There’s a very short window for children to learn to read proficiently.
If they haven’t mastered reading by third grade, the educational outcomes for that child are dismal.
Seth Weinberger and the nonprofit he founded in 1993, Innovations for Learning, are focused on one mission: Kindergarten to second grade reading and math proficiency.
In schools with resources, it’s an achievable goal. But for inner city and rural schools, it’s a daunting task. One Seth believes can be answered with technology.
Innovations for Learning developed TeacherMates, small handheld computers that let students “play” educational games. Looks simple, but each one is individualized to the current lesson and the child’s proficiency. “It’s a sea change in how work is done away from the teacher,” Seth says.
And it works. In a pilot program in four Washington, D.C. schools, only 16 percent of students were able to meet benchmark test scores the year before TeacherMates were introduced. After just one year with TeacherMates, more than 49 percent passed the benchmark score. Those results have gotten TeacherMates into schools from Alabama to Wyoming, but there are still many students the group hasn’t reached.
“It’s a challenge to get into a district,” Seth says. “You have to get real traction.”
One change that will help TeacherMates gain that traction is the shift from self-designed hardware to Apple platforms—iPods and iPads. “I never wanted to be in the hardware business,” Seth says.
Actually, he never pictured himself in software business either. He was a lawyer with Mayer Brown when his family joined other Evanston families to start Cherry Preschool. Seth was in charge of educational software, and what he found was disappointing. He learned to program and while still working his full-time job, developed three multimedia learning games. With the royalties, he was able to hire professional developers.
“We added math, working with the Everyday Math team at the University of Chicago,” Seth says. Around that same time, research showed kids in the Chicago schools using his software were making real gains. “We went from 250 kids to 50,000 kids all over the country,” he recalls.
So what’s next for Innovations? They’re working on a pilot with Stanford University to measure English proficiency gains internationally, but at its heart, the nonprofit has one goal: make sure every kid can read and do math by third grade.
To learn more about Innovations for Learning, visit innovationsforlearning.org