The National Institute for Computational Sciences

Interactivate Overcomes Delivery Obstacle

Free Online Educational Courseware Now Works on Any Web-accessible Device

By Scott Gibson

Interactivate — a set of free, online courseware for exploration in science and mathematics that maintains a rigorous alignment to standards — has been rewritten in JavaScript and HTML5 to make it accessible on any computer, mobile device or browser, said Bob Panoff, executive director of the Shodor Education Foundation, which developed the courseware.

Java long served as the “write once, run anywhere” language of choice for developing interactive, dynamic and visual studies in math and science. “During a span of several years, Shodor developed the most widely used of these resources, Interactivate, combining lesson plans, virtual manipulatives, interactive models and simulations and tools, all aligned to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and now Common Core State Standards,” Panoff explained. “With the advent of mobile devices whose manufacturers blocked Java from running, combined with real and exaggerated security issues with running Java applets, many schools have ‘turned off’ Java, and their teachers and students were left to fend for themselves in getting content from Shodor, the National Science Digital Library or others.”

As with the original Java-based materials, Shodor undertook a rewrite and modification of all of Interactivate to overcome the accessibility obstacle by training high-school and college interns to make the conversions, one tool and activity at a time, Panoff said.

“Integrated lessons, discussions and activities help teachers to ‘see’ new ways of incorporating technology in dynamic ways in math and science,” he explained. “Pads and tablets and computers alike are now fully interactive again, with the best content, the best embedded assessment, and the best support for state and national standards. Many teachers browse the Interactivate resources for class preparation, and a self-paced style of professional development.”

Interactivate has also been chosen as the central recommended resource for Europe, the Learning Resource Exchange, and is one of the most frequently accessed resources of the National Science Digital Library, with approximately four million Web pages viewed per month.

Panoff said that Shodor is excited that this rewrite of Interactivate, the culmination of a nearly two-year effort, opens accessibility and ensures that high-quality lessons, activities, tools and discussions are available for any classroom and user on the Web. He added that the organization encourages feedback from users as to how the resources can be made even better, and would love to see word about Interactivate "go viral" in social media. He also expressed the view that with the Common Core and state-standards-aligned Interactivate available free of charge, states shouldn’t waste funds on inferior courseware, and the competition should compel vendors to make better products.

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