March 2010 • Retail Price: $25 per year, per student. School and district-wide pricing available

“Master the Core” is today’s battle cry and with an army of requirements out there, teachers are always on the prowl for some much-needed reinforcements. One of the best tools out there for Common Core math standards is Wowzers, a cloud-based learning platform for grades 3-5 (a new platform will be available for grades 6-8 next year). This platform adapts to the learning style of each student for a truly personalized learning experience.

Quality and Effectiveness: Wowzers provides teachers with assessments, lessons, practices, games, virtual quests, quizzes, and even printable homework correlated to national or individual state standards. A powerful dashboard tracks student improvement with data-driven analytics, giving teachers a real-time view of each student’s progress. This tool makes it easy to up the ante or dial it down, depending on individual results.Educators can focus on the standards but for students, it’s all about the fun. Personal avatars take them on animated, story-based adventures as they progress from math practice to math mastery. As a bonus, students can personalize their avatars and space ships called Buzzpods by using coins earned along the way.

Ease of Use: One of Wowzers’ strengths is its simplicity of use. This latest version has a new Wizard feature, which allows educators to choose the adaptive and assessment features that best fit the skill level of their individual students. From the Navigation toolbar, teachers can access the dashboard, add a classroom, see curriculum, create small groups, and design targeted, customized playlists. Also, for big picture planning, Wowzers allows teachers to plan an entire year’s curriculum in five-day increments, making it easy for teachers to assign units, track progress, and create reports. This feature helps keep both parents and administrators in the loop.

Creative Use of Technology: The new Wowzers is now more intuitive, with a continuously adaptive learning system that uses artificial intelligence. This system gives students targeted “nudges” when it senses they are having trouble and provides appropriate remediation. New for the 2013-2014 school year is a complete sound makeover. Highlights include sounds associated with visual cues (i.e. audio “markers”), audio features that link distinctive sounds to specific program components, and a better overall sound quality, including enhanced voice-to-speech recognition.

Suitability for Use in a School Environment: Wowzers, robust content is specifically designed to help teachers understand the standards and share them with their students. Each week’s curriculum offers a video preview of daily concepts and activities, plus additional downloadable homework and other supporting materials. Because today’s school environment extends beyond the classroom, Wowzers is now supported on any mobile device, including iOS and Android platforms. This accessibility gives students anytime, anywhere access to its extensive content.


• Content automatically increases in difficulty based on the student’s performance. This allows students to work at their own pace while focusing on teacher-chosen priorities.
• Detailed, real-time reports allow teachers to see exactly how each student is doing every day. This also helps them to tailor their lessons to each individual student’s needs.
• Full-year math curriculum is displayed in easily digestible increments correlated to individual state or national standards, with downloadable supplemental materials available for each lesson.

OVERALL RATING: As states implement new standards, it’s important to realize that the best way to educate teachers and students isn’t to bombard them but to involve them in the process. This is a concept that Wowzers handily puts into action. Teachers gain flexibility, control, and comprehensive curriculum guidance. Students can personalize their adventures, enjoy interactive experiences, and proceed at their own pace. Wowzers motivates students and immerses them in an engaging world that they help to create. They are more open and eager to conquer new territory above and beyond where their Buzzpods will carry them.

Gaggle has taken root and is growing here at James Weldon Johnson College Prep Middle School. As spring approaches, we are very busy getting our students ready for the FCAT state testing exams. So much of the students’ and faculty’s time is spent on last-minute preparations. Parts of these tests are done online so the time students have spent with Gaggle has been a good background for this preparation. Since our spring break occurred at the end of March, we especially didn’t want our students to zero down during their time away from class. I sent out a reminder to all faculty members to share with them that a good way of helping students over the break was to send them reminders and reviews through Gaggle.

I have been using the Gaggle discussion boards to start some of the topics that I will be bringing into the classroom for further development in the next quarter. This helps my students to start thinking about real-world situations and see how other class members feel about the same topics. During the last quarter, I taught my students to use the skills that they learned from challenge-based and problem-based learning to explore possible ways to solve real-world problems. These situations range from sustaining the environment to developing a brain user’s guide.

Another positive advantage of our Gaggle adventure is that it encourages our students to actively use their email accounts. In class, when we need to register for Web 2.0 tools, they can use their Gaggle email accounts without compromising their home accounts. Also, many students automatically use their email accounts to communicate with their teachers. I have had to be sure to check my account on a daily basis because students will send me email there rather than to my school account. Many students take advantage of blogging tools to maintain a presence in the Gaggle blogosphere. Some have some very thoughtful things to say and receive comments in the same thoughtful manner.

One of the favorite Gaggle tools among students and faculty is the Gaggle Tube videos. When I pointed out to faculty members that there is an abundance of videos already catalogued according to subject or discipline, they were initially surprised. Later on, they were excited because they were able to find things that complemented their class lessons. These videos are also great to differentiate class work for students who may need additional visual aids for review and practice.

