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50 startups and developers showcase innovative learning apps and technologies launched with seed funds from federal agencies.
Wyatt Kash is an award-winning editor and journalist who has been following government IT trends for the past decade. He joined Scoop News Group in...
The developers behind 50 educational games and technologies are gathering for an unusual forum in Washington on Wednesday.
Sporting names like Assassins of the Sea, Brainology, Cell Runner, Dino Extinction, Eco, Happy Atoms, iNeuron, Reach for the Sun, SimScientists, and Teachley Fractions Racer, the roster of learning apps represents an emerging class of entrepreneurs who share something in common: They’ve all successfully tapped federal Small Business Innovation Research funds to help bring their ideas to the education marketplace.
Their products, some new and some already gaining popularity among students and teachers, will be available for demonstrations at the 4th Annual Ed Games Expo, Dec. 14, which is expected to draw investors as well as students and teachers.
The expo, however, is intended to be more than a demonstration fest, according to U.S. Department of Education’s Ed Metz, who heads up the department’s Institute of Education Sciences Small Business Innovation Research program.
It’s also an effort to forge a tighter community for budding application developers, investors, education leaders and 11 federal agencies that each year channel millions of research and development funds to support innovative small business ventures, he said in an interview with EdScoop.
“The technologies on display all got their starts in part from seed funding,” he said. "The expo started as way to showcase the learning games and technology that have come out of the SBIR program.”
The funding comes from research and development budgets set aside by federal agencies including the U.S. departments of Agriculture, Defense, Education, and Transportation; the National Institutes of Health; the National Science Foundation; and the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency. According to Metz, 3 percent of those R&D budgets are allocated for Small Business Innovation Research — to help fund commercially viable products.
Kara Carpenter, Dana Pagar and Rachael Labrecque are among those who have parlayed SBIR funds into a growing education application business. The three former teachers met after returning to school, doing cognitive research at Columbia University's Teachers College. Their research led to a tool to help teachers work with students struggling to learn math — and to the launch of Teachley in 2013.
"Unlike many researchers, we were former teachers with eight years of teaching experience — and understood how to translate our research into the classroom," she told EdScoop. Teachley now has four applications designed to address "teacher pain points" that have been downloaded in more than 1,600 schools, Carpenter said. Teachley is finalizing a new application, this time with SBIR funding from the National Science Foundation, to help teachers and students with fractions.
Of the 50 games and technologies on display this year — 18 received funding by way of the Education Department IES/SBIR program. But innovative education applications have come from other agencies too.
SBIR seed money from the Department of Agriculture has "played a vital role in building our company," said Maria Burns Ortiz, co-founder and CEO of 7 Generation Games. "As a minority-owned, woman-owned edtech startup, we didn't fit the Silicon Valley mold that investors were looking to fund early on," she said. The SBIR funding "provided us that initial capital" to attract other investors to develop an application that helps students who are underperforming in math, and "create products with rural America in mind, working to bridge the digital divide."
Other games and technologies on display are aimed at supporting social and emotional learning, developing math, science and computer science learning, and improve reading, writing and literacy skills.
Here's a roster, supplied by the IES/SBIR office, of all the applications and tools that are expected to be on display at the expo, most of which include links to online video's demonstrating the products and to background on their SBIR awards:
Science Learning Games and Technologies
In the Reach For the Sun game, students age 6 and above grow a sunflower from seed to full plant to learn about plant biology and photosynthesis. Developed by Filament Games with support provided by a 2010 ED/IES SBIR award.
Eco is a class-wide game where middle schools students build a virtual world to learn environmental literacy and collaborative problem solving skills. Developed by Strange Loop Games with support provided by a 2015 ED/IES SBIR award.
Martha Madison is a simulation platform that engages middle school students in physical science through a problem-based learning approach wrapped in an entertainment-quality video game. Developed by Second Avenue Learning with support provided by NSF SBIR.
In the Dino Extinction game, four middle school players collaboratively find, photograph, clone, and analyze objects in the Dino Extinction Era. Developed by TheBeamer LLC with support provided by NSF SBIR.
In Albert Einstein Expert Avatar, middle to high school players get Einstein as a personal assistant to find out about his life and science, to ask verbal questions and get verbal responses, and to get help with the Dino Extinction Game. Developed by TheBeamer LLC with support provided by NSF SBIR.
SimScientists is a simulated environment that engaged middle school students in virtual activities to learn content and model and analyze data on scientific topics such as ecosystems, climate, atoms and molecules, and plate tectonics. Developed by WestED with the support of a series of IES research grants.
