A Planet Like No Other

Conservationist and former Nat Geo exec brings students exploration close-up.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

Tim Kelly Planet3Tim Kelly had a “wonderful” 30 years at National Geographic, where he was able to work with explorers and scientists, and (in his own words) “see first-hand the big challenges that we, as a planet, face ahead.” His time at National Geographic was mostly focused on consumer media, and delivering popular science to a broad audience around the world. He is widely recognized for moving the venerable National Geographic Society from a primarily print-based organization to a multimedia global force in television and digital media; under his leadership, they won a whopping 138 Emmy Awards. While Tim effected great change there, “That experience made me realize that the only way systematic change can happen is by changing education,” he says. “If we can graduate students out of high school who have a working knowledge of STEAM and a true passion and interest for science and the Earth, we can really change the world.” That is precisely his mission with Planet3, a new learning company that aims to give Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and STEAM (the arts, too) an exponential boost. In this EdTech Digest exclusive, Tim explores questions about a company through which he is on the cusp of creating a lasting legacy for students everywhere – passing along a planet to protect, preserve and on which we might continue to flourish and ultimately prosper – if he can inform them first-hand as to how and why.

We are using immersive environments, rich media, storytelling, crowdsourced science, and other tools to engage kids in a way that hasn’t been done before.

What is the mission of Planet3?

Tim: Planet3 is an exploration-based learning company that presents the entire Earth as a living laboratory and empowers student curiosity and achievement around Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) subjects. Its digital learning platform uniquely combines immersive game-based environments, real world context, and standards-based curriculum to promote better learning outcomes.

What makes it unique?

Tim: Planet3’s interactive platform puts students into an experiential mode where they explore Earth’s dramatic history and uncertain future. Every student will construct their own knowledge of standards-based curriculum topics through immersion in captivating story narratives, rich media, and game-based missions designed by master software designers. With great emphasis on data analytics and data visualization, Planet3 empowers students to gather evidence, develop arguments, and arrive at their own conclusions. Students are challenged to participate in real-time science, utilizing customized software linked to leading scientists and the most advanced Earth observing networks of NASA, NOAA, and other research entities.

Who is the team behind your company?

Tim: We have an amazing team at Planet3. Our executive team is comprised of leaders in science, education, game design, and technology, and we all share a passion and commitment to educating and inspiring students and promoting global responsibility through real-world experiential learning.

The executive team includes: myself (Tim Kelly), Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Vijay Lakshman, Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, Albert Lin, PhD., Co-founder and Chief Science Officer, Kelly McGrath, Chief Learning Officer, and Royal O’Brien, Chief Technology Officer. 

We currently have 35 employees at the company, and have offices in Washington, DC (headquarters), Las Vegas, Austin, and San Diego. 

Tell me about the product you are developing. When will it be available?

Planet3 home pageTim: Modeled on the Next Generation Science Standards, Planet3’s initial product offering will be a middle school science curriculum delivered through a digital learning platform. The Planet3 platform comes complete with extensive analytics, assessment tools, and professional development for teachers. The product focuses on Earth, Life, and Physical Sciences, with an initial release scheduled for Fall 2016.

How is it different from what is already out there?

Tim: Our vision is to bring STEAM education to life for students by presenting the entire Earth as a living laboratory. We are using immersive environments, rich media, storytelling, crowdsourced science, and other tools to engage kids in a way that hasn’t been done before. Whether traveling to the edge of the known universe, riding the eye of a hurricane, or exploring the inside of a leaf, students will explore these environments and the Earth through a cohesive narrative combined with dynamic data and real world stories that bring science to life.

Our vision is to bring STEAM education to life for students by presenting the entire Earth as a living laboratory. 

Our approach also emphasizes data analytics and visualization to encourage students to gather evidence and craft their own conclusions. The platform will integrate the most advanced Earth observing networks of NASA, NOAA, and other research entities. This real-time scientific data will be presented in multiple visual formats. Students will learn through experience how to read, interpret, and analyze data, and communicate their results within the classroom and with scientists and experts around the world.

How does the Planet3 product align with national and state standards?

Tim: The curriculum is modeled on the Next Generation Science Standards.

Will you be pilot testing your product? If so, where?

Tim: Yes. We have already engaged groups of teachers and students in focus groups to provide us with feedback and input on the product. This winter we will begin pilot testing a beta version of the product in schools in Las Vegas, Washington, D.C., and San Diego. Additional pilot sites will be added in other areas of the country as we fine-tune the product and get ready for its launch next fall.

What types of training or resources does it offer for teachers?

Tim: Our exploration-based learning model was created with today’s teachers in mind. The curriculum is combined with a robust teacher package that includes lesson plans, instructional support, and training modules. The approach also optimizes teachers’ time by providing real-time, actionable data and analytics on student learning and performance, enabling teachers to deliver a more personalized learning experience for students. In addition, Planet3 provides professional development and access to a professional learning community where teachers can connect and collaborate with fellow colleagues around the globe.

What devices can the Planet3 product run on?

Tim: The digital platform is completely cross-platform and can be accessed through any web-enabled device for anywhere, any time use – including laptops, Chromebooks, iPads and mobile devices – and easily integrates with leading student information systems and classroom management tools.

How does Planet3 prepare students for future careers in STEAM?

Tim: A key element of our approach is the focus on STEAM subjects. A rigorous curriculum that is aligned to the NGSS and successfully integrates these subject areas will result in empowered learners with the skills and knowledge needed to compete on a global scale in the technology-centric society of the future. Its exploration-based learning approach helps foster critical thinking, collaboration, and real-world problem solving skills to meet the demands of today’s global workforce.

Why did you choose to launch an ed tech start-up following 30 years at National Geographic?

Tim: Right now is an exciting time in K-12 education and we feel that what we are bringing to the market is unlike anything else out there right now. We are leveraging the amazing digital tools and capabilities of today’s classroom and combining that with real world data and exploration to truly engage students and get them excited about science. We believe this can make a difference, and that is why my co-founders and I started Planet3.

On a business note, why did Switch/Rob Roy invest in Planet3?

Tim: Rob Roy first was introduced to Planet3 through Albert Lin, our CSO and one of our co-founders. Albert was in Nevada last March to receive the Desert Research Institute (DRI) Nevada Medal, and while there he met Rob Roy, the CEO and founder of Switch, the Nevada-based developer of the renowned SUPERNAP Data Centers. Mr. Roy is a leading technology entrepreneur and innovator and is a driving force behind STEAM education improvements in Nevada. Our idea for Planet3 intersected with Rob Roy’s passion for changing education in Nevada and across the country, and it sparked an immediate serendipitous match. As a result, the Series A round was funded by Switch, and Rob Roy will serve as Chairman of Planet3.

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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