Dreamers Who Do

NSBA’s 2018 Technology Innovation companies

Ann Flynn

Throughout history, authors, entrepreneurs, and inventors have shared their thoughts on innovation, a concept often defined as the intersection of creativity and technology. Those elements are at the heart of the solutions developed by companies selected for the National School Boards Association’s annual Technology Innovation Showcase.

The recognition looks for new technology-based approaches to current K-12 challenges that impact teaching and learning, district operations, parental engagement, or community outreach. Company submissions are reviewed and ranked by teams of educators previously recognized through NSBA’s “20 to Watch” program.

“If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.” —Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein reminds us that if we want to see different outcomes, we must be open to new tools and the solutions they enable. That idea could be applied to each of the 2018 honorees, but is particularly relevant to FilterEd by GreyEd Solutions. While hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent on technology solutions across the nation’s schools, sadly, too many districts have failed to see those investments deliver on the desired outcomes.

The team at FilterEd, led by CEO Julie Carter, the former executive director of technology at Minnesota’s Minnetonka Public Schools, and her co-founder, Rob Dickson, the executive director of information technology in Nebraska’s Omaha Public Schools, have identified six elements in the education technology ecosystem that drive successful digital transformations.

Their cloud-based data analysis tool enables district leaders to diagnose the current state of teaching and learning within their district by having stakeholders complete an online inventory around the areas of leadership and vision, technology infrastructure, resources, instruction and learning, practice and implementation, and learner impact. The collective responses are visually represented on a dynamic dashboard that allows the FilterEd staff to develop with the district leaders an action plan that addresses the barriers that have been identified.

“There’s a way to do it better. Find it.”—Thomas Edison

Educators, urged to use technology like apps and software to complement their instruction, also hear growing concerns around the privacy of the data those tools collect. Individual educators have little time, and even less technical expertise, to evaluate the fine print of every digital program they might want to incorporate. Education Framework took Edison’s advice to heart when it found a better way to deal with this complex issue: EdPrivacy, an enterprise-level software solution.

As the world’s first online student data privacy management system, Ed Privacy has achieved a 93 percent reduction in the amount of time devoted to the review of privacy policies and terms of use among educators in 11 states. The on-demand privacy assessment system created by EdPrivacy allows administrators to manage their obligations around data privacy with increased transparency and accountability and to communicate with parents about the software their students are using in the district.

“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” —Peter F. Drucker

There is much agreement that for the U.S. to remain a world economic leader, all children must be able to think mathematically and problem-solve. U.S News and World Report writer Lauren Camera says the 2017 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) scores show “most states’ average scores remained unchanged in math, 10 states saw declines in fourth-grade math and three saw declines in eighth-grade math.” MathBRIX, started in 2016 with a National Science Foundation/Small Business Innovation Research grant, has developed age-appropriate math activities using cloud-delivered visual games and activities to help children ages 3–8 “see” the big ideas behind math.

By emphasizing higher-order thinking skills and concept acquisition, areas often overlooked in early elementary instruction, the MathBRIX approach embraces Drucker’s notion that to get new and better outcomes, math cannot continue to be taught the same way.

“The man with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds.” —Mark Twain

Mark Twain’s quote might have applied to Muzology’s passionate founder and CEO, Lana Israel, before she had the documented proof of students’ improved math scores to demonstrate how her ideas are succeeding. Learning experts and hit songwriters combined efforts to harness the power of music to boost academic outcomes and make learning fun.

Muzology’s gamified, web-based platform uses music videos to trigger memory, emotion, motivation, and attention, four critical areas of the brain related to successful learning, in its first algebra-readiness offering. Initially piloted in Tennessee’s Knox County Public Schools, Muzology is currently serving thousands of students across the country with impressive results in a variety of learning environments from special education to honors classes.

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Based in part on the results from a 2014 Gallup poll, sponsored by the Lumina Foundation, where only 11 percent of employers felt new graduates were very well prepared for work, the founders of PAIRIN saw the need for a “new trail” and established the PAIRIN Readiness Management System.

This first-of-its-kind baseline measurement integrates soft skills and hard data to match students to optimal programs, careers, and jobs and offers comprehensive resources to help students further develop those soft skills through coaching. With PAIRIN, those soft skills defined by Yong Zhao as “the new survival skills,” allow educators to specifically target behavior and mindset development among their students that leads to increased academic performance, fewer dropouts, and decreased behavioral issues.

“Every once in a while, a new technology, an old problem, and a big idea turn into an innovation.” —Dean Kamen

Despite the multiple, independent platforms staff use to accomplish various aspects of their work, a sense of shared purpose or an understanding of a district’s greater goals is often missing. Today’s new technologies allowed the team at Align Us, Inc. to tackle that age-old problem. The interconnected team-productivity tools provided by Align Us are built on a modern, private, social collaboration platform to ensure all staff have the same opportunity to understand the mission, vision, and strategy established by district leaders and how they relate to their daily contributions.

“The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all what the world needs most are dreamers who do.” —Sarah Ban Breathnach

NSBA’s Technology Innovation Showcase recognition was established to urge school leaders and board members to be open to those dreamers with new ideas who are doing their part to positively impact public education.

Ann Flynn (aflynn@nsba.org) is NSBA’s director of technology innovation.


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