I am looking forward to what the faculty can do once the pressures of state-mandated testing are over. Then we can really focus on being more creative with our lesson plans during the final quarter of the year. I am planning to really push including Gaggle in those plans on a weekly and daily basis. The teachers who have been able to really explore it and use it have done so with excitement and creativity. There is no reason why the rest of the faculty can’t learn to do so as well.

Richard Fair teaches Computer Science at the James Weldon Johnson College Prep Middle School in Jacksonville, FL. • Retail Price: $29.99

The TI-Nspire iPad app from Texas Instruments (TI) can teach high school students the most difficult high school math concepts using an inviting and engaging format. The app includes the same features found in TI graphing calculators, and includes an interactive keyboard that toggles between math notation and QWERTY configurations. Students can use the app to touch and interact with shapes, graphs, and objects on the screen to help them see multiple representations of problems. They can create documents, save documents, and share items using e-mail, iTunes, and other file-sharing options. Using the built-in iPad camera, students can take photos, import images into the app, and overlay graphs and equations to illustrate abstract math principles in the physical world.

Quality and Effectiveness: The TI-Nspire app allows students to create and complete the same work they once did on the traditional graphing calculator on the iPad. The engaging content and interface allows students to achieve a deeper theoretical understanding of math. The TI-Nspire app gives students a visual perspective and understanding of what graphing and formulas look like. This helps them integrate abstract math concepts with reallife scenarios, which helps teachers answer the question: Why are we learning this?

Ease of Use: The TINspire app includes helpful professional development so teachers get the most out of this power-packed program. Students will enjoy the app’s interactivity as well as the ability to add their own images to the library. Teachers can use the app to create homework that can be used seamlessly on all TI-Nspire platforms. The app allows students to visualize information in many formats, giving those students who would normally have struggled a chance to understand.

Creative Use of Technology: TI has created an app that students can use throughout high school. Teachers can now creatively teach algebra, geometry, and pre-calculus while keeping students’ attention. The app engages students by allowing them to use features like touching, moving, grab-it interactions, and sharing with peers.

Suitability for Use in a School Environment: TI-Nspire is a perfect app for schools with 1:1 iPad programs. It is well-priced and allows students to enhance their creativity on even the most challenging math topics.


• Easy to use
• Allows teachers to differentiate instruction
• Connects real-world math problems to abstract math concepts

OVERALL RATING: TINspire does a great job using everyday problems to provide newbies and more advanced students with an equal opportunity to grasp abstract math concepts. or • change to: Subscriptions start at $525 for up to 700 students and $0.75 for each additional students. District-wide discounts available.

Britannica School is a new online information solution designed for classrooms in grades preK-12 that provides multimedia resources for lessons, lesson planning, curriculum support, student and teacher research, and homework help.

Quality and Effectiveness: Britannica School streamlines student research while providing multiple opportunities for differentiated learning. Through one portal, students can search articles, images, videos, dictionaries, magazines, Web’s Best Sites (with a snapshot of each Web page), primary sources, and e-books. All of these resources are available through study guides, the Project Gutenberg, and the Year in Review Timeline. At this time, over 140,000 articles and thousands of videos, audios, maps, illustrations, and photos are available to view and download. Many of these items are also aligned with Common Core and state standards. According to Britannica, thousands of articles, images, and multimedia elements are added every quarter.

Ease of Use: Perhaps Britannica School’s most attractive feature is its ability to differentiate content for the individual learner in many ways. There are three levels of material, plus Britannica Learning Zone for preK- 2nd grade, which offers learning materials for every student. All article results are labeled with reading level indicators, which make it easy to select the portal appropriate to each student’s reading, grade, and age level.

Creative Use of Technology: Because it is an online tool, Britannica can be viewed on any Internet-capable device. The display will automatically adjust for optimal viewing on any screen, from the largest computer monitor to an iPad to a smartphone, with equal clarity, readability, and access to all accessibility tools. Students can explore and browse through broad subject headings, search for specific topics, and easily explore related subjects. Once they find an article, a convenient icon allows them to tag favorites, share news via e-mail, add to a bibliography, hear the article read aloud as it is highlighted, and view any related images, videos, or articles.

Suitability for Use in a School Environment: Since students can access resources from a variety of sources, including journals, Web sites, multimedia, and primary sources, in addition to the encyclopedia articles, Britannica School promotes well-rounded research and allows students to make connections between related topics. Lesson planning and interactive resources help teachers supplement lessons with interesting and standards-based materials. By providing a variety of text complexity and multimedia content, Britannica School supports the Common Core standards, which stipulate that students should be able to read complex informational text and collect, analyze, and evaluate diverse text and multimedia resources.


