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Middle & High School Math Challenge

In February 2016, NewSchools Ignite launched the Middle & High School Math Challenge – open to entrepreneurs developing engaging, technology-enabled learning experiences, assessments and other digital tools that support middle and high school (6th-12th grade) students’ development of mathematical knowledge, skills and mindsets while preparing them for success beyond the classroom.

Why Middle & High School Math?

Opportunities for growth in middle and high school math
There are a plethora of math tools available, yet very few are fully meeting students’ and teachers’ needs. While there is growing demand for innovation across the K-12 math spectrum, we believe that edtech is especially well positioned to make an impact in middle and high school. Middle school is a critical inflection point, transitioning students between the foundational math concepts taught in elementary school and the college and career readiness focus of high school. In high school there is perhaps even greater need for connections to meaning beyond the classroom, as students and teachers cultivate a balance of conceptual understanding, procedural skills, and problem solving ability.
Read more about opportunities for growth in middle and high school math.

Critical student needs: How technology can support math learning
Based on conversations with with a diverse group of educators and edtech decision-makers, we believe that technology is especially well poised to create an impact on middle and high school math by making learning accessible to students of all abilities and cultural backgrounds, providing age-appropriate scaffolding for underdeveloped foundational concepts, enabling rich social interactions with peers and teachers, encouraging growth mindset, metacognition and agency, and creating opportunities to apply knowledge to real-world challenges.
Read more about how technology can address critical student needs in math.

Catalyzing an ecosystem of math learning innovation
We’ve developed a program to support the most promising companies and nonprofits working in this space to learn, connect and grow together. In addition to grant funding, challenge winners will receive feedback and hands-on support from best-in-class educators, researchers, entrepreneurs and technology professionals.
Read more about the NewSchools Ignite virtual accelerator program.

Selection Criteria

We are looking for companies and nonprofits developing products that:

  • ignite middle and high school (6th-12th grade) students’ curiosity and facilitate deeper learning in mathematics;
  • address one or more of the critical student needs identified by educators;
  • are accessible and usable by a wide range of children – especially underserved student populations;
  • are designed to help students take ownership of their own learning;
  • support teachers’ delivery of tailored instruction;
  • have potential to achieve wide distribution and generate sustainable revenue; and
  • align with the NewSchools’ diligence and investment criteria.

Timeline

  • Application open: February 16, 2016
  • Application due: March 14, 2016
  • Semi-finalist interviews (virtual): March 22-April 8, 2016
  • Challenge winners notified by: April 22, 2016
  • Opening convening (SF Bay Area): May 9-11, 2016
  • Accelerator program (virtual): May 2016-October 2016
  • Closing convening (SF Bay Area): October 2016 (exact dates TBD)

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Opportunities for growth in middle and high school math

Mathematical knowledge, skills and mindsets have enabled people to grow healthy crops, explore outer space, build supercomputers, establish the modern financial system, and uncover countless scientific and medical discoveries. Math principles are fundamental components of everyday life, from assessing physical fitness to tracking personal finances.

There are a plethora of math tools available, yet very few are fully meeting students’ and teachers’ needs. Meanwhile edtech entrepreneurs struggle to separate themselves from the noise of a seemingly saturated market. While there is growing demand for innovation across the K-12 math spectrum, we believe that edtech is especially well positioned to make an impact in middle and high school (6th-12th grade). Middle school is a critical inflection point, transitioning students between the foundational math concepts taught in elementary school and the ‘college and career readiness’ focus of high school. Instructional designers targeting these students must work hard to reach the holy grail of ‘student engagement’ – a goal which can be supported in part by illuminating how math knowledge applies to students’ own interests and aspirations. In high school there is perhaps even greater need for connections to meaning beyond the classroom, as students and teachers cultivate a balance of conceptual understanding, procedural skills, and problem solving ability.

Over time, middle and high school math education has become less about math’s creative and transformative possibilities and more about the memorization of procedures and the performance of calculating the right solution. In theory, widespread implementation of the Common Core State Standards was meant to address these issues. However, newly released PARCC and Smarter Balanced scores (like NAEP scores before them) confirm that many middle and high school students – especially black and Latino students – are still struggling to attain mathematical proficiency as measured by standardized assessments. These disparities persist through higher education – in 2013,less than six percent of math doctorates were black or Latino.

Many middle and high schools – especially those that serve low-income populations – lack the math content and tools necessary to adequately prepare students for the 21st century. At the same time, a growing number of classrooms are beginning to implementpersonalized or integrated instructional approaches that require teachers to craft multidimensional, interdisciplinary learning experiences for students of widely varying math abilities. Against this backdrop, we believe that edtech developers will play a crucial role within an emergent ecosystem of resources that enable new opportunities for math teaching and learning.

The Middle & High School Math Challenge is open to companies and nonprofits working to build instructional content, assessments and other digital tools that support middle and high school (6th-12th grade) students’ development of mathematical knowledge, skills and mindsets. Special consideration will be given to technologies that are accessible and usable by a wide range of children – especially traditionally underserved student populations – as well as products that take advantage of the latest research on learning and advances in mobile and social technologies.

