For the past 21 years, this magazine has selected the very best educational applications for recognition and honor. A lot has changed in the years since those first Apple II and TRS-80 software titles were chosen as winners, but our mission has remained the same-to identify new programs and applications that stand out from the crowd. They might be first-of-a-kind programs that break new ground in some important way. Or they might be best-of-a-breed examples that compare favorably to competitors that have come before them. In either case, they represent what we feel to be the best new school-friendly offerings on the market today.
This year's winners were chosen by more than 30 educator-judges, working for several weeks this past summer to give all 140-plus entries a fair and thorough test run. The choices include many Web-based and CD-ROM programs as well as products that run on handhelds and several special hardware/software packages. As you will see, they run the gamut from early reading programs to multimedia authoring tools, from instructional video databases to security utilities.
Please join us in congratulating the 27 winners of the 2003 Technology & Learning Awards of Excellence.
Judy Salpeter is an experienced educator, freelance writer, and education technology specialist.
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Top Award Winners
iLife for the Classroom (Apple Computer, Inc.)
Apple's four popular multimedia tools-iTunes for music management, iPhoto for digital photography editing, iMovie for digital moviemaking, and iDVD for burning DVDs-have been upgraded in the past year and incorporated into a single integrated package known as iLife. Impressed with each of these tools individually, our judges were particularly wowed by the richness of the resulting suite.
In addition to many easy-to-use features that help turn students into multimedia wizards, iLife for the Classroom offers a number of supporting resources for teachers. Visit www.apple.com/education/ilife to find success stories, lesson starters, and tips related to the iLife applications. Apple recently announced the winners of its iLife Educator Awards and their winning ideas are being incorporated into the site's growing database of lessons, most of which feature iMovie clips, printable lesson plans, and standards tie-ins.
Mac only; CD or download. Price: Free with computer or $49 for older OS X systems.
Ready, Set, Leap! (LeapFrog SchoolHouse)
Multisensory, multifaceted, comprehensive, and fun are all words that come to mind when you first begin to play with Ready, Set, Leap! Officially targeted at pre-K learners, this early reading program was a big winner with kindergarten and first-grade teachers as well. It comes with boxes and boxes of goodies-including big books, posters, stuffed animals that talk, a phonemic awareness music CD, teachers' guides focusing on a full year of literature-based instruction, and three types of kid-friendly "computers" equipped with learning activities and headphones.
The Essential Program package features a LeapDesk with a writing pad and movable plastic letters that let students practice spelling the three-letter words they see (and hear) featured on overlays; a LeapMat, an electronic play mat that uses touch, sight, and sound to teach letter-name recognition, letter-sound association, and spelling; and three Imagination Desks where children color in pictures as they learn letters, shapes, numbers, and more. Three LeapPad workstations round out the package; children place special books on the LeapPad, turn the pages, press GO, and listen as the entire page-or any word they select using an attached stylus-is read aloud. (One word of caution: teachers will want to remind kids to press GO each time they turn a page or the results will be inaccurate.)
In addition to the basic package described above, schools have the option of purchasing a Spanish-English version of the materials or a home edition with additional LeapPads, books, and backpacks.
Multicomponent package with all required hardware included. Price: $1,950 for Essential Program package described above. (Pre-K to grade 1)
The idea of a school-friendly search engine that leads students and teachers to preselected, educationally valuable sites is not brand-new, but it's hard to find a tool that does this as well as netTrekker-making it a best-of-a-breed winner. The interface is intuitive, the searches are fast, dead links are practically unheard of, and the chosen sites are high-quality.
netTrekker draws from more than 180,000 online resources, categorized as elementary or secondary grade sites. You can search by directory within a subject area or do a cross-curricular keyword search. The judges were impressed with the value, accuracy, and appeal of the sites their searches led them to and the seamless tie-in to state standards. Extras include an interactive history timeline and the ability for a teacher to save a search results screen so students can use it as a jumping-off point. For time-pressed classrooms, netTrekker provides an excellent way to zoom in on relevant, high-quality Web resources.
