Awards of Excellence
12/15/2007 By: Amy Poftak and Susan McLester
from Technology & Learning
A Tradition of Excellence
When T&L ran its first Awards of Excellence program back in 1982, Seymour Papert's Logo programming language was all the rage, and Classroom Computer News (this magazine's birth name) was printing pages of code for those early adopters in schools eager to share learning activities designed for the Apple 11, Radio Shack's TRS-80, the Commodore PET, the IBM PC, and other groundbreaking computers. That year we recognized Scholastic's Bank Street Writer, The Learning Company's Moptown, and McGraw Hill's Geography Search, among other "best of the best" products.
Though the technologies have advanced at a dizzying rate over the past 25 years, this awards program has remained much the same. Educators are still at the core of the judging process (see "Awards of Excellence 2007 Judges"), with hours of good old-fashioned test-driving conducted in school labs and with detailed write-ups provided to our editorial staff. The bottom-line criteria are also the same: Is the program a "best of breed" or a groundbreaker? Is it pedagogically sound? A crucial solution? User-friendly? Innovative? And, as with the judges from the earliest days of the program, today's evaluators bring to the task a sense of enthusiasm and passion for what they do.
At this quarter-century mark in our Awards of Excellence program, we are happy to recognize 54 high-quality offerings for the 21st-century education market. From 120 entries, our 32 educator-judges and editorial team had the tough job of whittling down this broad selection of practical and innovative tools and resources.
This year's two top winners showcase differentiated instruction—a focus on teaching core skills in a selfpaced online environment and a goal of measurably improving student achievement. Additional trends spotted in this year's crop of products include software solutions for managing and monitoring classroom computers—an essential in this age of increasing laptop and one-to-one programs. Cool tools that encourage innovation in lesson design and assessment are also on the rise, with e-portfolio applications and a whole new palette of creative interactive elements that educators can integrate into the curriculum to engage their "digital native" students. As well, content remains king, with many winners offering deep wells of curriculum resources that can be accessed within secure environments.
Judges across the board loved Achieve3000's exceptional suite of Web-based literacy products for elementary and middle school students (KidBiz3000), high schoolers (TeenBiz3000), and adult learners (Spark3000). Thanks to a proprietary software engine that delivers individualized instruction, learners can work at their own pace and reading level to improve vocabulary, comprehension, reading fluency, and writing skills. Judges appreciated Achieve3000's "fun and creative content for differentiated learning." One added: "This is the standout product of
Web-based; site license fee varies based on enrollment. www.achieve3000.com
In a sea of supplemental learning products, SmartHelp distinguishes itself by combining artificial intelligenceâ€“driven tutoring with live tutors. Offering one-to-one online instruction for students needing extra help in math, the program uses diagnostic tests to identify appropriate content and then guides students through problems in manageable steps. When computerized hints don't work, students can connect with a human tutor via live chat. In addition to praising its clean interface, clear audio connection, and support for English language learners, judges found SmartHelp to be a sound investment in "comprehensive and differentiated math help."
Web-based; $50 per student annually. www.apangea.com
Digital Whiteboard Tools
This interactive whiteboard software designed specifically for young learners offers a wealth of resources, from kid-friendly fraction creators and calculators to a searchable library of images, backgrounds, sounds, and Flash activities to aid lesson building. The software also makes it easy to integrate formative assessment into lessons when used with Promethean's Activote devices.
Mac/Win; included with purchase of Promethean Activboard; grades Kâ€“3. www.prometheanworld.com
Sanford Brands â€“ mimio
Praised for its portability and affordability, mimio is a device that attaches to any regular whiteboard (up to 5' x 8'), connects to a PC, and when used with a projector, allows users to control applications and documents directly from the board. Add the mimio Capture Kit for electronically recording whiteboard content and you've got a "good, low-cost alternative to a full interactive whiteboard," said judges.
($999â€“$1,999 discount pricing).
