Cool Tool | The Dynamic Schedule

CREDIT Epiphany Learning Dynamic ScheduleEpiphany Learning, a student-centric, web-based personalized learning application for K-12, recently launched the Dynamic Schedule – a powerful feature that allows schools to transform traditional classrooms into learner-directed environments. This feature reduces the amount of time teachers spend scheduling flexible environments and enhances the personalized learning experience by giving students more choice while facilitating student ownership and accountability. It allows learners the choice to select their own classes or seminars, manage their own time, and develop their own schedule based on their needs – all while allowing teachers to manage the parameters of students’ schedules so learning requirements are met. The feature also invites learners to voice their opinions by providing teachers with documented feedback regarding events and assignments; and, by facilitating time management from an early age, it helps nurture an important life skill. Check it out for yourself.

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Cool Tool | Herokins

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 9.34.49 PMHerokins celebrate the adventure of learning by bringing traditional storytelling to life and strengthening family bonds. This new children’s education line is composed of a Bluetooth-enabled wearable action figure and mobile app that harness the power of intrinsic motivation and turn teachable moments into fun joint parent-child adventures. Herokins reshape children’s understanding of chores, safety lessons, and healthy habits through interactive StoryQuests. The action figures – McRed and Dr. Rose – easily sync to the accompanying mobile app, which includes a library of StoryQuests to choose from. Each 5-10 minute StoryQuest implements the latest findings in child development research to make learning life lessons positive and entertaining. Each Herokin comes equipped with LED lights and a speaker through which it speaks to the child throughout the story by asking questions and prompting actions. By design, Herokins are a companion learning tool, rather than an authoritative learning device. Children empathize with their Herokin as they solve problems together. Additionally, the child’s behavior and choices impact the storyline, creating a truly personalized learning experience. Herokins are available now for pre-sale on Indiegogo and will be available on Amazon and through specialty retailers in time for — dare we say it while it’s still July — the holidays.

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Dream It, Fund It

A funding platform especially for PTOs and PTAs from experienced edupreneurs.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT edbackerWith millions of people who want to help schools but no single destination for them to search opportunities to help fund everything from small classroom science projects to large scale facilities projects such as playgrounds and sports courts, Gary Hensley saw a problem with traditional school fundraising that technology could solve. Gary is the CEO and founder of edbacker, an online funding platform for PTA/PTOs, schools and organizations. He has worked in the education space for 12-plus years; he sold his previous company to Pearson and has five years experience at Pearson in strategic

Critical programs are being cut and parents are rising to the occasion because they refuse to let their children fall between the cracks in the school budget.

partnerships and product management. Mary Ellen Matheson is the VP of Business Development. She’s worked in fundraising for more than 10 years and has more than 10 years experience in marketing and business development. Their advisory board includes Blackboard CEO and founder Michael Chasen and other interesting leaders. In this interview, Gary and Mary Ellen talk in more depth about the platform. “Schools have never been more in need of money, and traditional school fundraising has never been more in need of innovation,” says Gary. “We want to make it so funding never stands in the way of implementing a passionate parent’s great idea,” says Mary Ellen. Here’s more.

A lot has happened in the past year or so. Let’s back up and provide a whirlwind timeline of how things have gone since inception, with highlights.  edbacker logo

Gary: We launched the platform about 2 years ago with our first offering that centered around fundraising because parents across the country are feeling the effects of budget deficits at their kid’s schools and needed to raise money more efficiently than ever before. After the initial release we really began to build the engagement portion of edbacker by offering email and newsletter capabilities combined with an easy way to manage all that data.

Why such rapid growth? 

Gary: We are built for parents by parents and make running a parent organization easier. This market is incredibly hungry for a solution like ours that makes it easy to support your student and the local school.

What need is this filling that a Kickstarter or Indiegogo or other platform can’t fill? 

Gary: Parents are raising money year over year vs. one and done. We make it easy to engage and easy to raise. Most importantly, we recognized that parents want to be involved and participate in their children’s school life — so we offer them a way to do that in person or while they are at work.

What does this say about school funding these days? 

Mary Ellen: There have never been more demands on parents’ time and resources. Critical programs are being cut and parents are rising to the occasion because they refuse to let their children fall between the cracks in the school budget.

We hear of teachers spending out of pocket – have been hearing that for several years now, maybe more. What’s the state of education in the past five years where it’s come to this?

