New Gear for the New Year

A quick look at some of the latest edtech innovations

2016 will be another year of investigating the helpful ways education technology affects literacy and language classrooms. From increased ease in developing personalized curriculum to entertaining classroom gamification for an upcoming generation of digital natives, technology can help students and teachers manage time more effectively and accelerate quality learning. According to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), an impressive 91% of administrators say that effective use of edtech is critical to their mission of high student achievement, and 89% of teachers agree that technology improves student outcomes. Here are some upcoming technology programs to get excited about in the coming year:

Wonders Literacy Program
Wonders, a McGraw-Hill Education K–6 literacy program, is designed to meet the challenges of today’s classroom and reach all learners. Research-based print and digital resources provide support for building literacy foundations, accessing complex texts, engaging in collaborative conversations, and writing to sources. The newest version includes a data dashboard (real-time recommendations for appropriate-level assignments, reading selections, remediation, and more—automatically compiled from previous assignments and assessments), recording and playback (students can record, select, and submit their best oral reading samples for fluency evaluation), a close reading companion (for grades K–6), inquiry space (project-based research for grades 3–6), and new assessments (professional-development coaching videos, languages for the customizable school-to-home letters, lesson planner enhancements, and kindergarten features).

Learning Upgrade’s Teacher Upgrade
Learning Upgrade now offers Teacher Upgrade —whole-class interactive whiteboard courses that make lessons convenient, rigorous, and collaborative for teachers. Launched in November 2015, the courses offer a new way for teachers to engage with an entire class of students through interactive, whole-class activities accompanied by differentiated individual lessons. Each lesson incorporates songs, videos, and games that engage even the most reluctant students. Teachers play the lessons using a computer and a data projector or interactive whiteboard, such as a SMART Board or Promethean board. Students solve problems by pressing buttons or moving objects on the screen with a pen or finger. The new Teacher Upgrade lessons help a wide variety of students—including special needs students and English learners—reach mastery at their grade levels. The program includes more than 500 standards-aligned lessons. With quick access to lessons that cover every standard, teachers don’t have to search for content and can focus more time on effective teaching.

Kids Discover Online
Kids Discover has launched Kids Discover Online, a digital collection of its entire library of nonfiction resources for elementary and middle school learners, offering three different Lexile reading levels for grades 3–8. In addition to its 1,000+ science and social studies lessons, educators can manage their students’ reading levels through the Classroom tool, and can also build cross-curricular lessons by mixing and matching content from across the library. The collection encourages students to engage in inquiry-based learning with features like Discover Map, an interactive concept map that demonstrates the linkages between different units and topics across the library. The platform is web-based and optimized for screens as large as a whiteboard and as small as a mobile phone. Whether districts have implemented 1:1 programs using tablets or Chromebooks or have chosen a BYOD approach, Kids Discover Online provides high-interest nonfiction resources that students can view on the devices of their choice.

Istation is an e-learning program used by more than four million students across the world. Known for its assessments, engaging curriculum, and trusted teacher tools, the program helps students in prekindergarten through 12th grade work toward academic growth. Computer-adaptive assessments place students on personalized instructional paths unique to their needs. Along with its highly interactive digital curriculum, Istation provides teachers with access to thousands of teacher-led lessons perfect for instructing small groups or an entire class. Comprehensive progress reports are also immediately available for educators, administrators, and parents. ISIP assessments are available in early reading, advanced reading, reading en Español, and math.

