Response to the NYTimes article about America’s Reading Crisis

The NYTimes recently posted an article titled, It’s ‘Alarming’: Children Are Severely Behind in Reading. In this blog post, Cynthia Kaye, CEO of Alive Studios, responds to each of the four challenges cited in the article.

When I read this article I was glad to see a major publication bringing our reading crisis up front and center for our nation to see so everyone can be mindful of the support our teachers and schools need. The article stated, “The kindergarten crisis of last year (2021), when millions of 5-year-olds spent months outside of classrooms, has become this year’s reading emergency.”

We have seen that reading scores have been a problem for many years. My team and I at Alive Studios have been working with teachers for over a decade on developing a unique and innovative approach that reaches young learners and helps them build the necessary skills to become confident readers. Letters alive is our captivating, brain-based resource using our patented 3D augmented reality technology to engage and excite students and help solve this literacy problem. We strategically created a cast of 26 zoo animals that help teach letters, letter sounds, and more in a way unlike any other. Why zoo animals? All kids can relate to animals in some way. Plus, animals make sounds and so do letters! These real world connections help make learning stick.

Throughout the New York Times article, I saw several specific challenges cited that schools are currently facing. Four of these challenges jumped out at me and I’d like to respond with how Alive Studios can help along with our community, schools, parents and teachers.

Let’s take a closer look at these four challenges.

1. “Children in every demographic group have been affected, but Black and Hispanic children, as well as those from low-income families, those with disabilities, and those who are not fluent in English, have fallen the furthest behind.

I know it may sound over-simplified, but schools and teachers need engaging, joy-filled resources that are proven to accelerate learning and inspire children to read.

For years our country has been faced with the reality that only 35% of 4th graders are scoring at or above proficiency in reading. Now, post-pandemic, the US has an even greater number of students who are at risk, and the national gap in early reading skills has widened between Black and Hispanic students and their white counterparts. It’s clear that teachers need engaging, high-quality resources to assist them in creating an equitable learning environment. When Alive Studios began designing our supplemental learning programs, we focussed on brain science and the power of engagement, along with multisensory learning, and we created a novel, fun, and pedagogically sound approach to early literacy.

All of our resources are appropriately challenging for ALL students and deliver highly-engaging and effective learning experiences. Our evidence-based research and classroom case studies show that our supplemental programs and resources help early childhood students across all demographics master the foundational skills that lead to reading success.

The brain science behind processing and retaining information and what is required to open children’s minds for the most effective learning experiences isn’t specific to race or nationality. Case studies and independent research proves that engaging and fundamentally sound phonics instruction can get early learners in all demographics on a path for success as they enter higher grades. That statistic drives our team on a daily basis to continue moving forward for children everywhere.

2. “The causes of the literacy crisis are multifaceted, but many experts point to a shortage of educators trained in phonics and phonemic awareness.

The National Center for Education Statistics has reported that nearly half of public schools (44%) currently have full or part-time teaching vacancies. To cover staffing vacancies, over half of these schools reported the increased need to use school staff outside of their intended duties. Others are lowering the standards for substitutes. A couple of problems can arise from this. One is the stress and burnout of already overloaded teachers who are imposed upon to step out of their classrooms to cover other staffing roles. Two is the dilemma of undertrained staff and/or substitutes put into positions to teach the foundational skills critical to future reading success.

As former educators, we intentionally designed our solutions to be easily implemented into a classroom’s daily phonics and phonemic awareness routines. Our easy-to-follow lesson plans coupled with our 3D technology delivers captivating and engaging experiences without putting extra stress and work on teachers. In addition, we have created multiple modeling videos of real teachers using our technology and lessons in their classrooms to deliver explicit instruction to their students. These videos are a great resource for teachers to help them implement lessons with fidelity; especially for staff or substitutes who may not have been formally trained in teaching phonics and phonemic awareness. It is our hope that the ease of use, combined with the high level of engagement that our solutions provide, will relieve some stress for administrators, teachers, and substitutes.

3. “Now, schools are under pressure to boost literacy as quickly as possible… more than twice as many first graders as before the pandemic tested at kindergarten levels or below in their literacy skills.

This is a frightening statistic. These children need novel resources that accelerate learning and get them to grade level before moving into higher grades. Our supplemental program, Letters alive, has been proven to not only help students in the early grades master the foundational skills for reading, but we also have proof that our resources quickly boost literacy for students who are struggling to be at grade level. One of our case studies was done post-COVID specifically for a special education classroom of 1st-grade students in Gwinnett County Schools who were struggling at or below kindergarten levels in their literacy skills. They all needed targeted intervention to ready them for 2nd-grade. The teacher began using our supplemental ELA program, Letters alive, in her core instruction as well as for targeted intervention for each of her students. After 30 days of using the program, she was amazed at her students’ accelerated progress!

