Amplify, a News Corp educational venture focused on using technology to transform K-12 education, showed off its much-anticipated English Language Arts digital curriculum during an online press conference last week. Rich in all manner of digital media, the new curriculum includes everything from a library of e-books to games, puzzles, animations and dramatic readings all designed to facilitate learning. The software package will be presented today at SXSWedu in Austin, Texas.
Amplify CEO (and former Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education) Joel Klein and Amplify Learning President Larry Berger were on hand to unveil the software package and discuss its design and application. Klein said the new ELA digital curriculum “eliminates the need for textbooks. It’s a one year sequenced curriculum controlled by teachers and designed to meet the rigors of the common core standards.” Klein said the software offered “one to one instruction,” aimed at “teachers, who are young digital natives,” and its goal is to “increase by three times a kid's reading, writing and feedback.”
The software will be released to schools in the Fall of 2014 and is priced at $45 per child, per school year. Launched specifically to transform how U.S. schools teach, Amplify offers its own tablet devices, though Klein emphasized that the software will also run on the iPad and other tablets.
Klein and Berger showed off a complex digital suite that combines structured lesson plans supported by very sophisticated entertainment media—like video games and animations—structured by educational specialists to encourage reading, reinforce lessons and relay structured data about each kid’s learning progress. Berger said “it’s a new kind of curriculum that lets us experiment with ways to get kids into difficult texts.” The software also includes a library of more than 300 e-books and digital games designed to teach and measure learning.
Amplify, Berger said, worked to “bring texts to life,” and he showed a video of Chad Boseman, the star of the Jackie Robinson biopic 42, in street clothes doing a dramatic reading of a section of Frederick Douglass’ memoir. “It rocked their world,” he said pointing to middle school students in a pilot program testing the software. The presentation went on to display an ELA segment on teaching the life and works of poet Edgar Allan Poe that made use of an animated reading of “The Raven,” and an animated game called “Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe," in which literary clues unlock the central mystery.
The software’s teaching animations and game content are done by Hollywood and gaming professionals—Klein acknowledged some "unforced" collaboration with certain News Corp entertainment units like Fox to produce the content—while the underlying software is designed by educational experts. The software allows teachers to see what everyone in the class is doing right on their screens, it can assist in organizing group discussion, lets teachers drag and drop students into different groups and lessons are displayed on the screen right next to a text field for student writing.
Amplify is focused on the gamification of teaching and the ELA digital curriculum is full of video games that emphasis reading, critical thinking and logic while collecting data on the student’s time spent reading, writing and vocabulary use for assessment. Indeed Amplify has designed a game called Lexica, a multi-player role playing game that takes place a fantasy world library and looked as impressive an any video game you’d find in the commercial market. Lexica offers players the ability to take on the identity of fanciful creatures and “trick them out” with new clothing, powers and prizes by gaining points from reading and a host of literary tasks and adventures. The software also includes many more games, puzzles, quizzes that target the development of different skills in reading, math and science. “Games are available but not necessarily always assigned,” Klein said but noted that “in our tests kids spend hours playing them.”
Asked how he intended to market the software to schools, Klein said that his strategy is "simply to show teachers our stuff. It’s compelling.”