Eyeing Growth, Project Foundry Targets Cleveland Students, Teachers

In 2012, the City of Cleveland decided to transform its public schools.

Some of the reasons were laid bare in a 15-page plan describing why and how the city sought to make changes. At the time, 31,000 children were attending failing schools, according to the document, which was prepared by the office of Mayor Frank Jackson for Ohio Gov. John Kasich and other state officials. The plan estimated that for every 100 students entering ninth grade in Cleveland, only 63 would finish high school; of those graduates, 34 would enroll in college, and just seven would earn a bachelor’s degree.

The document recommended a number of system-wide reforms, and “academic technology enhancement” was among them. “Not only does our students’ success in the 21st century knowledge economy require technology savvy, but [also] advances in computer-aided and web-based instruction,” according to the plan. In a separate document, from the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, authors discussed augmenting “student exposure to global and project-based learning experiences” as a key objective.

Four years later, the district has taken up some of these suggestions, and implemented new programs and approaches to learning. One example is its decision to license software developed by Project Foundry, a Milwaukee-based edtech startup.

“The Cleveland Metropolitan School District made a strategic decision to redesign their district as a whole,” says Ben DeBruin, a Project Foundry vice president. “Every year, they’re bringing new schools online with this new design model. We are part of that growth plan.”

Instead of a didactic model where a teacher takes an entire class through a lesson one step at a time, the company’s project-based design allows pupils to start with a question and try to determine themselves what steps will be necessary to answer it. Students can use the software to collaborate on group projects, and it lets teachers coordinate interdisciplinary units spanning multiple school subjects.

Putting students at the center “flips the switch,” and gives them “agency” in determining what they want to learn, CEO Bill Mortimore says.

One school in Cleveland began using Project Foundry earlier this school year, Mortimore says. Another is expected to come online by the end of the year, he says, plus two more in 2017. Additionally, last weekend, the district became Project Foundry’s first customer to use new professional development tools the startup is now unveiling.

“Adults learn the same way as kids do,” Moritmore says. “But we’ve set up these structures in education thinking the most efficient delivery is to cram a room full of teachers on a Saturday, have somebody give a presentation, and then everyone goes back to their classrooms and nothing happens.”

Mortimore says that even though technology has made it possible to individualize instruction like never before, lectures and other old-line teaching techniques remain prevalent. He says Project Foundry was inspired to expand into professional development for educators after observing a parallel between students whom traditional methods failed to engage, and teachers that were completing continuing education requirements without getting much out of them.

“These teachers looked just like the kid in the back row,” Mortimore says. “It’s not that they’re stupid or resistant to change—they just don’t know where to begin.”

While the public may be more familiar with rules requiring lawyers and clinicians to stay current on the latest topics and technologies—another Wisconsin-based startup, AltusCampus, develops continuing medical education software—and it’s the same idea with teachers, says Shane Krukowski, Project Foundry’s co-founder and product development lead.

“It’s just like practicing medicine or law,” Krukowski says. “You’re never quite … Next Page »

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Jeff Buchanan is the editor of Xconomy Wisconsin. Email: jbuchanan@xconomy.com Follow @_jeffbuchanan

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