Gary: I don’t see this trend going away any time soon. Parent organizations have always been there to support teachers and we see stories of this happening all across the country. We partner with these organizations to strengthen and streamline their important work.

This is a masterful use of technology. Let’s talk about features, benefits and specifics of the platform, why the robustness of the platform is something that is so needed and why edbacker has a unique back end.

Gary: When you integrate fundraising with a communications tools some really cool data begins to emerge. You can feed this data back into the system to help it make smart decision like excluding list of people who have already given to the campaign in the next outreach. We are also helping customers solve some really practical problems like keeping track of who has paid membership and how much a parent has given for the year for tax purposes.

Mary Ellen: We have also started to partner with companies who have interest in engaging with parents and see value in freeing up capital for schools to be more successful in their efforts.

What are your thoughts on education these days? How does the need for an edbacker speak to the overall trends and shifts in funding, funding for education, and future directions? is this a case of a tectonic plate landscape with serious changes underneath? 

Gary: Parents have more choices than ever before to effect change in the school and they can do it without asking for permission. K-12 funding model is a very complicated system and is inherently linked to the tax base. With the current system in place you always see ups and downs in school funding. Parents and schools are getting creative when it comes to finding ways to reach their goals and I see that happening at an accelerated pace, both in funding and supplementing their child’s education.

Everyone has a story – especially when it comes to needing funds and telling why. What sort of anecdotes can you share? Do you get heartwarming, interesting, strange, unique stories?  

Mary Ellen: Yes, this is the best part! Where do I begin? The stories are as unique as the schools and parents we serve. We have had the privilege of working with an urban elementary school raise funds to create a wetlands garden outdoor classroom. So cool to see students who come from modest means and families who live primarily in apartments working side by side to use raised funds to build the gardens that teachers use for experiential learning. On the other hand we had a very tight knit school community host a secret pop-up campaign to create a scholarship in honor of their suddenly retiring principal and school founder. Funny story, we had high school students create their own campaign to travel to Quebec for an immersion program. The kids took on the project, created the videos and fueled the effort!

Anything else you care to add or emphasize concerning your current success? about funding? future direction? 

Mary Ellen: We’re getting great feedback from parent organizations that we are making their jobs easier and more efficient by offering a highly sophisticated technology to accomplish their most basic needs like collecting dues but also versatile enough to drop and drag a polished newsletter to raising significant revenue in capital campaigns.

Gary: If we look into our crystal ball we see the future for schools involves engagement in their entire community — local merchants, national businesses with a local presence as well as and community leadership who all have a vested interest in seeing our education systems succeed. We all know it “takes a village” to support our children but now we have the tools to pull it off.

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to:

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2016 AWARDS PROGRAM. EdTech Digest recognizes people in and around education for outstanding contributions in transforming education through technology to enrich the lives of learners everywhere. We are now accepting entries for the 2016 awards program. Submit an entry<<

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Aspiring Minds Want to Know

Will bridging the employer/job-seeker divide with an employability test pass stateside?

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Aspiring MindsAn estimated 5 million U.S. jobs – the most in more than a decade – are unfilled, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, while 8.5 million people are looking for work. With U.S. headquarters in Redwood City, Calif., leadership ties to MIT and Harvard University, and investment from Omidyar Network, an India-based global company has developed the AMCAT, which they contend is one of the only standardized assessment tests that accurately measures employability and predicts performance in 90 percent of available jobs. The company, Aspiring Minds, uses patent-pending technology involving advanced machine-learning algorithms, adaptive assessment and statistical methods. The cloud-based, data-driven AMCAT evaluates more than 200 skills, spanning language, cognitive and functional competencies; personality traits; and situation handling. Billing themselves as one of the world’s leading assessment companies, Aspiring Minds

Technology is helping scale assessments, which can in turn help scale learning.

helps organizations (over 1,100 including dozens of Fortune 500 companies), governments and institutions (more than 4,000 higher education institutions) measure and identify talent (since 2008, they’ve facilitated more than 200,000 job matches). Their leadership has a vision to create a level playing field in education and employment by introducing credible assessments, and their mission is to develop a merit-driven labor market where everyone has the access to talent and opportunity. Himanshu Aggarwal is CEO and co-founder and his brother, Varun Aggarwal, is CTO and co-founder. More than 2 million job seekers in Asia, the Middle East and Africa have taken AMCAT and received millions of credentials since the test became available. A credential is awarded for each competency, such as a skill or personality trait. Credentials are integrated with profiles on LinkedIn, Monster, and other job sites. Meanwhile, Aspiring Minds is scaling rapidly, adding over a million job seekers every year. Their next test? The U.S. market, which we quiz them on in this interview.