English Picture Dictionary for Spanish Speakers
This two-volume series of interactive books works with LeapFrog's Quantum LeapPad plus Microphone to teach Kâ€“5 English Language Learners more than 1,000 essential vocabulary words organized into 45 themes. Evaluators appreciated the product's attention to multiple learning styles (via visual cues), native language translation, and a pronunciation "record and playback" feature.
Interactive books for use with LeapPad; $144; grades Kâ€“5. www.leapfrogschoolhouse.com
Pearson Knowledge Technologies
Using Pearson's automated text analysis technology, which can read, assess, and score
content, this easy-to-navigate software provides detailed feedback on style, mechanics, and grammar, along with how well students covered key ideas. For teachers concerned about plagiarism, the program conveniently flags writing that borrows heavily from an original source.
Web-based; prices start at less than $20 per student per year; grades 4â€“12.
Destiny Enhanced Content
Follett Software Company
Follett's innovative tools for supercharging online catalogs include a State Standards Service for browsing correlated content; One Search for easy access to multiple online resources; TitlePeek, which displays book cover images, published reviews, and more; and Webpath Express Service, which pairs library records with links to relevant Web content.
Web-based; price varies based on district size.
Destiny Textbook Manager
Follett Software Company
Destiny Textbook Manager lets cash-conscious educators keep better track of their largest expenditure: textbooks. In addition to finding the product "well laid out," judges gave top marks to the program's bar-code scanning and reporting features that make it easy for districts to detail the quantity, condition, and location of their textbook inventory. Works alone or as part of a Follett's multiproduct Resource Management Solution.
Web-based; price varies based on district size. www.fsc.follett.com
Math and Science
Discovery Education Science
Appealing graphics, support for multiple learning styles, and fun activities were key reasons why judges made this online resource offering middle school science curricula a winner. Evaluators were partial to the program's virtual labs, which use topics such as noise pollution and plant growth to put students' scientific inquiry skills to the test.
Web-based; $1,995 per year per school. www.discoveryeducation.com
Lesson Tutorial Videos
Holt, Rinehart and Winston
Designed to complement the Holt Mathematics Student Editions for middle and high school, this product's tutorials are "excellent for review or moving ahead," noted one judge. A split screen allows students to simultaneously see video of a master math teacher explaining lesson concepts along with video of the problem being worked out on a board. Additional screens show concept diagrams, lesson objectives, and relevant vocabulary.
Mac/Win; $56.05; grades 6â€“12. www.hrw.com
See and Learn Science
"Fun," "easy to use," and "cost effective" were why judges liked this hardware/software product, which includes a 300X magnification digital microscope, software, and a teacher's guide. Students can snap pictures and shoot videos of their experiments; add notes, drawings, and special effects; and create lab reports modeled on the scientific method.
Windows; $79; grades Kâ€“6. www.apte.com
"Easy to use for young students," "covers topics well," and "effective use of pictures and voice" were some of the compliments judges paid to BrainPOP Jr., an online destination offering animated reading, writing, math, science, health, and social studies movies. The quirky animations come with age-appropriate quizzes, games, and vocabulary. Helpful teaching and family activities round out this school and home-friendly product.
Web-based; price varies; grades Kâ€“3. www.brainpop.com
Indigo Learning System
This formative assessment solution uses handheld computers and a wireless network to deliver tests to students. Evaluators liked the system's flexibility—being able to create assessments by dipping into the built-in test bank, which contains more than 10,000 questions aligned to state standards, or by importing their own content. Easy installation, clean navigation, and uncluttered displays were other winning qualities cited by judges.
Handheld; $2,695 (16 units), $3,495 (24 units), $4,295 (32 units). www.learningsoft.net
InspireData is a powerful tool for helping students visualize, investigate, and understand data. Using imported data or data from the program's 50-plus curriculum databases, students can analyze data displayed in multiple formats, including Venn, stack, pie, and axis plots. Judges deemed the program a "fun way to look at data" with "good built-in help," and "flexible enough to be used with individual or group or whole
Mac/Win; $79; grades 4â€“12. www.inspiration.com
Leapster Portable Technology Center
Evaluators predicted this product would be a huge hit with young learners. Adapted from the Leapster system—LeapFrog's handheld device for the early grades—this product delivers engaging reading, math, spelling, and critical thinking activities in a "video game-like environment." Content cartridges used in the devices track student progress and are designed to adapt to a student's abilities.