In ExoTrex, puzzles and problem-solving exercises empower middle school students to engage in active thinking and deeper learning in Physical Sciences, Planetary Sciences and Science Literacy. Developed by DIG-IT Games.
Inq-ITS, an web-based platform that helps middle school students learn critical thinking and science inquiry, while cutting teachers' grading time. Developed by Apprendis and Rutgers University with 2009 and 2012 IES research grants and a 2016 ED/IES SBIR award.
Assassins of the Sea is a strategic card game for students in grade 5 to 12 in which players are scientists learning about the biodiversity of venomous marine snails and competing to build the winning venom arsenal of potentially life-saving peptide compounds. Developed by Killer Snails with support by NSF SBIR
Nurbits is a music-making puzzle game in which middle and high school students solve problems relating to key neuroscience principles to help a robot band play music. Developed by Cogent Education with support by NSF SBIR.
Immune Defense is a strategy game for middle school through adult in which the player manages a white blood cell army at the molecular level. Developed by Molecular Jig Games with support provided by NSF SBIR.
iNeuron deepens understanding of the brain and the nervous system at middle and high school level by transforming a set of hand-held devices into functionally connected neurons. Developed by Andomio Games with support by NIH SBIR
CytoAssist teaches the basics of photosynthesis and cell respiration to high school students through scaffolded lessons, a virtual laboratory, and collaborative assessments. Developed by Andomio Games with support by NSF SBIR
Happy Atoms is a magnetic molecular modeling set and a companion digital app designed to teach high school chemistry by building models, using the vision-recognition-based app to take a picture of what was built, and exploring the identified molecule and how it fits into the world of molecules (and the real world). Developed by Schell Games with support provided by a 2015 ED/IES SBIR award.
In the Chiros Organic Chemistry Virtual Reality app, high school and college students to build molecular models within a 3D puzzle space. Developed by Alchemie with support provided by NSF SBIR.
The Animator app allows high school and college chemistry students to create and share animated videos quickly on their mobile device. Developed by Alchemie with support provided by NSF SBIR.
Mechanisms game app, designed for college students to learn organic chemistry through molecular puzzles. Developed by Alchemie with support provided by NSF SBIR.
Interactive Case Studies are serious games focusing on the most difficult concepts in high school introductory biology courses by placing students in the role of a scientist faced with solving areal world problem. Developed by Cogent Education with support by NSF SBIR.
In Adaptive Physics Series: Kinematics, while wearing EEG headbands to measure brain-wave activities, students will learn about motion of particles in one, two and three dimensions with good understanding of equation of motion and Newton's three laws of motion. Developed by IntellAdapt with support by NSF SBIR.
In Memory Building, while wearing an EEG headbands to measure brain-wave activities, players will be given a grid of numbers and are asked to memorize each number by its position, drag numbers into grid blocks, and remember the number. Try to get a perfect score after 10 trials. Developed by IntellAdapt with support by NSF SBIR.
Mazefire: Physics 102 Particle waves and electricity is a prep game for physics of electricity and magnetism. Developed by Donald O'Malley and developed by IntellADAPT with NSF support.
With the PBS KIDS Games App children ages 2-8 can play learning games anytime, anywhere, engaging in skills related to science, math, and creativity alongside their favorite characters from Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, Wild Kratts, Super Why, The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!, Dinosaur Train, and more. Developed by PBS with the support of the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation.
Cell Runner is a Virtual Reality cell surface dune buggy/bumper car game for everyone, which teaches an abstract concept – the rapid, chaotic diffusion of proteins on the cell surface, by putting players in the driver's seat. Developed by Molecular Jig Games with support provided by NSF SBIR.
Project NEO is a narrative-base set of games to improve pre-service or in-service teachers’ science understanding across foundational areas of the Next Generation Science Standards. Developed by Triad Interactive Media through a 2014 NSF award.
Math Learning Games and Technologies
MathBRIX is an game for Pre-K to grade 2 children to build math and problem-solving skills through adventure stories, Lego-like manipulatives and "thinking" games. Developed by MathBRIX with an NSF SBIR award.
NumberShire is a narrative-based math game for K to 2 students, especially those at risk for mathematical difficulties. Developed with 2011 and 2013 ED/IES SBIR awards to Thought Cycle and two IES awards to the University of Oregon.
Sokikom is a web- and mobile-based collaborative mathematics learning games for K to 5 students. Developed by Sokikom through a 2009 ED/IES SBIR award.
