At an education conference last fall, I had the pleasure of meeting Jeff McCoy, the Associate Superintendent for Academics at Greenville County Schools.
Greenville serves over 75,000 students in South Carolina and is famously known for “OnTrack Greenville,” a proprietary early warning response system that rapidly identifies students requiring academic intervention and helps them get back on track in a timely manner. Of course when I met Jeff, I had no idea this was Greenville’s bread and butter.
Over four years ago, we started Kiddom to enhance the classroom experience for teachers and learners. As we listened to teachers to refine and improve our product, we discovered a an alarming information gap between classrooms and their respective administration bodies.
To learn more, we conducted hundreds of interviews with school and district leaders. The result of this research led to Kiddom Academy, our K-12 school operating system to measure and act on classroom intelligence. Rest assured, we’re never going to stop listening to and learning from the folks we serve.
After the demo, he smiled and said, “What you have here is an early warning response system. We built it five years ago.”
In the spirit of lifelong learning, I wanted Jeff’s take on Kiddom Academy, and he was kind enough to sit through a short demo of our K-12 school OS. After the demo, he smiled and said, “What you have here is an early warning response system. We built it five years ago.”
As it turns out, in 2014 the United Way generously committed $9 million over three years to help Greenville build the software, train staff, and launch the program. I was thrilled to learn the research and work we were doing at Kiddom was putting us in the right direction.
The Components of an Early Warning Response System
To be clear, education technology is one of three components that go into running an early warning response system. It requires an intervention framework like RTI or MTSS, coupled with professionals to take the achievement insights and act on them.
This article explains what went into Greenville’s program. It’s a great example of humans using software to make sense of data in an actionable way to ensure all students succeed.
Early Warning Response Systems: What we Hope to Learn
Next week, Kiddom’s School Success Lead Melissa Giroux and I have the wonderful opportunity to visit Greenville, South Carolina and watch their early warning response system in action. The purpose of our visit is two-fold: (1) identify and understand the classroom intelligence metrics and indicators Greenville County professionals track and (2) identify the essential human processes and protocols necessary to take action on the data to support students.
Greenville County was able to build their early warning response system thanks in large part to a generous $9 million donation by the United Way. At Kiddom, we recognize most districts aren’t that lucky. I look forward to learning from the experts at Greenville County Schools and bringing this knowledge back to the Kiddom community so schools and districts can afford to ensure all students receive the supports they need, when they need it.
At a typical Kiddom school, hands are in the air, there’s a buzz in the room, and teachers and students are energized. Kiddom was designed to help improve teacher retention and increase student performance and graduation rates.
For the first time, the most important parts of teaching and learning are connected and simplified in Kiddom. Curriculum lives in one place and is easily measured and refined, instruction is personalized to meet the needs of each student, and data serves as a powerful system of support for every member of the learning community to keep students on track.
Three years ago, the Marshall County Department of Education in Benton, Kentucky abandoned their traditional curriculum and instructional model in favor of individualized, project-based models to offer students more choice and voice.
A change of this magnitude not only requires new furniture, new hardware, teacher training, and community buy-in, but also software to develop a new set of criteria to measure academic success.
Watch “How Marshall County Individualizes Instruction Mini-Documentary” here:
Marshall County decided to trust Kiddom’s K-12 operating system as a centralized source of valuable data to measure student achievement and enable individualization. Since implementation, other districts are following Marshall County’s example as they rethink their own approach to teaching and learning. Since our first pilot with Marshall County, the district has expanded their use of Kiddom.
It is so rewarding to see how schools and districts tailor Kiddom to fit their pedagogical models as they move towards individualization. The Kiddom team values Marshall County’s vision to use technology to help them transform their instructional practices and we are grateful for the opportunity to have made a difference in this community.
Is your school or district ready to follow Marshall County’s lead?
We’d love to support you in your journey. Book a demo with one of our education specialists below and we’ll be in touch soon.
Hello, and welcome to our recap from last week’s Change Management Initiative webinar with EdSurge and Kiddom! Our very own Melissa Giroux, School Success Lead at Kiddom and contributor to our Change Management Guide, sat amongst the four panelists.
In this insightful discussion led by EdSurge CEO and Founder Betty Corcoran, you’ll hear from current and previous administrators who have been there and survived to tell the tale. Listen to hear their success stories, tips, and even a few educational failures encountered while rolling out new tech initiatives at the school and district level. Please watch the video here or view a partial transcription below.