Web-based. Price: $1,195 per school for one-year subscription. (Grades K-12)
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Additional Award Winners
CompassLearning Odyssey Reading and Language Arts, Levels 1 and 2 (CompassLearning)
This primary-grade reading program is built around 22 science and social studies themes per year. Each chapter includes a story, which can be read with or without computer narration and highlighting, phonics and comprehension activities, and a Story Creator that allows children to summarize what they've learned using clip art and text. Our judges liked the balance between the more gamelike, exploratory activities and the scored exercises that provide teachers with detailed feedback on student progress. They were also impressed by the way in which the program adjusts to student levels, teaching and reteaching until mastery has been reached.
Web-based. Price varies depending on number of users. (Grades 1-2)
PLATO Focus Reading and Language Program (PLATO Learning, Inc.)
This introductory reading program is simple but appealing with its emphasis on phonemic awareness, spelling, and vocabulary. Much of the instruction takes place offline, with lessons that teachers can follow to teach a series of sound units, but the computer stations play an important role in teaching and reinforcing the information. The CD-based lessons feature a 3-D animated teacher and speech recognition; students pronounce words and get feedback from the computer.
Mac/Win CD. Price: $450-$1,499 per machine, depending on volume; no user limit per machine. (Grades K-3)
Read-It-All Books (LeapFrog SchoolHouse)
This new addition to the LeapFrog family features high-interest, low reading level books to engage struggling and reluctant readers. Read-It-All books use the Quantum Pad-a device that looks much like a laptop computer. The Quantum Pad offers the same sorts of audio reinforcement as the LeapPad, with various read-aloud options and headphones for independent use. (Reminding students to press GO after turning each page is, once again, essential.) Our judges were impressed with the quality and interest level of the magazine-style articles, which they thought would appeal even to struggling middle-grade readers.
No computer needed. Price: $185 per grade for Introductory Set with books, manuals, and one Quantum Pad. (Grades 3-5)
CompassLearning Odyssey Math, Levels 1-4 (CompassLearning)
Like the CompassLearning language arts program reviewed above, CompassLearning Odyssey Math takes a patient, varied, appealing, and comprehensive approach to covering elementary grade topics-ranging from basic operations to data analysis. Each math lesson includes exploratory activities with on-screen manipulatives, tutorials, assessments, progress indicators, and offline activities for reinforcement. This package does a great job of covering a full range of NCTM standards in an appealing and easy-to-follow way.
Web-based. Price varies depending on number of users. (Grades 1-4)
Mathematica Teacher's Edition (Wolfram Research, Inc.)
Mathematica has made a name for itself in the higher education world as the tool for mathematical thinking and exploration. Now, with a teacher's edition designed exclusively for secondary grades, middle and high school students can benefit from its powerful computational and presentation tools, including 3-D animations, symbolic and numeric calculations, and a notebook for combining equations, text, and graphics into a single document. Mathematica Teacher's Edition includes a rich collection of lessons, classroom demos, and templates for creating handouts, randomized or customized quizzes, and automatically generated answer keys.
Mac/Win CD. Price: $195; volume discounts and site licenses available. (Grades 8-12)
Special Collections: Deep Sea Vents and Antarctica (American Museum of Natural History)
These two free collections, located at the American Museum of Natural History Web site (www.amnh.org/education/resources/special_collections.php), offer interesting museum-authored articles, images, interviews, and lesson plans. The in-depth reference materials are supplemented by activities that encourage scientific thinking including both hands-on and online interactive activities. Students steer a submarine, manipulate on-screen maps, and so on. Deep Sea Vents will intrigue students with its exploration of undersea volcanoes located thousands of meters below the ocean surface, while Antarctica allows them to explore another extreme and interesting environment and hear from researchers who work there.
Web-based. Price: Free. (Grades 6-8)
Exploring the World of Thomas Day (Thomas Day Education Project)
Exploring the World of Thomas Day focuses on the life and work of a free African American furniture maker living in the South shortly before the U.S. Civil War. This two-CD package features video-based enactments of Thomas Day's life and puzzlelike missions that challenge students to explore an interactive map with buildings containing clues in the form of primary documents, newspaper articles, ads, and interviews. Our judges were enthusiastic about the historical content, the easy-to-use interface, and the motivating way in which the program models the historical research process.
