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MIND Research Institute's curriculum of K5 math games, ST Math, is used in 30 states by about 21,000 teachers and 500,000 students.

A blue sky with a few clouds and a penguin named JiJi—along with balloons and the occasional flying saucer—are all the graphics MIND Research Institute needs for its curriculum of K5 math games, ST Math.

Amplify's Lexica sends students into a virtual library that has a collection of classic literature.

The most cognitively challenging and intellectually stimulating video games are more immersive and can take several hours to play, says Justin Leites, vice president for games at Amplify. That’s why the company, which is developing 30 such educational video games for the 2014-2015 school year, wants to take advantage of students’ time outside the classroom, Leites says.

“There’s a huge amount of research, some recent, some going back decades, showing that what kids do outside the classroom is hugely important to their success,” he says.