Whooo’s Reading
Specifically designed with the motto “make sure the kids always win,” the Whooo’s Reading platform from Learn2Earn aims to make reading fun by giving students the power of choice, allowing them to read fiction or nonfiction material while incorporating online game elements preferred by today’s digital natives. Students using the platform via their secure personal profiles are inspired to read and think critically—and when doing so are rewarded with virtual Wisdom Coins to personalize and embellish their Owlvatars. This adds a sense of ownership to their work, which motivates them to try harder, thereby improving reading, comprehension, and writing skills. Students are encouraged to engage with peers within their class’s interactive newsfeed, which displays the books, comments, and responses of their classmates. Teachers have customization options, allowing them to create their own question prompts to promote comprehension. Equally accessible are the growing number of preloaded questions aligned with all Common Core reading anchors (K–8) that come standard with each account. These questions hold students accountable to their independent reading in a way previously not possible. For a long-range view, teachers can further monitor students’ reading-level increases using their preferred comprehension measuring methods, including Lexile, Fountas and Pinnell, Reading Recovery, Rigby, and DRA.

Achieve3000, celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, has recently released its new Boost solution. Boost is designed to match students to grade-appropriate content that’s just right for their reading skills, with twelve levels in English and seven in Spanish. Classroom-tested scaffolds differentiate instruction beyond reading level. Boost uses an instructional framework that offers a combination of activities that students complete independently within Achieve3000’s portal, followed by a teacher-directed “stretch lesson” to engage every student with grade-level text for dramatic reading gains. The independent activities are designed to develop the literacy capacities outlined in a school’s specific state standards, as well as to build reading strength and stamina. Plus, every lesson includes embedded daily practice for high-stakes state assessments. Boost’s drag-and-drop tools allow teachers to easily make curriculum adjustments as needed. In addition, teachers receive real-time data on individual students for effective action plans. Finally, educators can measure metrics on many levels, including student performance, Lexile reading growth, performance on standards, and college and career readiness.

UltraKey is known for its comprehensive and effective instruction using interactive graphic animation, voice-supported instruction, and individualized goal-setting. Bytes of Learning president Art Willer commented, “We are very excited about this release, not only for its benefit to customers but for the features our development team has achieved. It’s relatively easy to get online—doing it with the quality and personal interaction featured in UltraKey has been the challenge. Our team has really done well keeping up the standard.” Despite the shift from desktop software to online software seen in schools around the world, Bytes of Learning will continue to support the desktop formats for Windows and Macintosh. The online version, which operates in every current browser, will support keyboarding instruction on Chromebooks, iPads, and desktops. When schools subscribe, they will have the choice of using the desktop or online version or both, whichever suits their needs. “Online is popular, but it is not for everybody,” said Willer. “It is our practice not just to follow trends, but to satisfy the broadest range of customer needs.”

This February, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) is launching the all-new READ 180 Universal, a student and teacher program re-engineered to leverage the science behind reading success. The program features a new “educator ecosystem” built to enhance instruction and empower educators with real-time data and professional learning. Its brand-new content has been created to inspire curiosity and help students build stronger, deeper connections to the world around them. With an impressive track record of research and results, including thousands of success stories, hundreds of case studies, and nearly a dozen gold-standard efficacy reports, the program is proven to help break the cycle of failure for struggling readers. With cognitive science, new interactive content, and the new educator ecosystem, the new READ 180 Universal incorporates the latest research on how the brain learns to read in order to accelerate student achievement and elevate teachers and students to their fullest potential.

Coolcher is a virtual classroom platform that connects kids to online courses taught by teachers from around the world. These teachers bring not just their knowledge, but also their cultural backgrounds to help expand students’ worldviews. Every course has the dual objective of teaching students subjects—including language, arts, design, music, dance, and STEM—and imparting cultural knowledge. For example, imagine a German language course where, in every class, the teacher talks about the history and culture of a different German-speaking town as she teaches the language. The classes are live and interactive, and students get a chance to ask questions. Kids from all around the country—and perhaps even the world—can interact and learn not just from the teacher but also by exchanging information among themselves. The platform also connects homeschoolers with other students, including other homeschoolers, who are taking the online classes at the same time.

