Figuring Out 'Good' Ed-Tech

Guest Blog by Andrew from Match Next


These past couple weeks have been big for me as the tech guy here at Match Next (our blended learning pilot). A new website just made it to our final-use stage. Let me explain.

Most of my job is to figure out which pieces of software help our teachers and tutors get kids to learn. My process for this occurs in 5 rough stages:

Stage 1: Find ed-tech (both software and hardware).
Stage 2: Play around with the program.  
Stage 3: Try it out with a handful of kids.
Stage 4: Try it out with all 50 of our 5th graders.
Stage 5: Integrate it as a regular part of our curriculum.  

Stage 1, finding stuff, is easy. I can do this anywhere, like during Redskins games (which they were probably losing anyways). I basically keep a huge running list of products I hear about from people with my job at other blended learning schools, edtech websites, other teachers I talk to, and my own googling.

Stage 2. The gauntlet. I basically see myself as a curator of edtech for our busy teachers. As I work through my list, I try and anticipate what our math and ELA teachers will like enough to really use during their lessons. Most products die here. I’ll bet I’ve tried out 75 products so far this year (‘try out’ ranges from doing a cursory 5 minute sampling to digging in deep for a couple hours). Of those 75, only 10 products have made it past this stage. The rest are duds - they add so little value to our particular program they’re not worth the trouble. It’s not a terribly low bar, our incumbent paper materials are pretty good. There are plenty of things I toss that another school might find valuable. Still, I thought more products would pass the sniff test. Most of the failures end up in my ‘meh’ pile.

Every once in a while, though, I find a potential gem. Then I get excited and spend my Saturday night tinkering with it. And if the next morning I’m still excited about it, it advances to stage 3.

Stage 3, first-round testing with a few kids. This is the fun part of my job. I know the program is decent enough that kids will get something out of it, but I don’t yet have to solve every all-class logistics puzzle on earth. Typically I’ll grab 3-5 kids when they finish a lesson early or there’s some flex time on a Friday. I try to be as handsoff as possible and let kids figure out the program for themselves. I take notes on what they stumble on, so, should it actually make it to stage 4, I know what I need to troubleshoot ahead of time. Occasionally I’ll jump in if they really get stuck.

Stage 4. Very rarely does something make it to stage 4, the all-class try out. Sometimes we’ll skip this stage altogether* if the program is obviously a slam dunk, but this has happened only once, with Reflex Math.

Sometimes something gets to stage 4 and never really integrates into our program. But that’s not often. Usually it either becomes a minor player, used once in a while, or it becomes a regular, daily (or almost-daily) part of our lessons.

I just ran through stage 4 with a website called TenMarks. Exciting. I almost never get to do a full-class try out like this. Our math guy, Ryan, liked it. It’s sort of like Khan, but with better questions.

Now I’m working with Ryan to see if it can become a regular part of his math curriculum. The stage 4 to 5 transition is tricky since sometimes the disruption of routines can be too big a hurdle to overcome. Check back next week when I’ll explain TenMarks and tell you where we’ve landed.

*there’s a slightly alternate path with some of the logistics programs - ie, programs that help us organize or sort stuff rather than programs that supplement our actual curriculum. Like using Google Forms for quizzes. In these cases, I’ll sometimes flip the class group by group rather than all at once. I’ve found this is less disruptive.