Each of the products selected for this year’s Awards of Excellence had to do something that doesn’t always happen, even with the most heavily hyped of technologies—work in real life. Honorees are determined by a team of picky educators who put them through their paces within the context of actual classroom. Judged are urged to find reasons not to like it. A majority has to come back with the Caesar’s thumbs up. Not an easy feat.
All of these products share a common characteristic that only can really be identified this sort of judging process. They are all technologies that emphasize utility over novelty. Forget the bells and whistles. Just help teachers teach better, assess better, learn better. Hundreds of companies and products were scrutinized. The ones who passed muster truly deserve recognition and deserve congratulations. -- Kevin Hogan
Adobe Visual Communicator 3
Adobe Systems Incorporated
Although Visual Communicator isn't for beginners, older middle-school students and teachers with some computer experience will appreciate the program's ease of use, intuitive interface, and quality presentations. The program is great for classroom use, and one judge argued that it even "allows a first-time user to create professional-looking presentations." There are many easy-to-use options including a drag-and-drop feature, scrolling text, and the ability to give the presentation in another language (including sign language). Judges loved the program's "ease of integrating the different types of media" and found it very quick to edit sound clips and other components of the presentations.
Education pricing, $169 (full price, $399)
Atomic Learning, Inc.
Founded in 2000 by a group of technology educators, Atomic Learning serves over eight million individuals in over 40 countries worldwide. Atomic Learning is dedicated to providing educational resources that allow teachers, students and learners of all ages to embrace technology. An integral part of your professional development program, Atomic Learning’s online training resources make it easy to learn new technology and encourage technology integration in the classroom. Atomic Learning provides individuals with the skills and tools needed to succeed in an increasingly technology-driven world.
Achiever! Formative Assessment
Achiever! automates the process of data-driven instruction for teachers, making it a product judges found to be simple and useful. Students login over the web to see a personal learning plan with a list of state standards. They click on the standard to take a pretest. If instruction is needed, students use multimedia instruction, then a “study mode” with immediate feedback. A post-test is taken on each standard, giving real-time reports to teachers to adjust individual and classroom instruction.
$97/classroom/subject for one-year subscription
Classroom Suite Version 4
Cambium Learning Technologies
This unique tool combines direct instruction with a more flexible environment to help Pre-K through 5th grade students improve their math, reading and writing skills. The program gives students constructive practice through the use of practice assessments, in turn allowing teachers to gauge their students’ progress and shift their instruction around for individual students. Judges were impressed with the many research-based activity templates included in the program, and believe that students will love the many kinds of animation used along the way, making Classroom Suite a fun way to improve their reading vocabulary. The program can be customized to meet individual students’ needs, and is especially helpful for students just learning English.
$345 for one standalone copy
Crick Software, Inc.
Clicker Paint encourages student creativity, and is a great product on its own, but also fully integrates with Clicker 5. The program offers a slew of activities, such as highlighting and finding objects with a circular brush or using the stamp tool to add pictures to a background. Judges found the program to be easy and fun to use, and appreciated its simplicity. Less “busy” visually than KidPix entertainment, Clicker Paint is an excellent option for teachers looking to motivate their students to use art and computers in the classroom.
Single user, $99; Lab-Pack (5-users) extendible, $229; Site License (30-users) extendible, $799
Crayola Digital Camera and Color Genie Software
Crayola’s digital camera is inexpensive and easy for kids to use, and the Color Genie software is an excellent companion as a photo-editing program for K-2. Judges agreed that this product’s key benefit was its ease of use, helping young students get a head start on digital photography.
Discovery Education Assessment
This easy-to-use assessment system allows teachers to predict their students’ test performance, and to use this information to differentiate instruction and improve student learning. The program can be used for math, language arts and science tests, for grades K-12. The practice tests provided are designed to predict where students will fall on standardized test scores, and the program provides teacher-friendly reports that help educators see areas on which they need to concentrate more. Proficiency levels are identified for specific skills for each student. RTI, ESA, and College Readiness solutions are also available. Predicts with 80-90% accuracy.
$8-$11 per student
ePals Classroom Match
Through Classroom Match, teachers can connect to either a project or a classroom and communicate with other communities online. This program is free, and allows classes to communicate from just about any country around the world through emails and blogs. Of course, teachers need to make sure they supervise correspondence, but Classroom Match is indispensable in helping students connect with others around the globe. The program provides lesson plans that contain essential questions, objectives, elements, reflections, and a calendar for a specific project. Within a project, the same structure is provided to all participants and a calendar allows teachers to coordinate dates for the projects. One of the best features, according to one judge, is the translator on all the email pages that allows students to communicate with others, surpassing any language barriers. ePals Classroom Match is an excellent way students to make meaningful connections with others, and work on a project of common interest.