Let’s Talk!
Let’s Talk! from K12 Insight, is a cloud-based technology accessible by website or mobile device. Its simple, intuitive interface enables community members, including students and parents, to quickly reach out to and engage school leaders on critical issues. School leaders, for their part, can easily respond to stakeholder concerns, using the system’s reporting tools and backend dashboard to track response times, gauge community engagement, and make smarter decisions based on real-time conversations. It enables school district leaders to manage and respond to social media, identify risks, and build stronger, more productive relationships with parents, teachers, students, and staff. Community members submit feedback—comments, questions, or concerns—through a custom button on the school or district’s website, or via social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram). Intelligent software immediately routes each comment to the appropriate staff member to facilitate a timely response. On the backend, school district leaders have access to a dashboard that tracks the stage and status of each interaction. Now superintendents and others can easily see who’s engaging their districts, know what’s on their minds, and flag issues or potential threats that demand immediate attention. Robust reporting tools, including printable graphs and charts, help district leaders leverage every instance of community feedback to improve customer satisfaction, address critical issues quickly, and make smart, informed decisions.

Knomadix helps schools effectively transition from static lessons to a dynamic, interactive digital curriculum on tablets and laptops. The software makes creating immersive, customized learning experiences for students as easy as point-and-click. Since it automatically captures assessment data, teachers can make timely and informed decisions on how to best reach and engage each individual student. Tablets and laptops are prevalent in many schools across the country, and educators are looking for ways to take advantage of these devices to create dynamic, interactive digital curriculum. Current lessons, often made up of PDFs and video files, are not interactive and do not support personalization, analytics, or deeper learning—which are all essential elements to engage 21st-century learners. Existing tools such as PDF annotators, Google Drive, and email are not sophisticated enough to deliver a complete digital-classroom experience. Many schools continue to use “quasi-digital” tools or revert back to age-old paper worksheets with limited or no access to modern tools for automating student-teacher workflow, delivering differentiated instruction, or making real-time teaching decisions. Knomadix caters to different learning styles, gives instant feedback, grades automatically, simplifies organization, and saves time for teachers.

A student-life online community, PlanetHS transforms the way schools, homes, and the business community engage and interact to enable the success of extracurricular programs. These critical links work together with after-school activities to help students develop strong character and life skills. This has a positive impact on overall academic performance and graduation rate, as well as higher education and career success. It is a comprehensive platform that brings all the voices and pieces together: live streaming, student portfolios, electronic payments, data integration and analysis, monitored and auditable communications, and more. The platform creates a safe, effective connection between homes, schools, and businesses, enhancing schools’ fundraising capabilities. It also saves teachers and coaches time and resources when they are communicating with and managing their students.

The MIDAS (Massively Integrated Data Analytics System) platform enables teachers, administrators, parents, and students to get the information they need, when and how they need it, via a simple, intuitive web interface. It combines the utility of 13 “siloed” systems into one platform, hosted on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud. Any stakeholder, at any time, in any place, can access data to target learning for every student. Because the system is built on a single AWS database, reporting and analytics can be automated and simplified, making compliance and state reporting requirements easier and freeing educators to do what they do best: teach.

The CWIST online education platform delivers free learning activities called cwists, (a challenge with a twist) that motivate students to learn through play. Educators and parents can access a library of free, educator-designed projects including activities on multiple topics such as art, history, language arts, world languages, math, music, science, social studies, and technology. For example, the Short-Vowel Photo Scavenger Hunt is a language arts cwist that challenges young students to find and photograph objects that resemble the letters that make short vowel sounds. The lesson promotes language skills in an active, engaging, visual way.

Other cwists challenge students to practice storytelling and writing by creating their own comic strip or instruct them to make a paper chain to symbolize reading connections in a book.

Educators can also search for lessons that are aligned to Common Core State Standards. For example, Language Skills for Common Core: Grade Three, is a cwist that challenges students to complete “sentence sorts” to help them recognize what simple, compound, and complex sentences look like.

The website allows educators and parents to assign cwists to children and keep track of when they have completed the challenges. They can also offer incentives for completion, and create and share their own cwists.