teacher Trouble, and Ruff’s Bone and encourage children to explore each interactive storybook page for all its hidden content.

The thirteen apps include eight apps built for the U.S. market, with story content in English and Spanish, and four apps built for the U.K. market, with story content in U.K. English and French. Users can toggle instantly between languages with just a tap on the screen, Wanderful says. A Classroom Activities guide also is available for each app. Developed by teachers, these guides offer lesson plans aligned with the Common Core State Standards around each story’s themes. The activities are grouped by grade level and by subject area, including language arts, reading, social studies, science, and art.

The Android versions of Wanderful interactive storybooks join iOS apps that were launched earlier this year. They’re available for $4.99 each in the Google Play Store. The 13th app in the collection is a free Wanderful Storybook Sampler, which includes pages from seven of the most popular Wanderful storybooks, so teachers can sample and experience the content free of charge before buying.

Waterford Institute’s new Classroom Advantage brings the company’s Early Reading software to the cloud, allowing users to create content “playlists” from its online library of 4,800 learning activities—all of which are aligned with the Common Core standards, Waterford says. The materials are intended for use with large or small group instruction using an interactive whiteboard, and teachers can share their content playlists with colleagues.

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