Teachley's games for iPad: Addimals, Subtractimals, Mt. Multiplis andFact Flyer support K-5 students' fact fluency and promote math strategy development. Developed by Teachley through a 2013 ED/IES SBIR award.
Teachley Fractions Racer is a 3D game for 3rd-5th grade students to develop conceptual understanding of the meaning of fractions, while emphasizing social relationships with a track builder that allows students to build levels for their classmates. Developed by Teachley through NSF SBIR.
Wuzzit Trouble is an app-based intervention for pre-algebra mathematics for grade school and middle school students featuring interactive puzzles that are manipulated using a virtual wheel with the goal to free creatures called Wuzzits. Developed by Brainquake with support provided by a 2016 ED/IES SBIR award.
Making Camp game for grade 3 to 5 students to reviews multiplication and division along with language arts while teaching elements of Native American history. Developed by 7 Generation Games with a USDA SBIR award.
Fish Lake is a 3D virtual world game for grade 3 to 5 students that teaches fractions and the history of the Ojibwe. Developed by 7 Generation Games with a USDA SBIR award.
AzTech is 3D virtual bilingual world for middle school students to learn basic statistics, measurement, and data, as well as Central American and U.S. Latino history. Developed by 7 Generation Games with a USDA SBIR award.
Algebraic Reasoning is an algebraic reasoning app is designed for ages 10 and up and applies BrainQuake's focus on breaking the Symbol Barrier to developing children's algebraic thinking skills. Developed by Brainquake with support provided by a 2016 ED/IES SBIR award.
ONPAR (Obtaining Necessary Parity Through Academic Rigor) is a web-based tool to measure science and mathematics content knowledge and skills of middle school students, including English Learners. Developed by researchers at the University of Wisconsin with a 2014 IES award.
Perceptual and Adaptive Learning Modules (PALMs) in mathematics are based on principles of cognition and learning and have resulted in significant and long-lasting learning gains in federally funded efficacy studies. Developed by Insight LT with a 2011 ED/IES SBIR award, as well as researchers at UCLA and UPenn with a series of IES awards.
With its artificial intelligence engine, the StepWise™ Virtual Tutor for Algebra guides grades 6 to 12 students through problems with immediate feedback if a step is correct or incorrect, and hints to get students back on track when they make a mistake. Developed by Querium with 2016 ED/IES SBIR award.
PlatinuMath is a tablet based narrative-base mini-game to improve pre-service or in-service teachers’ mathematical understanding of 24 pre-Algebra. Developed by Triad Interactive Media through a 2011 ED/IES SBIR award.
Computer Science Learning Games and Technologies
In Academy with The Foos, K to 5 students learning the ABCs of computer science with a highly accessible word-free approach. Developed by CodeSpark.
PBS KIDS Scratch Jr is a programming language for 5 to 7 year olds code and create animations and games. Developed by PBS with the support of ED’s Ready To Learn program.
Code of Aegis combines the interactive nature of gaming, with the storytelling power of graphic novel art to produce an engaging education experience for middles school students in computer science, logic and programming skills, robotics and engineering design. Developed by Tietronix with a 2013 DARPA SBIR award, done in conjunction with ED/IES SBIR on a joint-solicitation for game-based learning.
Hacknet is a computer science game in a fictional FBI academy where players age 11 and above need to solve challenges. Developed by Breakaway Games.
Reading, Writing, and Language Learning Games and Technologies
A2i - Assessment to Instruction is a web-based literacy intervention for individualizing reading instruction for K to 3 children and providing teachers information to guide instruction. Developed and evaluated over ten+ years with IES research grants to Carol Connor and colleagues at multiple universities and a 2014 ED/IES SBIR award to Learning Ovations.
Speak Agent ESL is an online platform to helping English Learners learn academic language needed to achieve school district-specific learning targets across all K-5 subjects. Developed by Speak Agent with NSF SBIR.
Tutoring with the Lightning Squad is a web-based program that teaches phonics, fluency, and comprehension as children in grades 1 to 3 read with a peer partner, alternating roles as “coach” and “player.” Developed by Sirius Thinking with a 2015 ED/IES SBIR award.
iASK is a web-based diagnostic assessment to identify why struggling middle school readers cannot quickly recognize words—a critical foundation for reading comprehension. Developed by Foundations in Learning with a 2015 ED/IES SBIR award.