Webinar Transcription start:
Betty Corcoran: [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to today’s webinar, which is about making edtech initiatives stick. My name is Betty Corcoran, and I’m the founder and CEO of EdSurge. We’re really, really pleased to be here with you today. Just a quick note before we get started; this webinar will be recorded and the recording made available to you and others via e-mail. After the live event, we also really encourage everyone to ask questions using the Q&A button in the Zoom webinar window, and we’ll answer those as we go along. So please feel free to jump in, join the conversation, and be a part of it.
I’d like to start by thanking our panelists for joining us today. We have four terrific people here: Kyle Pace, who is director of technology at the Grain Valley School District in Missouri. Kyle has led technology initiatives as an instructional IT coach, starting with implementing Smart Boards, to today when he’s rolling out 1,100 Chromebooks to middle school teachers. Melissa Giroux is the school success lead at Kiddom in New York City. She’s been a teacher in New York, she’s been a founding teacher of an alternative school, and now she works with Kiddom to support teachers. She is also an EdSurge columnist — I hope you read her stories, talking about a wide variety of schools implementing technology.
Mikkel Storaasli is the superintendent of the Grayslake High School District in Illinois. Mikkel got his start as a math teacher in Leyden High School and rose through the ranks serving as an assistant principal and now is obviously superintendent for the high school district which has two high schools and almost 3000 students. And Pam Moran, Executive Director of the Virginia School Consortium for Learning, has really done it all. She’s been a teacher and one of the country’s top administrators serving at the Albemarle County Public School District in Virginia, and she’s the co-author of a new fantastic book called Timeless Learning: How Imagination, Observation, and Zero-Based Thinking Change Schools. And I’m really pleased to say she’s also a featured speaker at our Fusion Conference, which is going to go on next week. Yay. Thank you all for joining us.
So, broadly speaking, you know what? Newton was right. It takes more energy to make a change than it does to keep things going as they are. And yet our world is continuing to change — that pace of change is accelerating — and that means that we have to figure out how to make change something that our communities; our staff, our students, our families, can embrace and welcome. We’re going to talk through ideas of what has worked with leading practitioners, and of course invite anyone who’s on this webinar to weigh in with questions and thoughts.
So a couple of things to start off: Studies do suggest that most educators feel overwhelmed by the number of new initiatives. They get ahead of a lot of them, but it is challenging. And let’s take a look at how technology reforms compare to other school reforms. 36% of teachers felt that technology reforms in the last two years had a pretty large impact on them. That’s a third of all of our teachers. And on the other side of the coin, only 59% of educators feel that they have the support that they need to implement reforms — that really should be 100%. So before we ask the panelists to weigh in and share some of their experience, we’d like to ask anybody who’s out there who is tuning into this webinar to answer a very short poll and give us some thoughts about your own experiences….
1. Has your school implemented a tech-based initiative in the last two years?
I’ll take a second for you to just click yes or no.
2. Do you feel that you have the support that you need to master the initiatives that are being implemented in your district or your school?
So just take a second and fill those out. We will come back to that poll in a couple of minutes and give you the results.
I’d like to start this conversation by asking each of you a question. Kyle, let’s talk about that Chromebook initiative; 1,100 Chromebooks! Take us through how you’re doing this rollout. So much of getting people to embrace change is building on trust. So what are you doing to get all of those middle school teachers who are saying “Oh my God, here comes 1,100 Chromebooks!” — How do you build trust with that community?
Kyle Pace: [00:05:10] Yeah absolutely, that’s a great question. Literally a month ago we brought one-to-one to all of our middle schools and gave every student a device. So that was a huge initiative just right here at the start of the school year that we added on to all of the devices that we already had in our district. So it takes a lot of planning and preparation and an outstanding team to build that trust for sure. We didn’t just drop in 1,100 devices and say “OK, teachers: here you go.” You know, we had already been introducing the devices for a good two years prior to this moment to get teachers comfortable with, “What does this look like with my teaching, and what does it look like for student learning? And how does this enhance teaching and learning?” And that all came through our two instructional technology coaches that worked a lot with all of the teachers at these schools to build that trust; to build that system of support, to show them what’s possible, to help them when things don’t work, to be there and celebrate the things that went awesome with them as well. And so our district’s commitment to that looked like… you know, we started out with just one instructional technology coach. Then we got two instructional technology coaches, and created a concrete plan of not only how we’re gonna support teachers and how we’re going to continually work with teachers, but also how we’re going to work with and support our administrators in all of this “new” that’s coming along, as well.