Free feature within the ePals Global Community
E-Rate Manager for Applicants
Funds for Learning LLC
This program is an award-winning online tool that helps E-rate users simplify their paperwork, track funding, and stay informed on deadlines. The program also has built-in help on dealing with all the forms in E-rate, thereby helping education organizations manage the sometimes-complicated process of E-Rrate funding. Judges enjoyed the comprehensive services of the program, which include providing background information and trends in funding through tables that can be downloaded.
Starts at $249 per year (based on student population)
One of the best products this year, ExploreLearning Gizmos provides hundreds of interactive online simulations for math and science classes (grades 3-12). The Gizmos help teachers incorporate computer-based manipulatives into their lessons and gives students the opportunity to experiment and test hypotheses. Judges across the board loved the “fun to use” program, commending its great teacher support materials. One judge added that “few products have this combination of simulation and interactivity with such variety,” making ExploreLearning Gizmos an immensely beneficial addition to many math and science classrooms.
Faronics Insight makes technology in classrooms exciting by turning ordinary computer labs into collaborative learning environments. The user-friendly program helps monitor and support classroom computer use, and offers ways to interact such as sharing one’s screen with other users and holding classroom votes from a central console. While there may be similar products, one judge claimed it to be faster than competitors.
Starts at $599 for a classroom license
Flypaper is an easy-to-use online Flash Content Management Platform that makes a great addition to the school curriculum. It has been marketed to education and eLearning content developers. Judges that tested it said it “created the best multimedia presentations,” and argued that “even the least tech-y person” could use it. Currently the application needed to access the program is only compatible with Windows. This is a product for teachers to keep their eye on.
Pricing ranges from $795 to $9,995.
Media Smart uses real clips (such as commercials, political ads, and movies) to help students think critically about what they see and hear. The DVD offers thought-provoking questions following the clips. Judges found it useful in this respect, as visual and media literacy are often neglected in classrooms. This product integrates easily into language arts education, and was named “one of the best products of the bunch.” DVDs are available for many different grade levels, allowing teachers to incorporate material appropriate for their specific classroom levels.
MoneyU -- The Online Course for Personal Finance
Griffin Enterprises, LLC
This innovative program geared toward teaching financial skills was a product none of the judges had seen before. Its Web site describes MoneyU as an “online course and campus for financial literacy,” licensed to high schools, college, and the military. Judges found the program to be especially relevant and helpful in times of financial instability, and appreciated the program’s mix of information and interactivity, as well as its superb feedback and assessment tools. MoneyU not only presents engaging graphics, movies, and activities, but also helps older learners increase their knowledge of personal finances--something that will undoubtedly come in handy as they enter the work force.
Individual seat-login $75; institutional pricing scales from $62 down to $7 per seat-login
MicrosoftJudges across the board loved Microsoft Math—an inexpensive, well-designed collection of tools, tutorials and instruction designed to help students tackle math and science problems quickly and easily. The program can be customized to fit many individual needs—for example, users can modify the way the graphing calculator looks and have access to built-in function-solving help, easy-to-graph equations and a unit conversion tool. While many different calculators can be used for these situations, judges loved Microsoft Math’s all-in-one aspect, and wished they’d have something like this in their high schools.
Operation: Monster Storms
The JASON Project (a nonprofit subsidiary of National Geographic Society)
Operation: Monster Storms, a weather curriculum unit developed with NOAA, NASA and National Geographic, transports students to Earth’s most extreme weather events to learn the science needed to save lives and property. Aligned to state and national science standards, it examines current research and allows students to work side by side with leading scientists in the classroom and an online community. Available in print and free online editions, Operation: Monster Storms includes a variety of resources to motivate students, from videos and digital games to podcasts, Web casts and hands-on labs and field assignments – things that can’t be accomplished solely through textbooks. This five-to-nine week unit is designed for middle grades, and judges recommended it for 4th – 8th grade science teachers. Teacher Pack-, $80.72; Classroom Pack, $788.90
Print Manager Plus 2008 Standard Academic Edition
Software Shelf International, Inc.
