Reviews, August 2014

By: Kevin, Phineas, and Theodore Hogan • Retail Price: $237.95 (Classroom Pack)

Designed for use in second through fifth grades, LEGO Education StoryStarter is a handson learning tool that enhances students’ reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills. One set contains enough elements to equip up to five students with everything they need to start constructing their own stories.

Quality and Effectiveness: Have LEGO bricks ever been cooler? The classic building toy can now be part of everyday classroom work and can even be tied to standards, thanks to the StoryStarter curriculum packages. The lesson plans, objectives, and rubrics are meant to guide teachers toward building physical, mental, and digital literacies, all while having fun. While not the perfect solution, StoryStarter comes close to fulfilling the promise of gamification.

Ease of Use: You’d be hard pressed to find a kid who is not comfortable with LEGO. The challenge comes with the additional element of working with StoryStarter. Students are led into conversation about creating characters and scenes and plots. They then create scenes using the specialized LEGO pieces.

Here’s where it gets tricky. Using a Web cam, digital camera, or smart device, students can then take images of their creations and import them into the software or application. Students then turn into desktop publishers—using a variety of graphic design tools, they are charged with creating dialogue, editing images, and learning basic layout design. While this product is marketed for grades 2-5, we found our fifth-grade reviewer more inclined to use the software, with the second grader more intent on just building with LEGO bricks.

Of course, we can’t deny what most parents and teachers would describe as the “Lego Factor”—hundreds, if not thousands, of tiny plastic pieces that will inevitably find the floor. The Core set does come with a tub designed to store the various pieces but our reviewers never seemed to get a handle on this concept.

Creative Use of Technology: StoryStarter effectively bridges the tactile with the digital and creative fun with rigor and assessment. Logging on to the software is simple and the basic tools are intuitive. Our student reviewers took right to it, although they needed help transferring and editing images and text. All curriculum material is available as PDF and it is well written. The software is a true tool. Students weren’t so much “playing on the computer” as “making stories.”

Suitability for Use in a School Environment: How effective these projects could be depends heavily upon class size and access to technology. LEGO bricks are great but messy. And keeping students on task could be a real challenge. The lesson plans and rubrics are descriptive and solid. As long as the teacher has a good grasp on multimedia skills and a keen imagination, StoryStarter should be a great addition to a classroom.


• The huge popularity of Lego makes it an obvious draw for students to engage with in class.
• The software tools are simple and intuitive, making the bridge between physical and digital play seamless.
• The curriculum materials are well written and easy to follow.

By: Frank Pileiro • Retail Price: $3,395

HotSeat’s Edustation flight simulator is a realistic and full-featured flight simulator that is designed to integrate into all areas of STEM education. It is one of several models sold by the company. This particular model is designed for middle and high school students. It is self-contained and mobile so it can be shared among teachers in a variety of subjects.

Quality and Effectiveness: The Edustation is well built and easily moved. The controls are sturdy and when they are combined with the large screen and headphones, it is easy to get a real-life flight experience. The system is truly a plug-and-play model that gets you up and running quickly. Everything is self-contained, so you just need to plug it in, start up the computer, and open the software.

Ease of Use: The real power behind this product lies in the software. It is powered by Lockheed Martin’s Prepare3D flight software. The teacher can set the software so it can be tailored to a variety of skill levels. You can save and load flights that allow you to start in the air or on the ground. The hands-on controls give you everything you need for flight and the onscreen cockpit is interactive and realistic.

Like any new skill, there is a learning curve, but the software can be adjusted to accommodate an aspiring pilot up to the most seasoned aviator. One thing I really liked is that you can turn off the crashing mode so the plane just “bounces” off the ground and the user can continue the flight.

Creative Use of Technology: The Edustation simulator is a very innovative use of technology because of the realistic environments teachers can create (e.g., weather, terrain, and location) to teach STEM subjects at a variety of skill levels. Edustations can even be networked together to allow students to fly in groups or formations. From small planes to large commercial jets, there are a variety of aircraft to challenge students. While in the “cockpit,” there are controls that allow you to look around and change your views so you can get a real-life experience. Students can actually learn how to fly with the Edustation.

HotSeat is also developing 30 STEM lab lessons for middle and high school students. Each lesson will be aligned to the Common Core standards and will be available in Fall 2014.

Suitability for Use in a School Environment: The Edustation can fit into a variety of curricular areas, especially math and science. The unit is portable and easy to set up and run. The cost for a single unit may be challenging for some districts, but its portability makes it easy to share. The students will be motivated and standing in line to use it.


• The realism of its flight simulation technology allows for flying in a variety of environments and locations.
• It touches on many areas of STEM education, which gives teachers the flexibility to use it for a variety of topics and subjects.
• The product’s portability and ease of use allow it to be shared by more than one classroom. This helps justify the cost for a single unit and reaches more students.

