IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Education Technology Platforms to Enable Efficient Education Research

Education research is often a slow and costly process. An even more difficult challenge is replicating research findings in a timely and cost-effective way to ensure that they are meaningful for the wide range of contexts and populations that make up our nation’s school system.

In a recent op-ed, IES Director Mark Schneider and Schmidt Futures Senior Director for Technology and Society Kumar Garg pitched the idea that digital learning platforms may be a way to accelerate the research enterprise. These platforms will enable researchers to try new ideas and replicate interventions quickly across many sites and with a wide range of student populations. They could also open the door for educators to get more involved in the research process. For example, Learn Platform supports districts as they make decisions about purchasing and implementing products in their schools, and ASSISTments provides infrastructure for researchers to conduct cheaper and faster studies than they would be able to do on their own.

IES Director Mark Schneider and NCER Commissioner Liz Albro recently attended a meeting sponsored by Schmidt Futures focused on these issues. Two major takeaways from the meeting: first, there is already progress on building and using platforms for testing interventions, and, second, platform developers are enthusiastic about integrating research capabilities into their work.

As we consider how we can support platform developers, researchers, and education personnel to co-design tools to enable more efficient, large scale research on digital learning platforms, several questions have arisen:  

  1. What digital learning platforms already have a large enough user base to support large scale research studies?
  2. Are there content areas or grade levels that are not well supported through digital learning platforms?
  3. What are the key features that a platform needs to have to support rigorous tests and rapid replication of research findings? 
  4. What are the barriers and challenges for companies interested in participating in this effort?
  5. What kinds of research questions can best be answered in this research environment?
  6. What kind of infrastructure needs to be developed around the platform to enable seamless collaborations between education stakeholders, researchers, and product developers?

We know there are some of you have already given these questions some thought. In addition, there are other questions and issues that we haven’t considered. We welcome your thoughts. Feel free to email us at Erin.Higgins@ed.gov and Elizabeth.Albro@ed.gov. And join NCER’s Virtual Learning Lab in their virtual workshop “Designing Online Learning Platforms to Enable Research” on April 17th, 3:00pm-5:00pm Eastern Time. Learn more about the workshop here.

The ED Games Expo “Goes Virtual” to Support Distance Learning

Each year, the U.S. Department of Education hosts the ED Games Expo, an in-person event to showcase educational learning games and technologies developed through programs at the US Department of Education and across the government. See here for a recap and here for a video trailer of the 2020 Expo, which occurred the week of January 6, 2020, and was headlined by more than 150 in-person education technology demonstrations by 115 teams at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC. 

With the global outbreak of COVID19 and the closure of tens of thousands of schools across the United States and world, a group of government supported developers and researchers are now offering their learning games and technologies at no cost through the end of the school year for use in distance learning settings with internet access. The resources are appropriate for young children to postsecondary students as well as for teachers in education and special education across a wide range of educational topics, such as for early learning, in STEM, reading and language learning, and social studies. Most of the resources were developed iteratively with feedback from teachers and students, and most were evaluated through pilot studies to measure their promise to support improvements in relevant educational outcomes.

Below is the list of 85 learning games and technologies developed with funding across programs at the Department of Education and government that are now available online at no cost to until the end of the school year.

Notes:

  • Each of the entries provides a URL link to a website that provides information on how to access the resources. Some can be accessed directly on the website, some require a free app download from Google Play or the AppStore, and some require a registration so that the developer can provide additional login instructions. tablets, or phones. Many of the websites are optimized for the CHROME browser (not Windows Explorer).
  • Each of the entries differs in terms of the device and operating system that is needed to play or use the learning game or technology, including computers, Chromebooks. A few of the entries make apps freely available yet still require additional hardware, such as a virtual reality headset or a 3D printer.
  • DISCLAIMER: The US Department of Education does not endorse the developers, the learning games, or the technologies listed within.
  • Please email Edward.Metz@ed.gov with questions.

List of 85 Education Learning Games and Technologies (updated on April 7, 2020)

Early Childhood

  1. The Cat in the Hat Builds That app is based on the PBS KIDS series, The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That, and introduces children three to five and parents to science inquiry and engineering (STEM) concepts through hands-on games and activities tailored to their learning progress. Developed by PBS KIDS, CPB, and Random House with a 2015  ED/Ready to Learn award.
  2. The Play & Learn Science app is designed for children ages three to five and parents to see the science in their world by modeling real-world locations and experiences. The related hands-on activities and parent notes prompt families to “try it” at home and provide tips for engaging in conversations. Developed by PBS KIDS, CPB, and Primal Screen with a 2015  ED/Ready to Learn award.
  3. The Cat in the Hat Invents app introduces children ages three to five and parents to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) concepts, such as simple machines and the engineering design process, as they outfit robots with tools to overcome obstacles in fantastic Seussian worlds. Developed by PBS KIDS, CPB, and Random House with a 2015 ED/Ready to Learn award.
  4. The Photo Stuff with Ruff app is based on PBS KIDS’ short-form animated digital series, “The Ruff Ruffman Show,” and inspires children ages four to eight to discover what the “stuff” in their world is made of. In this camera-based experience, children learn about science by exploring surroundings and taking pictures of different materials to complete silly scenes. Play it together and record and share your observations in fun, creative ways! Developed by PBS KIDS, CPB, and WGBH with a 2015 ED/Ready to Learn award.
  5. In the Molly of Denali (Video Demo) app, children aged five to eight use everyday informational texts (i.e., field guides, recipes, diagrams, etc.) to solve problems and fulfill their curiosity in an immersive version of Molly’s Alaska Native village. Developed by PBS KIDS, CPB, and WGBH, through a 2015 ED/Ready to Learn award.
  6. In Space Scouts children ages five to eight learn badges and mindset rewards as they play five space-themed engineering design and science inquiry games. Developed by PBS KIDS, CPB, and Wind Dancer Films through a 2015 ED/Ready to Learn grant.
  7. The Jet’s Bot Builder app is based on the PBS KIDS series, Ready Jet Go!, and allows children ages five to eight to create new parts, explore, learn and have fun building a robot with Jet and friends. Jet’s Bot Builder adapts to your young learner’s progress. Developed by PBS KIDS, CPB, and Wind Dancer Films with a 2015 ED/Ready to Learn award.