Our resources are proven to increase engagement, improve student behavior, and accelerate learning. In some cases, within 30 days, students can make strides in reading that have normally taken months to complete. We were so excited to see the results from this classroom case study, and can’t wait to see the progress from other classrooms around the country that are using our solutions.

4. “If Children do not become competent readers by the end of elementary school, the risks are “pretty dramatic,” Dr. Hogan said. Poor readers are more likely to drop out of high school, earn less money as adults and become involved in the criminal justice system.

Yes, the realities are dramatic when children do not become proficient readers; but, this is not insurmountable. Engaging 3, 4, and 5 year olds with proven, phonics-based literacy instruction has the greatest impact on them becoming confident readers. Unfortunately, these crucial ages receive far less funding on average. “Children of all ages are important, but spending on the youngest children results in the greatest return on investment.” – Urban Institute, Dec. 2017

Generally speaking, a school’s reading scores don’t become public knowledge across a state or across the nation until the nationwide required testing in 4th, 8th, and 12th grades publishes the results. But, by then, it’s too late. Districts invest lots of funding at the grades prior to the nationwide testing grades in hopes of showing improvement over the previous year’s data. This way of thinking in some ways ignores the incoming Pre-K and K children making their way through the system. Each year, a new batch of students who are behind are entering the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades resulting in a constant flow that is unstoppable.

Therefore, effective core instruction in the early grades is extremely critical for every student’s success. It’s important to make the connection that when student engagement is low and all students are not meeting learning goals, it’s likely that core instruction is not engaging and needs a boost to strengthen it. If students are not reading on grade level by the end of 3rd grade, it’s likely they will never gain the confidence they need to be proficient readers. This is why it’s imperative to invest in the early years so that children can be ready for kindergarten; learning targets can be mastered; growth can be sustained; and achievement gaps can be closed for ALL students.

Research has shown that investments in young children can positively influence not only their well-being during childhood but also their long term social and economic outcomes as well. Teachers are in need of resources to supplement their core instruction that can get their students engaged, active, and experiencing joy and excitement while they are learning. That’s exactly why Letters alive was created. We believe that ALL children deserve to have the best experience possible when they’re learning to read. It’s actually our mission as a company – To create joy-filled and engaging 21st century learning experiences that win early literacy for every PreK and Kindergarten child in America.

If you are interested in learning more how we can help your young students win literacy please contact me:

4 Learning Resources that Engage Preschoolers At-Home

Learning Resources for Engaging Preschoolers At-Home

Recently, we received a phenomenal success story from a mom whose preschooler is excelling at home with four of our remote learning resources (three of which are FREE!). I instantly knew we had to share her story with you! See how she uses our Zoo Crew Alphabet Show, Journals alive app, Letters alive Journals, and Interactive Alphabet Chart to get her daughter, Adaline, excited about learning:

“So my daughter, Adaline, is almost three years old, and I am always looking for creative ways to engage her with her learning, Learning Resources for Engaging Preschoolers At-Homeso she will be prepared and ready to go to school. Just watch this video of Adaline and you’ll be amazed, like myself, how self-motivated she was to learn. It was very easy and fun for me to be there just to assist.

I know our local schools are looking for ways to engage our little ones remotely that will really hold their attention span. Little kids, like my Adaline, need that one-on-one, in-person contact in order to be excited about learning and understand exactly what is being expected. One of the key skills at her age is letters and letter sounds. My educator friends have told me that a child’s ability to recognize letters and their represented sounds are a major determination of literacy success.

Learning Resources for Engaging Preschoolers At-HomeMy mom actually introduced Adaline to the Zoo Crew Alphabet Show on YouTube. It’s a free remote learning resource with 26 individual lessons. The lessons teach an animal, a letter, letter sounds, and a social emotional growth skill. Each one is about 12-18 minutes long, which is perfect for Adaline’s attention.

Adaline instantly fell in love with Chief Zoo Keeper Cynthia and her little sidekick, Gerdy Giraffe. An added surprise was that some of the shows can become interactive with the free Journals alive mobile app. We are very sensitive to how much screen time Adaline gets each day, so we are very selective on what she actually gets to watch. When I saw her glowing with excitement and interest as she followed along with the show on her iPad, I was amazed.

After watching several of the lessons, Adaline quickly picked up on the repetitive catch phrases and began imitating them as she learned about the animals and letters. She will not be three until next month, yet already knows all her upper and lowercase letters and most of the letter sounds. I can honestly attribute this to the Zoo Crew Alphabet Show, the Letters alive Journal, and the mobile app.

