An Interview with Francie Alexander, Chief Academic Officer, Sr. VP, Scholastic Education Scholastic Summer Apps

May 25, 2012 by

Francie Alexander, Chief Academic Officer, Sr. VP, Scholastic Education Scholastic

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1)Francie, as we approach the summer, kids have a lot of time on their hands, and we don’t want their academic skills to decay…..What do you guys at Scholastic have in store for the summer?

That’s right, it is really important for students to keep their brains working over the summer as research has shown teachers often spend four-to-six weeks every fall re-teaching skills students have lost during the summer (Lasting Consequences of the Summer Learning Gap, Karl Alexander, Doris Entwistle, Linda Steffel Olson, April 2007.) The best predictor of summer loss or summer gain is whether or not a child reads during the summer.

To motivate summer reading we have created the Scholastic Summer Challenge, a program where students can win prizes by logging their reading minutes online or using a new mobile app called The Scholastic Reading Timer. Kids are wired today, and summer reading can be done in print or through eBooks. Scholastic has just launched a new eReading app, Storia®, where you can access great eBooks for kids of all ages. In addition to reading, there are many educational games that build math skills—such as Sushi Monster™, Scholastic‘s newest free math fact fluency game available on the iPad.

2) Now I have heard a lot about this Sushi Monster. Can you tell us a little bit about it and what skills it focuses on?

The Sushi Monster app is a fun new free game created by Scholastic’s leading experts in educational game design for FASTT Math® Next Generation, an adaptive, computer-based program for schools that helps students meet their Common Core fluency goals. Sushi Monster was designed to meet the Common Core State Standards and provides levels of math practice while reinforcing and extending math fact fluency. Sushi Monster helps students build reasoning strategies for addition and multiplication by having kids choose numbers to reach a target sum or product. With each correct answers kids earn points, stars, and trophies, and unlock new levels all while having fun learning. I can tell you from my own experience that once you start playing, it’s hard to stop!

3) Now, how does this Scholastic Reading Timer thing work- and what age and grade levels are appropriate?

With the Scholastic Reading Timerkids can set personal reading goals, using the built-in stopwatch to reach their target number of reading minutes. Kids can then log their daily minutes and keep track of their cumulative time spent reading each day, week and month. Throughout the summer, kids can register for the Scholastic Summer Challenge and use the app to log their reading minutes to help break the Scholastic world record for summer reading. To keep kids motivated, there is a virtual prize wheel kids can spin to earn and collect fun rewards. Parents can use the app to check their kids’ reading progress, and they can access book lists for all ages and daily reading tips provided by the literacy experts at Scholastic.

4) Now, what’s the story on this Scholastic Storia (if you will excuse the pun)?

Storia® is a free eReading app specifically designed to support kids’ reading. Storia, which comes with five free eBooks, offers access to a wide variety of age-appropriate titles for children from toddler to teen. The selections are carefully curated to offer a range of children’s digital picture, chapter and interactive eBooks on a variety of topics and reading levels that are presented in a way that is true to the original print versions. A selection of Storia eBooks are enriched with fun, educational activities including vocabulary games, comprehension activities and fun video content as a reward when kids finish the book.

On Storia, parents can set up individual bookshelves for each of their children, purchase new eBooks, and track a child’s reading progress through each book. Parents can find out which words the child learned, how many pages they read, and how long their child spent reading each day.

5) How will this Common Core Stuff impact Scholastic? And your work?

Scholastic has been focused on preparing students for the demands of an ever-changing world throughout our 91 year history. We support the Common Core State Standards which provide a roadmap of the skills and proficiencies all students need to graduate college and career ready. Scholastic is uniquely positioned to support educators as they implement the CCSS with our research-based reading intervention programs, READ 180 and System 44, our Guided Reading instructional program and our professional development resources for both math and reading. We have revised our programs so they align with the Common Core and give educators powerful tools to help students reach these higher standards.

6) What about fluency issues in reading?

Our literacy program authors and scientists are fluency focused. We have been working with Dr. Ted Hasselbringthe creator of READ 180 and the FASST (Fluency and Automaticity through Systematic Teaching with Technology) system and his team at Vanderbilt University for over 20 years. Whether its reading or math, our technology supports the skills necessary for students to read thoroughly and demonstrate math fact fluency.

7) What is this Summer Scholastic Challenge all about? And what ages is this for?

Scholastic Summer Challenge is a free program to encourage students to have fun reading during the summer. Students can log minutes to win prizes and help set a new world record in Summer Reading. The 20 schools that log the most minutes will be featured in the 2013 Scholastic Book of World Records. The campaign encourages teachers and parents to work together to keep kids reading outside of school and battle this year’s “summer slide.”

With the Scholastic Summer Challenge, educators can:

●Sign up their entire class with bulk registration at

●Register by June 30 to be entered to win the Summer Challenge Teacher Sweepstakes. Prizes include: a custom classroom library, $250 gift certificate to the Teacher Store, and one year subscription to Scholastic Administrator and Scholastic Instructor magazines.

●Use a personalized classroom dashboard to track reading minutes for the class and individual students

●View a virtual map with a list of top schools and find participation statistics for an entire school, city, state, and country

●Make the transition from reading at school to home easier then ever — The Summer Challenge website includes free resources for the home such as printable reading logs, letters to send home and a new reading list for parents to help their kids find books they will enjoy reading, and much more.

●Get students and their families excited about the new Scholastic Reading Timer mobile app (for iPad, iPhone and Android Smartphones). Kids can upload their reading minutes for the Scholastic Summer Challenge to earn virtual prizes and parents can track their child’s reading stats all summer long.

8) As a former social studies teacher, I have to ask- what about history and geography- anything in those realms?

I am glad you brought that up because teachers tell us there’s some “app gap.” Teachers say they find lots of good apps for math and reading but they are lacking ideas and apps for social studies. I’ve found some great free great apps for children that cover a wide variety of content, some of my favorites are:

NASA–it really puts the world a touch away and if you can’t vacation, it makes it possible to have out of this world experiences.

National Geographic- Look for any of their kids free materials and find a world of learning to explore.

Brain Quest – the app puts a new spin on a familiar game. The quizzes have items in all subject areas. Kids can test their knowledge with easy to use and motivating environment.

9) What have I neglected to ask?

Games are becoming an important part of what’s going on in our children’s classrooms. A recent study by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center reported that half of all the k-8 teacher’s surveyed used digital games in their classrooms. I was recently asked by the Cooney Center to be a juror for an educational game development competition and here are some of the things I think make a good educational game:

  1. The educational goals of the game are clear for students. It’s important that children know their fact fluency and keep those skills in mind when playing games like Sushi Monster.
  2. The game should have the right amount of challengers and enough room to grow. There needs to be several levels of difficulty so that kids can experience growth and development persistence. Good gaming dynamics encourage children to develop this hugely important quality—critical to school and life success.
  3. It should be fun! Kids are interested in cool characters, and unique settings. Educational games should be as attractive as pure entertainment games. Kids should want to play the game and not feel like they must because we, teachers and parents, tell them to.
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