As we wave goodbye to another year, it feels like the right time to step back, look around, and take stock of everything that happened in the strange rollercoaster ride that was 2022.
The Educational Landscape
Well, it wasn’t pretty, but we have finally emerged from the confusing and polarizing clutches of the pandemic. For many, the school year began with a mixed bag of conflicting emotions. There was the sense that we were finally able to embrace a return to normalcy, but that relief came with a whole new set of challenges—the ramifications of which will be felt in schools for years to come.
Learning gaps and lost instructional time
The highly anticipated 2022 NAEP results verified what everybody in or adjacent to education already knew—the months of lost and/or inconsistent instruction wiped out nearly 20 years of national progress and exacerbated the achievement gaps we’ve worked so hard to narrow.
Civil discourse and transitioning teachers
As our society continues to grow more polarized and the idea of mutual respect too often gets lost, it should come as no surprise that adult behaviors are increasingly reflected in our children. In July of 2022, NCES reported that an astounding 84% of public schools “agreed or strongly agreed that students’ behavioral development [was] negatively impacted” by the pandemic, and 87% say the same for students’ social-emotional development. The resulting demands on classroom management and teacher grace have been cited as contributing factors in the unprecedented exodus of teachers from the classroom, a fact underscored by survey results released by NEA in February, in which an astounding 55% of all educators indicated they were planning to leave the profession earlier than planned.
Predictably, this year’s “return to normalcy” has featured a heavy emphasis on offline activities, as teachers tried to recapture the magic of direct instruction, hands-on learning, and collaborative projects. Screen time has become passé—the physical classroom is suddenly a novelty. For eSpark, the shift has served as a kind of validation for a student-centered approach—we don’t want students to be in front of a screen all the time, but we do want those 30-60 minutes a week to be more meaningful, enjoyable, and instructive for them.
What's New in eSpark?
As we continue to evolve from our roots in app-based curation and tablets, eSpark’s original instructional content has increasingly become a core part of the student experience. We started laying the groundwork for much of this in 2022, and we were able to start introducing some foundational elements for the future of eSpark in the second half of the year. These included:
New stories and an exciting partnership
Earlier this year, eSpark signed a partnership deal with Capstone, the nation’s leading educational publisher for digital solutions, children’s books, and literacy programs for school libraries and classrooms. This partnership will bring nearly 60 popular titles to the eSpark experience, enabling us to replace well over 100 third-party reading activities with unique and engaging content. Stay tuned for more details—we expect students to start experiencing these stories as soon as this month!
New music videos, led by the Minute Monsters
One of the things that makes eSpark unique is the holistic approach we take to standards-aligned instruction. Rather than copy the traditional model of direct instruction > multiple choice practice > check for understanding, our Quests include a variety of songs, stories, and activities to help the concepts stick. To that end, we released a number of additions to our eSpark music library, including (almost) a full album from our friends the Minute Monsters to help students tell time through the grade levels (see example below). You can see all the songs in our eSpark music library here!
New games, activity types, and Small Group Skills lessons
It’s almost unfair to lump these things together, but in the interest of time and space, it’s worth calling out some of the new experiences available to both students and teachers since the start of the year.
We’re continuing to explore new game types as we build our capacity to develop and refine them to meet the high bar we’ve set for quality and instructional value. Some of the more popular examples of 2022 concepts brought to life include:
- Moonlit Moths (1st grade reading - consonant digraphs)
- Kitten Care (1st grade reading - sight words)
- Car Crush (pictured below; 2nd grade math - place value; SGS link)
Games are just the start, of course. We’re always exploring ways to introduce new kinds of content and/or improve on what we already have. Those efforts manifested in November with a new template for poems in eSpark. The redesign provides additional accessibility options, captivating voiceover, and fun animated illustrations to complement the material. See the first example in Cat Nap here.
Finally, you may have noticed the ever-growing library of pre-built Small Group Skills lessons. We have rolled out more than 100 of these this year, adding more depth to our standards coverage and giving you more options to bolster your lesson plans.
The Teacher Experience
We were able to roll out some subtle changes to the teacher dashboard in the second half of the year. The common thread in all these enhancements was improved visibility and accessibility for some of the things that matter most, including timely lessons, centralized PD, and better communication from us to you.
New lesson recommendations
We’ve always received positive feedback on the weekly, proactive lesson recommendations sent out based on school calendars, common lesson sequences, and student performance. We’ve added one more layer to that by bringing popular lessons forward in real time. Now you’ll see two new tiles (pictured below) on your home page—the first identifies three Small Group Skills eSparkers have been assigning most recently, and the second identifies the three highest-rated SGS lessons in recent weeks based on student feedback. If you’re looking for the right fit at the right time, start here!
Self-service professional development
Our self-serve PD is not new this year, but we have brought it into the product to make it more accessible beyond back-to-school. Now, you can click the link from the home page in your teacher dashboard and quickly reference the training you need in the moment. Our long-term goal is to move all of these courses fully into the product and make it a more consistent experience aligned with eSpark’s design and navigation.
We always try to walk a fine line between making sure you’re aware of what’s happening in eSpark and not sending you too many emails. The Sparkler, our new newsletter, should help us accomplish both goals by consolidating key communications into one monthly outlet. Many of you likely accessed this article from the premier edition of the newsletter—you’ll notice we’ve combined timely content curation with product updates, popular activities, quick tips and tricks, and other resources to support you in the month to come.
If you did not receive the newsletter this month, please drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org or by clicking the chat icon on the bottom-right of the screen and letting us know you want to be subscribed.
More to come on this topic, but we expect 2023 to be one of the most exciting in eSpark history, especially with regards to the student experience. We are doubling down on content creation and enhancements to the big-picture “world of eSpark” with the goal of making eSpark the most fun, flexible, and effective online math and reading resource ever. You can expect to see some of these significant improvements as early as the second half of this school year.
As always, thank you for bringing eSpark into your classrooms. It is our honor and our joy to help you spark a love of learning in all students. Happy holidays, happy New Year, and have fun eSparking!
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