We purchased the Letters alive Journal so she could follow along with all 26 animals and letters Learning Resources for Engaging Preschoolers At-Homeand be even more actively engaged with each lesson. It’s the best $10 I’ve ever spent. 🙂 I don’t normally promote or brag on companies or their products, but this is one that all parents of 2 to 5 year olds need to know about. I’ve never seen such an effective resource for helping kids learn their letters and letter sounds.

Learning Resources for Engaging Preschoolers At-HomeRecently, we learned about the Interactive Alphabet Chart, another FREE resource from Alive Studios. It’s a pdf file that lets you click any letter to instantly watch that lesson from the Zoo Crew Alphabet Show. This makes it so easy to find each lesson.

Anyway, from a mom and her preschooler, ‘thank you!’”

~ Leah (mom)

What do you do when the world shuts down? Create a Kids’ TV show!

With schools being temporarily closed, we know that educating children at home presents new challenges.

Parents are looking for engaging ways to educate and entertain their kids. Teachers are looking for creative ways to keep their students engaged and retain what has been learned so far.

As the COVID-19 quarantine continues, there is a real concern about the effects it will have on our children, not just academically, but we also want to keep our kids happy and positive.

If you’re like me, you’re trying to figure out a way to help children and parents rather than getting lost in the reality of this shutdown.

Difficult seasons offer a chance to tap deeper into creativity and resourcefulness in order to solve problems. They push us out of our comfort zones and into new areas to stretch and grow. This is where new ideas can be born.

Since we started Alive Studios six years ago, it has been a dream to make a kids’ TV show. During the hustle of creating products to help educators and the launch of our Classrooms alive, we weren’t able to dedicate the required time and effort to realize that dream.

alphabet kid show behind scenesNow, with schools and businesses closed down, we have the time to brainstorm ideas for how we can help make a difference for educators, parents, and children. And… you guessed it! The production of our kid show came to mind! The ideas for the Zoo Crew Alphabet Show came flooding in! After our team was able to hash out our desired format, we began production and posting episodes onto our YouTube Channel, Alive Studios Zoo. We could not be more excited to share this with the world!

Designed with early learners in mind, we have created a free show that uses the same mind-boggling technology of Letters alive® and our Journals. I host the show along with my zany friend, Gerdy Giraffe (a puppet character played by Faith DeWerd, one of our Training Coaches).

Together, we embark on a magical zoo adventure through all twenty-six letters of the alphabet. Each episode introduces a zoo animal, a letter, and letter sounds using our patented 3D Augmented Reality technology.

Check out our first few episodes:

alphabet kid show

On each show, we also read one of our original short rhyming stories that teach a social-emotional growth skill; and the engagement doesn’t stop there! These stories can be printed for kids to read and color at home.

Since our show can be found publicly on YouTube, it is accessible to everyone on any device, including smartphones.

Join us on our zoo adventure as we introduce two new animals and letters each week on our YouTube Channel Alive Studios Zoo. It’s a magical learning adventure you won’t want to miss!

Check it out now and share it with parents and teachers of little learners!

So what do you do when the world shuts down? Get creative together and try to make the world a better place.

ELL’s are Making Strides in Literacy with Help from Augmented Reality

value of learning by surprise

Concern for struggling readers and poor literacy scores has educators and special interest groups meeting, blogging, and talking about “awareness” of the issue. Unfortunately, most of the discussion is on just that, “awareness.” There aren’t many new ideas coming down the pipeline to help teachers reach this new age of children and their hunger for bigger, better, faster, and flashier ways of learning. So, the action steps usually include some type of intervention during or after school.

Much of this attention is directed towards at-risk 4th-8th graders who are currently being pushed through the system and forced to deal with compounding issues later in their academic careers. Whereas this effort is a vital part of the overall solution, it focusses on what to do with the water that has leaked through the dam rather than plugging the hole. Our company, Alive Studios, is focusing on building stronger foundations for reading and math by focusing attention on PreK to 3rd graders before they enter the mid to upper elementary ages.

As a mother of two adopted sons from an orphanage in Latvia, I was faced with the challenge of teaching my young boys to speak and read English. Speaking wasn’t too bad, but reading and writing proved to be a source of many tears. We tried public and private schools and most of the popular off-the-shelf reading programs. Nothing seemed to offer the breakthrough we were so desperately seeking. In the midst of our dilemma, I was introduced to augmented reality. One of my employees slid a flash card with a black square printed on it under a document camera and the Eiffel Tower popped up in 3D on top of the card. It was that event that triggered a full supplemental reading curriculum based on augmented reality for early learners. My desire to help my boys with an engaging, “surprising” way to learn to read actually launched a new company.