Note: The PBS Kids website includes more apps and videos, all available at no cost.

  1. MathBRIX (Video Demo) is a game for pre-K to grade two children to think mathematically and problem-solve by moving virtual replicas of toy-building bricks into place to arrive at solutions. PlayPACT, the home companion, encourages parents to help children build early cognitive skills using a “connected play” approach. Developed with 2016 and 2019 NSF SBIR awards.
  2. Chef Koochooloo (Video Demo) is a game platform that teaches kindergarten through fifth grade students cultural sensitivity, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) concepts (assessed as per national standards), and sustainability through healthy cooking in schools. Developed in part with a 2019 NSF SBIR award.
  3. My Home Literacy Coach  is a resource for parents and caregivers to maintain the reading growth of children in Kindergarten to grade 3. Using evidence-based approaches, 15-minute language art lessons are calibrated daily to match individual children’s progress. Developed by Learning Ovations and researchers at the University of California Irvine with a 2015 ED/IES SBIR award and several IES Research Grants.
  4. Cognitive ToyBox for Schools (Video Demo) is a hybrid observation and game-based assessment platform for teachers, practitioners, and children from birth to five years old. Children play developmentally appropriate touchscreen games for five minutes per week, and teachers have access to timely information on each individual child’s learning trajectory. Developed with awards in 2016 from NSF SBIR and 2019 from ED/IES SBIR.

Special Education

  1. In Go Phonics and Early Reading Skills Builder, (available here)  (Video Demo), students in special education learn to read through phonics instruction aligned to third grade. Developed by the  Attainment Company through a 2011 ED/IES SBIR award.
  2. In Access Language Arts (available here)  (Video Demo), special education students access adapted literature and language arts instruction, grade-aligned to middle school. Developed by the  Attainment Company through a 2014 ED/IES SBIR award. 
  3.  SOAR  (Strategies for Online Academic Reading) (Video Demo) is a web-based curriculum for middle school students with learning disabilities to promote competency when reading and researching online. The tool supports student efforts to search for, find, evaluate, read, and use appropriate and relevant online information. Developed at the University of Oregon with a 2012 ED/OSEP award. 
  4. The Communication Matrix is tool for teachers, speech-language pathologists, and parents to support students with complex communication needs. The online forum provides a space for information sharing, learning from the field, and offering and receiving support. Developed at the Oregon Health and Sciences University with an ED/OSEP award.
  5. The WRITE Progress Monitoring tool automatically grades writing assessments for middle school students specific to narrative, persuasive, and expository genres of writing.  Developed at the University of Kansas with an ED/OSEP award.
  6. The Project Core implementation model is designed for special education practitioners, parents, and caregivers to provide students with significant cognitive disabilities and complex communication needs access a personal augmentative and alternative communication system and instruction to learn to use it. Developed at the University of North Carolina with support from ED/OSEP.
  7. The Tar Heel Shared Reader implementation model supports teachers, therapists, and parents to provide shared reading instruction to students with significant cognitive disabilities. Developed at the University of North Carolina with an award from ED/OSEP.
  8. AvePM.com is a website for teachers of students who are deaf or hard of hearing, that tracks sign language and oral communication development for students ranging from pre or early reading through sixth grade. Developed at Penn State University with an award from ED/OSEP.