Mac/Win CD. Price: $59.95 for single-classroom license. (Grades 4-8)
SIRS Interactive Citizenship (SIRS Publishing, Inc.)
Consisting of three interactive online books that link to the SIRS Researcher database, this product offers a rich way for students to explore government, economics, and world affairs. Every chapter in each in-depth book provides dynamic links to full-text articles, charts, graphs, maps, and regularly updated Web sites-ensuring that the information is current and tied in with the news of the day. The judges found it easy to use, thorough, and accurate, with lots of helpful tips and tools for teachers and students alike.
Web-based. Price: $1,500 site license; $750 for subscribers to SIRS Researcher. (Grades 9-12)
Classroom Jeopardy! (Educational Insights, Inc.)
Our judges had a great time with Classroom Jeopardy-as will the typical student. Although the package comes with some preprogrammed games, its main use will be for creating customized games to reinforce curriculum units. The game is played using a portable keyboard, a classroom TV, wireless remotes with which players buzz to request turns, and an electronic scoreboard that responds to input from another wireless controller in the hands of the MC or instructor. Although the judges would have liked to see an option for importing student questions from a computer, inspired teachers will find ways to have students take turns at the Jeopardy keyboard.
Required hardware provided, except for TV. Price: $399. (Grades 2-12)
DigitalCurriculum (AIMS Multimedia)
Subscribers to DigitalCurriculum have access to more than 1,200 curriculum-oriented movies as well as 10,000 additional still images and video clips that illustrate key concepts in a variety of subject areas. A searchable database makes it easy to locate footage based on subject area, age level, and curriculum standards. DigitalCurriculum also offers lesson plans; teacher tools for creating student records, playlists, or customized tests; and administrative tools such as one that adjusts the video streaming to accommodate different connection speeds. Judges were impressed with the great collection of videos and the seamless way in which they can be incorporated into classroom instruction.
Web-based. Price: $595-$1,395 per school. (Grades K-12)
LearnStar SC (LearnStar, Inc.)
Built around a simple but powerful idea, LearnStar SC allows students to use any of a number of keyboard devices-a networked lab computer, wireless laptop, PDA, AlphaSmart Dana, or one of LearnStar's proprietary radio frequency keypads-to participate in whole-class quizzes that are scored instantly. Teachers can use this motivating and feedback-rich tool to run team competitions, conduct progress checks during a lesson, or challenge individual students to improve their own accuracy and response times on a particular topic. LearnStar offers content modules with hundreds of competitions in many different subject areas.
Win only; choice of student response devices. Price: Approximately $700 for a single curriculum area to $7,999 for a complete enterprise license. (Grades K-12)
unitedstreaming (United Learning)
With a similar approach-and the same sort of "wow" factor-as Digital Curriculum, unitedstreaming was another big winner with our judges. In fact, it's hard to say which video-streaming site they prefer. At judging time, unitedstreaming offered more video footage (over 2,000 complete videos and 20,000 shorter clips) but fewer still images and lesson planning tools. Here again, the content is excellent, the searching is easy and powerful, and the tie-ins to state and national standards are right on target. A closed-captioning feature is a plus for hearing-impaired users-or simply to reinforce reading skills.
Web-based. Price: $995 annually for elementary and middle schools; $1,495 annually for high school. (Grades K-12)
Special Education and ESL
Kurzweil 3000 (Kurzweil Educational Systems, Inc.)
Kurzweil 3000 is a powerful tool for reinforcing study skills and adapting working conditions for students with learning and visual disabilities. New with version 7 is the ability to incorporate the special writing and decoding tools Kurzweil is known for into the administration of standardized tests. Educators can allow access to annotations, voice notes, personalized toolbars, word prediction, and other modifications specified by a student's IEP. Our judges found the program flexible and easy to use-a great tool for helping students with special needs experience success and demonstrate their true abilities.
