In an effort to transform teaching and learning, educational technology entrepreneurs showcased their innovative ideas at the LAUNCH Education and Kids Conference in Mountain View, Calif., Startup Growth on June 26 and 27.
Conference host and entrepreneur Jason Calacanis moderated the discussions and demonstrations that featured twenty edutech startups on stage at Microsoft’s Silicon Valley Campus. Some are using tablet and smartphone technology to help children learn with more interactive techniques, while others are creating fun toys that can help teach important concepts. A few companies are even trying to improve the tedious grading process for teachers.
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While all of the startups are trying to do innovative things in the world of education, six stood out for their potential to get students excited about learning with interactive technologies.
Cofounders Alice Brooks and Bettina Chen are engineers, who say they want to help alleviate the gender imbalance in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. That’s why they created Roominate, a wired dollhouse-building kit that involves hands-on building.
The Roominate kit comes with walls, connectors, modular pieces and a motor circuit, so kids can build structures, design furniture and add components like a windmill or lights. Brooks and Chen hope playing with these types of toys will inspire both boys and girls to become tech innovators.
In 2012, Roominate raised almost $86,000 in a successful Kickstarter campaign. Today, the basic Roominate kit sells for $29.99, and Startup Growth a deluxe version with more parts is $49.99.
At the LAUNCH conference, awards were given out at the end of the startup demos. Roominate tied for a best hardware award.
New York-based littleBits has developed an open-source library of electronic modules that magnetically snap together. The Lego-like blocks can be used for hands-on activities in which kids build project protoytpes and learn about electronics along the way. Electronic components are broken into little parts – “bits” – kids can understand and interact with, learning how gadgets function.
With the littleBits starter kit ($89) – which includes bits like a button, dimmer, vibration motor, wire and pressure sensor – kids can build projects like a quake machine or back massager. The larger extended kit ($149) is equipped with more parts to build advanced projects like a puppet master or kissing machine.
Founder and CEO Ayah Bdeir said at the conference that, since electronics govern our lives, it’s important to understand Startup Growth how they work. On the littleBits website, people can share projects they’ve made and teachers can find lesson plans to use in the classroom.
Another Startup Growth – LightUp – also presented at the conference, and has a similar electronic blocks product to littleBits. But as kids are building projects, these blocks use augmented-reality to demonstrate electronics concepts on a tablet or smartphone.
3. LocoMotive Labs
LocoMotive Labs has developed a series of learning apps for children with special needs. Cofounder Sooinn Lee demonstrated a couple of the apps on stage, including apps to help teach math calculation and telling time.
The math and calculation practice apps can help students who have trouble with memorization by reiterating the concepts with number tracing and handwriting recognition. The company’s seven Todo Elementary Math Series apps are even aligned to the Common Core State Standards for Pre-K to second grade. (At least 45 states and the District of Columbia have voluntarily adopted these common standards.)
The Todo Telling Time app helps kids learn how to tell time by using visual concepts (e.g., the sun and moon move across the sky with the clock hands) and digital clock puzzles.
While the colorful apps were designed with children with special needs in mind, the suite of apps can really work for any child as they learn these concepts. At the LAUNCH conference, LocoMotive Labs received the best design award.
4. Linkbot by Barobo
Barobo aims to get kids engaged with robots and teach them math and computer programming skills along the way. Linkbots are educational robots that are modular – you build them block-by-block. The modules connect wirelessly to each other by pressing the “pair” buttons.
Users can even record the Linkbot’s motions, convert that into computer languages (Python and C/C++ code) and play the motions back. The potential for projects is vast since Linkbot is designed with open-source code and open-source hardware accessories. The Linkbot will retail for $179 for general consumers and will cost $135 for schools. But it’s not yet available: In June, Barobo’s Kickstarter campaign for the Linkbot raised more than $45,700. Most Linkbot shipments to backers are expected to deliver in September.
Linkbot tied for the best hardware award at the LAUNCH conference.
We all know kids love a good story. So Kidaptive’s app for preschool kids, called Leo’s Pad, tells an engaging narrative that has a learning framework built in. Games and curriculum-based content are woven into the story, which features impressive graphics.
The supplementary “Parent’s Pad” tool lets parents track their child’s progress along 70 learning dimensions. The app give parents feedback about their preschooler’s “academic, cognitive, emotional, and social development,” as they play with the app. So instead of just hoping the app is working, parents can track successes and see areas where they can help their child improve.
At the LAUNCH conference, Kidaptive received the overall best in show award.
6. STEAM Carnival by Two Bit Circus
The STEAM Carnival is a modern traveling carnival intended to inspire kids about science, technology, engineering, art and math (hence the STEAM acronym). It’s not the carnival you grew up attending: it’s educational entertainment. The high-tech circus includes robots, fire and lasers to entertain and inspire kids to pursue careers in the STEAM fields.
Created by engineer/entrepreneur Brent Bushnell and inventor/entertainer Eric Gradman, the team already has carnivals planned for spring 2014 in Los Angeles and San Francisco. In a successful Kickstarter campaign that ended in June, the creators’ company, Two Bit Circus, raised about $102,700 for the STEAM Carnival.
At the LAUNCH conference, STEAM Carnival received the best presentation award and was chosen as the audience favorite.
What do you think about these educational designs? How do you think technology can help educate this generation of children? Share your thoughts in the comments. And check out the complete list of startups that presented at this year’s LAUNCH Education and Kids conference.
Thumbnail and lead image via iStockphoto, GlobalStock. Conference images by Mashable/Vignesh Ramachandran.