What prompted you to start Aspiring Minds? What is your vision, and what was your motivation? Did formative experiences play a role?

Himanshu AggarwalHimanshu Aggarwal: Young people with potential were left outside the mainstream recruitment ecosystem while industry globally has been complaining about a talent crunch. While most solutions were based on throwing more and more training at people or getting youths into expensive colleges, there was no means to objectively measure readiness of individuals for various jobs (employability), leading to no feedback and little guidance. We envisaged that something similar to a GRE — but way more comprehensive and targeted to job skills — for jobs could create immense value.

What problem does your company solve?

Himanshu: We help make matching between individuals and jobs more scientific, accurate, and most importantly highly scalable. We have created AMCAT – a multi-dimensional employability assessment that evaluates a variety of competencies based on an individual’s education and job aspirations. Based on the AMCAT, individuals are able to get job role-specific credentials that they can use to signal their job readiness to employers. We work with employers to help them validate the AMCAT credentials in their organizations and improve recruitment efficiency and workforce productivity. Also, based on the assessments, job seekers get to know their improvement areas and connect to various training resources, both offline and online, such as MOOCs, to improve themselves.

How is AMCAT different from, and better than, similar assessments?

Himanshu: Candidly, there isn’t a similar solution that works for both job seekers and corporations. Most tests today are aimed at helping corporations reduce recruitment load. Stated simply, there isn’t any test in the market that a candidate can take to assess his or her job readiness and match with various jobs.

Varun AggarwalVarun Aggarwal: Technologically, AMCAT combines extensive research from across fields including assessment design, machine learning and simulations to create a highly accurate, reliable and valid test. The tool is adaptive, responding to each response; works with large question banks; and is integrated with sophisticated online and mobile delivery technology. Most importantly, AMCAT tool is data-driven and predicts job success.

Our technology is innovative and unique. While we have multiple patents, we have published our research extensively in such leading machine learning conferences as KDD and ACL and such assessment conferences as AERA. We also co-organize an annual workshop on assessments, to be held this year at ICDM in New Jersey.

What benefits does AMCAT offer educational institutions and their students?

Himanshu: AMCAT is immensely valuable to students who are looking for a career after their education. It not only helps them get credentials, which makes their job search easier; it also gives them detailed input on their skill gaps early in their education/job search, providing an opportunity to bridge the gaps through openly available training options, such as MOOCs and vocational courses. The holistic offering makes AMCAT very valuable to the students.

Hence, university career offices find AMCAT very beneficial for the students. Not only do the students get the above benefits, using Aspiring Minds’ campus analytics report the career office gets a good macro understanding of the students marketable skills as well as skill gaps, making their effort to work with industry in hiring its students and as well help the students bridge the skill gaps making them better ready for their career.

How do you work with educational institutions?

Himanshu: We typically work with career offices in institutions to help them offer AMCAT to the students. AMCAT is generally taken by students in the junior and senior year, for diagnostics and credentials. We also work extensively on analytics to help the institutions better understand the macro-level gaps so that the institutions can plan appropriate interventions.

Why have you launched in the United States? Are you looking to address any particular U.S. needs or issues?

Himanshu: The U.S. education market has evolved quite drastically over the last five years. While the higher education debt burden is being pegged as the next big crisis, free education and training through MOOCs is changing the way people learn.

Higher education as a signal to employability or job readiness is too expensive for a large number of roles. Credentials based on AMCAT can help give credibility to skills acquired through work experience or alternate means of education, such as MOOCs, and act as a signal albeit more accurate than higher education.

We see AMCAT very ably providing credentials to job seekers in the U.S. and addressing the ever-changing skill and talent needs of corporations.

What’s your take on technology in education, and on education in general?