Science

  1. In Killer Snails’ Scuba Adventures (Video Demo), grade school students race against the clock as scientists, tagging creatures before their oxygen tanks runs out of air. Earn extra points for tagging venomous creatures whose deadly toxins may unlock the secrets to saving human lives. Developed with a 2017 NSF SBIR award.
  2. In Killer Snails’  Rainforest Rumble is a printable card game for children age 5 and up where only the best equipped survive! In this game of survival defend your animals with smart arguments and scientific facts. Developed with a 2017 NSF SBIR award. 
  3. The Animator App with lessons at (the pink “Flash Points” posts) is an open-ended tool for students of any age to create animations quickly to explore grade school-level concepts of colors and patterns to gas laws and reactions in high school chemistry. Developed by Alchemie with a 2017 NSF SBIR award.
  4. Inq-ITS (Video Demo) personalized online labs score themselves and support students in grades five to 10 to learn and apply science practices across physical, life, and earth science. Developed by Apprendis, Rutgers Graduate School of Education, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute with 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016 NSF research grants, 2009 and 2012 ED/IES research grants, and 2015, 2016, and 2018 ED/IES SBIR awards.
  5. Killer Snails’  BioDive (Video Demo) combines virtual reality and online digital journaling to enable students to experience the life of a scientist. Middle school students take on the role of marine biologists investigating the delicate ecosystems of venomous marine snails. Throughout their expedition, students observe, discover, and hypothesize about abiotic and biotic factors that impact marine biodiversity. Developed through a 2017 NSF SBIR.
  6. The ModelAR app (Video demo) is a digital molecular model set used by students in middle school to college to build and explore chemistry concepts, from isomers and functional groups to large molecules such as Buckyball and proteins. The molecules can also be built on an Augmented Reality tag to manipulate the compound in real space. Developed by Alchemie through a 2017 NSF SBIR award.
  7. The iNeuron (Video Demo) game introduces neuroscience basics to middle and high school students and challenges learners to complete neural circuits, and can be played individually or in groups. Developed by Andamio Games through a 2011 NIH SBIR award.
  8. CellEnergy Photosynthesis Labs (Video Demo) uses interactive challenges and virtual labs with an experimental playground to engage high school students and deepen understanding of photosynthesis and cell respiration. Developed by Andamio Games through a 2017 NSF SBIR award.
  9. In Martha Madison (Video Demo) middle school students join meerkat scientist Martha Madison on quests to help her community, while learning physical science and 21st century skills. Jump, fly, slide, and bang through game levels built on a side-scrolling platform that plays like a video game. Developed by Second Avenue Learning with a 2012 NSF SBIR award.
  10. The Tyto Online (Video Demo) game engages middle school students in storylines to explore science phenomena and solve authentic problems. For example, students work with a botanist to solve a food shortage while learning about genetics. Developed by Immersed Games with a 2017 NSF SBIR award and a 2018 IES SBIR award.
  11. In MissionKT players age eight to 13 learn about the story of Stardust: "we are made of Stardust that was once in the body of Albert Einstein and the Last T-Rex."  The story is about atoms: their creation, size, number, and how they are shared. Up to 4 internet-connected players visit a world of dinosaurs and have fun as they discover how they inherited Stardust from the Last T-Rex. Developed by TheBeamer through a 2017 NSF SBIR award.
  12. In Building the Universe middle students and up go back in time to the Big Bang to create the first atoms and in the process learn about quarks, protons, neutrons, electrons. This physics game eventually finishes 13.8 billion years later with the Solar System and a habitable planet Earth.  Developed by TheBeamer through a 2017 NSF SBIR award.
  13. Immune Defense (Video Demo) is a real-time strategy game for biology students in grades five to 12 where players use proteins and phagocyte cells to eat bacteria, while learning cellular behavior and the role of protein receptors in an engaging, problem-based format. Developed by Molecular Jig Games with a 2009 grant from NIH SBIR.
  14. Immune Attack (Video Demo) is a third-person shooter game for biology students in grades five to 12. Students fly a Microbot and a nanobot inside a 3D body to activate proteins and phagocyte cells to eat bacteria in an engaging, exciting mission-based format. Developed by Molecular Jig Games with a 2004 research grant from NSF SBIR.
  15. Project ESCOLAR (Etext Supports for Collaborative and Academic Reading) (Video Demo) supports middle-school students, including those with learning disabilities, in learning science in an engaging environment. Developed at the University of Oregon with a 2013 ED/OSEP award.
  16. In LightUp Studio (Video Demo) middle and high school students explore the world’s scientific wonders in true-to-life 3-D, and create augmented reality videos to share what they learn with each other. Topics include physics, biology, chemistry, earth science, space science, and AP-specific content. Developed with a 2015 NSF SBIR award.
  17. In Journey through an Exploded Star middle and high school students adventure through the full spectrum of radiant energy of a dying star as it blossoms out in 360° in this never-before-seen 3-D view of a supernova remnant. Built with real scientific data, this interactive allows the user to visualize the electromagnetic spectrum. Developed by the Smithsonian Institution.
  18. In Sama’s Learning Platform (Video Demo), chemistry students engage in advanced visualization of abstract concepts and immersive interaction in Virtual Reality (VR) and also through engaging videos. Developed with a 2019 NSF SBIR award.
  19. In HoloLab Champions (Video Demo), middle students and above perform experiments to learn chemistry in an immersive Virtual Reality (VR) game environment. NOTE: While the app is free to teachers to provide to students in a class, it must be used with a VR headset or system. Developed by Schell Games through a 2016 ED/IES SBIR award.
  20. The Mechanisms app (Video demo) brings game-based interactivity to the learning of college-level organic chemistry. All 275 Mechanisms puzzles have hints, goals and a corresponding video to guide student learning. Developed by Alchemie through a 2017 NSF SBIR award.​