This program allows K-12 and higher education teachers to track, control, and set quotas on the amount of printing students do in school. Print Manager is easy to use, and integrates seamlessly with Active Directory and Windows Print Server. The default settings on this program merely monitor users without restrictions; teachers are then able to restrict printing based on user, printer or both. Judges liked Print Manager’s reporting features and excellent control options. The program is especially useful for schools struggling to manage the costs of over-printing among students.
Starts at $395 for up to 5 printers and 35 users
StudentWatch Suite is an online system built specifically for public schools that reports, documents and tracks safety issues including bullying, fighting and other behavioral problems. Integrated with this web-based program is a system for students and parents to anonymously report safety concerns about themselves or other students, either online or via telephone. The “anonymity” factor helps students feel more comfortable reporting bullying and other sensitive information, and the program goes even further by communicating directly to key administrators when time is of the essence. Each report submitted is immediately sent to the appropriate administrator to be addressed. The systems provide reports and trends data for safety issues for individual schools and district-wide to evaluate the effectiveness of current safety programs and behavior strategies and to see where safety may be at risk. The Student Accident Management System tracks and documents student accident reports and is integrated with the other systems. Judges said they haven’t found anything like this program, and agreed it would be very helpful for teachers, parents, and students to stay in communication—making the school environment as safe as possible.
Individual programs start at $500; suite starts at $3000
International Learning Corporation
Rapid Resources is geared toward “teachers who need a multi-grade range of instructional resources and assessments,” and the program provides lesson plans and activities to help students improve scores who are achieving at different (either lower or higher) grade levels than average. The program has an interesting approach—it breaks down each standard into skills with activity sheets that teachers print out. Then teachers can customize a learning plan for each student or for a whole class. Judges found it to be a useful tool for remediation (with both parents and students), missing skills, and for students who wish to move ahead. The program makes it very easy for teachers to help students through the use of step-by-step lesson plans, and many lessons are hands-on and interesting for students.
One-year subscription for teachers, $199; school/district licenses available
SchoolSites is a great option for districts and schools looking for a robust Web site solution. The product allows districts and schools to easily create their Web site, choosing from a variety of templates or making one from scratch with the help of SchoolWorld’s creative team. The product is easy to navigate; one judge loved that “everything is in one place,” and labeled it as a “must” product for schools seeking professional results in their Web site presence.
ST Math: Algebra Readiness
MIND Research Institute
The new ST Math: Algebra Readiness instructional software was developed in response to the nationwide problem of middle school students failing Algebra courses. The visual approach offers an innovative way to teach math to struggling middle school students, focusing on an interactive, animated exposition of foundational concepts before introducing equations and math terminology—an approach shown to benefit learners at every level of math or language proficiency. Judges agreed that this easy-to-use, fun program is a “great tool for students struggling with algebra concepts,” especially for students who are visual learners.
Studywiz Spark is a new, online learning tool for K-12 education that provides a dynamic learning environment where teachers and students can upload and create content. It’s a great tool to create a safe online environment for elementary and middle schools, and offers users the abilities to start discussions, post assignments, and create collaborative groups among other options. One judge praised its use of “sound scientific information in an exciting format,” and another found it to be a “highly educational and exciting program” that provides valuable information. The program is easy for teachers, students and parents to use, and offers various multimedia, ranging from attention-grabbing videos to messaging and discussion features to interactive computer games and personal eLockers. Studywiz Spark is especially useful for curricula, such as science, English and history, including tutorials on many different subjects.
The comprehensive Web site product, TeacherSites, was rated one of the best products this year—it is one of the easiest to use yet flexible Web page creator tool for teachers. The program allows teachers to add and edit pages quickly and easily. TeacherSites is a complete package that involves the teacher, parent, and student. Judges were impressed with the product’s usefulness, and found it better than similar Web sites they’d used before.
Standard $39/year, Premium, $59/year
Oracle Education Foundation
An impressive and free product, ThinkQuest is a critically acclaimed education technology program for grades K-12. Its protected online learning platform helps teachers bring Internet technology into their classrooms by allowing students to create Web pages that can be easily monitored. Through ThinkQuest, students can also participate in projects with classrooms worldwide. One judge found the program to be an excellent tool for facilitating collaborating skills among students. Students can use ThinkQuest projects to get ideas of their own and “encourage them to publish their own projects.”
Turning Technologies LLC
One of this program’s best features is the software’s ability to integrate with Microsoft Office, especially Powerpoint. TurningPoint works with Powerpoint to create questions and with Excel to analyze results. Also, users have the option of using a floating toolbar called TurningPoint AnyWhere if they want to poll outside of the Microsoft PowerPoint environment. Currently the program is also available in a complimentary version for development purposes, so educators can test the tool before they decide whether they’ll benefit from it.
