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Why We Need 4.0 Schools In Every City

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The shift to Common Core and digital learning is a great opportunity but it will also take an ecosystem of creative capacity. That's why high on my recent list of 10 Things Every State Should Do Now was "support an incubator like 4.0 Schools."

After leadership roles KIPP, NYC Charter Center, and New Schools New Orleans, Matt Candler launched the early stage edtech incubator to fill a gap in the blossoming charter ecosystem. He created a place that brings "educators, entrepreneurs and technologists together to launch relevant solutions that reimagine the way we teach and learn." They have launched more than 20 ventures and trained hundreds in their approach.

Their website has a great description of the principles that have created the energetic 4.0 ecosystem in New Orleans (emphasis added):

  • At 4pt0, people matter more than ideas. And our investments reflect that. We aren't looking for the next big thing. We invest in people because we believe that developing creative confidence, risk tolerance and problem-finding skills make them more likely to solve tough problems in the long run.
  • Our products are always validated by educators and frequently launched by them. We leverage trusted relationships with schools and school leaders to get them into the hands of real users quickly and cheaply. This frequent feedback cycle leads to rapid iteration and products that solve real problems.
  • As our community grows we cultivate diverse testing grounds for new prototypes and pilots. Many educators within our community request that we use their classrooms or schools as a place to test products showing early promise.

On Wednesday, I met with Matt and his team. Marshall Buxton, Director of Entrepreneurial Investment, introduced me to four interesting early stage companies

  • Branching Minds is a differentiation engine that allows teachers and parents to instantly discover how a student learns best, how they could learn better and the exact tools to get them there. We bring together the best research on brain learning and cutting edge technology to fix the way parents and teachers support struggling students.
  • SmartestK12 allows any teacher or content provider to make any of their static workbooks, homework and assessments into interactive worksheets that a student can take on their tablet or mobile device. This enables teachers to free up their time from continuous paper collecting and grading while giving the students flexibility to complete their assignments anywhere.
  • Borne Digital has developed an adaptive reading platform for tablet devices. Our digital books gather data while the student reads, analyze that data in the cloud, and adapt the content in real time to suit each students needs. Our goal is to provide each student the most challenging experience they can manage. By creating a real time feedback loop within a book, our platform serves as a bridge between Publishing and Big Data.
  • Fantasy GeoPolitics is a social learning game that follows countries and world leaders as they compete for news headlines. Popularly referred to as "fantasy football for NCSS and Common Core literacy standards," FGP inspires teachers and students to become fans of learning geopolitics by gamifying the news, engaging students with global information sources, and providing relevant standards-based teacher lesson ideas and resources from around the world wide web.

In addition to incubating companies like this and hosting startups like after school math provider Mschool (that came through the incubator), 4.o hosts a two day workshop every month for edupreneurs in either New Orleans or New York City. (The next Essentials is December 13-14 in NYC.)

After meeting with the team and the incubated organizations at 4.0, it strikes me that there are four reasons that every major city in the country needs an organization like 4.0:

  1. They understand blended learning and can support teams in organizational design and tech integration (few shops are good at both);
  2. As a nonprofit, they are focused on impact, they take a longer view than accelerators, and will work on big problems;
  3. They build an innovation ecosystem by connecting educators and entrepreneurs; and
  4. They are the one organization that a superintendent, charter executive, chamber executive, and foundation executive could all get behind.

We had a rich lunch conversation. Eric Nelson (@nelson_ejn), the social studies teacher that launching Fantasy GeoPolitics, recapped our chat in this (over the top) blog.

If you're every in NOLA, visit 4.0. Better yet, bring 4.0 to your town and build a learning innovation ecosystem.

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