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Pitch Fest spotlights ed tech innovators

By Team ISTE
June 28, 2016
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ABC has a hit on its hands with "Shark Tank," a game show where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to venture capitalists in hopes of winning investment dollars to take their creative products to market.

Attendees at ISTE 2016 enjoyed the same thrill at this year’s Ed Tech Start-Up Pitch Fest, where company representatives had five minutes to pitch their ideas followed by a three-minute question-and-answer session with judges.

After hearing the pitches, audience members rated the products and selected winners in two categories, an interactive exercise that often leads to national success for both educators and the vendors.

In the final round at ISTE 2016 on Tuesday, two start-ups won the hearts and minds of audience members who voted via clickers.

Earning the award for Most Innovative was Books That Grow. Taking home honors as Most Likely To Succeed was Cogent Education.

Differentiated reading

Books That Grow is a new model of adaptive learning that provides differentiated reading content based on students’ needs. The product is designed to allow students to engage in the same material at the same time, with content represented differently based on each student’s abilities and needs.

Using Books That Grow, students can learn in age cohorts while not being limited by grade level, making mixed-ability groups possible.

Developer Daniel Fountenberry said the product ends the walk of shame for special needs students who are often segregated to separate reading groups.  

Biology case studies

Cogent Education’s products are designed to increase students’ interest in STEM careers. Recognizing there was little digital content for high school science courses, Cogent Education developers created a series of interactive biology lessons using video game technologies to engage students and enable them to practice critical thinking and solve real-world problems.

Students are presented with a difficult science concept and act as scientists to work through the problem and complete virtual or physical experiments. As students progress, the game assesses their critical-thinking skills, which is shared with the teacher via a heat map. The teacher instantly sees how students are thinking and can identify which students are struggling with a particular concept or skill.

Currently available for high school biology courses, Cogent plans to expand into chemistry and physics lessons, and offer case studies aimed at middle and elementary school students.

Winning the ISTE Pitch Fest can be a boon for developers. Here are some past Pitch Fest winners that are flourishing.

2013 San Antonio
Grand Prize: LearnZillion

LearnZillion offers five-minute mini-lessons based on Common Core State Standards. From a student perspective, these are review materials; educators use the units to get ideas for their own classes and improve their teaching methods. 

Today, LearnZillion has 120,000 registered teachers, with 5,000 more coming on line every week. It reaches about 1.4 million students. Bill Gates has dubbed it one of his favorite ed tech approaches. Fast Company declared it one of the world’s top 10 most innovative companies in education in 2014.

2014 Atlanta
Grand Prize: eduCanon (now known as PlayPosit)

PlayPosit is a user-friendly tool that lets teachers add interactivity to streaming video content from sites like YouTube, LearnZillion, TeacherTube and Vimeo, and others. Teachers can superimpose lessons, comments and other notes onto videos to provide reference and context during assignments.

The company was born in 2013 and has since brought on more than 100,000 teachers and 1 million registered users to their software platform, won $100,000 in the 1776 Global Challenge Cup Competition in the education category, and earned a participation slot in both in Silicon Valley’s Aspire Accelerator and Stanford University’s StartX program.

2015 Philadelphia
Voted Most Innovative and Most Likely to Succeed: Mathspace

Mathspace relies on popular coding instruction to teach math principles, collecting data to personalize math problems based on the student’s problem-solving path. The startup’s goal is for its app to replace older evaluation systems like multiple-choice and true/false quizzes.

In May 2016, Mathspace partnered with Pearson to add its data-capturing capability to Pearson’s student exercises, which will allow college instructors to pinpoint what they need to focus on classroom instruction.

Looking for the latest in innovative ed tech products? If you're at ISTE 2016, head over to the expo hall to see thousands of tools and products.