Betty Corcoran: [00:06:56] So before we let go of this, maybe just take us through those numbers and that timeline, because you said that you were working on it for two years, you now have two IT coaches. Remind us, how many teachers and administrators are these folks supporting and can you give us a couple of milestones on that ramp up?
Kyle Pace: [00:07:15] Yeah, absolutely. So this began at… we started with our high school actually, so our high school is in the third year of being one-to-one. So we started there and we started very small, created some pilot groups…
Betty Corcoran: [00:07:33] So that’s one teacher? Two teachers?
Kyle Pace: [00:07:34] Yes, so it was about half a dozen or so teachers.
Betty Corcoran: [00:07:38] Okay, So start with about a half-dozen teachers, that’s great. And they did it for a semester or a full year?
Kyle Pace: [00:07:44] They did it for the entire second semester of the year prior of what this would look like with the students fully supported.
Betty Corcoran: [00:07:54] How did that how did that ramp go?
Kyle Pace: [00:07:57] So then we ramped up to giving all of our high school students the device the following year, so that was approximately 1,300 devices that we rolled out three years ago to our high school students. Lots and lots of communication and resources and support had to come out ahead of that; we wanted to keep our parents in the know. Parents were also being asked to pay a Chromebook insurance fee for the first time, so that was something new that parents weren’t used to. So we had to make sure we were communicating the why behind this very regularly and very carefully. We wanted that to be very purposeful.
Betty Corcoran: [00:08:42] So now you’ve got the 1,300 high school kids using it, and as you said you started to get the middle school kids, so overall then what’s what’s the ratio? You’ve got two IT folks and they’re serving how many?
Kyle Pace: [00:08:54] Yes so we’ve got two Instructional Technology coaches that are supporting approximately 200 teachers, maybe just shy of that, that are teaching with a 1-to-1 environment.
Betty Corcoran: [00:09:10] Terrific. Well we’ll come back to those stories, but that’s a great start. Melissa, you’ve seen initiatives go well, and you’ve seen them stall. Tell us a little bit about a time when you started to see those early signs of “Oh my God… we’ve had enough initiatives!” And then, what did you do when you addressed that?
Melissa Giroux: [00:09:29] Yeah, absolutely. One of the key signs for me, from both an administrator perspective and a teacher one, is around that Why? and that trust that Kyle was speaking about. When I go into a school for the first time, one of the things that I’ll ask both the admin and the teachers, whether or not they’re in the same room, is “Why are you using our platform? Why are you using technology in the classroom?” That Why question and the variance of answers that it generates is often a really big warning sign. And for people focusing often on the products and the solution instead of the Whyand goals for the solutions —
Betty Corcoran: [00:10:04] Instead of the pedagogical reasons.
Melissa Giroux: [00:10:05] Exactly, the objective for implementing anything new, whether it’s technology or not. And so seeing teachers’ blank stares at that question, confusion, looking around at each other, or immediately kind of disengaging is a pretty scary sign. And from the administrator point of view, one warning sign I’ve seen is that fatigue. I think most admin have really good intentions, but they hold so tightly to initiatives. The freedom that tech specialists in these pilot teams that Kyle’s describing had to kind of play around in a low-risk way… this kind of takes the pressure off that head admin who’s leading the charge. It’s exhausting to try to be the sole driver of a new change, and so when I see an admin who already looks fatigued at the idea of pushing a new initiative, that makes me a little nervous, that they’re holding out a little too tightly, instead of building that trust and a little bit of experimental freedom.
Betty Corcoran: [00:10:59] Cool. Is there anything that you’ve done that actually is just kind of a great, sort of, almost a warm-up exercise or a scaffolding to try to deal with that kind of fatigue?
