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Common Core readiness was a key theme in the ASCD Conference exhibit hall

A number of companies showed products aimed at teaching students to think more deeply.

At the 69th annual ASCD conference in Los Angeles this past week, preparing for the Common Core was a common theme. In the conference exhibit hall, a number of companies showed products aimed at teaching students to think more deeply in order to meet the standards’ rigor.

A Virginia-based company called Mathalicious is trying to make math more engaging and relevant for students, using multimedia lessons that incorporate a real-world, inquiry-based approach. This approach fits nicely with the goals of the Common Core, challenging students to think critically about the world around them.

For example, in basketball, should you ever foul someone at the buzzer? Students use probabilities to determine when the defense should foul—and when they shouldn’t. Another lesson asks students: Who should buy health insurance? Using percents and expected value, students explore the math of health insurance from a variety of perspectives.

The Learning Institute, of Hot Springs, Ark., has released what it calls Core Guides. These are online “model instructional units” designed to help English language arts teachers integrate the Common Core standards into instruction.

Designed to cover about seven weeks of teaching, each Core Guide focuses on an anchor text, as well as several shorter, supporting texts. The Core Guides include formative and summative assessments, as well as a variety of activities that students can complete in the classroom and at home—all intended to have them engage more deeply with the texts.

Eighty Core Guides are available in all: four literary units and four nonfiction units for each grade level from three to 12. Literary units for grade four, for instance, include The Lightning Thief and The Trumpet of the Swan; nonfiction units include The Story of Sacajawea and Discovering Mars.

(Next page: A Common Core writing program; a professional learning program that teaches the ‘Essentials for Achieving Rigor’; and more)

During the ASCD conference, Edmentum announced version 2 of its EducationCity product. This interactive platform helps teachers deliver personalized, small group, or whole class instruction, while monitoring students’ progress toward mastering state and Common Core standards. Version 2 will be available in July, the company said.

Features designed with more rigor in mind include MyRevision Journals, which encourage students to revise their work for deeper understanding; and ThinkIts, which provide additional interactive challenges for students, developing their higher-order thinking skills.

The EducationCity platform is now available for mobile devices that don’t support Flash video through a new “Puffin Academy” app, a Flash-based browser that can be downloaded free of charge by students or their parents. This app allows schools to enforce their CIPA policies by letting students access only approved educational websites on their mobile devices.

WriteSteps, a Michigan-based company founded by a former teacher, demonstrated its self-named Common Core writing program. Available in both print and online formats, the curriculum teaches all of the Common Core standards for writing in grades K-5 and covers all of the grammar skills listed in the Language Cores, said product trainer Kim Gates.

The curriculum includes activities that help teach writing and grammar skills; more than 200 authentic student writing samples demonstrating all levels of proficiency; more than 500 visual aids; and 35 teaching videos. Schools using the curriculum have seen their average writing scores on state tests increase up to 30 percentile points, WriteSteps claims.

The Marzano Center unveiled a new professional development offering for schools, called “Essentials for Achieving Rigor.” This framework includes 13 instructional strategies for moving to a more student-centered pedagogy, in which students assume responsibility for their own learning. The strategies focus on analysis, reasoning, generating and testing hypotheses, and real-world applications of knowledge.

SmartTraining discussed its own professional development offering at the ASCD conference. The Scottsdale, Ariz., company helps teachers integrate the Singapore Math approach into their curriculum. Singapore Math takes the kind of rigorous approach espoused by the Common Core, and SmartTraining trains educators in the Singapore Math methodology and how it fits in with Common Core goals.

Other ASCD exhibitor news

Common Core readiness wasn’t the only theme discussed at the ASCD conference. Here’s a roundup of news from other conference exhibitors.

Right At School, an Illinois company, runs after-school and “enrichment on demand” programs for schools. For families who don’t need a daily program, but want to enrich their child’s education, the company offers 10-week after-school courses in the arts, sciences, and humanities.

Right At School operates a parent portal for enrollment, scheduling, and payment for after-school programs—relieving school leaders of these responsibilities and allowing them to focus on academics, said Pat Heibel, vice president of education relations.

What’s more, Right At School enables schools to “outsource” recess. In some school districts, Heibel explained, recess duty isn’t part of the teachers’ contracts, so the company supplies the supervision, equipment, and even a curriculum if desired.

(Next page: A Netflix-like approach to professional development; a new social network that connects students with mentors; inflatable planetarium domes; and more)

Corwin, a publisher of professional development titles for educators, previewed a brand-new version of its Corwin eLibraries service. The newly redesigned version, which goes live next month, uses an interface that is similar to consumer websites such as Netflix, making it easier for teachers and administrators to find relevant materials.

Corwin eLibraries include digital versions of more than 800 books, allowing educators to access the texts on any mobile device from wherever they are, said Senior Marketing Manager MaryEllin Santiago. The digital versions include a “sticky notes” feature that lets educators leave notes within the text, and users also can highlight sections of text.

Corwin has created 18 different eLibraries collections, or bundles of professional development titles around themes such as Leadership, Assessment, and 21st Century Learning and Technology. Each teacher gets his or her own account, and school districts can see how often each resource is being used.

The New Jersey-based nonprofit Ten2One Group announced a new social network that connects students with mentors from around the country. Called synXup (pronounced “syncs up”), the secure, closely monitored online service intends to help middle and high school students find others who can help them with their academic and career goals.

The basic version—which will be free to schools—allows students to create a profile that shows their likes and interests; send Friend Requests; create and join discussion forums around topics of interest; and link their account to other social networks. A premium version will enable students to create personalized “action plans” to help guide their success, and it will pair students with a Success Coach and a Mentor from their chosen field of interest.

Apperson introduced a new product called SEL+ Compass, which assesses students’ social and emotional learning competencies online. A Baseline Needs Assessment comes with a two-month license that lets schools test an unlimited number of students for $299, and the company also sells more comprehensive options that are licensed yearly.

OverDrive discussed its eBook lending library for schools, which includes more than 350,000 electronic titles that can be read on any device—including iPads, Nooks, and Kindles. The company recently added textbooks to its collection, and it also has waived its hosting fee, meaning schools now pay only for the titles they access.

Smith System displayed its furniture for creating learning commons, library commons, early childhood, and 21st-century classroom environments. The chairs and tables are designed for maximum flexibility, connectivity, and collaboration.

Digitalis Education Solutions demonstrated its inflatable planetarium domes, which allow school districts to set up a complete planetarium almost anywhere in minutes. The systems come with all the electronics and software needed to show the night sky, simulate the solar system over two million years, demonstrate events such as eclipses and meteor showers, display the orbits of planets and moons, and view more than 100 deep space objects.

Inflatable domes are available in sizes ranging from 13 feet in diameter (accommodating up to 20 students) to 23 feet in diameter (holding up to 80 students).

Follow Editorial Director Dennis Pierce on Twitter: @eSN_Dennis.

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