Last week's Launch event in Mountain View drew a crowd of a couple hundred and surfaced some wonderful tools. Thirty-one companies showed their stuff on stage. Many of these tools were aimed at kids at home--just the kind of applications that are most fun to explore during summer recess. Here were the ones judged most promising by a collection of judges (including EdSurge's Betsy Corcoran.)
ManyLabs: ("Diamond in the Rough"): This team is building software and tools to help teachers and students build devices with sensors and motors, typically based on Arduino tools. The Prices range from $16 for a motor driver up to $175 for a boxed kit). But after that, ManyLabs is rather teacher-friendly, making lesson plans freely available along with easy-to-use software that "lets you create interactive lessons with minimal coding."
Tipitap: (Best International Company): Building iPhone (and Android) apps that are educational games aimed at the under 6 age group. Includes a plushy brown bear cover for an iPhone that anthropomorphizes the technology (and coincidentally protects phones that tumble onto the floor).
Timbuktu Labs: (Best Design): an elegant, beautiful iPad magazine for kids, consisting of a collection of stories, art and activities. It bills itself as stories that kids can share with their parents. Judges and audience were awed at the jaw-dropping quality of the illustration and layout. "Beauty transcends all language," quipped judge Jose Caballer.
LearnStreet: (Best Technology): A program aimed at helping people learn to code, aimed mostly for older students to try after school. There are also other applications that encourage novice coders (Treehouse, CodeHero and Codecademy spring to mind). But LearnStreet, which is just beginning to open up to beta-testers, impressed the judges with a smooth interface and thoughtful exercises to work on coding skills.
JoyTunes: (Best Presentation): A nifty application to help students learn (and practice) the piano and recorder. The founders hope its creative design and game dynamics will improve retention rates for beginners just picking up a new instrument. This application is geared more at individual students than at a teacher-led classroom and skews a bit young.
Nearpod: (Audience Favorite): we've described Nearpod here. Teachers can use this software to tie together a crop of students' iPads, create content for the students' devices, control the pace at which they go through the material, watch how they're doing on quizzes and collect data on their results. Teachers can store 10 lessons for free on this software platform and share it with all their students.
Penyo Pal: (Best overall--new company): There is an abundance of language apps, but this one will give them a run for their money, at least in the cute department. Penyo Pal currently tackles helping users learn Mandarin through games; the founders call it "edu-play-tion." It's a brand new iPad app launched just last week and coming soon to Google Play. Though aesthetics are aimed at younger children, "cute is powerful," notes the company CEO.
Launchpad Toys: (Best overall--more established): Launchpad Toys already offers tools that kids can use to create and share ideas in playful ways. Toontastic lets kids create cartoon stories on iPads, complete with graphics and music. Soon to be launched: Monkeygram, which encourages older kids (or really, anyone) to create and send cartoon postcards to friends via smartphones. A "storytelling tool meets Instagram," says founder Andy Russell.
Finally, one additional company that left the teachers in the room swooning: GradeCam. The software turns just about any camera (including the one on your iPad) into a device that captures the scribbled (and bubbled) results from a quiz in machine readable data. We call that a paper killer!