March 5, 2014
Before pursuing an MBA and starting a company, Craig Jones spent four years teaching in the classroom. During each of those years, he taught more than 160 students. Motivating and teaching one’s self can already prove to be difficult – can you imagine having to do this with close to 200 other people every year? What frustrated Jones, however, was the amount of time that he spent on grading and administrative tasks – time that he could have used toward interacting with his students. “Spending even just one minute on each student for any one assignment meant that I’d spend three hours grading,” said Jones. And like any good teacher, he knew that interacting with his students was the most meaningful and engaging way to learn. So, with help from Kevin McFarland, the two started SmartestK12 to tackle these inefficiencies in the classroom.
“Teachers spend half of their days without interaction with their students. [SmartestK12] turns assignments into smarter assignments that track student growth over time,” said Jones. “It gives teachers more time to provide meaningful interactions and meaningful growth to their students’ needs. There’s nearly no wasted time and interactions are enhanced.”
SmartestK12 provides an online platform that allows teachers to save time on administrative and grading tasks by providing them with a toolkit that gives them the capability to convert all classroom assignments into digitally interactive formats. All a teacher needs to do is upload their desired classroom documents – whether that be presentation slides, guided notes, worksheets, labs, quizzes, assignments, et al. – and simply use the SmartestK12 toolkit to transform those documents into interactive content for students. These assignments can then be pushed to students’ over the Internet, where they can be completed through their computers or tablets. The platform allows for real-time results on student performance, as well as provides students with instant feedback on wrong answers.
“Right now the choices are very limited for teachers: [the tools available on the market now] either require teachers to use someone else’s content or to start from scratch. SmartestK12 lets them simply upload their own content.”
There’s definitely huge potential for scale considering SmartestK12’s features. I mean, not only does it make the grading process more efficient for teachers, but more essentially, it affords teachers, parents, and administrators the ability to track each student’s academic growth over time. Because of the digital nature of these assignments, teachers are immediately provided with analytics on student performance and can share that data with parents. With all that data readily available for analysis, a teacher can also look at the areas where a student is weakest or strongest, and modify his/her teaching approach and interactions with that student. There’s also an added benefit, according to Kevin McFarland: “As an online platform, it really discourages [students] from cheating because of the simple fact that a teacher can immediately see the results and the answers. Traditionally, a teacher has to lay out assignments and compare them [for signs of cheating]. With [SmartestK12], an algorithm can instantly match cheaters.”
“It was really a no-brainer [to compete in the Challenge Cup],” said Jones. “It’s one of the biggest value competitions. I mean with 1776 being able to bring us out to DC and connect us with policy makers and decision makers – it’s a truly valuable experience.”
Considering the amount of time SmartestK12 can save for teachers and its potential for greatly increasing and improving teacher-student interactions, it’s no wonder why the startup won in the Education category at the Challenge Cup Los Angeles Regional Competition this past December. Since then, they’ve undergone a complete code rewrite on the back-end of their system to make updates easier. They’ve also competed in several other pitch competitions, including the NYC 4.0 Schools pitch competition, which they ended up winning. The startup also recently qualified as a semifinalist for the Teach for America Social Innovation Award. More importantly, they’ve been getting a lot of validation. Not only have they launched pilots in various schools, but they managed to get on the front page of CNN.com, after which teachers from every state but Alaska started using their platform. Despite these recent successes, they’ve definitely been keeping an eye on the competition for the Challenge Cup Global Finals and can’t wait to meet them in DC come May.
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