• Supports differentiated instruction and is specially designed to enable students to move to higher or lower reading levels easily
• Provides a wide range of resources through a consolidated search feature
• Delivers current and authentic content, which is edited and reviewed regularly by leading content experts, on subjects that are aligned to the new Common Core state standards, and enables teachers to build lessons around those standards • Retail Price: $399.99

Microsoft Office Standard 2013 and Microsoft Office Professional 2013 are two tools for achieving learning goals. Installed for use on a single PC, these suites enable users to create and share written work, spreadsheets, charts, and electronic slideshows more easily than ever before.

Quality and Effectiveness: With the release of Office 2013, suite applications work well on a range of devices, including, but not limited to, laptops, netbooks, and desktops. New Office 2013 features support touch screens, Windows tablets, Windows phones, and Windows 8 computers. Thankfully for schools and districts using older technology, suite applications can also be run with Windows 7. Office 2013 applications work with Microsoft’s cloud service, called SkyDrive. This featureenables users with a free Microsoft account (previously called “Windows Live ID”) to sign in from any computer with Internet access to view, edit, download, or share stored files.

Ease of Use: The main Office 2013 products (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Publisher) all have a similar look and feel, making it easier to upgrade from Office 2007 or 2010. They sport the same colorless Office 2013 ribbon interface and many of the same dropdown menus. If you’re new to the Office environment, be prepared to spend time getting started, as each program in the suite is an industry standard, with many features and customizable options.

Creative Use of Technology: Office 2013 boasts several other new features. My favorite feature in Word is the ability to convert PDF files into Word-editable documents. Word, Excel, and PowerPoint include new apps for the “Office” option on the “Insert” ribbon. You can simply click the button to visit the Office Store to locate apps extending the functionality of Word, Excel, or PowerPoint directly from the application. For Word these include Word of the Day, Search the Web (using the Google Search engine), Lucid Chart Mindmaps, and more. Some apps are free while others require payment.

Suitability for Use in a School Environment: Installing Office Standard 2013 on compatible machines in a school environment should pose no particular problems because the volume license agreement lets you download the full suite, complete with the installation key. Office 2010 runs on Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, and a terminal service client. Office 2013 runs only on Windows 7 or newer Windows 8 devices. Moving to Office 2013 is not an option for older computers.


• Supports 21st-century online skills
• Includes several important new features, such as Read Mode and Reading view, PDF editing, improved support for embedding multimedia elements, and Excel’s Quick Analysis feature with charts and graphs
• Offers cross-platform support for documents saved in Word 2013, Excel 2013, and PowerPoint 2013; these documents can be opened, viewed, edited, saved to the SkyDrive, and created with Web apps

OVERALL RATING: Demanding hardware requirements and Internet bandwidth limitations may deter you or your school from upgrading to Office 2013. However, Microsoft’s flagship productivity suite, with enhanced support for a variety of media types, has many tools to help students develop and practice important 21st-century skills, especially creativity, communication, collaboration, and the ability to manage information gathered from many sources.

More Slideshows
  • November 2014, What’s New
  • October 2014, What’s New
  • September 2014, What’s New
  • Reviews, August 2014
  • ISTE 2014 What's New
  • ISTE 2014 Best of Show
  • July 2014, What’s New
  • May 2014, What’s New
  • June 2014, What’s New
  • April 2014, What’s New
  • Product Reviews, March 2014
  • March 2014, What’s New
  • Product Reviews, Feb 2014
  • February 2014, What’s New
  • January 2014, What’s New
  • Awards of Excellence
  • October 2013, What’s New
  • September 2013, What’s New
  • Special Supplement: ISTE 2013
  • March 2010
  • Portraits of Learning 2008 Winners
  • Reviews, October 2012
  • Reviews, September 2012
  • Best New Software
  • Best New Hardware
  • September 2012, What’s New
  • March 2013, What’s New
  • ISTE 2012 REDUX
  • Reviews, February 2013
  • November 2012, What’s New
  • Reviews, May 2012
  • November 2011 What's New
  • July 2013, What’s New
  • June 2013, What’s New
  • April 2013, What’s New
  • Reviews, March 2013
  • Best Upgraded Software
  • Best Upgraded Hardware
  • October 2012, What’s New
  • Reviews, August 2012
  • Reviews, July 2012
  • What’s New: New tools for schools.
  • Reviews, June 2012
  • June 2012, What’s New
  • May 2012, What’s New
  • Reviews, April 2012
  • April 2012, What’s New
  • Reviews
  • March 2012, What’s New
  • Reviews
  • February 2012, What’s New
  • October 2011 What’s New
  • Awards of Excellence
  • October 2011 Reviews
  • Responsive Solutions: Student-response Systems
  • April 2010
  • February 2010
  • January 2010
  • Products : July 2009
  • Put to the Test : June 2009
  • WHATSNEW : MAY 2009
  • Get On with the Show : May 2009
  • Put to the Test : May 2009
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