Proprietary hardware/software; $845 for base kit, includes five handhelds, seven cartridges, 21 student practice books; grades Kâ€“ 2. www.leapfrogschoolhouse.com
eLearning Systems International
Judges gave a nod to this online application's solid use of rich media and primary sources in delivering social studies and science lessons. Ideal for student self-study or whole-class instruction, the program lets teachers assign lessons, track progress, grade lessons, and provide feedback. WebLessons currently features 200 geography, U.S. history, and world history lessons, and more than 60 earth and life sciences lessons.
Web-based; prices start at $500 per teacher; grades 3â€“12. www.elearningsystems.org
Orchard Gold Star
Siboney Learning Group
Robust formative assessment software offering targeted instruction in math, reading, writing, language arts, and science, Orchard Gold Star helps districts provide differentiated instruction and prepare students for high-stakes tests. The product allows teachers to pinpoint students' strengths and weaknesses and create standards-based assignments and assessments that can be customized to meet specific needs.
Mac/Win; $49,770; grades Kâ€“9. www.siboneylearninggroup.com
Multimedia Creation Tools
Adobe Creative Suite 3 Web Premium
This do-it-all Web design and development suite combines the newest versions of Adobe flagship products Dreamweaver, Flash, Photoshop, Fireworks, Illustrator, Contribute, and Acrobat into one powerfully integrated package. Judges noted this product is a sound investment for educators wanting to create Web sites, interactive experiences, and mobile device content.
Mac/Win; $1,599. www.adobe.com
Corel Painter X
A comprehensive painting and illustration program appropriate for the high school level, Corel Painter X offers digital brushes, art materials, and textures that would appeal to any teacher or student with an artistic bent. Users will appreciate the software's advanced composition tools as well as the RealBristle Painting System feature, which simulates an actual paintbrush complete with "virtual bristles" that blend and splay.
Mac/Win; $99 for education edition, academic licensing available. www.corel.com
Camtasia Studio 4
This 2005 Awards of Excellence winner—praised as an easy way to cre ate full-motion video recordings that can be used for "just in time" training—continues to "bring it." The software lets teachers record lectures and create multimedia presentations that can be exported to multiple formats, including streaming media, MP3 audio, and iPod video. Version 4 upgrades include closed captioning and a new quiz and survey interface.
Mac/Win/Web; $179. www.techsmith.com
Harbinger Knowledge Products
Short for "rapid activity builder," Raptivity offers an innovative approach to adding interactivity to e-learning content. The product features a library of hundreds of interactive elements—brainteasers, software simulations, visual effects—that users can customize and then easily incorporate (as a Flash file) into commonly used e-learning tools. The judges' verdict: a great tool for revving up curriculum materials without having to know programming.
Windows; $750 (Essential Version) or $1,995 (Standard Version). www.harbingerknowledge.com
Online Communication and Collaboration
Blackboard Kâ€“12 Starter Edition
Blackboard Kâ€“12 Starter Edition from course management system giant Blackboard is aimed at districts in the early throes of creating an e-learning program who want to "sample" what Blackboard is all about. Providing a secure online learning platform for up to 2,000 users, the product offers well-designed curriculum delivery, discussion, assessment, and parent access capabilities.
Web-based; contact company for annual subscription pricing. www.blackboard.com
This e-portfolio and social networking platform received an A+ from judges for its "extreme ease of use." Providing a secure online environment where teachers and students can create, publish, discuss, and archive their work, Digication is a great tool for showcasing writing, photos, movies, and more—and for encouraging community discussion around them. Educator-friendly features include grading, attendance, and calendaring tools.
Web-based; free for first 1,000 users at any school. www.digication.com
Gaggle launched its secure student e-mail service nearly a decade ago. Since then, the product has grown in leaps and bounds, adding message boards, chat rooms, file storage, personal Web pages, blogs, language translation, and an audio feedback feature that reads email aloud. Best of all, Gaggle. Net's tools are filtered for inappropriate content and images, and let teachers monitor student activity.