Math

  1. Teachley’s suite of math game apps include Addimals (Video demo), Subtractimals (Video Demo), and Mt. Multiplis (Video Demo) to support fact fluency and promote math strategy development for students in kindergarten to grade five. Developed with a 2013 ED/IES SBIR award.
  2. NumberShire (Video Demo) is a math game focusing on whole number concepts and skills that uses a narrative arc to motivate and provide individualized support to students in kindergarten through grade two, especially those at risk for mathematical difficulties. Developed with 2011, 2012, and 2013 ED/IES SBIR awards; 2012 and 2016 IES awards; and a 2016 OSEP award to the University of Oregon. NOTE: Teachers must contact (ns1its@uoregon.edu) to request a free account for their students.
  3. KinderTEK’s ipad app helps students with or at risk for disabilities learn important preschool/kindergarten level math skills. Developed with grants from IES/NCSER and OSEP. Note: Teachers can set up free cloud-synced class accounts for students to use at home by contacting KinderTEK through the website.
  4. Fractions Boost (Video Demo) and Boost 2 (Video Demo) are 3-D games for students in grades three to five to develop a conceptual understanding of fractions, while emphasizing social relationships with a track builder that allows students to build levels for their classmates. Developed by Teachley with a 2015 NSF SBIR award.
  5. ProblemScape (Video Link) is an online course for middle school students in introductory algebra packaged in a 3D role-playing adventure game. Developed by RoundEd Learning with a 2018 NSF SBIR Award.
  6. Math Snacks (Video Demo) is a suite of games for middle school students including Agrinautica on expression building, Curse Reverse on variables, Game Over Gopher on coordinate points, Ratio Rumble on ratios, Gate on place value, Monster School Bus on ten-frames and fractions, and Pearl Diver on number sense. Developed by New Mexico State University with 2009 and a 2015 NSF awards.
  7. Woot Math (Video Demo) provides students in grades three to 12 with engaging activities and teaches with actionable data, a formative assessment platform, and interactive content to address gaps in student understanding. Developed by Simbulus with 2015 NSF SBIR and a 2018 ED/IES SBIR awards.
  8. Collaborative FluidMath (access here in CHROME) is designed for distance teaching and learning for middle school, high school and higher education teachers and students to share the same virtual Mathematics workspace. Note: Enter code EDCOVID19. Developed in part with a 2018 award from ED/IES SBIR, and awards from NSF SBIR, and NIH SBIR. 
  9. webFluidMath (access here in CHROME) is designed for distance learning and remote teaching of K-12 and Higher Education Mathematics and enables teachers to easily make interactive presentations and create and distribute Mathematics activities, assignments, and self-grading assessments via the web. Enter code EDCOVID19. Developed in part with a 2018 award from ED/IES SBIR, and awards from NSF SBIR, and NIH SBIR. 
  10. FluidMath Practice (access here in CHROME) is a fun application for kindergarten to grade five students to practice automaticity, fluency, and numeracy in a gaming environment while also providing teachers with data about student performance. Enter code EDCOVID19. Developed in part with a 2018 award from ED/IES SBIR, and awards from NSF SBIR, and NIH SBIR. 
  11. ASSISTments (video demo) is a free tool for middle school math teachers to assign homework or classwork. Students receive immediate feedback as they complete their assignments, and teachers receive a report with student- and class-level insights to inform instruction. The tool is compatible with Google Classroom and has a vast library of content. Developed by researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute with the support of IES and NIH.
  12. Muzology (Video Demo) is a gamified learning platform that uses music videos (created by hit songwriters!) to get middle and high school students algebra-ready. The platform includes student and teacher dashboards and assignment features for distance learning. Developed by Muzology with a 2018 NSF SBIR award.
  13. Graspable Math (Video Demo) is an algebra notation tool for middle and high school students that turns math symbols into tactile virtual objects that can be explored and manipulated. Developed by researchers at Indiana University and Worcester Polytechnic Institute through a 2011 IES award and a 2019 ED/IES SBIR award.
  14. MidSchoolMath’s EMPIRES (Video Demo) is a multiplayer game aligned for seventh grade math standards, set in Ancient Mesopotamia and built around an epic story-based narrative that allows math to be coherently used within context. Developed with 2013 ED/IES SBIR award.

Engineering & Making

  1. Future Engineers uses an online platform to offer free STEM/STEAM challenges for students in kindergarten to grade 12, such as NASA’s “Name the Mars Rover” competition. Teachers can assign challenges to students, and students can upload their creations to a kid-safe gallery. New challenges in response to the COVID-19 crisis are available now. Developed with a 2018 ED/IES SBIR award.
  2. Fab@School Maker Studio (Video Demo) is a web-based design and fabrication tool for students in pre-Kindergarten to grade eight to design, invent, and build their own geometric constructions, pop-ups, and working machines using low-cost materials like paper and cardstock and a wide range of tools from scissors to inexpensive 2-D cutters, 3-D printers, and laser cutters. Developed by FableVision Studios, Reynolds Center for Teaching, Learning and Creativity, with initial funding in 2010 by ED/IES SBIR.
  3. In CodeSpark Academy’s Story Mode (Video Demo) Kindergarten to grade five students learn the ABCs of computer science with a highly accessible word- free approach. Students program lovable characters called The Foos to create their own interactive stories, learning core computer science concepts in the process. Developed through a 2019 ED/IES SBIR award.
  4. Vidcode (Video Demo) is an online coding platform that teaches students from grade three and up computer science, computational thinking, and JavaScript through multimedia art projects. Developed in part with a 2019 ED/IES SBIR award.
  5. In DESCARTES (Video Demo) students in grades three to five use engineering design, apply math and science concepts, simulate in a sandbox game, and 3-D print their own prototypes (submersibles, boats, gliders, and other machines) using a standards-aligned design platform and curricula. Developed by Parametric Studio with a 2017 IES/SBIR award.
  6. In EDISON (Video Demo) students in grades six to nine solve real engineering problems with gamified engineering design software; make and test designs involving structures, electronics, and RC cars; and simulate and visualize designs in virtual reality and augmented reality. Developed by Parametric Studio with a 2018 NSF/SBIR award. 

Reading, Writing, Speaking, Languages

  1. Speak Agent (Video Demo) is a digital teaching and learning platform for students in kindergarten to grade eight for math, reading, and science that delivers tailored activities that integrate content with the language needed to understand it. Developed with 2015 ED/IES SBIR and NSF SBIR awards.
  2. Readorium’s (Video Demo ) reading in science program for students in grades three to eight provides strategies to understand standards-aligned non-fiction science text. Interactive science books are written different levels with video mentor guides and supports to individualize learning. Educators can view progress reports in real-time and download resources. Developed with awards from ED/IES SBIR.
  3. STORYWORLD (Video Demo) teaches students of any age (and English Learners) language and literacy through stories in English, Spanish and Mandarin. The program works on any device—computer, tablet, or smartphone. Stories include quiz-games that reinforce vocabulary, reading and listening skills, as well as capture written and oral responses for teacher review and assessment online. Developed with a  2018  ED/IES SBIR award. 
  4. Moby.Read (Video Demo) is an engaging oral reading fluency assessment for students in Kindergarten through grade five. Students use their own voice to read passages aloud, retell key details, and answer short-answer questions for real-time practice and assessment. Developed by AMI through a 2017 ED/IES SBIR award, with initial support from IES.
  5. Walden, a Game (Video Demo) is a first person exploratory about the life of American philosopher Henry David Thoreau during his experiment in self-reliant living at Walden Pond in 1845. The game allows players of all ages to walk in Thoreau’s virtual footsteps, discover his ideas and writings, engage with historical characters such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, and experience the changing seasons of Walden Woods. Developed by Tracy Fullerton and the Game Innovation Lab with awards from NEH and NEA.
  6. AlphaBear2 on GooglePlay and itunes (Video Demo) is an award winning English word-spelling game app for players of all ages, similar to Scrabble or Boggle, in which spellers of any age can learn new words and collect cute bears. Developed by Spry Fox with a 2017 ED/IES SBIR award.