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Critical student needs: How technology can support middle and high school math

There are many opportunities for technology to support middle school and high school math learning. In the months leading up to the launch of the Middle & High School Math Challenge, we conducted market research, including conversations with a diverse group of educators and edtech decision-makers, to learn more about challenges and opportunities in technology-enabled 6th-12th grade math learning. We expect thatchallenge winners will represent a wide range of approaches that are feasible for use in both traditional and personalized classrooms. We believe technology is especially well poised to create impact by:

Making learning accessible to students of all abilities and cultural backgrounds
Students in middle and high school math classrooms represent a wide range of educational and cultural backgrounds. Teachers are eager for tools to help personalize math learning based not only on students’ academic progress, but also their cultural backgrounds, personal interests and learning preferences. Educators also see an opportunity for technology to support differentiated math instruction for students of allreading levels, including English Language Learners.

Providing age-appropriate scaffolding for underdeveloped foundational concepts
Many students enter middle or high school lacking foundational math skills like number sense and fluency. Educators are looking for tools that enable multiple methods, pathways and representations, which can support struggling students as they progress toward grade-level proficiency. However, most of the tools that address elementary-level concepts are not designed for middle and high school students, decreasing the likelihood of sustained engagement. In addition, teachers are looking for ways to go beyond ‘drill and memorization’ to connect remediation with higher-level math thinking.

Enabling rich social interactions with peers and teachers
Technology can facilitate the transmission of real-time data among students and teachers, enabling formative, actionable feedback that can enrich the learning process. Importantly, these data hold the possibility of “go[ing] beyond ‘right’ and ‘wrong’” to demonstrate the thinking behind students’ answers. In addition, creating opportunities for students to collaborate and learn from one another (in-person or virtually) can help them “discover new techniques for approaching problems and new attitudes that help them persevere” while building their communication skills.

Encouraging growth mindset, metacognition and agency
Students’ development of growth mindset can help reframe mathematical struggle and failure as “efforts and mistakes [that] are highly valued”. In addition, many technology-enabled math learning opportunities require a high degree of metacognition: For example, problem solving often requires students to self-regulate and seek out resources to help them acquire knowledge. Educators see opportunities for technology to support these practices while opening up increased possibilities for student voice and choicewithin the math classroom.

Creating opportunities to apply knowledge to real world challenges
Once students begin to develop new math knowledge, it’s important to provide opportunities to apply these learnings to the real world. Educators emphasize the importance of “practical and engaging real world applications” for middle and high school students. Such an approach encourages students to “ask questions of data, map out mathematical pathways and reason quantitatively”, preparing them with skills that will remain valuable throughout their adult lives, regardless of their chosen profession.

†: Quotes from “NewSchools Ignite: Middle & High School Math Challenge market research interviews” (January-February 2016).

Join the Conversation

Do you have ideas about how technology can support learning? Tweet (@nsvf) using the hashtag #NewSchoolsIgnite, or fill out this form if you’d like to be notified of opportunities to provide product feedback.

FAQ EXPAND ALL SHRINK ALL

What is the focus of NewSchools Ignite?

NewSchools Ignite is an initiative of NewSchools’ Tools & Services team, focused on accelerating innovation in K-12 edtech market gaps. We select investment areas based on market research including input from a diverse group of educators and edtech decision-makers, then create opportunities for companies and nonprofits working in these areas to apply for funding as well as other support.

Who can apply? What are the criteria?

The NewSchools Ignite program is open to entrepreneurs working to develop engaging, technology-enabled learning experiences, assessments and other digital tools that support students’ academic and social development. To be eligible for funding, applicants must be working on projects that are aligned with NewSchools’ charitable purpose of transforming public education so that all children – especially those in underserved communities – have the opportunity to succeed.

We are looking for companies and nonprofits developing products that:

  • ignite students’ curiosity and facilitate deeper learning;
  • address one or more of the critical student needs identified by educators;
  • are accessible and usable by a wide range of children – especially underserved student populations;
  • are designed to help students take ownership of their own learning;
  • support teachers’ delivery of tailored instruction;
  • have potential to achieve wide distribution and generate sustainable revenue; and
  • align with the NewSchools’ diligence and investment criteria.
What company/product stage is this program designed to support?

The NewSchools Ignite virtual accelerator program is designed to support companies and organizations creating products across a wide developmental spectrum, ranging from early- to growth-stage. To be considered for funding, applicants must submit at least one product as part of their application (prototypes are accepted).

What is a “virtual accelerator program”?

While our program includes two in-person convenings, challenge winners do not need to re-locate to participate in other program elements. Our virtual accelerator program will last for approximately six months, featuring targeted content and feedback delivered via phone/video meetings, web-based presentations, and opportunities for online collaboration. Read more about our program.

What type of financial support will selected applicants receive?

In addition to participation in two in-person convenings and a six-month virtual accelerator program, challenge winners will receive grants ranging from $50,000 to $150,000 (depending on product stage).

Does NewSchools receive equity from participants?

All funds distributed to participants will take the form of grants. NewSchools will NOT request equity in exchange for participation.