Alive Studios provides engaging software kits for early learners, incorporating zoo animals that spring to life in 3D and interact with children as they learn reading and math. This eye-popping (and kind of mind-boggling) experience has kids fully-engaged as they recite the letters, words, and simple sentences. Our Letters alive Plus kit incorporates evidence-based reading instruction through the use of AR software. The supplemental lessons and activities are presented within an animal-filled theme, which helps tie science into every lesson. The more I learn about brain science, the more I understand why our solution is so successful for kids. Our lessons appeal to a wide range of learning styles and abilities, and literally have students laughing and squealing their way to better scores.

At J.E. Moss Elementary in Nashville Tennessee, Greg Smedley-Warren teaches a kindergarten class that is 90% ELLs. Within the first 30 days of integrating Letters alive Plus into his ABC Bootcamp, Greg said, “Our letter and sound knowledge went from less than 10 (average)…to all 26 letters.” After using Letters alive Plus, he said, “90% of my students read at grade level or higher and are reading earlier in the year.” Reading scores from his class are charted in a new case study, which includes a revealing interview.

Greg said that his students’ engagement in Letters alive Plus was “amazing,” adding that “It also builds excitement for school, which is vital for our students at the beginning of the year.” The Letters alive Plus kit that Greg and his students used includes 26 letter cards, 97 sight-word cards, and 84 word-family cards. Each card is interactive and triggers multiple animations depending on the word or sentence that is created. While learning to identify and sound out each letter, the kindergarteners were able to hear, see, touch, build, and speak all throughout the lesson. This multimodal approach appeals to a broad range of learning styles and abilities, and increases long-term retention (especially for ELL, at-risk, and special needs students).

While our supplemental learning kits are aligned to kindergarten state standards, they are also extremely effective as interventive solutions for 1st-3rd graders who may not have mastered the required reading and math concepts. One of the more flexible features of the programs is that they can be used for whole class, small group, or individual instruction. This allows teachers to target instruction based on students’ specific needs, which improves outcomes.

Alive Studios already had independent research that revealed a 48% increase in letter naming and a whopping 112% increase in letter sound recognition. One of the surprising results of this previous study was the positive effect Letters alive had on classroom management. Attention spans were lengthened and students’ motivation to learn was increased. Now that teachers have been actively incorporating the AR-based software into their existing curriculum, several success stories, like Greg’s, have begun pouring in. My team and I were thrilled about this new data from Greg. Getting this affirmation for the effectiveness of our learning kits, especially with ELL students, inspires us to continue helping teachers throughout the U.S. and beyond.

The Instructional Value of Surprise for Knowledge Retention

augmented reality for early reading

Teachers can use unexpected events to bring students’ brains to attention and illuminate the pathways to memory storage.

Can you think of a time when you were surprised? Of course you can. We all can. There’s actually a scientific reason that explains our ability to recall such times, as Dr. Judy Willis, a neurologist and classroom teacher, explains in her book, Research-Based Strategies to Ignite Student Learning.

“Our brains are structured to remember novel events that are unexpected,” says Dr. Willis. There are chemicals or electrical signals that pass from neuron to neuron across synapses in our brain in normal thought processing. During a surprise or unexpected event, an extra dose of dopamine is released in our brains, creating stronger connections, which lead to long-term memory. “One of the most important brain regions involved in discovering, processing, and storing new sensory impressions is the hippocampus, located in the temporal lobe of the cerebral cortex. Novel stimuli tend to activate the hippocampus more than familiar stimuli do, which is why the hippocampus serves as the brain’s ‘novelty detector,’” cited Daniela Fenker, researcher at the University of Magdeburg’s Neurology Clinic II in Germany.

With Google and a few hours of research time, you can find countless studies that confirm the significance of a novel event that interrupts a familiar context and how it increases the ability to recall information. Understanding and accepting this phenomenon leads to the question of whether or not the surprise can come from an intended and purposeful source rather than by chance. The short answer is yes. Several studies in controlled settings have tested the effect that surprise events play in an otherwise normal learning environment. In each case, memory and recollection improved when novel events were interjected.

How does all this translate to education? Are there ways in which educators can structure their lessons to take advantage of “surprise”?

Dr. Willis suggests teachers use surprise to bring students’ brains to attention and illuminate the pathways to memory storage. For example, teachers can introduce lessons while wearing a funny hat or an elaborate costume; or, students can read stories in a new environment such as a circle of beanbags or outside on the grass. Parents and local volunteers can be invited to present information or concepts with a refreshing perspective. Music, games, hands-on activities, friendly competitions, team concepts, and project-based learning are effective ways to not only improve motivation and engagement, but also to increase students’ knowledge retention.