Mac/Win CD. Price: $349-$1,895, depending on number of stations and options purchased.
OpenBook to Literacy (OpenBook Learning, Inc.)
OpenBook to Literacy is an ambitious program that does an excellent job of helping emergent readers, older students requiring remediation, and ESL/LEP learners learn to read, write, and speak English. Instruction focuses around 52 phonemic sounds, with mouth modeling used to help students hear and see how words are spoken. Additional activities focus on keyboarding, word recognition, writing, and comprehension, with stories available at several different age or interest levels. Translation support helps Spanish-speaking students make the transition to English. Our judges declared this program-with its intuitive interface, patient and positive tutorial approach, and effective video reinforcement-to be an outstanding use of technology.
Mac/Win CD. Price: Licenses range from $1,795 to $19,995, depending on number of users.
Productivity and Creativity Tools
eZediaQTI (eZedia, Inc.)
This cross-platform QuickTime authoring tool makes it easy for students and teachers to pull together a variety of multimedia elements, edit them, and save the result into QuickTime videos for use online. The program's goals are moderate but it achieves them with style. Its clean interface, easy-to-follow documentation, and glitch-free results all make it a winner for schools interested in building and updating great Web sites.
Mac/Win CD. Education price: $79.
PhotoImpact XL (Ulead Systems, Inc.)
Win only; CD or download. Price: $89.95.
Road Scholar Student Edition and Mobile Mentor Educator Edition (Handmark, Inc.)
A wide range of Palm OS products are now available from Handmark on a single CD. Both the student and educator versions include the ImagiMath visualizer and calculator, the MobileDB database/spreadsheet tool, a student organizer for tracking assignments and grades, the WordSmith word processor, an e-book reader, and nearly 20 other reference tools, games, and utilities. Mobile Mentor Educator Edition also includes a student grade book program and a free instructor account to fourostudent.net, the online companion to 4.0Student. It's hard to walk away from an offer like this that delivers many of the best Palm applications for school and home use.
Palm OS; installed using a Mac/Win CD. Price: $39.99.
SMART Board 580 (SMART Technologies, Inc.)
Interactive whiteboards keep getting smarter and easier, as this year's entry demonstrates. With SMART Board 580, it's easy to send images, interactive computer programs, and text documents to the board, and then manipulate or annotate them as a class. Or you can compose using the SMART Pens, with your writing displayed on the board in vivid color and then converted to computer-readable text. Such text, along with drawings and annotations, can all be saved on your computer for future use. There's even an HTML converter that makes it easy to post the results online. Extras include concept-mapping software and more.
Interfaces with Mac/Win computer and projector (Mac version lacks some of the features described above). Price: $1,999; grants for 30 percent discounts available through SMARTer Kids Foundation.
VideoStudio 7 (Ulead Systems, Inc.)
"As good as iMovie for Windows" is how one of our judges-an Apple fan-describes VideoStudio 7. As with most video editing software, this package requires a powerful computer with plenty of hard drive space. If you have access to such a system, you and your students can be creating professional-looking movies in record time. VideoStudio comes with lots of transition effects, titling options, and clip art as well as great tools for importing and exporting files, adding narration and music, creating overlays, and burning DVDs.
Win CD or download. Price: $89.95.
Management and Security
Deep Freeze Professional (Faronics Corporation)
P>Deep Freeze Professional is a program with a narrow purpose, but what it does, it does very well. Administrators of Windows networks for schools will appreciate the ease with which Deep Freeze allows them to manage workstations from a distance-rebooting them at prescheduled times to avoid delays when students arrive, restarting remote computers that are frozen, and scheduling software updates to computers throughout the system.
Win CD. Price: $3.50-$15.50 per workstation, depending on volume.
Mandarin M3 Core (Mandarin Library Automation, Inc.)
The latest version of Mandarin M3 adds even more features to an already comprehensive library automation program. Favorite features include a highly customizable cataloging system, easy options for importing files from other sources, support for multiple languages, the ability for a librarian to annotate catalog entries, and tools for grouping and linking different resources. Searchers can be linked directly to the school's e-books or online databases. Although all the options can be overwhelming at first, the judges generally approved of the interface and the tremendous flexibility offered by this ambitious program.
