Day 2 of #ISTE2014 is also the preliminary round for PitchFest, a chance for edtech startups to pitch their product or service…and the audience gets to vote! I’m a addicted to startup pitch events ever since I started researching educational innovation and educational entrepreneurship. These are the places where you get to learn about some disruptive technologies before they become disruptive, or about powerhouse education companies before they have much power or a house. It is a bit like listening to the Beatles in a pub before anyone has heard about them. To me these pitch festivals are the poetry slams of the edtech world!
They brought in five judges: a senior editor of common sense media, Director of Technology Alliances at Pearson, VP of Education Division of the SBA, a member of the Dell Youth Innovation Advisors, and a partner at the EdTech Fund.
The first session started with 6 pitches: CareMonkey, Listen Edition, CourseKicker, Immersed Games, Modular Robotics, and eduCannon. Here is what I learned.
CareMonkey – “electronic health and safety system for schools, clubs and other groups with a duty of care”
This Australian-based company manages over 20,000 student care profiles so far. Their team of eight has over 20 years of technology experience. The founder has executive experience at SalesfForce, which seems to make great sense when you hear about the product.
What is the problem that they are trying to solve? Tired of filling out all those medical forms for school events? They have a solution. How do you get the forms to the right people for all the field trips and other events? They make all this information instantly available to teachers and nurses on mobile devices, even when they are offline. If you are taking students on a field trip, you can have instant access to all student medical information. No more dragging around that messy folder of medical forms. Parents simply fill out the information online, including space for narrative explanations and instructions, and it goes instantly into the system. Their vision is to become the “health and safety version of Facebook”, allowing parents to fill out a form once and then it can be shared by parents to different organizations (school, church group trips, community athletic events, etc.). Worried about security? The founder assures that CareMonkey is, “like an Internet bank” when it comes to security. Oh, did I mention that it is free for parents to use? They make their money by charging a subscription to organizations what want to gain access to the data shared by parents.
They are looking for US partners!
Listen Edition – “research shows that only 2% of you are really good listeners”
This Boston-based company is dedicated to solving the listening skills problems in our schools. They are “teaching students to listen with the power of public radio.” This is for k-12 teachers who are trying to teach a new standard around listening skills. It includes an ability to assess listening and a project-based curriculum around creating your own radio story. Yes, they are aligned to the Common Core, and they are working with a world-renowned cognitive scientist to build it. What about engagement for students? This curriculum provides relevant and authentic voices from public ration. It is designed to work with diverse ages and demographics of students. They offer help for language arts teachers to get into the non-fiction aspect of the Common Core by providing highly selective 3-5 minute segments pulled from the best of public radio world.
This is not just an audio supplement. It is a full out-of-the-box lesson solution: lesson plans, resources, assessments, activities, etc. So far they reached about 100,000 students. They offer an annual subscription to schools and districts, but offer free individual accounts to teachers. And here is a sign of satisfaction. 90% of those who were in the trial signed on for year two!
What about the team? It is a leadership team with a mix of experience from Public Radio and WebCT/Blackboard.
CourseKicker – A digital space and community for educator collaboration and resource sharing
According to the founder, there has not been an effective online platform for teachers to share what they know with others. This community is cloud-based, intuitive, and free. It connects teachers to collaborate with one another, sharing best practices and ideas. They also have a lesson discover engine, allowing one to search for and find lessons that fit and that work. They catalog hundreds of lesson items around various topics. Teachers create, upload and share the items; and there is a built-in rating system, allowing the highest rated to “bubble up” to the top. They also allow teachers to curate resources in the system into playlists, pulling from YouTube or most anywhere else on the web. It also includes a social element, with each teacher having a profile, allowing you to build a network with other teachers around curriculum and pedagogy. While it is standalone, you can also connect to Facebook and Twitter.
- They opened up their site for general use eight weeks ago and they have over a 1000 users, with over a thousand lesson items.
- They have a team with expertise from business strategy, education, educational technology research, and software development.
- How do they make money? They are a freemium model, adding value-added resources for a fee.
- And as the founder was walking off the stage, he murmured something about badges. If you know that, that certainly got my attention.
Immersed – “We are harnessing the additive power of video games for learning.”
Inspired by the lessons learned in World of Warcraft, they are seeking to address the problem of engagement, with students reporting being bored 50-70% of the school day. How will they address it? Games. Using quest-based learning, they challenge students to problem-solve within a story in a game. Instead of short games, they are putting it all into a cohesive virtual world where students can build a character over and extended period. They are building all of this on a game engine called unity, which converts across devices, but it has limitations on small mobile devices.
- This is focused on providing a teacher supplement and not a replacement for an existing lesson. The game would typically serve as a place to practice what was learned in the rest of the lesson.
- They are starting with middle school, but plan to extend it to include third through twelfth grade. So far, the feedback from “players” and parents is very good, and they are starting with an immersive middle school ecology game. Right now, they are working with homeschoolers and parents to get feedback on the early versions of their product.
- The leadership team includes a PhD student in educational games, as well as others who have experience in computer programming, engagement, and art.
Modular Robotics – “to prepare the world” or “Tikkum Olam”
Only 24% of STEM jobs are filled by women. Modular Robotics seeks to help by creating highly engaging learning experiences through robotics. Their vision is to help students learn how to think more than what to think. They deliver hands-on, engaging, and fun learning opportunities. This includes two small modular robots and the company is in the process of creating lesson plans to go with them. They have an eduction director who is building curriculum and lessons that will allow this to fit into many school curricula. Did I mention that the curriculum is free from their website? They make their money by selling the robotics kits.
eduCannon (Interactive Video Unleashed)
This service allows teachers to embed assessments into their videos. Over 20,000 teachers have registered in the 9 months since they started. With growing interest in blended learning, eduCanon provides an assessment solution. Right now, teachers have to “Frankenstein” a solution, all with different logins and platforms. eduCannon offers a one-stop shop, where lessons can be pulled from different places. It includes a rich learning analytics dashboard along with a teacher-development platform that helps teachers learn how to get the most out of this resource. In other words, this is a product that comes with the professionals development needed to leverage that tool for high-impact learning. Teachers can pull from over 25,000 existing lessons in their database to along with the Common Core.
And the winner of round one is….eduCannon!