Melissa Giroux: [00:11:14] Yeah, absolutely. I think breaking people into smaller groups, where they have the chance to talk amongst each other, if they don’t have an answer to that “Why a new piece of tech?” question, whether breaking them into their department teams or their grade teams. Letting them sort of grapple with that in an open-ended way before I jump into anything technical has been a great way for me to be able to on-the-spot tailor materials as I hear things bubbling up in conversation. Teachers don’t get an awful lot of time just to talk to each other about the work and take a step back. So often those 37-and-a-half minutes of PD time are go-go-go, and then everyone leaves, and we don’t know what happened. So investing that time, and pushing my partners at schools to invest that time, into just a little bit of discussion to give me a fertile idea bank of ways that I might support them moving forward helps.
Betty Corcoran: [00:12:08] Mikkel, I’m sure that what Melissa said really resonates with you, because as a district leader you have had to kind of coordinate and connect all of the various pilots and initiatives and really try to help people answer that “Why.” How have you tried to do that? How do you make people see things as a unified whole, not “just another initiative.”
Mikkel Storaasli: [00:12:34] Yeah I mean as a district administrator I think a lot of times we’re the ones maybe at fault you know, for initiative fatigue. You know, we’re the ones that are seen as…
Betty Corcoran: [00:12:43] Thank you for saying that! I’m sure your teachers appreciate that.
Mikkel Storaasli: [00:12:47] Yeah, hey I’ll cop to it, absolutely. You know, what I think we have to do is exactly as Kyle said and exactly as Melissa said, you start with the “Why.” You have got to use that Simon Cynic idea of “This is why we’re doing this.” I don’t have a great answer. You know, it’s difficult to communicate why we’re doing all these things or how they all fit together. What I would say is we just have to be relentless about communicating why we’re doing it. Having some sort of framework, whether that’s a mission statement or a strategic plan, or a well-articulated set of goals, and communicate to people this is why we’re doing it. We may be doing all of these different initiatives, whether it’s a tech initiative or reading, or math, or PBL, or blended, or what have you. But they’re all pushing in the same direction. And again, just being relentless about communicating that “this is why we’re doing it, this is how it fits into the grand scheme of things, and this is why overall this is the direction we’re going and how it’s going to benefit our students.”
Betty Corcoran: [00:13:47] And just out of curiosity. In, say the last initiative that you’ve really started to rollout, maybe something that you’ve started to do this September, how have you framed that “Why” for your community?
Mikkel Storaasli: [00:14:02] Well you know like I mentioned we just rolled out a new strategic plan and a new mission statement — that’s why it’s on my mind, I guess. One key line, so to speak, of our mission statement is “relevant, engaging, authentic learning” and really pushing that — and it’s part of our goals. It’s really something that we’re trying to make sure teachers understand, no matter what you’re teaching, that’s what we need to be pushing toward. So we’ve got a couple of blended learning pilots, for example, where students are maybe in C in class three days a week and somewhere else in the building. Two days or a week, or what have you. And really communicating why that’s that’s important for students why we think allowing them or helping them learn how to manage their own time is important, and they gets into like technological issues and things like that. But it really gets to, again the relevant, engaging, authentic learning. Not just the use of their time but if and when they decide to go to college, they’re probably gonna be taking a blended course and are gonna have to learn how to manage their time regardless. So again, trying to to communicate how it fits into the grand whole.
Betty Corcoran: [00:15:12] Yeah. And Pam, in your book you have a really big important observation, (a lot of big important observations), but one of the ones that I really liked is that we have to realize that teachers themselves are at very different developmental stages, and you summed up with an idea you call squash, which I really like. Take us through an example of what these stages mean and what squash has to do with it.
Pam Moran: [00:15:39] Well I think that I’ve learned as an elementary principal for 10 years, which was part of a journey to being a superintendent for 13 years, that we live in a world where change is coming at us all the time in schools, for a variety of reasons. It was true in the 80s, it was true in the 90s, and it’s true today. What I think was absolutely critical for me, as an elementary principal, is that we were going through a process of trying to reinvision what we wanted curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment to look like, just for a principal. The teachers worked really hard on it. I was really working on it, and we had some support from the University of Virginia, in an educator who was in the Curry School of Education. And what we were trying to do was to build the integrated model around in firing the arts and writing as a set of pathways to getting at what we didn’t call at that point time, “deeper learning”. But I think we call it deeper learning today. Sometime right before the Thanksgiving holidays, teachers came and sat down with me and said “Gosh, we’re feeling really squashed here.” There was so much coming at us from so many different places. And what really emerged from that, is that they were overwhelmed even though they embraced the world and they wanted to be doing the work, but when you were trying to balance teaching kids, trying to invest in professional learning at the same time, and doing all the things that the division also expected us to do, that sense of being overwhelmed cause them to feel like they were squashed.
