Amplifying the Digital Textbook

column | Language Arts

Amplifying the Digital Textbook

Amplify releases digital arts curriculum for middle school English language arts

By Mary Jo Madda (Columnist)     Mar 3, 2014

Amplifying the Digital Textbook

CEO Joel Klein believes that Amplify’s latest undertaking will “eliminate needs for textbooks altogether.” How? By “giving teachers the tools and content in order to improve their craft”--specifically, with rich, digitized content.

Today, Amplify announces the release of its new digital curriculum package for middle school English Language Arts classroom, a package that Klein says will “meet demands and rigors of the Common Core standards” while also engaging students with media and games. Annual licensing fees begin at $45-per student.


The curriculum takes form in a year’s worth of lessons for sixth, seventh, and eighth grade ELA students. Content covers themes and authors from Charles Dickens to Edgar Allan Poe, and genres from personal narrative to informational texts and poetry. Books anchor each of the lessons (hence the “elimination of textbooks” reference), and students have access to an e-library with more than 300 works of fiction and nonfiction (given they have each have an individual student account, that is).

Amplify states that its content is all Common Core-aligned. However, that aspect is a little ambiguous, at least at this time. Will teachers be given a chart demonstrating where and when CCSS comes into play in a given lesson? In truth, how the texts and lessons are aligned to each standard remains to be seen with the digital curriculum’s release.

UPDATE: Also see: Intel Moves Into K 12 Tablet (with Amplify)

Digital media

We’re not just talking about any old digital textbooks here. Each ELA lesson comes packaged with a selection of Amplify’s digital media assets--dramatic readings, story animations, games, and more--that tie in with writing prompts and reading assignments.

For example, perhaps students are reading “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.” Students can listen to actor Chadwick Boseman read select passages from the book, before tackling other portions on their own. Or take Edgar Allan Poe’s work. When students visit the lesson pages, they can see an animated version of the “The Raven,” and then respond to the actual texts in an e-book following the viewing.

Students may also engage in “quests,” or experiential lessons that “immerse students in a text through role-playing, close reading, evidence gathering, discussion and expressive writing.”

When students continue to tackle “The Tell-Tale Heart” and other Poe stories, they can look at crime scene photographs, a coroner's report, a detective's notebook, and act as character in a simulation (a la your average murder mystery party) as they try to figure out who killed Edgar Allan Poe (screenshots shown below).

Amplify has also created a series of games that the company hopes will encourage students to “better understand the relationship between effort and success, [and] to persist in the face of difficulty and to embrace (rather than fear) failure as a part of the learning process.” Designed to increase “out-of-school learning,” the games are housed within a larger multi-player game world called Lexica, where students engage with characters from literature and nonfiction, and work across 14 mini-games with multiple levels and episodes. These games include:

  • Mukashi Mukashi: A syntax and storytelling game based on Japanese folklore;
  • Story Cards: A collectible card game featuring authors and characters from classic and modern literature (video shown below);
  • Tomes: A choose-your-own-adventure series with a focus on vocabulary.

Story Cards - Trailer from Preloaded on Vimeo.

Vocabulary development

Other unique features of ELA digital curriculum include a “Reveal Tool”--a vocabulary builder and set of diagnostic exercises where students track and collect words in context--and a data analytics tools. The data dashboard allows teachers to track student performance on vocabulary activities, lessons, and games used after school.

The ELA curriculum will be available to classrooms at the start of the 2014-2015 school year (on the Amplify Tablet as well as iPads, MacBooks and Chromebooks), with pricing beginning at $45 per student per year. For that fee, teachers will get an e-library stocked with more 300+ books and digital games, as well as an analytics engine (specifically targeted at tracking a student’s vocabulary development).

Future offerings

In addition to Amplify’s ELA offerings, the company plans to offer a hybrid print and digital curriculum for K-5 ELA, and a digital curriculum in math and science in time at the start of the 2014-2014 school year. A sneak peek of the curriculum includes a look at “Immuno Defense,” a game where students work to fight on an invading infection (shown above).

AND UPDATE: For more on Amplify's second SXSWedu announcement see: Intel Moves Into K 12 Tablet (with Amplify)

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