Social Studies

  1. Mission US is a multimedia game that immerse students in grades four and up in U.S. history, in topics such as the Revolutionary War (Video Demo) , the Great Depression (video Demo), and immigration ( Video Demo). Developed by Electric Funstuff with awards in 2013 from ED/IES SBIR award and from NEH.
  2. AzTech Games (Video Demo) is a 3D game series for middle school students to learn basic statistics and measurement, as well as Central American and U.S. Latino history. Developed by Generation Games with a 2016 USDA SBIR award.
  3. In the Making Camp (Video Demo) game series, students in grades three to five review multiplication and division along with language arts while learning elements of Native American history. The game includes bilingual versions in English/Spanish and English/Lakota. Developed by 7 Generation Games with a 2016 USDA SBIR award.
  4. Spirit Lake (Video Demo) is a 3D virtual world game for students in grades three to five that teaches multiplication and division and the history of the Dakota. Developed by 7 Generation Games with a 2013 USDA SBIR award.
  5. Fish Lake (Video Demo) is a 3D game for students in grades four to six that teaches fractions and the history of the Ojibwe. Developed by 7 Generation Games with a 2013 USDA SBIR award.
  6. Forgotten Trail (Video Demo) is a game for students in grades five to seven that teaches fractions, decimals, measurement, and multi-step problem solving along with Native American history. Developed by 7 Generation Games with a 2013 USDA SBIR award.
  7. The The Fiscal Ship game helps students age 10 and above with no prior experience with the federal budget learn what will and won’t work. Designed to be whimsical and nonpartisan but grounded in the fiscal facts, the game highlights that small changes to spending and taxes won’t suffice. To win the game, you need to find a combination of policies that match your values and priorities and set the budget on a sustainable course. Developed by The Wilson Center.
  8. Engaging Congress is a digital civics interactive tool for students in middle school and up that uses primary sources to develop content knowledge, build critical thinking skills and expand analysis techniques all in the civics education arena. Modules are played in 30 to 40 minutes for Civics, Government and U.S. History and cover topics from the Founding Era to Present. Developed by Half Full Nelson with support from the Library of Congress.
  9. Race to Ratify (Video Demo) teaches students in middle school and up history and civics through a game about the Federalists and Anti-Federalists between 1787 and 1789. It is designed to help students understand the key debates surrounding the ratification of the Constitution (including an extended republic, the House of Representatives, the Senate, executive power, the judiciary, and a bill of rights). It uses an engaging narrative to allow students to interact with the ideas, perspectives, and arguments that defined the ratification debate, which spanned geographic regions, populations, and socio-economic class. Developed by iCivics with a grant from NEH.
  10. DBQuest (Video Demo) teaches students in middle school and up history and civics through the use of primary source documents and evidence-based learning. It offers a platform, accessible with mobile devices, that reinforces evidence-based reasoning and Document Based Questioning by teaching students to identify and evaluate evidence, contextualize information, and write sound supporting arguments. Developed by iCivics with a grant  from the Library of Congress. 

Note: Also check out the iCivics “School Closure SchookKit”

  1. In Digital Cards Against Calamity (Video Demo) players gain insight into difficult trade-offs when community stakeholders make decisions during a community issue, such as decisions coastal communities make during a hurricane. Developed by 1St Playable with an award from NOAA.
  2. Inspired by historical documents and events, the Traders & Raiders game allows players age eight to 12 to learn more about history, geography, and the life of a pirate. The game teaches players about the transatlantic trade, piracy, and how Philipsburg Manor, a National Historic Landmark site in Sleepy Hollow, NY, played a role in this vast and complex system. Developed by Historic Hudson Valley through a 2014 IMLS grant.
  3. People Not Property: Stories of Slavery in the Colonial North is an interactive documentary intended to introduce high school teachers and students to the history of Northern enslavement. The project focuses on what is known or may be interpreted about the lives of individual enslaved people, whose stories are rarely highlighted. Far from comprehensive, People Not Property nonetheless offers an interactive cross-section of human stories emblematic of the lived experience of slavery in colonial America. Developed with funding from NEH.

Social, Emotional, and Healthy Development

  1. Brainology is a multi-media intervention that teaches a growth mindset skills to students in grades PreK to 12 through a wide range of interactive activities illustrating how the brain gets smarter with effort and learning. Developed by Mindset Works in part with support of a 2010 ED/IES SBIR award and a 2015 IES research award.
  2. Healthy U is a sexual health learning platform for high school students aligned to the CDC's National Health Education Standards and is appropriate for both general education and students with or at risk of disabilities. Topics covered include Puberty, STDs, HIV, Pregnancy and Healthy Relationships. Students practice and build skills through games, animated information videos, dramatic vignettes and connect to their future. Funded by a 2015 HHS/Office of Adolescent Health grant.
  3. PlayForward: smokeSCREEN is a theory- and evidence-informed smoking and vaping prevention videogame for individuals aged 10-16. smokeSCREEN addresses the range of challenges that young teens face, with a dedicated focus on youth decision-making around smoking and vaping and includes strategies for both smoking prevention and cessation. Developed by the play2PREVENT Lab and 1stPlayable in part with funding from NIH.
  4. PlayForward: Elm City Stories is a role-playing videogame for middle school students focused on sexual health and risk reduction and a range of behaviors including substance use, academic dishonesty, and unsafe driving among others. Developed by the play2PREVENT Lab and Schell Games with the support of NICHD.

Thinking

  1. Smart Suite includes three games for students in grades 4 and up to support the development of executive functions: CrushStations, All You Can ET, and Gwakkamole. Developed by New York University’s CREATE Lab with partial support from a 2016 IES research award.

