Fund This Computer Lab! The Story of SWOT Bot and What Happens When A Teacher Learns How to Code

October 24, 2013

9:00 am

Among the various entertainment venues and restaurants sprawled across Las Vegas, there are places other than casinos where a majority of bets are lost and poor performance is an interminable occurrence: schools. In 2012, Las Vegas was named the worst city in nation for education, by several rankings; in fact, it was considered the worst city, in the worst state, for education.

For Teach for America alumna, Rachel Warbelow, she sees the Las Vegas school system as an opportunity for educators to incorporate technology as a means to increase student and parent engagement and improve overall quality – one of the primary traits of the Scholars Working OverTime (SWOT) program.

SWOT was founded by Warbelow and fellow teacher, Ben Salkowe, as a college prep program for middle school students in East Las Vegas. In the four years that the program has been running, SWOT has managed to advance students from being two to three grade levels behind to some of the state’s highest achievers.

Throughout these four years, however, Warbelow was constantly frustrated by the inefficiency of tracking student behavior, grades, and attendance on paper and inserting that data into digital spreadsheets. Further, she found it inane that these data categories had to be shared piece by piece to parents and students because there was no one platform that handled all of the data.

“As teachers, we’ve found that being able to communicate data with families [can lead] to greater improvements in student performance,” says Warbelow on her inspiration for SWOT Bot.

So, this past summer, she took advantage of her summer break by enrolling in Dev Bootcamp – Chicago to help develop a solution to this problem. An autodidact, Warbelow’s obsession with data and Excel encouraged her to pursue coding; so, she put in a couple of hours each day and taught herself how to code through Codecademy. Realizing that the coding skills she learned through Codecademy wouldn’t be enough to prove useful in the classroom, she found herself in more advanced coding languages at Dev Bootcamp.

“[SWOT Bot] really focuses on accessibility and creates a tighter sense of communication between [teachers, parents, and students]. My hope is that this is something that teachers can and want to use.”

At Dev Bootcamp, she teamed up with Eric Allen, Jake Myers, and Allen Dayag to create SWOT Bot. Aimed primarily at tracking student behavior, SWOT Bot allows students and parents to track their academic performance via the Web, email, or text, and also gives teachers a more efficient and easier way to track student data.

Indiegogo Campaign

SWOT students learning code on paper.

“A lot of our students come from unprivileged backgrounds that don’t necessarily have these technologies at home. Being able to code, to learn about technology, and to know how the Internet works – it’s a really cool feeling for [the students] to feel empowered to not only change their lives but to also change the world.”

For Warbelow, the motivation to pursue coding and to create SWOT Bot comes from her passion for her kids. Currently, she’s teaching her students how to code (HTML, CSS, Ruby, Rails, and Javascript), but is limited to teaching that code on paper. Let’s be honest: this is NOT the ideal way for anyone to learn coding. When writing code is considered “the most important skill of the 21st century,” these students should be provided with the tools to see their codes in action.

That’s why the team behind SWOT Bot has launched an Indiegogo campaign to help fund the establishment of a computer lab for the students at SWOT. With just over a week left in the campaign, they hope to raise $35,000 to purchase 15+ pairing stations that will allow up to 30 students, at a time, to write code.

Contribute to the Indiegogo campaign here. Warbelow is excited for the opportunities that lay ahead for SWOT Bot; she’s interested in seeking mentors and funders to help guide the platform’s future.

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Ronald Barba was the previous managing editor of Tech.Co. His primary story interests include industry trends, consumer-facing apps/products, the startup lifestyle, business ethics, diversity in tech, and what-is-this-bullsh*t things. Aside from writing about startups and entrepreneurship, Ronald is interested in 'Doctor Who', Murakami, 'The Mindy Project', and fried chicken. He is currently based in New York because he mistakenly studied philosophy in college and is now a "writer". Tweet @RonaldPBarba.

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