Interview | Greg Long: Opening up DreamBox

DreamBox Learning was created as an extendable  platform to “radically transform the way the world learns.” But more importantly, the technology was created to help children learn more effectively.  The inspiration was teachers. “We set out to mimic what the best teachers do,” says Greg Long, Senior Vice President of Product Development. “Imagine the best teacher empowered with unlimited data, permanent memory, and infinite patience. If a teacher could sit beside each student, each day, and help them truly understand the concepts and strategies of early mathematics, the child would be able to work continuously and directly in her optimal learning zone: not too easy, not too hard. Our intelligent adaptive™ learning engine has achieved this,” he says. Here, Greg shares unexpected lessons he learned at a costly week-long business course, what third-graders struggle with, why it’s important to dare to dream—and more about a shark named Fluffy.

Victor: What does the name mean?

Greg: DreamBox Learning is all about dreaming big –imagining the unimaginable.  Our CEO, Jessie Woolley-Wilson, often says that at DreamBox Learning, we are in the business of unlocking the learning potential of every child – regardless of their zip code, background or the education level of their parents. We dare to dream about new possibilities and we are intent to change the way the world learns.

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

Greg: Our Intelligent Adaptive Learning platform is exactly what educators, parents, and students have dreamed about for decades – dynamic and continuous assessment at the point of instruction.  It’s an environment where learners are constantly evaluated – not by mundane assessments or tests, but by becoming fully engaged in an engaging game-like learning experience. This allows each individual student to be placed appropriately and immediately in their optimal learning zone. After every mouse click, the adaptive engine adjusts to continually individualize the learner’s pathway. DreamBox Learning has developed a series of patented virtual manipulatives that are based on tried and true classroom manipulatives that allow students to demonstrate what they know.  One key benefit of the virtual manipulatives is that they assess which strategies students use to solve problems as well as what they got right and wrong.  This data is used to ensure that students are never frustrated with lessons that are too hard or never bored with lessons that are too easy.  We achieve a deep understanding of whether each learner truly understands the concept and if she doesn’t, we provide gentle remediation right then and there.

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

Greg: It seems everyone is using “adaptive” in their marketing materials these days, but no other company has truly invested the time, technology and expertise that we have to create a product that is truly adaptive –  from the bottom-up. DreamBox Learning guides each student differently after every click of the mouse. The company was founded by forward thinking engineers with a mission to revolutionize learning. It was all driven by the question, “How can we build the most intelligent learning platform for kids?”

Additionally, DreamBox Learning’s developers understood that it didn’t matter how intelligent the engine would be if kids were going to be uninterested in playing.  Consequently, the product was built with two goals in mind:

1. Make the platform truly adaptive so all kids — from struggling to accelerated — benefit.

2. Create a fun and engaging platform so that kids want to play it.

We receive a steady flow of emails from teachers and parents saying they have to “pull” their kids off DreamBox Learning. We also get big kudos that the content is rigorous and the learning experience is fun!

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

Greg: The DreamBox Learning development team created a platform with the goal of optimizing student outcomes in math. As a result, the software gets to know the user through use and essentially learns the learner as the learner learns. DreamBox individualizes each student’s learning experience, somewhat akin to the way Netflix or Amazon personalizes consumers’ shopping experiences.

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

Greg: DreamBox Learning was founded in Bellevue, Washington in February, 2006. The company launched the first iteration of the DreamBox Learning Math platform in January, 2009 winning many industry awards.

DreamBox Learning Math is sold into school districts and also available as a home subscription. Consumers can go towww.DreamBox.com/parents for a free two-week trial.

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

Greg: School building subscriptions (that include home access) are priced at $5,000 per year and include an unlimited number of students. Subscriptions for individual students are $20 per student, per year. Educators can go to http://www.dreambox.com/educator-licenses or call 877-451-7845 for more information.

Victor: What are some examples of it in action?

