Last Thursday I attended Teachers College’s Ed Lab Spring Demo Night. It was high energy with a focused discussion and well thought out ideas. One of the presenters demoed TuVa labs, an online platform to support students learning through their interests. They posed the questions: How do we get kids to learn from what they are already interested in? Is it the Miami Heat’s winning streak? Italian food? From here, students would pick up a subject and learn about it through something that really fascinates them. TuVa Labs focuses on the subject of math, since, as the presenter stated, math is the subject our nation struggles with the most.
The concept of connecting learning with student’s interests in a rigorous way seems to be a winning start, but of course the challenge is keeping the program tailored and rigorous for each student. Another group that presented was called Chalkable. Chalkable selects the finest technology apps out there and brings them on to one hub where students can pick and choose programs and teachers can track student results.
The follow-up questions from the audience were quite insightful for TuVa Labs. One person asked about how reflection was incorporated into the online lessons to helps students be metacognitive about their learning. It’s not. Yet. But the question does represent a major challenge in online learning.
The other question was about how the program helps students who get stuck. It doesn’t. Which isn’t a bad thing necessarily. It means there is a firm place for the teacher in the room.
Teacherly was the last group to present. Teacherly also addresses math learning, but it focuses on students who struggle. It supports differentiated learning through a video game. It mimics, at the lower age level, manipulatives needed for counting. The program draws on multiple ways a child might add and subtract–tallies, number line, coins–so that a child can use whatever way he or she is most comfortable counting to learn. Providing multiple options for counting strategies is very innovative and is something I found useful when teaching Kindergarten and 1st Grade.
These three programs are still in the early stages. Teacherly aims to tailor their programs to students learning through their own interests and passions and create environments that feel intuitive to the student.
I look forward to more demo nights at Teachers College’s Ed Lab and to exploring the landscape of new education startups. It’s good to support and help these groups prototype their ideas into final products.