OVERALL RATING: HotSeat Chassis Edustation is a very innovative use of flight simulator technology that makes it fun to learn more about STEM subjects.

By: Carol S. Holzberg • Retail Price: Pricing will differ from one to another based on institution FTE count. For large-scale deployments in K-12 classrooms and computer labs, Adobe recommends that schools purchase Creative Cloud products under an Adobe Education Enterprise Agreement (EEA).

In early summer 2013, Adobe revamped its product line by converting its desktop applications into a subscription-based online experience known as Creative Cloud (CC). All applications except for Acrobat were upgraded or enhanced. Adobe introduced a new service called Typekit, providing CC subscribers with access to a growing library of high-quality fonts to use in their Web projects. Adobe also unveiled a new social community called Behance, where members can show work in progress, get feedback, and share resources for use with applications like InDesign CC and Flash Professional CC.

Quality and Effectiveness: If you purchase a CC product subscription, not only do you get a full working application installed on your computer, it also updates and upgrades each subscribed product as it becomes available. The previous version of Adobe’s Creative Suite 6 gave licensed users free access only to “updates.” Upgrades containing new features, were available for an additional fee.

Ease of Use: Most Adobe products share a similar look and feel, with common toolbars, drop-down menus, commands, panels, keyboard shortcuts, and tools like the eyedropper, smart guides, paste-in-place, and edit. Tools in one program may appear in several others. This means there is an increased comfort level and a decreased learning curve for users exploring each of the applications.

Creative Use of Technology: Enhancement and new features make Creative Cloud products more versatile than ever before. For example, Photoshop CC now features a shake reduction feature that helps sharpen an image by reducing the blur from handheld camera motion. InDesign features a QR Code creator (Quick Response Code) that lets you create a graphic data code that can link to a Web hyperlink, plain text, text message, email or business card. It can also be resized, colored and edited without compromising quality. Adobe Illustrator CC comes with a Touch Type tool for more precise type manipulation of each letter in a text selection. There are too many features and enhancements to mention them all in this brief overview. Suffice it to say that the Adobe CC brush has touched all tools except for Acrobat.

Suitability for Use in a School Environment: School personnel installing Adobe CC products on local computers should understand that an Education Enterprise Agreement governs product installation in new ways.


• Students work with the same industry standard tools that experts use.
• Updates and upgrades are free and available upon release.
• Creative activities produce output for mobile devices in addition to desktops, laptops, and print publications.

OVERALL RATING: Students who work in collaborative settings with real-world, industry standard applications such as Adobe Creative Cloud can integrate digital media and technology tools into every project.

By: David Kapuler • Retail Price: iPad & Android app: $3.99

Digital Passport for iOS and Android is an expansion of the Web-based game that helps students in 3rd-5th grades learn skills around being safe, smart, and responsible online. Based on lessons from Common Sense Media’s K-12 digital literacy and citizenship curriculum, Digital Passport uses games and videos to address online safety and security, cyberbullying, responsible cellphone use, safe searching, and respecting creative work. Students learn and advance through topic areas, collecting badges at their own pace, to ultimately earn their digital passports.

Quality and Effectiveness: Not only is Digital Passport a good mobile app for learning online safety skills, it’s perfect for meeting CIPA needs. Because it is loaded onto their mobile devices, students learn appropriate online behavior at home and teachers can use it to flip their classrooms.

The app includes an educational portal that allows educators to track and generate student reports to assess their learning and helps schools meet E-Rate and CIPA requirements.

Ease of Use: Designed for kids in 3rd-5th grades, Digital Passport uses videos to explain the different elements of being a digitally responsible student. There are five lessons for each student to take (communication, privacy, bullying, safe Web surfing, and creative credit). These lessons are broken up into three progressive stages to ensure that the students become more successful as they complete each stage and learn the corresponding lesson. There is also a helpful Web site and forum for parents and educators looking for help implementing Digital Passport in their classrooms.

Creative Use of Technology: Digital Passport uses an inviting combination of video and cartoon animations to teach cybersafety.

Suitability for Use in a School Environment: This app should be an essential tool for technology educators to use in their curricula. It’s very easy to use, tracks student progress, and generates reports. Also, Digital Passport qualifies for Apple’s Volume Purchasing Program, which allows for big discounts when purchasing apps in bulk.


• Importance and Subject Matter: The app focuses on online safety for students, which is a requirement of CIPA compliance.
• Educational Portal: Digital Passport allows educators to track student progress and generate reports.
• Innovative Use of Technology: The app combines videos and animated characters to create a fun environment for students to learn essential skills.

OVERALL RATING: Digital Passport is an essential app to use when teaching students the importance of online cybersafety.

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