Science Learning Challenge

Overview

In October 2015, NewSchools Ignite launched the Science Learning Challenge – open to entrepreneurs working to develop engaging, technology-enabled learning experiences, design tools, assessments and other digital products that support K-12 students’ mastery of science and engineering skills.

Why Science Learning?

The importance of science learning

Science education is an essential tool for equipping students with the skills and knowledge they need to thrive in the 21st century. Not only is scientific literacy required to succeed in many careers, it also lays the foundation for engaging with complex decisions that affect individuals, society and the natural environment. Nevertheless, many students fall behind in science early and rarely recover: Only one-third of 8th graders score “proficient” or “advanced” in science on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP); 70% of high school graduates fail to meet science college readiness standards on the ACT.
Read more about the importance of science learning.

How technology can support science learning

There are many opportunities for technology to support students’ mastery of science and engineering content and practices. We believe technology is especially well poised to create impact by making learning more accessible, enabling new social interactions, leveraging connections to other subject areas, connecting content to life beyond school, empowering students and teachers as explorers and creators, and igniting students’ curiosity to facilitate deeper learning.
Read more about how technology can support science learning.

Catalyzing an ecosystem of science 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 our program.

Selection Criteria

We are looking for companies and nonprofits developing products that:

  • ignite students’ curiosity and facilitate deeper learning in science;
  • 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: July 30, 2015
  • Application due: September 4, 2015
  • Semi-finalist interviews: September 14-25, 2015
  • Challenge winners notified by: October 13, 2015
  • Opening convening (SF Bay Area): October 21-22, 2015
  • Accelerator program (virtual): October 2015-May 2016
  • Closing convening (SF Bay Area): May 10-11, 2016

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The importance of science learning

Science education is an essential tool for equipping students with the skills and knowledge they need to thrive in the 21st century. Not only is scientific literacy required to succeed in many careers, it also lays the foundation for engaging with complex decisions that affect individuals, society and the natural environment. Nevertheless, many students fall behind in science early and rarely recover: Only one-third of 8th graders score “proficient” or “advanced” in science on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP); 70% of high school graduates fail to meet science college readiness standards on the ACT.

These trends are even more troubling when racial and socioeconomic gaps in performance are considered: Black and Latino students (who make up more than 40 percent of the U.S. K-12 population) are less likely to complete science courses includingbiology, chemistry, and physics as well as computer science, reducing the likelihood that they will be prepared to study these subjects in college. As a result, only 13 percent of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs nationwide are held by people of color, even though STEM skills are “particularly scarce relative to [employer] demand.”

Against this backdrop, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) – developed by the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science in partnership with educational leaders from 26 states – were released in 2013. Designed to “prepare students for college, career and citizenship”, the standards emphasize scientific practices and knowledge rooted in real world experience, building a strong foundation from kindergarten through high school. However, there are few examples of the type of high-quality, technology-enabled science learning experiences needed to fulfill the promise these new standards represent. Demand has outpaced supply: According to a recent study by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, educators report a lack of effective digital science content across the K-12 spectrum.

We selected this gap because we hope to contribute to a future where education technology can support students’ development of scientific knowledge and practices, as well as teachers’ abilities to effectively deliver personalized instruction and assess student progress. The Science Learning Challenge is open to companies and nonprofits working to develop engaging, technology-enabled learning experiences, design tools, assessments and other products that support students’ mastery of science content and practices. 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 hold the potential to achieve wide distribution and generate revenue at scale.

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How technology can support science learning

There are many opportunities for technology to support students’ development of science and engineering skills. In the months leading up to the launch of the Science Learning Challenge, we conducted market research including conversations with a diverse group of educators and edtech decision-makers from across the country. Below we share some of our initial insights from this research.

We are excited to review the breadth of solutions proposed by challenge applicants, and expect that winners will represent a wide range of approaches to science learning. We believe technology is especially well poised to create impact by making learning more accessible, enabling new social interactions, leveraging connections to other subject areas, connecting content to life beyond school, empowering students and teachers as explorers and creators, and igniting students’ curiosity to facilitate deeper learning.

Making learning more accessible
Many educators emphasize the importance of accessibility. With an increasing proportionof students gaining access to technology at school and home, there are new opportunities to meet them where they are with high quality digital content. Technology can provide powerful alternatives to activities (like some science experiments) that are “too big, too small or too expensive” to conduct in existing facilities. It can also enable learning experiences to become more personalized – providing tools to adapt content to diverse learner needs such as reading level or native language. In order for technology to fulfill this promise, however, developers must consider how their products work across devices and within a wide range of classroom use cases.

Enabling new interactions with peers, instructors and the physical world
Technology is often viewed as a distraction from real-world interactions with other people and the environment. Yet many educators are intrigued by the possibility of tools that can make these interactions more robust – enhancing the quality of teacher-student feedback and student-student collaboration. In addition, teachers see a lot of potential in technology to become “a bridge between the virtual and natural worlds” – a tool for data collection or analysis that can feed back into classroom activities.

Leveraging connections to other subject areas
Science learning is a crucial component of STEM education, which is inherently multidisciplinary. Educators see many opportunities to emphasize connections not only to technology, engineering and mathematics, but also to literacy as well as art, design and “21st century skills” like creativity, critical thinking and communication.

Connecting content to life beyond school
Science learning is also a great way to spark student interest in topics beyond the standard curriculum. Engaging, technology-enabled learning experiences can help students understand more concretely how scientific knowledge can be applied in college and careers. It can also create opportunities for “connections to experts or other students outside the classroom” – a powerful way to “make science come to life.”

Empowering students and teachers as explorers and creators
Technology holds the power of enabling user-generated content to support learning. Many teachers are excited about creating customized lessons, capturing video lessons or layering their own voices and images onto existing content. These resources can then be used flexibly in different contexts throughout the school year. For students, technology can create new opportunities to demonstrate learning through creative projects or presentations that can serve as alternatives to traditional assessments.

Igniting students’ curiosity to facilitate deeper learning in science
Using the power of technology to showcase fascinating science phenomena in ways that make learning irresistible can help engage students to explore topics more deeply. Giving students the space and the tools to ignite their own science passions will facilitate“deeper learning” more effectively than traditional skill building and fact memorization techniques.

†: Educator quotes from “NewSchools Ignite: Science Learning Challenge market research” (May-June 2015).

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.