Interview | Rohit Agarwal and Andrew Joseph: Getting TenMarks

The U.S. is behind most economically developed nations when it comes to students’ math skills, ranked 34th according to a PISA report in 2009. “In order for the U.S. to maintain global competitiveness, and for our economic development, it’s critical that our students have a better foundation and understanding of math,” says Rohit Agarwal (pictured, left), co-founder of TenMarks, a personalized math learning platform. “Most of the high-paying jobs require a strong foundation in math, and the current education budget cuts are putting further strain on our ability to help students ‘get’ math,” says Rohit, who with Andrew Joseph created TenMarks so teachers and parents had a way to help their students increase the math skills and confidence. With students spending more time online, TenMarks provides an easy to use environment for students to practice and master math concepts, at their own pace, and their own time. Here, Rohit and Andrew share the origins of TenMarks, the benefits of the system and their outlook on the future of education.

Victor: What does the name mean?

Rohit: The name TenMarks is symbolic of 10 out of 10, what students should aim to achieve. On TenMarks, students are motivated to aim for the 10/10. The system helps them get there with hints on every problem to refresh their memory, and video lessons they can watch while they’re doing the problems to help them get it right. The focus is not on testing students, but on getting students to refresh what they know, and learn what they don’t.

Victor: What is it? Who created it?

Rohit: TenMarks is an online math program that helps students practice and master math concepts, at their own pace, their own time. The TenMarks approach of a personalized curriculum for each student, along with hints and video lessons to help students refresh what they know and learn what they don’t, has been proven to improve math skills and increase student confidence. Studies in public and charter schools have shown a material increase in student scores with the use of TenMarks.

Andrew: TenMarks strives to give teachers a powerful tool for both reducing their work load and increasing their students’ math skills. We provide an online environment for teachers to assign practice and check students’ work for both completeness and competence with a focus on ease of use. We want teachers to be able to comfortably blend a technology solution with their everyday teaching. TenMarks is used by over 11,000 classrooms nationwide, and does everything a teacher would want an online delivery platform to do. It assigns work, communicates with the kids, has a built in incentive system, and best of all, delivers a complete at-a-glance reporting system to help teachers see how and what their kids are doing.

Rohit: TenMarks is also used by thousands of families across the country as a supplemental practice environment for their students.

Victor: What does it do? What are the benefits?

Andrew: TenMarks provides a personalized curriculum (called a playlist) for each student, which are made up of “Albums” (e.g. Fractions), which are made up of several “Tracks” (e.g. Diving Fractions).  The student is assigned work by the system on a track, which they complete at their own pace. Each set of work assigned has a variety of problem on that single “track”, so students are exposed to the various methodologies related to that small topic. While the student is working on the problems, they can use 3 hints unique to that problem which help refresh their skills, and quick 3-5 minute video lessons in case they didn’t understand that topic well. The idea is to help the student master that topic by the time they’re done with it, usually within 15-20 minutes.

Rohit: The benefits are many—increased math skills, confidence in math, and a strong foundation in math for a stronger future. Studies have shown that use of TenMarks by students significantly increase math scores, and teachers and parents testify to the value delivered.

Victor: How is it unique from other similar products/services? What companies do you see as in the same market?  

Andrew: The TenMarks approach to math practice and learning and very unique. Each student gets their own personalized playlist, and the hints and video lessons to help them refresh and learn as they work is a unique approach as well. In addition, TenMarks provides teachers will unparalleled ability to assign and review work and student performance, saving them time and effort.

Victor: When was it developed? What is something interesting or relevant about its development history?

Rohit: TenMarks was started in early 2009 and has been developed over the last two and half years. The product’s ease of use and immense value delivered has resulted in thousands of teachers using the product over the last school year, primarily driven by teacher referrals. When the product was launched for teachers to use in their classrooms, we expected a few hundred teachers to sign up and give us feedback. Within a short month, we had exceeded our expectations by more than 10 times, and had to scramble to put the supporting infrastructure in place so teachers and students had a good experience and didn’t see slowness.

Victor: Where did it originate? Where can you get it now?

Andrew: TenMarks started out by offering programs for middle school math, but now offers programs for Grades 2 through High School, mapped to all 50 state and common core standards. The program is available at http://www.tenmarks.com

Victor: How much does it cost? What are the options?

Rohit: The program is free for teachers to use in their classrooms during the school year. Teachers can sign up all their classes, and every student gets a username and a password, and can use the program anytime—free.

Andrew: We do offer a premium offering for schools that integrates formative assessment data to create personalized enrichment programs.

Victor: What are some examples of it in action?

Rohit: TenMarks is used by teachers at more than 11,000 classrooms across the country, and by thousands of families. An example is Loma Verde Elementary School in Novato, California—they used TenMarks during the school year and over the summer. Their formative test results showed that 82% students who used TenMarks increased their math scores over the summer, a remarkable achievement.

Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? Who is it not for?

Andrew: TenMarks is tailored for teachers who would like to leverage technology to reinforce what they’re covering in the classroom. The program maps to the lesson plans used by the teacher, and enables them to assign work and review performance in minutes. The TenMarks approach of helping students learn ensures that students refresh and learn the math concepts as they do the assigned work, increase math skills and confidence. The program is perfect for teachers and families who would like to have a personalized learning environment for their students, enabling students to received differentiated instruction, at their own pace and their own time.

Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?

Rohit: Education has been in center of many debates across the country, and everyone from the president to the neighboring parent is passionate about doing what it takes to help our kids have a strong future. With education budget cuts across the country, there is a strong need for technology to help increase student performance even with the rise in student teachers ratios. Our belief is that key to success lies in technology that can help Teachers be more effective, so they can spend their time “teaching” and interacting with the students. Technology can help them with assignment of work and review / management of scores. Technology can also make it possible for students to look at homework differently—as a refresher of what’s been covered in class—and using technology to refresh what they know and learn what they don’t, while they’re doing the work.

Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating Ten Marks?

Rohit: I spent my early childhood years in India, where math education is a strong focus.  I realized the value of a strong foundation in math, and tutored students in math through my graduate school years to pay for school. I realized that students who don’t have a strong math foundation by middle school, are more likely to accept that “math isn’t for me” by the time they get to high school, severely limiting their career options. I also realized that one of the challenges was that students wanted to get math, but weren’t comfortable asking for help—so why not create something where they could learn using hints and videos, just when they realize they need the help while working on problems.

Victor: How does Ten Marks address some of your concerns about education?

Rohit: TenMarks helps teachers do more of what they want to do, which is teach. It takes away some of the pain associated with assigning work related to what they’re covering in class, and ensuring that students “get” the topic covered before the class moves on. With TenMarks, when the teacher assigns work, not only do students do the work, but they use the hints and video lessons to refresh and learn the concept, helping them master it. The program helps teachers do what they do best, which is teach. It helps them ensure that every student “gets” what’s been covered in class, and that homework and assessments are “effective” and “actionable”, and makes differentiated learning possible with ease.

Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?

Rohit: We see technology as a key factor in how education is delivered to students. We see teachers leveraging technology to be more effective. We see technology as a way for teachers to have a broader reach. We see technology making individualized learning for students a reality, while maintaining the class and student organization structure. We see teachers and their knowledge and relationship with the student as critical to the success of any technology solution. Our belief is that we will see an education revolution in the near future, and it will be driven with technology helping teachers, not replacing them.

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Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: victor@VictorRivero.com

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