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Flush with Funding, Flocabulary Will Let Students Write Their Own Rhymes

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Image credit: Flocabulary

When y=mx+b, b is the y-intercept, you’ll see.
M is the slope, the rise over run.
They’ll wait until we stop, but that day will never come.

That’s a line from “ Linear Equations,” from Flocabulary, a New York City-based startup that makes catchy educational hip-hop videos. Soon, students may be able to write their own hot verses as they practice Cartesian coordinates: Flocabulary is adding composition features.

The music video maker will debut the Lyric Lab, a feature that will allow students to write and record their own educational hip-hop songs for class, at this year’s International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference. In the future, students will also be able to animate and share their videos with one another. The Lyric Lab is the first of several product updates that comprise what Flocabulary co-founder and CEO Alex Rappaport is calling “Flocabulary 3.0,” the redesign and new features accompanying the company’s $1.5 million convertible note from Rethink Education.

“Kids learn from each other through creating and sharing, so we eventually want to create a community,” Rappaport said, “but we want to take privacy super seriously and nurture that slowly. Audio recording will come first, then sharing. The product timeline for this year consists of iterating on the Lyric Lab."

Building a community of users isn’t the only long-term goal, however. Rappaport hopes to reinvent how teachers relate to Flocabulary. He wants them to use it more.

“We’ve been a front-of-the-classroom tool for five years,” Rappaport said. "We’ve been lightweight and only taken up a few minutes of class at any time. We’re looking to build a much deeper student experience. We aim to cultivate literacy across all subjects, and we’ve always felt that video was not enough."

Taking a cue from Genius.com, which annotates and explains lyrics of popular songs, Flocabulary will start connecting readings and response questions to lyrics during videos. Building on the foundation of its existing Interactive Lyrics and Quiz features, Students will be able to click lyrics to see complete reading activities and answer quiz questions; teachers will also be able to assign the activities related to certain questions in a song. The company aims to measure the understanding created by its videos and to have data flow through the site.

“Without providing these activities on the other side of the video, we’re leaving too much on the table,” Rappaport said. "We’re getting kids to this excited state with music and video, and it’s a shame not to follow through with that.”

Even as Flocabulary expands its product offerings, both the company and its investors remain wary about the scope of its aim. Rappaport is running up against a slew of questions: Do educators believe songwriting to be valuable? Can rap be authentic formative assessment? How can he justify an arts-based product against traditional test prep? “Teachers may believe in Flocabulary as a way to engage kids around an academic topic in minutes, but do they believe that students can learn from this deeper experience as well?” he asked.

One larger question looms: Can Flocabulary grow beyond K-12? “Our goal has always been to teach everyone to rap,” Rappaport said, “But we wanted to tell a more realistic story. We’re exploring other potential markets—consumer, international, corporate—but we’ll always respect the teacher and the K-12 market."

Alex Rappaport isn’t scared, though. He believes his company’s flexibility will save it if a feature performs poorly. “A good edtech company rolls things out iteratively,” he said. "If we release the writing, the recording, the taping, the sharing all at once and no one uses it, that would be a catastrophe."

CORRECTION, June 20, 12:30 pm PT: The quote “Teachers may believe in Flocabulary as a way to engage kids around an academic topic in minutes, but do they believe that students can learn from this deeper experience as well?” has been updated.

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