Careers

  1. Hats & Ladders (Video Demo) is a game-based apps to empower students ages 14  and up to explore in-demand careers that fit their strengths and interests and to engage in real-world skill building to help prepare for success in the world of work. Developed by Hats & Ladders with a 2015 and 2019 ED/IES SBIR awards and a 2017 OCTAE award.

For Parents and Teachers

  1. Gamesandlearning.co is an index platform where parents and teachers can access dozens of learnings resources (e.g., educational games, digital learning, virtual field trips, video lessons, and hands-on activities) for home or school use by children in pre-kindergarten to grade six. The platform provides a filter for users to find specific resources quickly and permits for individualized playlists to be created. Developed in part with an award from NSF SBIR.

Government programs that supported the learning games and technologies include:

  • Department of Agriculture Small Business Innovation Research (USDA SBIR)
  • Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
  • Department of Education (ED)
    • Institute of Education Research Small Business Innovation Research (ED/IES SBIR)
    • IES National Center for Education Research (NCER)
    • IES National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER)
    • Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE)
    • Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP)
    • Ready to Learn (RTL)
  • Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Adolescent Health (OAH)

Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)

  • Library of Congress (LOC)
  • National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)
  • National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)
  • National Institutes for Health Small Business Innovation Research (NIH SBIR)
  • National Science Foundation (NSF)
  • National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research (NSF SBIR)
  • The Smithsonian Institution
  • The Wilson Center

 

Edward Metz is a research scientist and the program manager for the Small Business Innovation Research Program at the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. Please contact Edward.Metz@ed.gov with questions or for more information.

Activities for Students and Families Stuck at Home due to COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

As I write this blog post, my 4-year-old is spraying me with a water sprayer while I am desperately protecting my computer from a direct hit. Earlier, while I was listening in on a meeting, she yelled out “hi!” anytime I took myself off mute. Balancing work and raising kids in this bizarre situation we find ourselves in is an overwhelming experience. When schools started closing, some parents resorted to posting suggested schedules for kids to keep up a routine and deliver academic content during the day. These were wonderful suggestions. As someone whose dissertation focused on how people learn, I should be applauding such posts, but instead, they filled me with a sense of anxiety and guilt. How am I supposed to balance getting my work done while also designing a rigorous curriculum of reading, writing, and math instruction for a kid whose attention span lasts about 10-20 minutes and who needs guidance and adult interaction to learn effectively? Let’s take a step back and recognize that this situation is not normal. We adults are filled with anxiety for the future. We are trying to manage an ever-growing list of things—do we have enough food? Do we need to restock medications? What deadlines do we need to hit at work?

So here is my message to you, parents, who are managing so much and trying desperately to keep your kids happy, healthy, and engaged: recognize that learning experiences exist in even the simplest of interactions between you and your kids. For example—

  • When doing laundry, have your child help! Have them sort the laundry into categories, find the matching socks, name colors. Create patterns with colors or clothing types (for example, red sock, then blue, then red, which comes next?).
  • Find patterns in your environment, in language (for example, nursery rhymes), and when playing with blocks or Legos. Researchers have shown that patterning is strongly related to early math skills.
  • Talk about numbers when baking. I did this with my daughter yesterday morning. We made muffins and had a blast talking about measuring cups, the number of eggs in the recipe, and even turning the dial on the oven to the correct numbers. Older kids might be interested in learning the science behind baking.
  • Take a walk down your street (practicing good social distancing of course!) and look for different things in your environment to count or talk about.
  • Bring out the scissors and paper and learn to make origami along with your kids, both for its benefits for spatial thinking and as a fun, relaxing activity! In this project, researchers developed and pilot tested Think 3d!, an origami and pop-up paper engineering curriculum designed to teach spatial skills to students. The program showed promise in improving spatial thinking skills.
  • If you choose to use screen time, choose apps that promote active, engaged, meaningful, socially interactive learning.
  • If you choose to use television programs, there is evidence showing that high quality educational programs can improve students’ vocabulary knowledge.

Hopefully these examples show that you can turn even the most mundane tasks into fun learning experiences and interactions with your kids. They may not become experts in calculus at the end of all of this, but maybe they will look back fondly on this period of their life as a time when they were able to spend more time with their parents. At the end of the day, having positive experiences with our kids is going to be valuable for us and for them. If you have time to infuse some formal learning into this time, great, but if that feels like an overwhelmingly hard thing to do, be kind to yourself and recognize the value of even the most simple, positive interaction with your kids.

Written by Erin Higgins, PhD, who oversees the National Center for Education Research (NCER)'s Cognition and Student Learning portfolio.

A2i: From Research to Practice at Scale in Education

This blog post is part of an interview series with education researchers who have successfully scaled their interventions.

Assessment-to-Instruction (A2i) is an online Teacher Professional Support System that guides teachers in providing Kindergarten to Grade 3 students individualized literacy instruction and assessments. Students complete the assessments independently online without the teacher taking time away from instruction. A2i generates instantaneous teacher reports with precise recommendations for each student and group recommendations. See a video demo here. Between 2003 and 2017, researchers at Florida State University (FSU) and Arizona State University (ASU), led by Carol Connor, developed and evaluated A2i with the support of a series of awards from IES and the National Institutes of Health. Findings from all publications on the A2i are posted here.

While results across seven controlled studies demonstrated the effectiveness of A2i, feedback from practitioners in the field demonstrated that implementation often required substantial amounts of researcher support and local district adaptation, and that the cost was not sustainable for most school district budgets. In 2014, the development firm Learning Ovations, led by Jay Connor, received an award from the Department of Education (ED) and IES’s Small Business Innovation Research program (ED/IES SBIR) to develop an technologically upgraded and commercially viable version of A2i to be ready to be used at scale in classrooms around the country. In 2018, with the support of a five-year Education Innovation and Research (EIR) expansion grant from ED totaling $14.65 million, A2i is now used in more than 110 schools across the country, with plans for further expansion. 