Varun: Technology is changing the way education is going to be delivered. Technology has a promise of scale, reach and reliability where some of the traditional mechanisms fall short. Technology will help scale education with quality, and it will help make education more personalized and adaptive, increasing the efficiency of the learning process. At the same time, it is important that the impact of technology is scientifically measured and the right interventions are scaled. Standardized assessments of outcome is one key way of making sure technology is having the intended impact on learning levels and also finding where there is scope of improvement. Simply stated, one that cannot be measured, cannot be improved. Technology is helping scale assessments, which can in turn help scale learning.

What advice do you have for education and technology leaders?

Varun: We feel technology in education will succeed when we build and apply tech to solve real problems in education rather than best fit existing technology to education. Also, in education, measuring impact takes time and can sometimes get ignored as we go about building a business; we shouldn’t lose sight of the impact. Long-term impact in education is very effective in creating a good and lasting company.

Finally, do not just concentrate on how large the numbers are, but focus on the real measurable impact on every individual.

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to:

* * *

2016 AWARDS PROGRAM. EdTech Digest recognizes people in and around education for outstanding contributions in transforming education through technology to enrich the lives of learners everywhere. We are now accepting entries for the 2016 awards program. Submit an entry<<

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Lessons in Listening

Turning up a classroom tech tool that changes the way teachers teach and students learn.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero 

etd-interviewsFrom time to time, EdTech Digest provides a forum in which those working in and around education can share their perspective on truly transformative technologies offering immediate practical benefit to teaching, learning and school culture. In such a panel with teachers of Richardson Independent School District in Richardson, Texas, the power of incorporating a technology tool into classroom small-group discussions is loud and clear. 


Caroline Canessa, Merriman Park Elementary, 5th Grade Reading-Language Arts

Leah Janoe, Dover Elementary, 5th Grade Math

Ashley Scott, White Rock Elementary, 3rd Grade

Jennifer Looney, Wallace Elementary, 3rd Grade

Alyson Hollon, Dover Elementary, 6th Grade Science


CREDIT Richardson ISDRichardson ISD covers 38.5 square miles and includes most of the city of Richardson, and portions of the cities of Dallas and Garland. RISD is comprised of 55 campuses that serve almost 38,000 students. Including administration and support, RISD maintains 70 facilities covering more than 6 million square feet with 35 million square feet of grounds. RISD has been rated as “Recognized” by the Texas Education Agency for many years in a row. RISD is the largest, most racially and socioeconomically diverse district in Texas to receive a rating this high.

FOR THOSE WHO may not know, can you elaborate on what your state standards ask teachers to assess in terms of small group discussions?

Jennifer Looney: According to our third grade standards, students should be involved in teacher-led and student-led discussions.

Leah Janoe: Students should participate in small-group discussions by asking questions and answering questions appropriately, which includes answering the question thoroughly, giving enough detail, and most importantly helping the conversation build and continue through their input.

Ashley Scott: We’re also asked to determine if students can use proper verb tense and grammar through discussions with peers.

Why is it challenging for teachers to monitor small group discussions?

Alyson Hollon: The biggest challenge with small group discussions or team collaborations is being able to monitor each group’s discussions at once, so that any misconceptions are addressed.

I am so excited for (and slightly jealous of) the technology opportunities my students have to integrate into their classes and learning.

Caroline Canessa: This area of teaching can be very challenging! Often times it is hard to know whether or not student conversations or focus on the task at hand, or completely off the mark. Also, students may pretend to be on task while the teacher is near, but then return to being off task as soon as the teacher leaves the area.

Jennifer: Small groups are often spread out all over the class, so it is hard for a teacher to have the time to engage with all groups. It is also a challenge to talk to one group while also monitoring behavior in a group across the room.

Richardson ISD has found and is trying out a tool that allows teachers to monitor several discussions all at once. Can you tell us about it?

Ashley: Yes, the Flexcat system comes with two teacher microphones and remotes, one large speaker, and six individual speaker pods. The microphones can be used to project your voice out of the large speaker or out of individual pods. The remote controls the volume of your voice. You can use your normal talking voice and it does a wonderful job making it louder for all students to hear. With the pods, I can control which group I would like to speak to directly. The microphone comes with an earpiece, which allows for you to listen through the pod to that group. You can turn on the pod without the students knowing and listen. Students can also use the call button on their pod and speak to the teacher through their pod.


CREDIT lightspeed FlexcatFlexcat clear-classroom-audio system from Lightspeed Technologies, Inc.

