Sharing is caring: Pooling resources to help kids

Sharing through large organizations

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We were excited this week find out about a fantastic organization right here in our home state of Tennessee. ReadTennessee.org. is an online collection of toolkits for teachers in families to use in educating Pre-K through 3rd grade children. The toolkits address a wide range of topics: Common Core subjects like math and reading; physical education and development of motor skills; even social and emotional development like making friends and building self-esteem.

ReadTennessee’s goal is for this collected information to allow teachers, families, and communities to work together in educating young children. Almost anyone should find something useful here—go ahead, take a look for yourself.

Individual teachers contributing their expertise

Meanwhile, teachers and parents who are in the vanguard of technology adoption continue to provide invaluable feedback on their experience with the latest hardware and software. To name a few shining examples:

  • Carl Hooker is Director for Instructional Technology in the Eanes Independent School District. He’s written several blog posts and given numerous presentations about the lessons learned from his school’s 1-to-1 iPad pilot.
  • Jennie Magiera (who we’ve mentioned on this blog before) frequently posts awesome, helpful articles on her blog Teaching like it’s 2999, such as this post comparing Google Docs to Apple’s iWork apps.
  • The Moms With Apps blog and forum contain contributions from parents nationwide who want to find the best apps for their kids.

Kodiak chips in

Kodiak makes several contributions to the globally shared knowledge base for education. We use anonymous information about how real students are using apps so that you can make better choices about the apps you buy for your children. We post app reviews from teachers and parents—and unlike the App Store, we separate teacher and parent reviews, so that you can better understand where the author is coming from. We allow our users to tag every app with the educational concepts it contains, which makes it easier than ever before for you to find out if an app will teach your child what he or she needs to learn.

By tapping into these shared resources, teachers can make a quantum leap in how fast they’re able to prepare the necessary materials for their classrooms. We’re proud to offer what we can to create a better digital ecosystem for educators and their students.

Educators renew research on iPads for next fall

By the end of June, most schools have wrapped up spring classes, and teachers and administrators have time to begin thinking about the next school year. Education Week’s tech publication Digital Directions recently gave a little insight into what those educators are thinking.

Taking another look

In the June 21st edition of their email newsletter, Digital Directions published a list of the 5 most viewed articles on their entire site over the previous two weeks. The #1 most viewed article? A piece titled “Educators Evaluate Learning Benefits of iPad.”

This statistic is made even more significant by the fact that the article was written over a year ago, in June 2011.

Why is an article about iPads from last summer suddenly trending so strongly? Educators are obviously hunting for information on iPads in eduction, trying to get a feel for how this investment is paying off in other districts.

The iPad proves its worth

These days, there is an increasing amount of evidence that iPads are indeed an effective tool for education. CNN reported earlier this year on a pilot study using an iPads to supply e-textbooks for Algebra 1 courses; the study found that 20% more students (78% compared to 59%) scored ‘Proficient’ or ‘Advanced’ in subject comprehension when using tablets rather than paper textbook counterparts. 9ine, a consultancy in the UK, published a report just last week revealing a number of benefits for both teachers and students using iPads at Longfield Academy in Kent, England. Among the findings:

  • Teachers have identified significant benefits for their workload and have also identified cost savings.
  • The quality and standard of pupil work and progress is rising.
  • Both staff and student feel they can work more effectively with iPads.

You can download the report, titled “The iPad as a Tool for Education,” on 9ine’s website.

At Kodiak, we see the potential the iPad has as a revolutionary piece of education technology. Our features—reporting on student progress, keeping teachers informed up to the minute, and guiding app purchasing decisions—provide schools and educators with even more value from their iPad purchase. Take a tour of Kodiak to see what we have to offer.

A look at student profiles and reporting in great educational apps

Here at Kodiak, we’ve spend a lot of time playing with educational apps. To understand the state of learning on the iPad, we like to study common practices, look for design patterns, and find the apps that are pushing the user-experience envelope.

Over the last couple of months, we’ve noticed an exciting trend. Apps like Mathboard, Jungle Fractions, and others are adding classroom management features – most significantly, support for multiple student profiles. This is an important step toward
usability in the classroom setting. Teachers are interested in understanding students’ use of the iPad, and parents want to be able to identify the progress of individual children. Apps that offer a global leaderboard or high-score lists aren’t very useful at the end of the day, because iPads—on a cart shared between teachers—may have cycled through the hands of fifty or more students.

We’ve taken a look at some of the apps that allow parents to create and manage profiles for each of their students. We’ve been impressed by a few of them in particular, and we wanted to call out some of the patterns we’ve identified here.

Choosing Student Profiles

Most of the apps we’ve seen let students select their account before they start playing. Quite a few of the apps, such as TeachMe: Kindergarten and Dot to Dot Numbers and Letters (below) allow a parent or teacher to add student pictures, which is a nice touch that adds an extra layer of personalization to the app. In the apps we looked at, parents could add or remove players directly within the app, making it easy to create new accounts. Each app requested the student’s first name, and for apps with multiple difficulty levels, other information to place them at the right level within the app.

When designing a student selection interface, there are a couple things to note:

  • Apps with good student selection interfaces force the student to identify themselves before they start playing. You shouldn’t assume that the same student is playing if they close and re-open your app.
  • If there are a large number of students in the class, it’s important to indicate that the user might need to scroll to see all the users. We liked TeachMe: Kindergarten‘s student selection bar across the bottom of the screen, but it’s not clear that you can scroll to see more students. A child might just tap a random name if they don’t know they can scroll over to their own. Having a button half-visible on the edge of the scroll view can help make this obvious.

