Tom Snyder’s Educational Software

Recently, I asked on our community discussion list if anybody could recommend a list of quality educational software for kids and it seems this was an area not many people knew much about.

Well, I finally got a list (although they all feature only Tom Snyder products) … from an interview by Michael F. Shaughnessy with David Dock Dockterman on “The Changing Nature of Educational Software” read it in full length here or see the list below.

List of software for developing higher order thinking skills and critical thinking skills:

GO Solve is an amazing program that helps students see beneath the surface information in math problems to the more familiar underlying mathematical schema or situations. Decisions, Decisions (version 1.0 came out in 1986) prompts and organizes informed discussions and decision-making about historical and contemporary issues.

The Science Court series engages collaborative groups of students in the use of the scientific method to tease apart common science misconceptions. Science Seekers, which we created with the American Museum of Natural History, is another series of collaborative products that turn students into contemporary science problem-solvers.

Timeliner XE is our newest program, which helps students synthesize and visually organize information, and then present it in a compelling way. Today’s students are inundated with information and we want to provide them with tools that help them take information and transform it into knowledge. Tom Snyder has been developing this kind of software for a long time, and we have a lot more than I’ve mentioned here!


What do you see as Tom Snyder’s strengths? Their best stuff? What specific software has been around longest and seems to hold student interest the most?

Research and innovation are our hallmarks. Our development teams dive deeply into the content, the theories about why kids struggle, the research that holds promise for making a difference, and even, these days, the neuroscience. We use that knowledge to paint a picture of success. What’s it look like when students truly get it? The innovation comes as we plan backwards from that vision, with technology as a tool that can do anything we want to help us get to the desired end.

Decisions, Decisions is one of my favorite examples (and favorite programs) of how this design approach can lead to unexpected uses of technology. In many ways, the series grew out of my frustration teaching high school history during the Iranian hostage crisis. I thought it would be valuable for my students to discuss what was happening in the world.

“You’re President Jimmy Carter,” I would prompt them. “The hostages are in Iran. What do you do?” Sadly, the response from my students mirrored what almost every other teacher has recounted to me about their pupils. “Nuke ‘em.” “I’m not sure that would get the hostages back safely,” was my typical hopeless reply. I wanted a thoughtful, sustained, and informed discussion.

Research about the use of experience, direct and indirect, for decision-making helped fuel a vision of students actively using historical analogies to develop and support competing arguments for competing actions. Wouldn’t it be great to hear my students talking about isolationism under Wilson or Teddy Roosevelt’s Big Stick as part of the debate about the hostages in Iran. How can we generate those conversations for students in any classroom? And how can technology help? The dominant paradigm for computer use in 1985 when we were tackling this design was one kid in front of one machine. There were no projection systems or interactive whiteboards. Our innovation then was to rotate small groups of students to a single computer in the classroom which would prompt individual members of the group to different readings pointing them along conflicting paths. Classrooms using Decisions, Decisions erupted with delightful, intelligent conversations. The computer was almost invisible, but what it made happen was beautiful. That’s what I like.


Released in 1986, the original TimeLiner would take events in any order, sequence and proportionally space them, and print them out in a banner. Back in the days of dot-matrix printers and spools of paper, continuous sideways printing to make a banner was an elegant use of the technology. Subsequent versions of the program added functionality for posters, different kinds of time lines, formatting options, categories, merging of time lines, and the attachment of media and links to individual events. The ability to plot events of any kind in sequential order helps students visualize cause and effect and correlational relationships. Not only can students readily see the events leading up to and into, say, the invasion of Iraq, they can merge that sequence with time lines of personal histories to reveal the impact on family and friends. They can chart the change in daily living in Baghdad. They can turn on and off layers of information to add and remove nuance and complexity. TimeLiner has been an incredibly popular and educationally valuable program.

Timeliner XE, which launches this month, represents a generational leap forward. This new version— built from the ground up using Adobe AIR and Flex technology— incorporates a built-in browser that allows students to capture and organize information as they gather it. With over 300 built-in activities and research projects, it’s easy for students to get started. The source is automatically attached to anything copied from a web page, and students can attach images, sounds, notes, links, and movies to any event. Students then organize the information into timelines, sequences, or cycles to be printed, posted interactively, or turned into rich, multimedia presentations. We are very excited about the release of TimeLiner XE, and everyone who has seen it during its development is excited too, including the folks at Adobe..


For more info on the products, Go to Tom or to see our latest project go here.


If you are interested in the background or the future of educational software, then you should read the interview in its entirety here.

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