Some of the most successful and celebrated early-ed teachers today are known to embrace this concept. They have bright and colorful classrooms with creative, open seating. They have built a culture of fun, imagination, and sometimes their own language; they single out students with special nicknames, handwritten notes, or frequent eye-contact conversations to let them know they are loved and important. If you think of your favorite teachers from your elementary years, chances are good they followed practices similar to these. Each of these examples goes beyond the norm. They are unexpected and break the pattern of the familiar.

As a mother of two adopted sons from an orphanage in Latvia, I was faced with the challenge of teaching my young boys to speak and read English. Speaking wasn’t too bad, but reading and writing proved to be a source of many tears. We tried and failed with most of the popular off-the-shelf reading programs. Nothing seemed to offer the breakthrough we were so desperately seeking.

In the midst of our dilemma, I was introduced to augmented reality. One of my employees slid a flash card with a black square printed on it under a document camera, and the Eiffel Tower popped up in 3D on top of the card. Yes, that was a personal “novel event” that I will remember forever. It was that event that triggered a full supplemental reading curriculum based on augmented reality for early learners. My desire to help my boys with an engaging, “surprising” way to learn to read actually launched a new company.

Today, Alive Studios embraces the element of surprise, along with a multi-modal and cross-curricular approach, to motivate early learners towards proficiency. Each letter of the alphabet is coupled with an animal that springs to life in 3D and interacts with children as they control its actions by building sentences with sight words. This eye-popping (and kind of mind-boggling) experience has kids giggling, squealing, and laughing as they recite the letters, words, and simple sentences.

Whether it be the incorporation of the latest technologies like augmented reality or wearing a simple George Washington wig, the instructional value of surprise is proven and undisputed. In our modern world, children are peppered with visual and auditory stimuli from 500+ channels on TV, bottomless music sources, hundreds of thousands of mobile apps, and endless posts on social media feeds. In order to compete on that playing field, teachers should consider stepping outside the box and creating memorable lessons by adding a bit of “surprise.”

Augmented Reality (3D) Storybook

augmented reality storybook for children

We are introducing a new augmented reality printed storybook, Amos Alligator Arrives at the Airport, into our current line of reading and math programs for PreK to 3rd graders. Our new interactive storybook is one of only a handful in early education that utilizes the emerging technology known as augmented reality. The accompanying free Storybooks alive™ app provides young readers with an unforgettable 3D experience and transports them into an imaginative and exciting adventure. It’s so funny when teachers see our animated characters pop into their mobile devices. They get as excited as the kids do!

Our main products are great in the classroom, but we didn’t have a product that encouraged parental engagement… until now. The free Storybook app is rich with activities for parents and children to work through together and is available now on the iTunes App Store and Google Play and the printed book can be purchased from With the app, young readers can point their tablet or smartphone camera at the pages in the storybook and have the characters jump to life in augmented reality on the device. The 3D elements and characters then interact with the reader as they’re touched on the screen. Children can have the book read to them by the app with a simple touch or they can read by themselves. Our first augmented reality Storybook teaches the letter A and the sounds it represents, along with several sight words as children are engaged with Amos’s adventure. We’re very pleased to be announcing our new book at ISTE 2016 in Colorado June 27-29, one of the premier technology shows for education worldwide.

Another Cool Augmented Reality Tool

aurasma for education

Hello fellow CEO’s … Chief Education Officers!

I am blessed with the opportunity to speak at several educational conferences around the country about augmented reality… one of my favorite topics. I know we develop our own augmented reality software for classrooms, but it is always good to see what others are doing with this cool technology in education.

Our passion is to provide educators with nuggets of information and practical tools that can be brought back to classrooms. Augmented Reality will be a huge part of this next generation. One of the leaders in the space, Magic Leap, has raised over one billion dollars in investment startup capital; demonstrates the interest and potential this technology offers. If you aren’t familiar with it, check it out.

aurasma for educationI know we are all looking for differentiated learning experiences that engage our students. One of the products I want to share with you is called Aurasma. Aurasma is a free DIY (do it yourself) augmented reality app for your smart device. You can use it to “bring to life” anything or object in your classroom. The thing I really like is its intuitive menu system. It doesn’t take long at all to find your way around it and begin creating your own augmented reality magic.

I put a short video together to show you how easy it is to use Aurasma. In the video you will notice I make ordinary vocabulary cards come to life. You can use this wonderful little app to teach so many things… you are limited only by your imagination. Enjoy!