Greg: DreamBox Learning has proven that it is making solid gains in the classroom.  According to a SRI International study, students atRocketship Education in San Jose using DreamBox Learning scored higher on math assessment tests than students who had no additional math instruction.

Additionally, a West Seattle Elementary School has utilized technology, including DreamBox Learning, as a key component in transforming itself from being in the lowest 5 percent of schools in the nation. After using DreamBox Learning, West Seattle students had the highest growth in math MAP test scores of any school in the Seattle School District. In fact, growth in Math MAP test scores from fall to winter increased at a rate that was 2.5 times higher than the district average.

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

Greg: DreamBox Learning is being used in K-5 classrooms across the U.S. and is geared to elementary mathematics. That said we tend to avoid defining our product based on grade levels as it is a powerful platform that individually tailors each lesson, for each child, allowing us to support on-grade, advanced, and remedial learners. For example, if a second grader is motivated and ready to accelerate beyond second grade, more power to her! DreamBox Learning automatically allows her to move as far up the learning continuum as she is able.

Consequently, if a third grader is struggling, DreamBox Learning will again automatically determine what concepts the learner doesn’t understand and take her back to a suitable place in the curriculum.  In many cases DreamBox Learning will provide a different path for the child to take to learn specific material.  Like great teachers, DreamBox Learning takes a drastically different approach to learning in stark contrast to the more traditional “drill-and-kill” and “rote memorization.”

Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?

Greg: DreamBox Learning’s mission is why I personally chose to come on board. We are driving innovation and making the classroom relevant to kids again. In the one-room school house of yesteryear, we had kids at different levels of mastery, all working on their individual learning plans. We obviously didn’t call them “learning plans” back then, but the concept is coming back: individualized education for everyone. To me it’s always been more about having an inherent quest for knowledge and great problem solving skills than memorizing state capitals or times tables

DreamBox allows us to embrace technologies that kids take for granted everywhere (except school), and empower students by allowing them to truly understand the basics and beyond, opening up time for teachers and parents to have meaningful, in-depth discussions with students so they can learn how to effectively interact with others and discover what they love.

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

Greg: Earlier this year, I took a costly week-long business course at a prestigious university. The last time I was in a college classroom, as a student, was when I got my MBA many years ago. My expectations were very high; I was excited to see how far education had come.

Boy was I underwhelmed. It was exactly like it was many years ago.  I received a huge binder of paper handouts and endured a week of sitting in an amphitheater being talked to by well-meaning professors. We had a few hours of hands-on simulations and case readings, but the bulk was “sit and be talked at.” I was expecting this awesome week-long journey where we would be tasked with solving real-life business challenges. Instead, we learned elaborate equations that have no relevance in my daily work life.

My take away from this experience underscored how critically important engagement is to what we do at DreamBox Learning.  Students can be enrolled at the best universities – or elementary schools – but if they aren’t excited about and engaged in the subject matter, they’re not truly learning – at least not to their fullest potential.

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

Greg: There is finally significant investment being made in the space that will drive innovation to an area that has been starving for years; too many entrenched players doing the same thing, decade in, decade out. With budgets decreasing, students need solutions that truly work, making their education years much more effective and rewarding. Everyone has good intentions, but solutions like DreamBox Learning will help this become an industry of which we can all be proud.

Victor: Any funny or quirky story you’d like to share that represents the spirit of your company?

Greg: Well, we have a stealth remote-controlled floating shark named Fluffy that makes rounds through the office each day and sneaks up on staffers when they least expect it.  It is fun and scary at the same time!    

Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of DreamBox?

Greg: DreamBox Learning’s Intelligent Adaptive Learning platform helps classroom teachers, schools, and districts extend the reach of great teaching by effectively differentiating instruction for a broad range of learners. By engaging students in meaningful, independent instruction and practice, we motivate them to learn and increase their math proficiency. Everybody wins.

——-

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@edtechdigest.com

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One Response to Interview | Greg Long: Opening up DreamBox

  1. Pingback: EdTech Digest Awards 2012: Standing Room Only – WINNERS | edtechdigest.com

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