 

Interview with Carol Connor (CC) and Jay Connor (JC)

From the start of the research in the early 2000s, was it always the goal to develop a reading intervention that would one day be used on a wide scale?
CC: Yes and no. First, we had to answer the question as to whether individualization was effective in achieving student literacy outcomes. Once the research established that, we knew that this work would have wide-scale application.

When did you start thinking about a plan for distribution
CC: Before embarking on the cumulative results studies, in 2008, Jay said that we needed to know who the “customer” was… i.e., how purchasing decisions were made at scale.  His 2008 Phase I ED/IES SBIR was critical in shifting our research focus from individual classrooms to school districts as the key scaling point. 

Did you work with a technology transfer office at the university?
CC: Only to the extent of contractually clarifying intellectual property (IP) ownership and licensing. 

Who provided the support on the business side?
CC: Jay, who has an MBA/JD and has been a senior officer in two Fortune 100 companies was very instrumental in guiding our thinking of this evolution from important research to practical application. 


 Do you have any agreement about the IP with the university? What were the biggest challenges in this area?

JC: Yes, Learning Ovations has a 60-year renewable exclusive licensing agreement with FSU Foundation. FSU couldn’t have been better to work with.  Though there were expected back-and-forth elements of the original negotiations, it was clear that we shared the central vision of transforming literacy outcomes.  They continue to be a meaningful partner.

When and why was Learning Ovations first launched?
JC: In order to pursue SBIR funding we needed to be a for-profit company.  At first, I used my consulting business – Rubicon Partners LLP – as the legal entity for a 2008 Phase I award from ED/IES SBIR.  When we considered applying (and eventually won) a Fast Track Phase I & II award from SBIR in 2014, it was clear that we needed to create a full C – Corp that could expand with the scaling of the business, thus Learning Ovations was formed.

Who has provided you great guidance on the business side over the year? What did they say and do? 
JC: Having run large corporate entities and worked with small business start-ups in conjunction with Arizona State University (Skysong) and the University of California, Irvine (Applied Innovation at The Cove) and having taught entrepreneurship at The Paul Merage School of Business at UC Irvine, I had the experience or network to connect to whatever business guidance we needed.  Further, having attended a number of reading research conferences with Carol, I was quite conversant in the literacy language both from the research side and from the district decision maker’s side.

How do you describe the experience of commercializing the A2i? What were the biggest achievements and challenges in terms of preparing for commercialization?

JC: Having coached scores of entrepreneurs at various stages, I can safely say that there is no harder commercialization than one that must stay faithful to the underlying research.  A key strategy for most new businesses: being able to pivot as you find a better (easier) solution.  It is often circumscribed by the “active ingredients” of the underlying research.  Knowing this, we imbued Learning Ovations with a very strong outcomes mission – all children reading at, or above, grade level by 3rd grade.  This commitment to outcomes certainty is only assured by staying faithful to the research.  Thus, a possible constraint, became our uncontroverted strength.

Do you have advice for university researchers seeking to move their laboratory research in education into wide-spread practice? 
JC:  Start with the end in mind.  As soon as you envision wide-scale usage, learn as much as you can about the present pain and needs of your future users and frame your research questions to speak to this.  Implementation should not be an after-the-fact consideration; build it into how you frame your research questions. On one level you are asking simultaneously “will this work with my treatment group” AND “will this help me understand/deliver to my end-user group.”  I can’t imagine effective research being graphed onto a business after the fact.  One key risk that we see a number of researchers make is thinking in very small fragments whereas application (i.e., the ability to go to scale) is usually much more systemic and holistic.

In one sentence, what would say is most needed for gaining traction in the marketplace?
JC: If not you, as a researcher, someone on your team of advisors needs to know the target marketplace as well as you know the treatment protocols in your RCT.

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Carol Connor is a Chancellor’s Professor in the UC Irvine School of Education. Prior she was a professor of Psychology and a Senior Learning Scientist at the Learning Sciences Institute at ASU. Carol’s research focuses on teaching and learning in preschool through fifth grade classrooms – with a particular emphasis on reading comprehension, executive functioning, and behavioral regulation development, especially for low-income children.

Joseph “Jay” Connor, JD/MBA, is the Founder/CEO of Learning Ovations, Inc, the developer of the platform that has enabled the A2i intervention to scale.  Jay has 20+ years of experience in senior business management at the multi-billion dollar corporate level, and has experience in the nonprofit and public policy arenas.

This interview was produced by Edward Metz of the Institute of Education Sciences.

SELweb: From Research to Practice at Scale in Education

With a 2011 IES development grant, researchers at Rush University Medical Center, led by Clark McKown, created SELweb, a web-based system to assess the social-emotional skills in children in Kindergarten to Grade 3. The system (watch the video demo) includes illustrated and narrated modules that gauge children’s social acceptance with peers and assess their ability to understand others’ emotions and perspectives, solve social problems, and self-regulate. The system generates teacher reports with norm-referenced scores and classroom social network maps. Field trials with 8,881 children in seven states demonstrate that system produces reliable and valid measures of social-emotional skills. Findings from all publications on SELweb are posted here.

In 2016, with support from the university, McKown launched a company called xSEL Labs, to further develop and ready SELweb for use at scale and to facilitate the launch SELweb into the school marketplace. SELweb is currently used in 21 school districts in 16 states by over 90,000 students per year.

Interview with Clark McKown of Rush University Medical Center and xSEL Labs

 

From the start of the project, was it always a goal for SELweb to one day be ready to be used widely in schools?

CM: When we started our aspiration was to build a usable, feasible, scientifically sound assessment and it could be done. When the end of the grant got closer, we knew that unless we figured out another way to support the work, this would be yet another good idea that would wither on the vine after showing evidence of promise. In the last year and a half of the grant, I started thinking about how to get this into the hands of educators to support teaching and learning, and how to do it in a large-scale way.