Letters/Math alive Now on DonorsChoose

The wait is finally over! One of the common questions we receive after teachers fall in love with our software is “Are Letters alive and Math alive on” Now, we can answer with an enthusiastic, “Yes!”

Thanks to our friends at Kaplan Early Learning Company, our reading and math learning kits are now posted amongst the other great products offered through this popular funding organization. Letters alive, Math alive, and Learning alive are now available in Mac or Windows versions on the website. makes it easy for anyone to help a classroom in need. Public school teachers from every corner of America create classroom project requests, and donors can give any amount to the project that inspires them. Teachers simply post their need and the product they wish to have, and donors can choose to make donations to fund the project. According to their website, over 70% of projects get funded. Periodically, Bill and Melinda Gates offer a matching program where they match any project donation.


In an effort to help teachers post their stories and projects, we have created a funding section on our site to make it as easy as possible to post your project and seek funding for our products.

ISTE Never Fails to Deliver

ISTE 2015 Teachers

As a startup technology company within the education market, it’s crucial for Alive Studios to be selective with our marketing dollars. Our mission is to provide teachers with cool technology that helps early learners become proficient in reading and math by the third grade. So, our marketing budget is targeted to areas in which we can deliver that message to as many decision makers as possible. This year, we made our second trip to an ISTE Expo as an exhibitor; and for a second consecutive year, ISTE has delivered by putting us in front of some great contacts.

ISTE Teachers watching augmented realityThe traffic seems non-stop at the shows and the attendees are always hungry for the latest technology trends in education. This, of course, is right up our ally since we are the world’s first company to develop an full-year, early education, supplemental curriculum using augmented reality technology. Our small booth size is compensated for by our 3D animated animal characters bellowing out of our sound system, which makes it tough for passers by to not be drawn into the curiosity zone.

ISTE not only provides us an excellent outlet to reach multitudes of tech-hungry prospects for our reading and math solutions, we also find ourselves meeting key B2B vendors that compliment our business. We have struck several relationships from hardware, to book publishing, to live streaming on the internet. Also, as we become more integrated into the exhibitor family, we enjoy seeing old friends and helping each other through our network of contacts.

One of our biggest attention-getters is our $795 Giveaway for a full Letters alive Kit! ISTE 2015 winner of Letters aliveWe hold a drawing, which is open to all attendees who enter their names. On the last day of the show, we draw quite a crowd as we announce the winner.

We are already looking forward to the ISTE Expo for 2016 and will be spending some time throughout the rest of this year nurturing the business relationships we’ve started.

The $10,000 per Student Question for School Districts

school district

Several studies argue about whether repeating a grade is helpful or harmful to students; yet few studies discuss prevention by developing readiness.

student retentionAccording to the National Center for Educational Statistics, retaining a child can result in bullying or victimization and increase the likelihood of dropping out of school before graduation. This fact, coupled with the exorbitant costs associated with repeating a grade, prompted us to dig into a solution. Nationally, the majority of retention decisions are among Kindergarten and First Graders with reading proficiency being cited as the number one measurement. The greatest contributors to the reduction in retention rates over the last decade has been the lowering of the standards bar and avoidance-based promotions aimed at preventing the negative results that may occur from retention. Unfortunately, few schools are focusing on actually increasing literacy as a means of decreasing retention rates.

The national average cost for retaining a student is $10,700 according to the latest statistics. The direct cost to society of retaining 2.3 percent of the 50 million students enrolled in American schools exceeds $12 billion annually. Kindergarteners and 1st graders combine to make up roughly 25% of the overall total. This cost, coupled with the data from studies showing the negative consequences of retention, can cause school districts to extend unwarranted promotion that ultimately contributes to America’s dismal illiteracy and dropout rates. Considering the fact that preventing one single student from retention could save a district $10,000 in extra expenses, it doesn’t take long to realize addressing reading proficiency needs to take a higher priority among curriculum decision makers. This proactive approach during early ages can have a measurable, positive impact on the overall education system.

States vary with their standards and definitions for “readiness” and “proficiency” and the corresponding actions they pursue. Florida and New York have instituted so-called “Promotion Gates” that include early testing and standards to help identify those students in need of additional attention. The introduction and implementation of No Child Left Behind in 2001 also prompted schools to take a fresh look at exposing readiness by testing at critical transitionary stages throughout the educational grade system. However, awareness is only part of the story. Determining the root issues that contribute to illiteracy and providing solutions that address those root issues make up the silver bullet the educational system has been missing. Two major contributors to the shortcomings in our students’ reading proficiencies include: 1. Lack of student engagement in the activities and lessons presented in the selected curriculum, and 2. Absence of key teaching modalities within curriculums aimed at communicating with students who have various learning styles and skills.