Web-based; free version available, subscriptions based on price per account. www.gaggle.net
Questia Media America
Questia School offers three modules: 15,000 full-text books and lesson plans for high schoolers; Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate course content; and professional
resources for educators that range from classroom management strategies to current brain research. Judges raved about the automatic citation and online note-taking tools that come with each module—as well as the "in-box" feature where teachers can aggregate resources and students can pick up assignments.
Web-based; price varies by student enrollment; grades 9â€“12, adults. www.questia.com
Social Studies and Life Skills
Discovery Education Health
Offering a well-rounded collection of videos, lesson plans, teacher's guides, and worksheets covering topics ranging from nutrition to mental health, Discovery Education Health received rave reviews as a health and prevention resource for Kâ€“12 educators. Judges gave a special nod to the breadth and depth of the lessons, as well as the quality of the videos.
Web-based; $1,695 annual per school. www.discoveryeducation.com
Rand McNally Classroom
"This is a great tool for teaching geography," wrote one judge of this Web site designed to sharpen students' geography, social studies, and history knowledge. Packed with engaging activities, games, puzzles, lesson plans, and assessments tied to the 18 National Geography Standards, the site boasts an impressive collection of reference and thematic maps and more than 100 American and world history maps.
Web-based; price averages $.99 per student. www.randmcnally.com
U.S. and Global Economics
This online course surveying key economic principles received high marks from judges for its "excellent content," "friendly graphics," and "good use of technology" such as animations. The curriculum covers a full scope and sequence—featuring a range of topics from Keynesian economics to national debt—is aligned to state and national standards and meets high school graduation requirements.
Web-based; price varies depending on the type of implementation and the number of students using the course. www.apexlearning.com
System and Classroom Management
8e6 Mobile Client
Schools with laptop programs will welcome this remote filtering software that works on mobile computers even when they leave a district's network. The upshot: schools are able to enforce acceptable-use policies and filter-enforcing laws such as CIPA and HIPAA if laptops go home with students. The application is also designed to stop spyware, malware, and other security threats from entering the fray.
Mac/Win; $2.40 to $16 per year per user. www.8e6.com
DyKnow Monitor 5.0
This tool allows districts and schools to effectively monitor and manage electronic classroom environments. Judges found it easy to block specific applications and URLs and to view computer stations by location or by student log in. Additional kudos went to Monitor for its seamless integration with DyKnow Vision.
Windows; price varies based on license type and volume. www.dyknow.com
For schools looking for a reliable way to manage and monitor classroom computers, LanSchool is a cost-effective option, said judges. Teachers can remotely view and take control of student machines, send messages to students as they work, and block Web browsing. Judges liked that the program was simple to install and performed well even on sluggish networks.
Windows/ Nova 5000; $599 per classroom. www.lanschool.com
Holt Lab Generator CD-ROM for Holt Science & Technology
Holt, Rinehart and Winston
Designed to work with Holt middle and high school textbook content, this CD-ROM contains hundreds of science and technology labs that are searchable by keyword, type, difficulty, lab duration, and National Science Education Standards. Applauded for its "detailed help with labs that can sometimes feel overwhelming to teachers,"
judges singled out the program's flexibility—teachers can edit the labs using Microsoft Word and even add non-Holt labs from their own repertoire.
Mac/Win; $49.95. www.hrw.com
HotChalk is a tool that lets teachers create an online class space for posting lesson plans, homework assignments, and grades. Other features include the SwapShop lesson-sharing platform, an online "teacher's lounge," and access to McGraw-Hill professional development courses. Thanks to funding, this product is free.
Online; free. www.hotchalk.com
Educators can craft their home on the Web using TeacherWeb's customizable page templates for posting homework, schedules, grades, quizzes, and Web links, to name a few. One judge wrote that this "affordable and easy-to-use" product was an excellent way to get even non-techie teachers creating their own Web pages. Another commented that it was an outstanding vehicle for communicating with parents.