Complete TurningPoint systems start at $695 for a 24-seat system
ABC-CLIO Social Studies Databases, Release 2.0
ABC-CLIO’s latest Social Studies database shows that the product remains an easy to use, well-organized resource for students. The program offers MLA citations for all resources, great links to other related information, and its up-to-date information shows the ABC-CLIO’s dedication to its databases. Its wealth of sources includes both primary and secondary sources that are reliable and written by experts. Judges loved the thoroughness of the data bank—it includes all aspects of Social Studies, including geography, history, government and the economy. Moreover, the database includes art, culture, historic individuals, and social movements, only adding to the extensive amount of research students and teachers can find through this resource.
Pricing for individual databases starts at $399 per school site
Adobe Captivate 3
Adobe Systems Incorporated
The popular program Adobe Captivate continues to improve
with each version. This helpful product allows higher-level
(beyond K-6) students and teachers to make interactive presentations
with quizzes and podcasts, without programming
knowledge. Judges agreed that it has a steep learning curve,
but found it to be a great tool for teacher trainers. Adobe
Captivate is currently only available on the Windows platform.
Education pricing - $249
Deep Freeze is a multi-platform product that helps eliminate workstation
damage by preventing changes to computer configurations. When the program is
installed on a computer, any changes made are eliminated after restart. This
ability protects computers from configuration drift, malicious software
activity, and other common mishaps. Deep Freeze continues to be a product
that's easy to use and has been proven to work.
Starts at $45
With the newest edition of iLife, Apple shows that this program suite of applications continues to be an easy to use, well integrated, all-in-one application for collection with many uses in the classroom. Judges liked how applications such as iTunes and iPhoto and iMovie integrate with everything, making it a them great program applications for students to make movies and other media. For users unfamiliar with iLife, the program includes Apple provides great tutorials and guided information online. It can be applied to many different lesson plans, grade levels and subjects, and the program’s suite's all-in-one aspect makes it a great addition to classroom technology.
K-12 Schools can buy a 500 seat + 50 faculty computer site license for $249
Inspiration Software, Inc.
InspireData is an innovative program that allows students to explore and compare various presentations of data through dynamic graphs and charts. The program teaches its users how to read and understand plots and tables, and how to use data to understand information—making it a valuable tool for learning statistics and improving critical thinking skills. Judges appreciated the online survey option, a new feature for the updated InspireData 1.5, and named it as one of the best products they tested. Data can be easily imported into InspireData from other sources, such as Microsoft® Excel® or the Internet.
Inspiration Software, Inc.
Kidspiration helps K-5 students develop their thinking, literacy and numeracy skills using proven visual learning principles. The program includes many built-in templates, is easy to navigate and helps students organize and visualize their ideas. Students can switch between integrated Picture and Writing Views, and export their document to a word processor so they don’t have to re-write their work to form a final product. The visual math tools help students to understand essential math concepts and build reasoning and problem-solving skills. Judges called Kidspiration the “most powerful and easiest to use tool out there,” and recommended it for elementary school classrooms.
Judges rated this as the best of the classroom training software solutions, and for good reason. The program helps teachers interact with their students individually or as a class, while making the students’ computers and Internet usage a safe environment. The program is easy to use, and includes features such as printer management, Instant Messenger control, keystroke monitoring, a tech console to manage computers, and many other applications.
25 licenses is $1,200
netTrekker d.i. has won over 25 awards for education excellence, and proves to be one of the better organized search and information tools of its kind. The program has a portfolio feature, speech and dictionary resources, and features continue to be added and updated with each edition. Its safe search capabilities and school-friendliness made it a product all of the judges loved; one added that “nothing else comes remotely close.” The search engine includes over 300,000 educator-approved Web sites, providing reliable resources for K-12 students, librarians, teachers, and parents.
$1,730/school for one-year subscription; district and volume pricing discounts available
American Museum of Natural History
OLogy is an excellent, free Web site that allows students to research archaeology, astronomy, and other subjects in conjunction with the American Museum of Natural History. All of our judges loved the Web site, and believed it to be interactive and fun for students.
Pixie is exciting creativity software students can use to further their exploration of the world around them. The program includes a huge variety of tools, templates and capabilities while being easy to use for young students (preschool through early elementary). Additionally, the program works well with outside resources and allows users to fine-tune their presentations through the click of a button. While it would be a great addition to the classroom, Pixie 2 is also an excellent program for children to use in their homes, for fun.