What we did, and I came back to the idea that sometimes you have to relieves the pressure and take a break. Let’s step back and take a break. And the way we got to the take a break conversation was interestingly by having a parent at school who worked at a local restaurant and worked with us to prepare a menu that was served on a day right before the Thanksgiving holidays, that was a professional development day, and the theme was squash. Literally that day had every single part of the meal was made from some version of squash, including the bread pudding. But what it did was it just caused everybody to sit back and say, “You know, what we’ve got to be able to do is to take small bites of this work, versus taking big bites, to use the food metaphor. And we need to maybe be more invested in doing a slow meal versus a fast meal.”
Betty Corcoran: [00:18:40] I love that point.
Pam Moran: [00:18:41] And it was interesting because, one of the things that caused us to think about that metaphor more is that one of the teachers said, “You know schools should be run like a great restaurant. Where you have really good service, where the food is then really cooked to perfection, where you take your time and you enjoy your meal and before everybody gets up, that you realize that you had a really fun evening. And if our work isn’t like that, if we can’t run like a great restaurant, then one of the things that we have to do is to ask ourselves the question, “What are the barriers to doing that?”
The other thing that I learned as the superintendent was that change can come from a lot of different places, it can come from the grassroots, it can come top down. But the reality is, when you embark on change, if you don’t have a process to do what I call somewhat of an aim small, miss small model, where you actually are not trying to create change that’s going to cut across the full organization, but rather to start with almost a prototyping space, so that you know you can always make mistakes. And we see it rolled out in the front of EdWeek every time there’s some big division that’s had a national fail in terms of rolling out an initiative, that if you aim small, miss small, and you really think about how can you test out this, then you get some people who know that they’re in it to help you figure out what the barrier’s going to be, where the mistakes are going to happen, and how to fix those before you take it out to the bigger audience of the entire staff, so I think that would be the two things I would offer up.
Betty Corcoran: [00:20:30] Those are some amazing points. I’d love to come back to this aim small, miss small point again. But we do have that poll ready, so just going to pause for one tenth of a second to show the polls. So of the people who are currently on this webinar… Yes, 81% have had some kind of tech initiative. And we’re kind of running neck-and-neck here about whether they feel that they have the support. So that makes this conversation incredibly timely.
To hear the rest of the webinar, please watch the full video on our YouTube channel here, and we also encourage you to check out our free guide on Change Management to learn more about successful edtech implementation for your school or district.
When I taught math at an alternative high school in New York City, I had a set of mandated tools which I had to use, but some of them didn’t meet my classroom needs. To better serve my students, I patched together a bunch of disparate edtech tools to ensure the materials were appropriately differentiated and accessible anywhere at any time. This meant devoting an inordinate amount of time copy-pasting achievement data from one system to another to ensure compliance with our set of mandated tools. Maybe my use case might have better informed other learning communities serving a similar student demographic. Maybe this information would have created an opportunity for school and district decision makers to more effectively evaluate the technologies they had purchased.
Why aren’t teachers considered a source of truth for large districts seeking product solutions? Teachers are on the front lines for our children, playing coach, mentor, counselor, and mediator before, during, and after the school day. They pour their blood, sweat, and tears into writing curriculum that guides students in making meaningful connections across concepts. They explore and incorporate new tools and instructional models in the name of student achievement, even when that means working late into the night and on the weekends.
There is some good news. According to that same EdWeek Market Brief, about three out of five small district leaders proactively seek teacher recommendations before procuring education products. Of course, smaller districts are inherently set up to be more responsive because they can have less bureaucracy. At Kiddom, we see this very clearly, as our K-12 operating system is gaining the most traction in small-to-medium sized districts, where leaders have their ears to the ground (and their eyes in the classroom). They recognize that any major new instructional initiative requires staff buy-in first, and to do that, you need to understand the tools your teachers have already chosen for their classrooms.
The report illustrates how interoperability can help states and districts better achieve student learning goals, in that “interoperability can allow for a balance between high quality information and local use of that information to support teaching and learning.”