Web-based; $27 per year per teacher, quantity discounts available.
AceReader Pro Deluxe Plus
Tapped as last year's top winner for its superb ability to assess reading levels and encourage more proficient reading both online and off, AceReader Pro Deluxe Plus works by training eye movement to scan quickly across an electronic page. Ease of use, text-to-speech features, and the ability to import and export custom content that can then be shared with other AceReader users only add to this product's effectiveness.
Mac/Win; $129.95. www.stepware.com
Designed to work with Promethean's Activclassroom whiteboard system, this lesson creation application gives a helping hand to Kâ€“12 teachers looking for ways to seriously enliven their lessons. Resources include lesson-building templates; standards-aligned resources, images, Web sites, and video for incorporation into lessons; and a "pack-and-go" feature that facilitates lesson-and resource-sharing across schools and districts.
Mac/Win; included with purchase of Promethean Activboard.
Adobe Captivate 2
An Awards of Excellence winner in 2005, Adobe Captivate (formerly Macromedia Captivate) continues to excel as a tool for cre ating high-quality interactive content—from simulations to
tutorials—using an intuitive point-and-click interface. New features include closed captioning, a simulation wizard, and the ability to import Flash video into presentations. (Editor's note: Adobe introduced Captivate 3 in July 2007.)
Windows; $199 (education pricing). www.adobe.com
With more than 30,000 tutorial movies covering more than 100 software applications, Atomic Learning remains one of the top online training tools for educators and students. Judges praised the program's "straight-forward" purpose, "cost-effectiveness," and "accessibility from school or from home."
Web-based; prices start at $1.25 per user for a site license. http://atomiclearning.com
Connect-ED is a hosted communication service that lets administrators record, schedule, send, and track personalized voice messages to parents, staff, and students. With its multiple uses—from informing parents about key events and meetings to tracking down absent students at home—the program stands
out for its quick and reliable performance, ease of use, and support for sending messages in multiple languages.
Web-based; $1,000 set-up fee, plus annual fee per school ($100) and per student ($3.60).
Curriculum Pathways 2008
First honored by Technology & Learning in 2000, this product continues to provide outstanding support for educators teaching English, math, science, history, and Spanish to the middle and high school grades. With hundreds of self-paced activities that incorporate simulations and other innovative tools, plus more than 600 lessons and 5,000 teacher selected Web resources, Curriculum Pathways keeps getting better over the years.
Mac/Win; subscriptions cost $5 to $8 per student annually. grades 6â€“12.
Destiny Library Manager
Follett Software Company
Destiny Library Manager earned a spot in this year's legacy lineup for its continued excellence in streamlining—all on one server—the management of library services, from offering easy access to curriculum resources to providing onestop shopping for circulation, cataloging, and searching. Judges were particularly wowed this year by the program's user-friendly interface and "excellent information links."
Web-based; price varies based on district size. www.fsc.follett.com
DyKnow Vision 5.0
"This is one of the better products for one-to-one laptop programs," opined one judge. Easy to install and easy to use, this presentation and evaluation software designed for computer labs and one-to-one classrooms promotes student engagement through collaborative note taking—teachers can automatically deliver notes to students that they can then annotate—as well as student response tools.
Windows; price varies based on license type and volume.
Discovery Education streaming Plus
Discovery Education streaming Plus builds on the awardwinning unitedstreaming video-on-demand service, offering more than 7,700 full-length videos, thousands of audio, photographic, and reference resources, plus access to top-rated educational programming including Ken Burns's The Civil War. Judges rated the videos, lessons, supplemental materials, and teacher tools as "excellent" across the board.
Web-based; $2,495 (grades Kâ€“8) or $2,995 (grades 9â€“12) per building.
Elluminate Live! 7.0 Academic Edition
This Web tool allows e-learning instructors to supplement asynchronous communication with live collaboration and conferencing, making it possible for teachers to lecture, facilitate oral discussions, and administer quizzes to students regardless of geography or connection speed. Version 7.0 enhancements include comprehensive ADA 508C compliance.
