Design Designing for Educators and Their Students


Designing for Educators and Their Students

Forty-­two? How am I supposed to reach forty-­two students and give them the individualized education they need? I’m not sure they’ll even fit in my classroom, I remember thinking when I saw my class lists for the first time. Like most teachers nowadays, I had to adapt and think of creative ways to reach as many students as possible with the tools available to me.

For me, this meant using technology, and many teachers are taking the same path. In fact, the movement to integrate tech appropriately into schools has spawned organizations like CUE (Computer Using Educators) and ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), which provide leadership and advocacy for improving learning and teaching through the effective use of technology in the classroom. In particular, questions on what works to increase understanding and achievement in at-­risk students has been an interesting focus for educational technology research.

Here in Eugene, the Center on Teaching and Learning has partnered with Concentric Sky through a grant funded by The United States Department of Education to develop an iPad-based mathematics intervention for at-­risk kindergarten students. The app, dubbed “KinderTEK” for the grant, is designed for use in schools, which makes it uniquely suited for educators. There are a lot of math apps out there that teachers use with their students, but very few are actually designed with the classroom structure in mind.

KinderTEK is uniquely suited for schools in multiple ways. Unlike most math apps, KinderTEK provides direct instruction to students, helping them build conceptual understanding and procedural fluency with whole number concepts before having kids practice. The app responds to students’ input, providing personalized support (or “scaffolding,” as we call it in the education world) so each student can succeed at his or her own pace. KinderTEK itself is actually composed of two apps working in tandem: a Student app and a Teacher app. As kids play in the game-­like Student app, teachers can use the Teacher app to monitor students’ progress and assess in what areas they may need additional help.

As a former teacher, I was uniquely suited to manage the KinderTEK project for Concentric Sky. I had worked in schools for a number of years and had a good idea what would work (and what wouldn’t) in the classroom. I understood first-hand how difficult it can be for teachers to give each student the attention and support he or she needs with limited resources. In addition, I had also observed the amazing technical fluency today’s students possess, which isn’t too surprising considering how many smartphones, tablets, and computers they access on a daily basis. Giving students a fun, responsive app to help them with math makes sense, and kids tend to view anything utilizing technology in schools as a treat...even if it’s really an educational app disguised as a game.

I can’t wait for the day KinderTEK is used in the schools. Students who may otherwise fall through the cracks will receive the personalized instruction they need and will have fun learning. Teachers will be able to monitor student progress and give additional help as needed. Considering the challenges educators and students face with fewer teachers and bigger class sizes, increasing the enjoyment and efficiency of intervention programs using creative solutions like KinderTEK makes perfect sense. 

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