In-app performance reports

Math Fact Master and TeachMe: Kindergarten have some great features that allow teachers and parents to see how children have been performing. These apps give summary-level information to parents, and also let them see which specific questions students have been answering wrong.

The reporting interface of Math Fact Master

The reporting interface of TeachMe: Kindergarten

 

MathWise goes one step further, offering detailed charts that show students’ proficiency with different numbers and topics. They offer an “All Students” option so it’s possible to see where an entire class might be struggling or need practice.

Going a step further with Kodiak

We believe that separating student profiles will help make educational apps more useful in a classroom setting, and it’s great to see apps trending in this direction. With the Kodiak Reporting SDK, we’ve taken classroom management on the iPad a step further. With many apps and many different account management interfaces, it’s an incredible challenge for teachers to set up student accounts and teach children to sign in. Adding accounts and understanding student progress can still be a major undertaking when a class is using a handful of iPads and a variety of apps. In our research, we found that the interfaces above are more commonly used by parents, who only have to put a few kids’ information into each app.

To help teachers, student account management needs to be centralized. With Kodiak, we’ve taken the approaches above one step further. Educators can set everything up on the web, and sign into Kodiak from a supported app on each iPad to link those devices to the school’s account.

Whenever students open a Kodiak app on a class iPad, they see the student list below and log in:

The student list, complete with previous achievements, saved game state, etc… are synced with the cloud. Students can be managed from our website, and changes take effect in all supported apps on all the classes’ iPads. 

In talking with teachers, we realized that many of them weren’t interested in viewing student progress on the iPad. They loved the sort of graphs and charts that MathWise offered, but they said it was more of a feature for parents, since the progress monitoring broke down as soon as multiple iPads were in use by the class.

To accommodate this, Kodiak provides a completely cloud-based reporting platform. Our partner apps can submit student questions and answers to our API, and then teachers and parents view reports on the web:

If you’re building an app that needs classroom management features, or if you think they’d be a great new feature in your existing app, check out our free SDK. Using Kodiak, you can integrate this functionality into your app without having to build it from scratch and benefit from our teacher-approved reporting platform!

Kodiak vs. SmarTots: Our approach

Over the last two weeks, we’ve talked to quite a few app developers who are looking to incorporate classroom management and reporting features into their apps. There are great reasons to add these features:

  • Your apps will most likely be used by multiple children. It might be two kids sharing an iPad in the back of a car, or thirty kids sharing a classroom set of five iPads during an activity center.
  • High scores lists just don’t cut it: teachers and parents need to be able to look at the progress of each child using your app individually, and understand their learning over time.
  • As more and more iPads find their way into homes and schools, educators are looking to use the iPad for secondary assessment. It’s no longer about drilling on multiplication facts or spelling words. Your app should help teachers gauge class progress, understand their student’s learning needs, and more.

Kodiak makes it easy to add these features to your app—using our SDK, you can add classroom management, cloud syncing, and progress reporting features to your app for free. SmarTots is similar in many ways—their SDK also allows parents and teachers to set up student profiles within your app, and they track how much time students spend in your app. But the comparison ends there.

Here’s how we offer a stronger solution:

  • The SmarTots SDK only tracks the amount of time kids spend in different apps. They claim to be able to show kids improving, but it’s all based on the assumption that time=learning. Kodiak records the questions students are answering, the amount of time they spend on each question, and other information developers feel is relevant, such as the difficulty level kids are working at within the app. Our algorithms turn the data into insights for parents and teachers and make sure it’s presented beautifully. We can tell a teacher that 7 of 10 kids using your spelling app missed the same questions, that Billy is speeding through questions without answering them, and more.
  • We provide much richer feedback to educators, and we emphasize insights from data. Because it only tracks time spent in apps, SmarTots isn’t all that useful to teachers, who—in a lot of cases—are already familiar with how long students are spending on class iPads. We want to make the iPad useful as a supplemental assessment tool, which means providing much richer feedback for teachers.
  • We’ve worked to design interfaces that will look good in a wide range of apps. We’ve spoken with developers who have complained that SmarTots interface is pretty bad and lowers the quality of their app. We’re user experience researchers and developers ourselves, and we care a lot about the way our partner apps look to users!
  • We’ve designed Kodiak for schools and one-to-one programs, not just for parents. We’re only a few months into our release, and we already have schools lining up to take part in a beta of Kodiak for Schools. Kodiak provides teachers with a live view of what students are doing in your app, and you can save student achievements, difficulty settings, etc.. in the cloud so students can use any iPad in their classroom. We plan to market Kodiak to schools heavily, which means more sales for you!
We want to create an ecosystem of the best educational apps, and we’re looking to partner with developers like you. Learn more about our SDK and join our developer program for free at http://www.kodiakreporting.com/. Help us build a platform that delivers data-driven insights to educators from the best apps out there. Together, we’ll leading the advancement of apps in education.

Full steam ahead!

Welcome to the Kodiak blog! Over the next few months, we’ll be pumping this full of interesting news, app reviews, and commentary from the team here at Kodiak. We’re excited to have an outlet for our design thoughts and user research results, and we can’t wait to share what we’ve been working on.

Stay tuned,

- Ben
Kodiak Founder & CTO