The results of a study being conducted by the University of West Georgia will be released in July 2015. This Independent Research studied the effects of teaching early literacy with Augmented Reality, a type of 3D technology that adds virtual reality components to a real world experience. The study was conducted in Kindergarten classes within a Title 1 school. Augmented Reality technology has been tried and proven in other industries such as medical, aviation, and even the US military; but its application and successes within an educational curriculum is only recently emerging.

Curriculum developers using Augmented Reality are among the pioneers who are facing the challenges of illiteracy head on. District-level decision makers who wish to address the costs associated with retaining young students would serve themselves well to consider implementing an Augmented Reality based, supplemental reading solution into their PreK to 3rd grade classrooms. The costs associated with adding such a program are far less than the $10,000 per student expense that is incurred by repeating a grade.


cynthia kayeCynthia B. Kaye
CEO | Chief Zoo Keeper
Atlanta, GA

Twitter: @alivestudiosk12

Augmented Reality Early Literacy Program for Apple Macs

apple mac augmented reality

apple-200x200Alive Studios is introducing the Mac version of its Augmented Reality early literacy software program at the ISTE Expo in Philadelphia, PA. This product release is expected to be welcomed by School Districts who use Mac Technologies exclusively.

Letters alive, a supplementary reading software program for 3-8 year olds, will be available for Mac users with OS 10.6 or better. This program includes the world’s first full-year curriculum ever written for early education using Augmented Reality. “Early learners will be taught letters, words, and sentences while being fully engaged by the mind-blowing visual effects of Augmented Reality,” stated Janice Sinclair, Principal at Gerard Prep School and user of the software. Letters alive has 26 animated animals representing the letters of the alphabet that come to life with amazing 3D effects and help students through all the learning activities.

With Apple’s recent purchase of Metaio, a German company making Augmented Reality software, all eyes are on what Apple’s next moves will be. The possibilities are limitless. Augmented Reality technology is already successfully being utilized in the medical, aviation, and entertainment industries. However, Letters alive is one of a small handful of products that has launched in the early education space.

“The PC version of Letters alive has been available for over three years and is currentlyLetters alive augmented reality in education being used in more than 1,000 classrooms around the world. Its low cost and ease of use has made it very popular among schools looking to use technology to fight early literacy problems,” stated Cynthia B. Kaye, CEO (and Chief Zoo Keeper) of Alive Studios. Independent research has proven the effectiveness of using Augmented Reality in an educational program. Kids who were taught with Letters alive realized a 48% increase in letter naming fluency and a 112% increase in letter sound fluency over students not using the Augmented Reality software. More successful results will be released this July from another study using Letters alive with At Risk students.

The release of Letters alive for Mac at the ISTE Expo on June 28 is sure to draw favorable attention with several school districts around the country using Macintosh computers exclusively. “Until now, their younger grades have not had an opportunity to experience Augmented Reality in their literacy programs,“ added Kaye. Alive Studios, the developer of Letters alive, also introduced Math alive earlier this year for PC’s and Mac’s. Math alive is a game-based supplemental math program for 3-8 year olds that features Metaio’s Augmented Reality technology along with 45 skill-based games that provide instant feedback to students.

Product Availability
Alive Studios will begin shipping the Mac version of Letters alive in July 2015. The products are the first of their kind within a full-year curriculum utilizing Augmented Reality for early learners.

Latest Technologies for Early Learners

edtech educational technologies augmented reality

Most Pre-K to 3rd grade teachers have been bitten by the sun bug and have spring fever. They are just starting or finishing their Spring Breaks and have their eyes focused on finishing the school year. Well, some of them. There are a select few who are wrapping up budgets and are seeking the latest solutions for the Fall 2015 school year. It is this forward-thinking group who will learn about us first. Some already have.

At Alive Studios, we’re a unique bunch of teachers, graphic designers, code monkeys and entrepreneurs who have built something pretty amazing. 55% of US students are not proficient in reading or math by the 3rd grade. We set out on a mission to resolve this issue. Most of the teachers we’ve interviewed state the proficiency problem is caused by not having the right materials to engage the students. The common materials that teachers utilize for teaching basic reading and math simply do not engage today’s active minds.

We believe we’ve found the silver bullet. It’s called Augmented Reality, which is a “see-it-to-believe-it” technology that provides a 3D experience without the glasses. Our team has developed full-year, supplemental curriculums for reading and math utilizing this magical technology. Our supplemental curriculums are aligned to Common Core State Standards and are the first educational curriculums in the world to utilize Augmented Reality. An independent research study proves the effectiveness of infusing Augmented Reality into the lesson plans.