Win CD. Price: $3,750 for unlimited home and school site license.
SOHO TZW (SonicWALL, Inc.)
With educational applications of wireless networking growing, the chances of outsiders using wireless access points to gain unauthorized entry to a school's private LAN have grown as well. SOHO TZW is a powerful but easy-to-administer wireless firewall that secures access to the wireless LAN and keeps it separate from the wired network. The education version of SOHO TZW includes one full year of SonicWALL's content-filtering solution.
Included hardware works with WLAN. Education price: $895.
STI Suite (Software Technology, Inc.)
This suite of well-designed applications for student record management includes STIOffice and STIDistrict, both of which offer centralized tracking for a variety of records and reports; STIClassroom, which allows teachers easy access to student records; STISets for managing IEPs and other special education data; and STIHome, which facilitates communication with families. Particular strengths include a user-friendly visual interface for data mining, strong reporting options, a separate tool for managing professional development, and overall flexibility and ease of use.
Web-based for Win networks. Price varies depending on school size and modules purchased.
Atomic Learning (MediaSpinners LLC)
Subscribers to the Atomic Learning site have access to over 4,000 tutorials covering such commonly used software packages as Microsoft Word, Excel, KidPix, Dreamweaver, Inspiration, iMovie, PowerPoint, and Photoshop. Each tutorial includes a series of well-paced, easy-to-follow animated movies describing key features of the program. Ideal for supporting a school's professional development program with anytime-anywhere access for teachers, Atomic Learning is also a great tool for independent use by secondary grade students.
Web-based. Price: One-year site license based on number of users, starting at $1.10 per user. (Grades 6-12, professional development for adults)
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Enhanced and Improved Past Winners
Read about some recent upgrades and enhancements to previous Technology & Learning award winners.
A winner from last year, Reading A-Z has expanded its catalog of leveled readers, decodable books, and read-aloud books and added alphabet books, chants, worksheets, and flashcards. The company also plans to offer online books with audio early in 2004.
Graph Club 2.0
The newest iteration of this popular elementary-level graphing tool offers 33 new standards-aligned activities. Other new features include an on-screen tool for student note taking, an animated tutorial, authentic assessment tools, and more.
Since winning in 2001, MathRealm.com has added additional content areas. New topics include Algebra I, Pre-Algebra, Geometry, Factoring, and Fractions.
Neighborhood MapMachine 2.0
With version 2.0 of this map-building software students can add multimedia elements to their maps, insert symbols that link to the Internet, display maps in slide show format, and publish interactive maps online.
Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?: Treasures of Knowledge
In the latest version of this popular and venerable program, Carmen Sandiego takes on eight new missions covering multiple geographic locations and interesting new characters. Students will enjoy the high-tech virtual spying gadgets now available to help them decipher clues and find Carmen.
ImagiWorks recently introduced version 3.0 of its ImagiProbe tool, along with a new sensor interface geared to advanced disciplines such as physics and chemistry. The ImagiProbe eX interface allows students to connect up to eight sensors at one time, supports linear and nonlinear analog sensors, and can connect to a desktop computer or AlphaSmart Dana as well as a Palm OS handheld.
A winner in 2002, this free Web resource for learners in upper elementary and middle grades now includes a rich array of lessons on biodiversity, a section on archaeology, and a page focusing on Einstein's life and work.
Seminars on Science
Evaluated favorably by our judges in 2001, the American Museum of Natural History's professional development courses for science teachers continues to go strong. Each online course is built around AMNH resources and is coauthored by museum scientists and educators.
Since winning an award last year for the release of version 2.0, AOL@SCHOOL has teamed up with a number of information providers to add content to its free online service for schools. These include early childhood education programming from Bill Cosby's PicturePages, Headsprout, ReadNet, and iKnowthat.com as well as content for older students.
eLibrary Curriculum Edition
The bigchalk eLibrary, which won in 2000, has been revised and enhanced under new owner ProQuest. New sections include a history study center and a literature library featuring fictional works, author biographies, and literary criticism.