If half of K-12’s large district leaders continue to ignore teacher recommendations, and we assume that those teachers will continue to use tools that work best for their classrooms, how can we solve the interoperability issue in education?
What Large Districts Can Learn From Small Districts
To institute change and ensure decisions are made using high quality information, large district leaders should take a page out of their smaller peers’ playbook and create meaningful opportunities for pilot programs to report results directly to district leaders. If they don’t, they will only perpetuate the interoperability problem plaguing all of us in education, from students and teachers to district administrators to education technology companies.
If you’re the leader of a large district, you might remember LAUSD’s infamous $1.3 billion 700,000 iPads-for-all initiative. This blunder could have easily been avoided by engaging classroom teachers in decision-making processes, making critical improvements to the plan, and then building authentic buy-in.
When we started Kiddom more than three years ago, we first focused on building tools needed to enhance the experience for individual teachers and students. By focusing on classrooms first, we discovered a disconnect between teachers and their administration bodies. So we listened and worked closely with public school administrators to understand how to connect school systems from the top-down and bottom-up.
At Kiddom, we recognize the need for change management when implementing new initiatives such as personalized learning, blended learning, and/or instructional models that are more student-centered. Our team of success managers are former educators focused on acting as thought partners for administrators, and connectors between school communities tackling similar challenges. We work alongside you to provide contextualized, targeted resources to guide teachers through long-term changes.
If you’re interested in learning more about how we’re helping schools and districts measure and act on classroom intelligence, we’d love to chat.
P.S. We’re obsessed with designing and implementing technology that enables all students to learn via pedagogy and pacing optimized for them. Are you an administrator seeking to build buy-in to a new initiative to support your teachers? We’d love to learn more about your goals.
The School Operating System is the Latest Stage in Educational Technology.
Nearly ten years ago, I started my career in education as a math teacher at a new alternative high school serving over-age, under-credited youth in New York City. My students were labeled “at-risk” of dropping out because they were 16–21 years old and previously unsuccessful in high school. Many suffered from chronic absenteeism, caused by factors such as homelessness, family responsibilities, and/or incarceration. If we, the educators, were going to serve our students well, we were going to have to get pedagogically creative.
One of the first curricular tools I built to share — on the first day of school — was a public, student-friendly gradebook on Google Sheets. (Yes, this was before Google Classroom existed!) Students could track their progress and identify which skills needed extra work at any time. Little did I know this experience would eventually propel me to help develop a school operating system that tackles technology issues plaguing educators and supports them with more opportunities to offer individualized instruction.
Creating a Toolbox — and Filling It
After creating the gradebook, my colleague and I developed a curriculum aligned to New York state math standards. We scoped and sequenced the curriculum according to a set of power standards representing scaffolded skills. If students mastered a power standard, they could move on and didn’t need to wait for others. This competency-based system made sense; if students were chronically absent, holding them accountable to a pacing calendar would prove futile.
To supplement in-person support offered during class and lunch periods, I published a simple Google site to house my lessons, assessments, and other resources. If students missed class or needed additional help, they could go to my website and access the day’s lesson as well as videos and digital exercises from YouTube and Khan Academy.
As my students submitted work, I tracked everything in my gradebook. My goal was to minimize the information asymmetry that tends to exist between what teachers know about their students and what students know about their performance. At the time, I had no idea this system was called “standards-based grading.” I was so green at this point in my career that I probably assumed every classroom in the 21st century operated this way. I didn’t realize what we were trying to build was innovative.
The following year, I wanted to ensure that when students did come to class, they could participate and engage — or at the very minimum — access the content via a class set of iPads. I stepped up my game by adding even more videos and assessment exercises to my class website, mining resources from IXL and CK-12. I generated logins for my students and started “blending” instruction using the free content from these publishers. This worked nicely for my students, who felt like I was carefully attending to their learning pace and providing them with targeted learning materials.
By the end of year, more than half of my students passed the Algebra 1 state exam. For context: in years prior, every one of these students had failed this exam at least once. Of those who failed again this time around, many had never come so close to passing and looked forward to retaking it in the summer.
Enter the LMS
I was proud, but also exhausted. The time required to maintain the number of tools I was juggling was eerily close to the time I used to spend working as an investment banker. I dedicated hours every week copy-pasting student achievement data from multiple systems into one gradebook, analyzing each student’s progress and assigning work based on need. The last thing I needed was another system to maintain, but that’s exactly how my third teaching year started: my school administration decided a centralized system for grades was necessary to assess how all classrooms were doing. They bought a learning management system (LMS) and asked us to start using it.