 

By the conclusion of your IES grant to develop SELweb, how close were you to the version that is being used now in schools? How much more time and money was it going to take?

CM: Let me answer that in two ways. First is how close I thought we were to a scalable version. I thought we were pretty close. Then let me answer how close we really were. Not very close. We had built SELweb in a Flash based application that was perfectly suited to small-scale data collection and was economical to build. But for a number of reasons, there was no way that it would work at scale. So we needed capital, time, and a new platform. We found an outstanding technology partner, the 3C Institute, who have a terrific ed tech platform well-suited to our needs, robust, and scalable. And we received funding from the Wallace Foundation to migrate the assessment from the original platform to 3C’s. The other thing I have learned is that technology is not one and done. It requires continued investment, upkeep, and improvement.

What experiences led you to start a company? How were you able to do this as an academic researcher?

CM: I could tell you that I ran a children’s center, had a lot of program development experience, had raised funds, and all that would be true, and some of the skills I developed in those roles have transferred. But starting a company is really different than anything I’d done before. It’s exciting and terrifying. It requires constant effort, a willingness to change course, rapid decision-making, collaboration, and a different kind of creativity than the academy. Turns out I really like it. I probably wouldn’t have made the leap except that the research led me to something that I felt required the marketplace to develop further and to realize its potential. There was really only so far I could take SELweb in the academic context. And universities recognize the limitations of doing business through the university—that’s why they have offices of technology transfer—to spin off good ideas from the academy to the market. And it’s a feather in their cap when they help a faculty member commercialize an invention. So really, it was about finding out how to use the resources at my disposal to migrate to an ecosystem suited to continuing to improve SELweb and to get it into the hands of educators.

How did xSEL Labs pay for the full development of the version of SELweb ready for use at scale?

CM: Just as we were getting off the ground, we developed

 a partnership with a research funder (the Wallace Foundation) who was interested in using SELweb as an outcome measure in a large-scale field trial of an SEL initiative. They really liked SELweb, but it was clear that in its original form, it simply wouldn’t work at the scale they required. So we worked out a contract that included financial support for improving the system in exchange for discounted fees in the out years of the project.

What agreement did you make with the university in order to start your company and commercial SELweb?

CM: I negotiated a license for the intellectual property from Rush University with the university getting a royalty and a small equity stake in the company.

Did anyone provide you guidance on the business side?

CM: Yes. I lucked into a group of in-laws who happen to be entrepreneurs, some in the education space. And my wife has a sharp business mind. They were helpful. I also sought and found advisors with relevant expertise to help me think through the initial licensing terms, and then pricing, marketing, sales, product development, and the like. One of the nice things about business is that you aren’t expected to know everything. You do need to know how and when to reach out to others for guidance, and how to frame the issues so that guidance is relevant and helpful.

How do you describe the experience of commercializing SELWeb?

CM: Commercialization is, in my experience, an exercise in experimentation and successive approximations. How will you find time and money to test the waters? Commercialization is an exciting and challenging leap from the lab to the marketplace. In my experience, you can’t do it alone, and even with great partners, competitive forces and chance factors make success scale hard to accomplish. Knowing what you don’t know, and finding partners who can help, is critical.

I forgot who described a startup as a temporary organization designed to test whether a business idea is replicable and sustainable. That really rings true. The experience has been about leaving the safe confines of the university and entering the dynamic and endlessly interesting bazaar beyond the ivory tower to see if what I have to offer can solve a problem of practice.

In one sentence (or two!), what would say is most needed for gaining traction in the marketplace?

CM: Figure out who the customer is, what the customer needs, and how what you have to offer addresses those needs. Until you get that down, all the evidence in the world won’t lead to scale.

Do you have advice for university researchers seeking to move their laboratory research into wide-spread practice?

CM: It’s not really practical for most university researchers to shift gears and become an entrepreneur. So I don’t advise doing what I did, although I’m so glad I did. For most university researchers, they should continue doing great science, and when they recognize a scalable idea, consider commercialization as an important option for bringing the idea to scale. My impression is that academic culture often finds commerce to be alien and somewhat grubby, which can get in the way. The truth is, there are whip-smart people in business who have tremendous expertise. The biggest hurdle for many university researchers will be to recognize that they lack expertise in bringing ideas to market, they will need to find that expertise, respect it, and let go of some control as the idea, program, or product is shaped by market forces. It’s also a hard truth for researchers, but most of the world doesn’t care very much about evidence of efficacy. They have much more pressing problems of practice to attend to. Don’t get me wrong—evidence of efficacy is crucial. But for an efficacious idea to go to scale, usability and feasibility are the biggest considerations.

For academics, getting the product into the marketplace requires a new set of considerations, such as: Universities and granting mechanisms reward solo stars; the marketplace rewards partnerships. That is a big shift in mindset, and not easily accomplished. Think partnerships, not empires; listening more than talking.

Any final words of wisdom in moving your intervention from research to practice?

CM: Proving the concept of an ed tech product gets you to the starting line, not the finish. Going to scale benefits from, probably actually requires, the power of the marketplace. Figuring out how the marketplace works and how to fit your product into it is a big leap for most professors and inventors. Knowing the product is not the same as knowing how to commercialize it.

 ____________________________________________________________________________

Clark McKown is a national expert on social and emotional learning (SEL) assessments. In his role as a university faculty member, Clark has been the lead scientist on several large grants supporting the development and validation of SELweb, Networker, and other assessment systems. Clark is passionate about creating usable, feasible, and scientifically sound tools that help educators and their students.

This interview was produced by Ed Metz of the Institute of Education Sciences. This post is the third in an ongoing series of blog posts examining moving from university research to practice at scale in education.