Vivendi Universal Games has come out with new three-CD JumpStart sets for pre-K through sixth grade levels. These advanced versions feature new areas of focus-a sports theme for JumpStart Advanced 1st Grade, a secret agent theme for JumpStart Advanced 2nd Grade, mysteries for grades 3 and 4, and so on.
Keyboarding and Technology Skills
Learning.com's EasyTech system-which teaches technology skills within the context of core curriculum subject areas-has been upgraded since winning last year. The enhanced version includes an improved management system, with additional teacher planning tools and reporting capabilities, as well as new online curriculum focusing on visual mapping, databases, graphics, desktop publishing, presentation software, typing, and Web browsing.
Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing
Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing 15 Deluxe, the latest version of this keyboarding program, offers 24 new lessons, the ability to download the software to Palm OS handhelds, and a tool for importing and customizing lessons.
Type to Learn
With the latest version of its keyboarding software, Type to Learn 3, Sunburst introduces such new features as expanded record-keeping and assessment tools, a dictation station with spoken prompts, lessons focused on Internet keys, and new high-interest social studies content.
Productivity and Creativity Tools
A winner way back in its early days, FileMaker continues to be a popular database for schools. The newest version features tools for digital image capture and import, new templates for instant productivity, and integrated XML support so FileMaker can exchange data more easily with other applications.
Inspiration and Kidspiration
Both of these award-winning visual organization tools have new versions. Inspiration 7 introduced a new interface with an improved outline mode, multiple-level undos, and Quick Controls for managing notes and subtopics efficiently. Schools using Macs will want to know that Kidspiration, for younger students, is now available in a version optimized to run on OS X.
Print Shop Deluxe 15, EEV
The Enhanced Educator Version of the award-winning Print Shop Deluxe features a graphics collection tailored entirely for school use and many new projects including educational games, flash cards, historical time lines, and dioramas.
Since winning in 1999, this Sim Builder has seen some upgrades. Version 2, reviewed in Technology & Learning in March 2003, introduced a new interface, one-click publishing of Web pages, and a calculator, grapher, and other plug-in options for extending the program.
Security and Management
N2H2's filtering solution won in 2001 for its efficiency in helping schools keep kids safe on the Internet. Since then, the company has announced support for additional platforms including Red Hat Linux and Microsoft ISA Server. New Bess features include an authorized override option and the ability to warn and monitor users without blocking content (known as "soft block").
Clean Slate 2.0
Compatible with the newest versions of Windows, Clean Slate 2.0 features a simpler security interface and such new features as the ability to customize security based on user or group, schedule times to disable or enable security without rebooting, and more.
Fortres 101 5.0
Version 5.0 of Fortres 101 offers added flexibility and ease of use. Descriptions help orient administrators to their options, color-coding shows them what is enabled or disabled, and global settings make it possible to apply a security feature to all groups at once.
All of the award-winning reference tools below are enhanced and upgraded on a regular basis. For the very latest versions check them out online:
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Directory of Publishers
AIMS Multimedia (800) 367-2467
American Museum of Natural History (212) 769-5400
Apple Computer, Inc. (800) 780-5009
Compass Learning (800) 422-4339
Educational Insights, Inc. (800) 995-4436
eZedia, Inc. (877) 408-0195
Faronics Technologies USA, Inc. (800) 943-6422
Kurzweil Educational Systems, Inc. (800) 894-5374
LeapFrog Schoolhouse (800) 883-7430
LearnStar, Inc. (800) 292-1505
MediaSpinners, LLC (866) 259-6890
netTrekker (877) 517-1125
PLATO Learning, Inc. (800) 447-5286
SIRS Publishing, Inc. (800) 232-7477
SMART Technologies, Inc. (888) 427-6278
Software Technology, Inc. (402) 423-1440
SonicWALL, Inc. (888) 557-6642
Thomas Day Education Project (919) 405-2326
Ulead Systems, Inc. (800) 959-5323
United Learning (800) 323-9084
Wolfram Research, Inc. (800) 441-6284
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