Take a moment to think about your daily routine and the extent to which technology is involved. This morning I was awakened by my iphone courtesy of Smart Alarm Clock (app) which ensures a “comfortable awakening” by monitoring my sleep cycles. I downloaded my to do list from Google, caught up on the news via Pulse News, and checked the weather before throwing back the covers. I jumped on Skype to talk with our web developer down in Santiago Chile, fired up Spotify through my airport connected speakers and started my workday. I’ll spare you the details of the technology I used for the remainder of the day and get to the point–we live in a technologically inundated world where we “power up” and remain connected. We communicate, interact and work through the medium of technology on a daily basis and in real time. But what about America’s future? What does their school day look like?
Now lets pretend I’m in high-school. My morning follows a similar pattern to the “real me” except that after the 3rd snooze alarm I open up up my Facebook app and get caught up on the daily gossip. On the bus to school I have one headphone in my ear playing my buddies Spotify mix while simultaneously playing Scramble with Friends. As my brain starts to fire on all synapses I walk through the school gates where I’m forced to put any technology away or it will be confiscated. Like Morpheus being pulled out of the Matrix, I “power down” and prepare myself for another boring day in the classroom.
Schools are stuck in the dark ages with their number two pencils, scantron testing and heavy, environmentally unfriendly, hard-bound textbooks. While the world runs on wireless smartphones, video chats, Dropbox, and emails, students sit in classrooms memorizing multiplication tables on a whiteboard and flipping through vocabulary words on paper flashcards. Education is well overdue for a spark of innovation and a complete facelift. It is one of the last giant markets to be disrupted by technology and we are right at the brink of some very exciting changes.
At the Microsoft CEO Summit discussion on innovation in education featuring Bill Gates, Sal Khan, and Bror Saxberg, Sal pointed out that we are at an “inflection point in history” where the traditional educational model and the institutions that support it are being challenged. Charter schools such as KIPP, Green Dot and Rocket Ship are leading this change with blended learning, flipped classroom and a data driven culture. Even though the use of technology in these schools is still largely experimental, the results are overwhelmingly positive. This has resulted in the emergence of a new technology frontier– Edtech.
For profit and non-profit technology companies such as Khan Academy, Kaplan INC and Edmodo are further fueling this change. They are developing innovative ways to teach students with video lessons, provide cost effective upper level tutoring sessions and foster a collaborative environment that puts the classroom online. Thirty more startups in the Edtech space shared their products, services and platforms at LAUNCH: Education & Kids Conference on June 12th and 13th. These companies aim to disrupt education at the first ever LAUNCH event put on specifically for Edtech. To quote Jason Calacanis, founder of LAUNCH, serial entrepreneur and angel investor, “This is our first education-focused event, and I believe we are at the start of something very, very big”.
Responsibly got the opportunity to attend this conference. Here are a few of our favorite companies from LAUNCH Education & Kids:
1. SMALLab Learning: Its like Xbox Kinect with the added bonus of actual learning
SMALLab’s flagship product is the Situate Multimedia Arts Learning Lab, hence the name SMALLab. This is an embodied learning environment where motion-capture technology tracks students’ 3D movements as they learn in interactive space. Graphs, equations, and physics concepts come to life right in front of them and in real time. Not only does it look like a ton of fun and like it could even hold my attention, student learning gains were significantly higher compared to regular classroom instruction.
2. Sifteo: Building Blocks just got fun again
Sifteo gets your brain and hands working together. Use your hands to move, shake, flip, rotate and neighbor your Sifteo cubes as you exercise your spatial reasoning, word-finding, pattern-matching and math solving abilities. Each set of three connects to a local computer that runs customizable games to target learning disabilities. This could be a real effective resource in special-needs classes.
Starting in 3rd grade, my mom made me join the school orchestra. I had two choices of instruments: Violin or Cello. Since I rode the bus home everyday and couldn’t begin to imagine lugging a giant cello with me, I chose the violin. Much to my parents joy and excitement, I picked up the violin rather quickly and actually enjoyed it so much that I asked for private lessons. After 3 years of dedication and study, I discovered a basketball and abandoned my violin in pursuit of glory and fame in the NBA. Maybe if JoyTunes was around back then I would have found playing music to be more fun and worthwhile.
JoyTunes uses interactive video games controlled by regular instruments to help children and adults learn to play real music on real instruments. They are solving the problem for 85% of the population who “wished they had learned to play an instrument” but never got past the frustrating first steps of learning to play.