Product Features: 4-6 tabletop audio pods for communication with each student group; teacher microphone to instruct and monitor each group; teacher remote to select each group or the whole class; classroom speaker to enable whole group instruction; charging base to organize and charge all components. Learn more.

Jennifer: The speaker pods allow you to have ears all over the classroom. From working with a small group at my teacher table, I can tell what a group in the hallway is discussing and talk to them directly to refocus them without interrupting precious teaching time.

How has this technology changed the way you run your classroom?

CREDIT Richardson ISDLeah: It allows me to hear students’ natural conversations with each other, especially when I can listen in and hear how students are explaining a concept to each other. As a math teacher, I can listen in and see what steps students are verbalizing during group work and help clear up misconceptions in that manner. With the ability to project my voice using the main speaker, I’ve noticed that my students can actually hear my from any point in the room without me having to yell while teaching.

Ashley: My kids are highly motivated to share their thinking and “be the teacher” up at the front of the class wearing the microphone. I can also send a student into a breakout room with a pod to finish work or make up a test. I can pop in on the pod and make sure everything is going OK or they can call me if they have a question. There is also a place for headphones so you could send a child with a pod and headphones to another class to work and still be able to talk directly to the student. It provides so much freedom and flexibility.

How have students reacted to it?

Caroline: The students think it’s a lot of fun! They always ask to use the microphone and love to push the call button.

Alyson: The students were shocked at first when they realize that I could listen to their conversations even when I wasn’t near them. This has really pushed them to remain on topic and have higher-level group discussions. It has also given students who normally don’t ask questions the opportunity to ask me direct questions, reducing their feeling of apprehension.

Leah: My students have loved using this system because they can discreetly call me to ask for help on a problem. Students who normally would not ask for help feel more comfortable asking for help if they can do so without me having to walk over to address them.

Could you share an example of a time when the technology allowed you to catch a student really shining that you would have otherwise missed?

Ashley: This year I had a few students new to our school. Most of my class has gone to school with their peers since kindergarten, and it can be an intimidating situation to walk into. It took this student until the third week to raise her hand to share with the class. One day I called on this particular child to “be the teacher” and share her thinking with the class during math. I gave her the microphone and once she heard her voice from the back of the room, she immediately smiled and stood up straight. You could see how excited and proud she was. Without the microphone, there is no way anyone would have been able to hear her because she was so nervous about sharing with her new peers.

CREDIT Richardson ISD imageJennifer: I have a very intelligent student who prefers to only share a few words at a time whole group because she is so shy. When she is with her tablemates, however, she is very talkative. I am able to listen in on her responses in a more laidback situation. I know several students have anxiety about whole class answers and responding directly to a teacher. As this student was working through a table problem in math, she guided her peers to solve a multiplication problem. It was really great to witness her come out of her shell and collaborate!

Alyson: I have this one student who really struggles working with teammates. One day I was listening to his group as they were finishing up a lab and he explained to another teammate why the chemical reaction occurred and he explained t so well. At this time I was working with my small group students and if I didn’t have this technology, I would never have heard his wonderful explanation.

What are your thoughts on education these days?

Caroline: The world of education is just as challenging and rigorous as it has always been.

Alyson: Today’s education is changing from teacher-led to student-led. Our students need “21st-century skills” to be successful today which changes the role of teacher in a 21st century classroom. Students are more motivated and want to be in charge in their own learning.

Leah: In these times, I am amazed at what students are learning and how they are being taught. The methods and topics that students are using are amazing and I cannot imagine having learned with so many technology tools when I was in school.

What are your thoughts on technology in education? Why?

Jennifer: Technology is used, in some way, for every career out there. Students must graduate knowing how to use this technology. To exclude technology from the classroom would be a great disservice to our students.

Leah: I am so excited for (and slightly jealous of) the technology opportunities my students have to integrate into their classes and learning. I’m amazed at all the tools students can use to encourage their learning.

Caroline: Technology in education is critical. It allows students access to information that they may not otherwise be able to access at home. It also readies all students for the future – which is increasingly more and more digital world.

Any other comments or experiences to share?

Alyson: I honestly believe with all the technology that I have in my classroom, this is an essential and necessary technology that should be in every classroom.

Ashley: I would not want to go back to teaching without it!

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to:

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