Procuring the LMS was purely an administrative decision, fueled by a desire to monitor school-wide trends to make resource allocation decisions. I couldn’t fault school leadership for this, but I still hated using it. I didn’t want to change the way I’d set up my class because my model working for my students. Now, in addition to importing data from IXL, Khan Academy, and an adaptive learning program called Carnegie Learning, I had to transfer the achievement data from my gradebook into another system. It felt like every tool I used in the classroom was inherently designed to work in isolation.
By the end of that year, my patience had grown thin. I stopped updating the LMS on a regular basis and wondered how long it would take before somebody noticed. My colleagues had mixed feelings about it too. Because the LMS was designed to contain a lot of tools for teachers in a single view, it was clunky and cumbersome to use. For example, it didn’t integrate with Google Apps, which we had spent the last three years using. Nor could I customize features to align with my class set-up, or remove certain features altogether.
Building and Brainstorming
After three more years teaching in alternative high schools, I left the classroom to join Kiddom and address this interoperability problem. In an ideal world, teachers would be able to access a set of tools driven by their classroom needs and aligned to an instructional model of their choice. Administrators would be able to measure and take action from macro-level trends, manage and review curriculum, and enable educators to incorporate the instructional models and technologies that serve their classrooms best.
Unfortunately, teachers are constrained by tools that are ineffective or redundant. Many education technologies are not interoperable. School and district leaders continue to spend an inordinate amount of time piecing together data to understand what’s really happening. When that takes too long or doesn’t work, they resort to classroom observations — because they’re easy to do.
During my time at Kiddom, I’ve had the opportunity to apply my teaching experience and work with a team of designers and developers to tackle these problems head-on. At first, we focused on teachers and learners and the tools needed to enhance a singular classroom experience; this led to a simple, visual standards-aligned gradebook. Next, we connected this gradebook directly to digital content publishers like CK-12 and Khan Academy so that teachers could access teaching resources in order to differentiate instruction efficiently and save time.
Because every classroom experience plays a role in the larger ecosystem within a school, we designed a set of collaboration tools to help teachers work together, share, and learn from each other more effectively. We then focused on the information asymmetry that exists between classrooms and their respective administrative bodies. Working with and listening closely to public school administrators, we brainstormed various ways we could support school systems from the top-down and bottom-up.
A K-12 School Operating System
The result of this work is Kiddom Academy, a K-12 school operating system supporting collaboration and individualized instruction. Using Academy, administrators can identify and act on aggregate achievement trends, manage curriculum and assessment, and efficiently integrate other tools they’ve come to rely on. They can set up frameworks for a range of pedagogies in line with their organizational goals. Classrooms gain access to a comprehensive library of standards-aligned resources and curriculum development tools. Beautiful, actionable reports help students, teachers, parents, and administrators monitor progress and take action.
Kiddom Academy, our K-12 school operating system for schools and districts
A K-12 school operating system is the next step in the evolution of education technology. Interoperability matters in schools and districts now more than it has ever before, because we’ve come expect it everywhere else. For example, I can purchase a pair of concert tickets using my EventBrite app, and then export the information directly into my iPhone calendar. So too should teachers be able to use a variety of learning apps in their classroom and expect them to work together seamlessly. As we see more content and pedagogy-specific tools in the market, we can expect increasing numbers of teachers to find and patch together the tools that work best for them; administrators will be no different.
My teaching experience helped me understand that I didn’t need to buy a blended learning or personalized learning product. I had a process and practice in place, and needed a set of interoperable tools. I can’t imagine how much more passion and creative energy I might have offered my students and colleagues if I wasn’t staying up late every night copying and pasting data to differentiate instruction. “Personalized learning” might be trendy, but it isn’t new. Teachers have been trying to enhance and individualize learning using the tools at their disposal for a long time.
That’s why at Kiddom, we’re hell bent on designing and implementing technology that enables all students to learn via pedagogy and pacing optimized for them. We’re betting big on the idea of building a system for other learning apps to run on — rather than in — to help schools plug and play the tools they find most effective. We can’t wait to see how schools will use Kiddom Academy to execute their vision for teaching and learning.