Untethering Student Discovery in the Social Studies & Science Arena
In a recent interview with Ted Levine, CEO of Kids Discover, he mentioned that Kids Discover Online, the company’s all-access digital curriculum site, allows “for students to make connections across various subject categories through an interactive concept map. Clicking through this visual map helps students discover the linkages and overlapping nature of science and social studies topics.”
This new twist on digital curriculum creates a means of self-discovery to the path of learning for students, either unfettered across the various articles and lessons in the online platform, or sequenced intentionally by a teacher. What’s unique about this is that students could cross-reference for themselves various pieces of an area of knowledge and “discover” them out of sequence if they are allowed. This tangent from normal orderly sequencing is fascinating because it is more exactly matching the way typical corporate or scientific research is done. The stacking of data in perfect orderliness might make it easier to keep a class together, but it misses the fact that the act of making sense of it all is itself one of the finest parts of “learning.”
Kids Discover meets all conditions that software developers usually point at to satisfy teacher-led courses. Reading across disciplines and topic areas for Grades 3-8 with the interconnected topical maps creates a way “to also bridge the gap between subjects such as science and social studies,” Levine said.
Sixty percent of Kids Discover content is in the social studies subjects, and the other 40 percent covers science. Coverage includes topics like the Declaration of Independence, Simple Machines, and Ancient Egypt.
“The Discover Map was built and designed specifically for inquiry-based learning, a Wikipedia-like wormhole for the students to move around and make their own discoveries. We believe non-linear learning helps students develop research skills, and helps encourage those light-bulb moments,” said Levine. Units are comprised of 7-10 individual articles or lessons. “You can also filter the library by sub-categories like historical figures, and it (the system) would restructure around those.”
All the entry points in the crafting of the software are very visual for searching. The user-interface is structured to navigate via search, home-feed or the Discover Map. The system also allows teachers to customize lessons, by saving out articles and content areas into an area called Classroom. “Teachers can assign reading levels and manage rosters of students and passwords,” said Levine, a software move that reduces the overhead for administration. Since teachers can organize material in any reading order, or not, the overall system also acts as a resource center for pieces when a teacher wants to better direct and tailor the course of a lesson.
“What we’re proud of right now,” said Levine, “is that we just launched a new assessments mode in Kids Discover Online. Teachers can draw from a bank of over 5,000 pre-made questions, including short-answer, multiple choice, and true false questions. Depending on the content that is saved out in Classroom, the platform will filter down all available questions that align with that content.” Teachers can also add their own custom questions, or edit existing ones. Teachers can use the assessments mode to build homework assignment, or administer tests. The system grades them automatically.
The system is also launching single sign-on integrations with Google Classroom and Clever in time for the 2017-2018 school year.
Additionally, Kids Discover Online offers a Search by Standards function, demonstrating content alignment by state, grade level, and subject. The articles and lessons within the system include some short-form video, interactive modules, and custom illustrations, making the reading experience an active and engaging one. Levine cited that there are many requests for “read-aloud and Spanish translation,” which the company is eyeing on it’s product road map.
Levine said that “the self-discovery mode is growing. It’s empowering to have students pursuing their own learning journeys. It was something schools wanted to see but it’s kind of a mixed bag in how it’s used, because some teachers still want to define lesson plans and curate content, while others want to use Discover Map as a supplemental activity (letting students self-discover and sequence on their own.) The amount of content in there is really robust, and we’re getting ready to roll out twenty-five new social studies units over the summer.” Students and teacher are not allowed to add their own content to the library.”
“At one point,” Levine said, “we had to ask ourselves, are we a publisher, or a platform? And we decided we wanted to do premium content, that is what we do best, and this is how we are doing it.”
The Learning Counsel asked about how “agnostic” the content was, and Levine answered: “It’s as agnostic and neutral as we can make it, but we do get the occasional letter denying climate change, so we work hard to just present the facts in a clear and approachable manner for students.”
The Kids Discover Online platform is built on commercial-grade .Net and hosted on Rackspace. The company sells via a freemium model, enabling free users to gain access to part of the library at no charge, with different paid tiers depending on access to premium features, and access for students.