01/13/2015 (press release: liznealon) // Great Neck, New York, USA // Liz Nealon

Producing well-crafted explanatory and argumentative writing using evidence is a challenging task for many students, and teachers often lack the resources, tools, and opportunities to integrate this kind of writing into instruction. The new StarWalk Writer™ software, funded by a 2014 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), is cloud-based classroom software that creates a single collaborative environment for reading, writing and research for students in grades 3 to 8.

A research study conducted by StarWalk Kids Media and Education Development Center’s Center for Children and Technology (EDC) reveals that students in high needs schools showed greater improvement than their peers when using the prototype StarWalk Writer™ software to create persuasive essays.

The study found that students in classrooms using the StarWalk Kids eBooks along with the StarWalk Writer™ software wrote essays that scored somewhat higher on average than did their peers in classrooms that not use the StarWalk Writer™ software. Importantly, the largest difference in students’ final essay scores was in the most high needs school where only 19% of students are “proficient” in reading. At this school, on average, students in the StarWalk Writer classroom scored half a point higher than their peers in the StarWalk Reader-Only classroom.

Additional Findings:

·       Students and teachers found using the StarWalk Reader with the Star Walk Writer to be highly engaging, and teachers reported students were fully invested in the study task throughout the 5-day study period.

·       Users reported that using the StarWalk Kids eBooks and the StarWalk Writer™ tools together made it easier and quicker for students to gather evidence in the form of both text and pictures.

·       Students liked the collaborative process and felt they learned from each other’s writing. According to one fourth grade participant, “What I learned about myself as a reader and writer during this project was working as a team you can accomplish much more. I know this because as a team we worked harder and quicker.”

Designed to make learning and teaching reading in complex nonfiction subject areas like science and social studies more effective and exciting for upper elementary and middle school students, the StarWalk Writer™ integrates three specific types of interactivity proven to help children develop literacy skills: Writing to read, Writing for an audience, and Writing together. The software package, which will be available beginning in January 2015 for schools to purchase for the 2015/2016 school year, will also support educators by providing curriculum support materials, individual and group assessment rubrics, and LMS compatibility.

“We know that many schools will be introducing online standardized tests this spring, and children need to practice reading and writing online,” says StarWalk Kids Editorial Director and educator Miranda Barry. She added, “ It was a natural next step to enhance our eBook offering by creating a real time, online, environment where students can practice online reading, research and writing in a setting that is designed for children and doesn’t require opening and closing programs or searching the Internet, in order to read, research and write online.”

The small classroom implementation study of the StarWalk Writer™ prototype was conducted in October–November 2014 by StarWalk Kids Media and researchers from the Education Development Center’s Center for Children and Technology (EDC) in three public schools in the New York City metropolitan area. The study included approximately 130 boys and girls in grades 4–8. The purpose of this research was to investigate the feasibility of using a collaborative writing tool with elementary- and middle school-aged youth to help them produce persuasive essays using information from nonfiction texts as evidence. Each school participated for 5 days, with two study conditions in each school: one class that used StarWalk Kids eBooks along with the StarWalk Writer and one class that used StarWalk Reader eBooks only. All students were tasked with writing a persuasive essay, using text and images from a preselected set of texts in the StarWalk Kids eBook library as evidence.

The development of the StarWalk Kids Collaborative Learning Environment is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1415774. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

About StarWalk Kids Media: StarWalk Kids Media is a leading provider of high quality children’s eBooks for Schools and Libraries, publishing an award-winning collection of more than 500 engaging, enhanced eBooks for children in grades PreK-8. Founded by renowned children’s science author Seymour Simon and former Sesame Street Creative Director Liz Nealon, the StarWalk Kids collection includes books by many well-known authors and illustrators such as David Adler, Jim Arnosky, Johanna Hurwitz, Pat Mora, Laura Vaccaro Seeger, Bernard Waber and Jane Yolen. The company’s aim is to provide children and educators with a tightly curated collection of high-quality fiction and nonfiction titles supporting the Common Core. The StarWalk Kids Reader™ software works on virtually any device, allowing multiple simultaneous access for students at an affordable, annual subscription price. The StarWalk Kids platform, which currently serves more than 300,000 students in the US and abroad, has been recognized with the Parents’ Choice Award® and the QED seal, signifying “Quality. Excellence. Design” by the Digital Book Awards.  Visit www.StarWalkKids.com

About Education Development Center: Designs, implements, and evaluates programs to improve education, health, and economic opportunity worldwide. Visit www.edc.org.

About the National Science Foundation: The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…” With an annual budget of $7.2 billion (FY 2014), the NSF is the funding source for approximately 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities. In many fields such as mathematics, computer science and the social sciences, NSF is the major source of federal backing.


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