In the edtech world, there is no shortage of talent or ideas. In fact, here at NewSchools, we have had the privilege of supporting some of the brightest minds building innovative tools to support K-12 teaching and learning. Nevertheless, educators nationwide report that in certain sectors there is a lack of high quality digital tools available to support students’ growth in areas critical for success in the 21st century.
Today, we are excited to introduce NewSchools Ignite, a uniquely focused education technology accelerator that will support entrepreneurs tackling the most pressing gaps in K-12 education technology. Our first initiative, the Science Learning Challenge, is now open to companies and nonprofits building technologies that support students’ development of science and engineering skills.
Why science? It turns out that U.S. student achievement in science dramatically declines between elementary and middle school. By the time students graduate from high school, only 30% of them have developed the foundation they need to apply scientific concepts to the world around them. We know we can do better for our children. We must find better ways to ignite students’ curiosity for deeper learning across the sciences and empower more underserved students as explorers and creators. Through NewSchools Ignite, we want to catalyze product growth in specific areas—like the sciences—deemed crucial to teachers and students and where innovation in digital tools for teaching and learning is noticeably lagging.
We’ve structured NewSchools Ignite’s Science Learning Challenge as a grant-based philanthropic initiative with up to $1.5 million in grants to be distributed among a cohort of up to 15 challenge winners developing technologies to improve science learning. We will support challenge winners with a highly customized and flexible virtual accelerator program. Individual grants will range from $50,000 to $150,000, depending on each product’s stage of development.
We believe that taking an educator-inspired and student-centered approach to product development is crucial to building useful and effective edtech products. With this in mind, we have partnered with the science education and research experts at WestEd. Science education experts like Steve Schneider, Senior Program Director of WestEd’s STEM program, will act as an extended part of our team, provide feedback from a research perspective, and collaborate with grant recipients to design small scale studies on product usability, feasibility and promise of learning. In addition to access to the latest research about what works well and what is needed in science education, grant recipients will have opportunities to learn directly from teachers and students who have a stake in raising the bar in science education.
Through this work, we intend to help educators, designers, researchers and funders better understand what it takes to develop high quality digital tools that benefit students and teachers across the United States – especially in underserved communities.