This technology, coupled with our interactive, animated animals, brings a new level of excitement into classrooms. Kids cannot look away. They are enthralled immediately by the motion, challenges, colors and sounds presented in the lessons; even second language and special needs learners are seeing huge improvements.

Quick Video Overview:

Our Letters alive Kit has become the anchor supplemental reading program for many classrooms across the country. Now, we are introducing the Math alive Kit. It includes 45 skill-based learning games, which have 41 3D activities. There are six units full of various activities that make it a blast to learn the required math skill sets.

To learn more about our unique programs, visit our website or be sure to look for Alive Studios at these upcoming trade shows:

National Head Start Conference
Washington, DC
March 29 – April 2, 2015
Booth 437 & 536

Philadelphia, PA
June 28 – July 1, 2015
Booth 1265

SDE 2015 National Conference
Las Vegas, NV
July 6 – July 10, 2015
Booths 10 and 11, Palazzo Ballroom, Level 5

Mind-Boggling Supplemental Reading and Math Solution

Learning alive logoAlive Studios announces the release of Learning alive, its innovative, supplemental reading and math bundled solution for PreK to 3rd Grade. This suite of software is injected with a hefty dose of Augmented Reality, an exciting technology that provides a 3D experience without the glasses. The goal is to have kids proficient in reading and math by the end of the third grade. Currently, 55% of U.S. students are not proficient in reading and math by the end of the 3rd grade.

The company is actually the first of its kind in the world to use augmented reality in a full year, supplemental educational curriculum. They have been introducing their software solutions across the country in many of the educational conventions and expos. Within a matter of hours, they have the attention of show attendees with their brightly colored booth, trumpeting animal noises and amazing software that enables plain-looking flash cards to jump to life with animated and interactive 3D characters.

“Everywhere we go, the common theme amongst teachers is how to engage students,” states Alive Studios CEO, Cynthia Kaye. “Shortly after seeing our reading and math solutions, and how we use music, sounds, animation, interactivity and the magic of augmented reality, they realize they’ve found their solution for engaging students,” she adds.

The Learning alive Suite, which is now shipping, includes the new Letters alive v3.0, the recently released Math alive, and the interactive digital stories included in Storybooks alive. “Delivering an amazing brand experience is very important to us,” says Kaye. The PreK – 3rd Grade software solutions are infused with 26 lovable characters that draw you into their safari world, and before long, you know each of them by name.

In the midst of all the interactive fun, an independent research study shows kids are learning letter sound fluency and letter naming fluency at a faster pace than those not using the software. “After all the flashy fun of engaging young imaginations, we are primarily focused on getting kids proficient in reading and math by the 3rd grade,” says Kaye.

Math alive Announced at FETC 2015 Conference

early childhood education for math with augmented reality

Alive Studios Zoo CrewOur next stop on the trade show circuit was the FETC Convention in sunny Orlando, Florida. What a treat to have 60+ degree weather in January!

We selected FETC to be where we officially announced the newest addition to our educational software solutions, Math alive! On the heels of the successful, Letters alive – our supplemental reading program for PreK to 3rd Graders, comes our solution for early math learners. Like Letters alive, Math alive is infused with an amazing technology known as augmented reality. As expected, attendees who passed by our booth were stopped in their tracks; firstly, by the jungle noises accompanying our 26 animal characters, and secondly, by seeing our characters come alive and jump off the screen!

One of our booth visitors was Barbara, an LAUSD Common Core Math Specialist. She was glued to our booth and full of questions. Seeing so much potential in Math alive for her teachers, she gathered all the information possible to bring back to California.

Our faithful crew ran demos non-stop, which caused the crowd to consistently be 3-4 people deep. (We apologize if you had questions and we were not able to assist to you.) We had all kinds of magic going on and brought out all the stops; From our colorful Converse to Gerdy Giraffe roaming around the booth, we made every attempt to bring well-deserved attention to Math alive. FETC Alive Studios ConverseWe are on a mission to get children proficient in reading and math by the third grade, and FETC was another great stop on the crusade.

We cannot talk about the FETC Show without mentioning the two lucky winners of our Learning alive Suite! Our educational software bundle for reading and math is valued at $1,295. Jane, of Buncombe County Schools, and Debra, of Port Orange Elementary, had their names drawn from the entries and celebrated the win. Congratulations to both and we look forward to hearing how much your kids love learning with our beloved characters.
Buncombe County SchoolsPort Orange Elementary

Our next stop is the Title1 Show in Salt Lake City. The crusade marches on!! Yay!!