Mac/Win/Solaris/Linux; $67 per seat per month.
Faronics Deep Freeze
A repeat winner for its work-station configurations and its ability to keep out viruses and unwanted programs, Deep Freeze once again impressed judges as a powerful application for keeping computers organized and trouble free. For districts wanting to reduce IT support costs, this product comes highly recommended.
Mac/Win/Linux; price varies depending on size of district.
Interwrite Workspace Software
This software houses an arsenal of resources and tools designed to work with Interwrite's interactive whiteboard and student response system products. Teachers can engage students using more than 4,000 instructional videos, images, and animations, as well as a library of road-tested lessons contributed by Interwrite's user community.
Win/Mac/Linux; $249 or free with purchase of Interwrite products.
Kid Works Deluxe
Updated with a fresh look and feel, Kid Works Deluxe remains a standout writing and drawing application that puts younger students to work creating books, stories, letters, and invitations using hundreds of media elements. Judges liked the text-to-speech functionality so students could hear stories read aloud by the computer.
Mac/Win; $30 per license or $899 for unlimited network version; grades pre-Kâ€“4.
NetSupport School 9.0
NetSupport's best-of-breed classroom management software has expanded its capabilities to make monitoring and instruction in networked classroom even more seamless. Notable features include instant messenger control, keyboard monitoring, an interactive lesson planner, a virtual whiteboard tool, an " Internet co-browse" feature, and wireless support.
Windows; $1,233.75 per 25 users.
netTrekker differentiated instruction remains a judge favorite thanks to its more than 180,000 educator-screened online resources organized by grade level and readability (based on Lexile rating and eight other methods). Add to that audio support and customized content for ELL and special needs students—plus an appealing, user-friendly design—and you have a winner.
Web-based; $1,665 per school building per year.
Odyssey Reading/Language Arts Kâ€“8
Offering a standards-based curriculum built around phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension, Odyssey Reading/Language Arts continues to be an effective tool for helping students practice and develop difficult reading skills. Judges were impressed with the program's ease of use and engaging graphics and sound.
Mac/Win; $91 per subscription; grades Kâ€“8.
Discovery Education added this award-winning online content delivery program to its roster when it acquired Clearvue & SVE in 2006. Offering a vast collection of videos, audio files, photos, art, worksheets, and quizzes, PowerMediaPlus also features an easy-to-use tool for finding and publishing podcasts. Judges liked being able to pair their own lesson plans and assessments with the product's video content.
Web-based; $795 (grades Kâ€“8) or $1,095 (grades 9â€“12) per building.
Science Bulletins Web
American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History consistently turns out high-quality content and this Web site, with its compelling video stories and cutting-edge data visualizations and images, is no exception. Evaluators were impressed with the site's videos examining the work of geologists, glaciologists, and other specialists, as well as the supplemental resources. "You can't beat the price," said one judge of this free offering.
Web- based; free.
SMART Board Software 9.5
Used in concert with SMART Board interactive whiteboards, this software makes it easy for teachers to develop curriculum-based digital lessons. The Gallery feature lets users store their own content or draw from more than 6,000 preloaded images, backgrounds, audio, Flash, and video files—including more than 500 new digital objects—to craft lessons.
Mac/Win; free with purchase of SMART products, existing users can download updated version for free.
Judges enjoyed this classroom management software's appealing interface and easy-to-create online quizzes. Designed to work with the SMART Board interactive whiteboard, the application allows educators to monitor and control students' desktop computers, wireless laptops, or mobile devices. One judge wrote the software was "simple to set up and use for individual or group communication."
Mac/Win/handheld; $1,198 per training room installation.
Awards of Excellence 2007 Judges
We offer special thanks to the following educator-judges who gave this year's products a thorough test-drive. In particular, we'd like to acknowledge the hard work and enthusiasm of our judging coordinator, Renee Ramig, of the Seven Hills School In Walnut Creek, California, and Dorothy Gonsalves, who coordinated judging at the St. Martin de Porres School, in Oakland, California.
Trevor Von Stein