2013-09-11-techstars
EdSurge
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Thumb_2108982 Marisa Kaplan ·

OPINION: A Teacher Walks Into a Demo Day

A teacher's thoughts on startups from the first Kaplan Edtech Accelerator

This past February, Kaplan, Inc. announced the launch of the Kaplan EdTech Accelerator, powered by Techstars. Based in NYC, the three-month program provides companies with funding, mentorship, co-working space and a solid network to support them in building a successful education company.

Today the accelerator held it’s inaugural class demo day (think graduation meets show-and-tell) at New York City’s IAC headquarters, featuring ten new technology companies focused on education. During the event’s introduction, the ten presenting companies were listed in the following three categories, which I’ve annotated with teacher language.

Smarter Experiences (“It’s user-friendly”): Mentormob , Newsela, Flinja, Mathify

Individualized Learning (“It’s differentiated”): Uvize, ModernGuild, panOpen

Smarter Scorecards (“It collects and presents data”): Ranku, Degreed, Verificient

During the pitches I was seated next to Devindra Hardawar of VentureBeat, who did a brilliant job of giving concise descriptions of the startups here. But while most of the audience members were viewing the pitches for business models and growth rates, I was looking for something else: which ones would I actually use?

The accelerator targeted companies building solutions for formal and informal learning, which meant that only a handful of the ten tools were designed specifically for the classroom. Here are the ones that are most relevant to my classrooms and personal learning.

Tools I’d Use In My Classrooms

As an instructional coach, I work with K-8 teachers in classrooms across New York City, so I’m always on the lookout for tools that will strengthen pedagogical practices and support efficiency for my teachers, and for companies that hold the whole child at the center of their mission.

  • Newsela

    Newsela’s mission is to personalize literacy by providing high quality nonfiction texts at multiple levels of text complexity. I was an early adopter of Newsela and have been championing it ever since, so I will certainly continue using and sharing this new tool. As a literacy coach, it is so challenging to find quality informational texts and once I find them, differentiating them manually is incredibly time consuming. Newsela has helped me tremendously. The news articles are high quality and with the click of one button, I can modify texts at multiple levels, allowing me to be a stronger teacher.

  • Mathify

    Formerly called Playpower Labs, Mathify is a company that partners with textbook publishers to reinvent and gamify math curriculum with engagement and interest as the focus. The slides they shared during demo day were promising and I’m certainly looking forward to getting a hold of their games, especially to try out with my schools that have purchased tablets. Mathify is currently in private beta but you can participate by clicking here and submitting your email. Some of Mathify’s games are also available on Fraction Planet.

  • ModernGuild

    This company is tackling career readiness for HS and college students through online courses and mentoring. I would recommend this tool to guidance counselors and teachers of HS students who are looking to support students in career readiness. Arguably, this tool could also be used to teach college readiness.

    I was very moved by ModernGuild’s pitch because the company invited a student and ModernGuild alumni, Sam Zuckert, to introduce their CEO Adrien Fraise. Zuckert's introduction was confident and engaging, which was a stark difference when compared to his awkward elevator pitch with his ModernGuild career mentor earlier in the year, which was filmed and shared during the pitch. But after having gone through the program, Sam is now much more confident and engaging with public speaking.

    We often worry about attaching data and numbers to quantify growth. Fraise was able to demonstrate the potential of ModernGuild to support the growth of an individual, which sold me on the powerful nature of the program.

Tools I’d Use For Personal Learning

I became an educator because I believe in lifelong learning wholeheartedly. Some of the companies that pitched today are building tools that can help me strengthen my teaching practice and continue to gather knowledge and experience in other areas of interest.

  • Degreed

    Degreed’s mission is to jailbreak the degree. CEO David Blake began his pitch with an enthusiastic explanation of how degrees are our only currency, and yet they are failing us. Degreed is not a classroom tool, but it is certainly a tool I will use. In fact, I have already started creating my Degreed profile!

    I often find myself wishing that there were a better way to represent my learning and accomplishments than a one-page resume or LinkedIn. Sure, I’m a teacher, but I’m more than that. Sure, I went to NYU, but that is not the only place where my learning happened. My work experience, the books I read, the courses I take, and the workshops I teach and attend are all part of my development and individuality. I look forward to using Degreed as a tool to better represent my knowledge.

  • Ranku

    Ranku has created a simple-to-use rating system for online degrees. I’d recommend this to HS guidance counselors and teachers looking to guide students throughout the college search and application process. Not to mention, many of the teachers I talk to consider going back to school, but the time commitment poses as an obstacle. Often, they decide to look at online degrees, but figuring out which one is the most affordable and the best quality is a daunting process. Ranku is certainly a solution for that.

  • Mentormob

    Having been an early adopter of Mentormob back in their early days when it was primarily used in classrooms, I was eager to learn about their progression over the past three months in the accelerator. Mentormob is a platform that sequences and organizes learning paths into playlists so that learners can access the highest quality content that is available on the Internet.

    This tool has a few potential use cases for me. I could use this tool to learn about my non-teaching interests. It also bears connection to the classroom in that playlists can be developed for curricular areas, and it lends itself to independent research for students.

It is always exciting to take part in events where companies get to showcase their hard work, and it was certainly an honor to be among the first educators to see these tools. I look forward to following their progress over these next few post-accelerator months.


About the Author

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Marisa is a New York City teacher, educational consultant, and the creator of EdGeeks, an education blog.

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