Living, Breathing and Eating Math: An Interview with Carnegie Learning's...

Blended Learning

Living, Breathing and Eating Math: An Interview with Carnegie Learning's Barry Malkin

from Carnegie Learning

By Wendy McMahon     Mar 28, 2017

Living, Breathing and Eating Math: An Interview with Carnegie Learning's Barry Malkin

Barry Malkin embodies transformation. An entrepreneur throughout middle and high school, he remembers selling friends 25 cent tickets to watch Flintstones movies projected on a wall in his basement. He spent a decade working in finance on Wall Street, followed by a move to education advising and eventually education investing. “I love doing and learning new things. I guess I also suffer from a little case of FOMO (fear of missing out)—which can be very motivating,” he explains laughing.

His fluidity perfectly suits his new role as CEO of Carnegie Learning—a company he believes is on the cusp of transforming itself and math instruction.

Founded 20 years ago in the research labs of Carnegie Mellon University, Carnegie Learning provides software and services for 1:1 and blended math learning environments. Recently acquired and now completely independent from its former owner Apollo Group, Carnegie Learning seized the opportunity for a fresh start by modernizing its offerings—and going back to its roots.

Malkin recently sat down with EdSurge to talk about the all-new Carnegie Learning and his plans to transform math learning for both teachers and students.

EdSurge: What’s changing at Carnegie Learning?

Barry Malkin: I took over as CEO a year and a half ago, and we have been on a mission to reinvent the products and the business itself. We’re creating a new approach to math learning, where students learn through collaboration and discussion to develop math and 21st century skills—we call it the Carnegie Learning Way. It’s a blended learning approach that combines online learning with face-to-face instruction. It’s based on decades of proven research and combines consumable textbooks, intelligent 1-to-1 math tutoring software, professional learning and data analysis services.

Our goal is to shift the teacher from the head of the classroom to moving around the classroom working with students on a more individualized basis. If you walk into a Carnegie Learning classroom you sense the difference immediately because the teacher is moving around and kids are debating with each other. Interaction between students is a regular occurrence in our classrooms and that is unique.

So we offer a blend of group-based instruction and individualized learning. The software is individualized—it’s meant to personalize a pathway for individual students. The classroom environment is where we’ve designed our textbooks and lessons to promote group-based discussion and exploration of math topics in a more creative fashion.

We’re rejuvenating a wonderful brand that’s been providing some of the most respected adaptive learning products in the market for in excess of 20 years. We’ve been working hard to bring back a spirit of independence and innovation. The employees at Carnegie Learning believed in the mission, rolled up their sleeves and worked exceedingly hard over the past year. It has been amazing. Someone recently said to me that when they joined Carnegie Learning 15 years ago it felt like a family and today it feels much like that again. It’s fun to be a part of. Really fun.

Is your technology changing too?

Yes and no. The founders of Carnegie Learning created a product that coaches students through a mathematical process with real artificial intelligence. So the core artificial intelligence engine isn’t changing.

But we’re building more functionality, content and analytics on top of that platform. For example, when a student moves through a problem in our software, not only is the problem multistep, but it also gives them contextual hints along the way to help improve their understanding and mastery of the content.

We’ve also transitioned our products from Java to a completely HTML5 cloud-based environment. Now our software is fully device agnostic and has a modern look and feel with incredibly sophisticated reporting. And we’ve made our textbooks more digestible. What’s more, we offer the professional learning services that our customers are asking for, like learning academies to strengthen math content knowledge and job-embedded instructional coaching.

Our company lives, breathes, and eats math. We want to make a truly measurable difference in math learning and outcomes. So, our products promote deep conceptual understanding, pattern matching and ultimately creativity in problem solving. And yes kids—you will use that throughout your adult life!

What does that mean for students?

Well, we are a substitute for paper and pencil. So when the student writes down the answer and shows their work, we not only mimic that process in our software, but provide individual pacing, analytics and differentiation that is not possible without technology. Students are able to see their own progress not only on the given problem, but also on micro competencies within the problem. We empower our students to actually see the progress they're making on that granular level. It’s a more powerful form of motivation and engagement than kitschy games or animations.

Similarly, we don't just measure right and wrong answers on problems. We actually break down the problems and then measure and analyze the micro competencies. That tells us a lot about the students' understanding of a problem or unit. Then we can serve up problems that correspond to a specific need a student has, not just a general need based on a right or wrong answer.

There are many roads to an answer in math and you can only see how the student is thinking and where their strengths and deficiencies may lie by breaking those problems down in a granular fashion.

How do you hope to transform math education?

I hope we can help students like me. I was a decent math student, but sometimes I needed more time than the teacher provided. And I wasn’t always convinced of the importance of what I was learning. In high school I was fascinated by Wall Street and the stock market, but I didn’t understand the benefits of having mathematical knowledge and applying it to something I was interested in—like finance—until college.

In college, I realized the difference between engagement and disengagement was applying learning to something I was passionate about.

Our products try to do something very similar. Our software, our textbooks, our pedagogy is unique. They try to create passion around the subject that doesn't exist in a traditional textbook. Our textbooks are based on real-world examples. In a lesson on scale factor, for example, students are trying to adjust the size of a logo to use on different web pages while maintaining the same scale. They're also based on discussions. I wish I had this curriculum when I was a high school student or a middle school student.

How will you measure your success?

The data that we have, the people that we have, the investment in this technology infrastructure that has happened over many years puts us in a unique position to really make a meaningful impact on education.

And research demonstrates that this is true. An independent study by the U.S. Department of Education and the RAND Corporation showed the Carnegie Learning blended approach almost doubled students' growth in performance on standardized tests.

We also believe there is no other barometer as important as our customers. That includes leadership at school districts, teachers, students and parents. We have to be successful with all of our stakeholders to be successful as a company. We believe in our products and we're constantly working to improve our products and approach. I think it's showing in the loyalty of our customer base today.

What does the future hold for Carnegie Learning?

For the foreseeable future, we will continue to focus on math. But I do think there are enormous opportunities for us to expand the AI platform that we have, and we've already experimented with other curricula to prove that it is extendable into other areas.

You like to recognize effort with the First Pancake award. What is that?

The First Pancake Award is given to someone at Carnegie Learning who tried something and failed. Just like the first pancake never turns out well, not all ideas are successful out of the gate. That's why we give them the First Pancake Award. Because we want them to try it again. If they do, they're likely to improve upon the outcome. We want to encourage people to try something different and take chances.

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