Walden is a 3D game-based virtual representation of Walden Pond, where Henry David Thoreau walked in 1845-47, allowing players to walk in his virtual footsteps, attend to the tasks of living a self-reliant existence, discover in the beauty of a virtual landscape the ideas and writings of this unique philosopher, and cultivate through game play their own thoughts and responses to the concepts discovered there. Developed by Tracy Fullerton, Director of the USC Game Innovation Lab, with support from the NEH and NEA.
Scrible Edu is a Google-integrated cross-subject research and writing platform for middle and high school with robust student productivity tools and novel teacher analytics that support personalized research/writing instruction. Developed by Scrible with support provided by NSF SBIR.
SmartyPal allows elementary school children to add interactive elements and games to passive content (e.g., printed books). Developed by SmartyPal with support provided by NSF SBIR.
Speak Agent AAC is an app for tablets or handheld phones designed to increase communication and accuracy rates for students with speech disabilities, including those with Autism Spectrum Disorder in grade 3 to 6. Developed by Speak Agent with a 2015 ED/IES SBIR award.
Little Blue Birdie’s Adventures is an animated learning mobile-based game app wherein children ages 4 to 7 play along with Little Blue Birdie as she leads them on adventures with other animals in the jungle, collecting objects, and learn reading skills along the way. The game is being developed by Creative Frontiers and Creative Associates International.
Social and Emotional Learning Games and Technologies
Brainology is a multi-media intervention that teaches a growth mindset and study skills to students in grades 4 to 9 through interactive activities illustrating how the brain gets smarter with effort and learning. Developed by Mindset Works in part with support of a 2010 ED/IES SBIR award and a 2015 IES research award.
SELweb assesses social emotional skills, including emotion recognition, social perspective-taking, social problem-solving, and self-control of children in grades K to 3. Developed by Rush University Medical Center with a 2011 IES award.
Zoo U is an immersive game where students in grades 2 to 5 learn social emotional skills as they navigate social situations in a virtual school for zoo keepers.” Developed by 3C Institute with support provided by a 2011 ED/IES SBIR award.
VESIP (Virtual Environment for Social Information Processing) is a web-based tool to determine the ability of students in grade 3 to 7 to interpret social cues which research demonstrates are needed to resolve conflicts. Developed by Soar Technologies & Rush University Medical Center with support provided by ED/NIDRR SBIR and a 2015 IES research grant.
Hall of Heroes is an immersive game where students in grades 5 to 7 learn social emotional skills needed to navigate the transition to middle school within a virtual school for students with super powers. Developed by 3C Institute with support provided by 2013 ED/IES SBIR award.
ClassCraft is a classroom-wide roleplaying game for grades 3 and above designed to encourage participation, good behavior, and 21st-century skills like collaboration. Developed by ClassCraft.
Social Studies, Civics, and History Learning Games and Technologies
Mission US is a multimedia game that immerses students in grades 4 and up in U.S. history, such as the Revolutionary War, the Great Depression, and Immigration. Developed by Electric Funstuff with support in part by a 2013 ED/IES SBIR award and from NEH.
In Loot Pursuit Early America students in grade 4 and 5 hone their understanding of American History and Jamestown by saving priceless artifacts in this interactive learning game that blends math and social studies into an interactive learning adventure. Developed by Dig It Games.
Voter’s Ed is a touch screen election-information platform for civics classrooms to understand the political and voting landscape in the history of the U.S. Developed by Second Avenue Learning.
GlobalED2 is a problem-based and scenario-based simulation platform for middle and high school students learn about authentic real life issues (e.g., water resources, global warming) while learning science, writing, and social studies. Developed and evaluated by researchers at the University of Connecticut and University of Chicago with 2008 and a 2013 IES research awards.
In Executive Command middle school students take on the role of the President and make all the important decisions. Developed by iCivics.
Suppressed is a visual novel and 2D platform game for high school players to escape from an isolated, totalitarian nation modeled after North Korea, and to learn about North Korea’s politics and culture. Developed by Angela He, Oakton (Virginia) High School student
Memory and Thinking Game for Children
Financial Literacy Learning Game and Technologies
CreditStacker teaches high school students how to manage credit and pay off debt in a match-three game with adaptive questions. Developed by WealthyLife.
FutureSmart teachers Financial Literacy to middle school students and up through scenario-based activities. Developed by EverFi.
Health Games and Technologies
In Brush Up VR children move from brush only the easiest areas to the 70% they've been missing. Developed by Games That Work with NIH SBIR support.
In Brush Up MxR children learn tooth-brushing skills, while the reward path drives habit formation. Developed by Games That Work with NIH SBIR support.