Gap App winners think they can solve low middle school scores

The city Department of Education thinks it has found software developers who are solving the perpetual problem of middle school math.

The department today announced four winners from its Gap App challenge — a competition inviting developers to submit programs that could help middle schools raise math scores, which remain stubbornly low. Developers submitted 200 apps to the challenge since it was first announced in January.

The developer of the “Best Instructional App,” KnowRe, has created an adaptive learning platform that offers Algebra 1 students different questions and challenges based on their previous answers.

In the “Best Administrative and Engagement App” category, top-rated developer Hapara has created an interface that lets teachers see their students’ work easily. “Our product is built exclusively on teacher and student feedback,” the group says in an informational video.

“There’s a lot of tools that have come and gone over the last decade that it felt like they didn’t talk to a teacher,” said Steve Kinney, a middle and high school programming teacher from Scholars Academy in Rockaway Park who served as one of the judges in the competition.

“This is the first time where it’s very explicit that we’re involving teachers in the process and we’re looking for apps that get back to the core of why anyone became a teacher, things that allow them to leverage technology, to work faster and more efficiently so they can focus their time on creating great lessons,” Kinney said.

Deputy Chancellor David Weiner said over the next two to three months, the department would work with schools in the Innovation Zone to pick which apps they want to implement. The iZone’s 250 schools, mostly middle and high schools that focus on personalized learning, will be able to pick from 164 apps of the 200 that met the contest qualifications.

How much the apps will cost to implement will depend on how many schools want to use the apps and which products they choose, Weiner said. But he said most of the apps are low cost and will only require schools to adapt existing technologies. Apps do not need to be used schoolwide and could just be used for certain subjects, classes, or teachers, Weiner said.

First-place winners each won $15,000 in cash, and second-place winners took home $5,000, prize money contributed by the Anthony Meyer Family Foundation. Each also received $6,000 in Amazon Web Service credits. The department also awarded honorable mentions in each categories.

The nine winning companies will demonstrate their apps live on Wednesday evening at the General Assembly at 902 Broadway.

Here’s a brief look at the winning companies and what they do.

Hapara (First place, Best Administrative and Engagement App) Hapara, based in Palo Alto, Calif., optimizes Google Apps for schools by structuring Google Apps around classes and students. LiveSchool (Second place, Best Administrative and Engagement App) LiveSchool, based in Nashville, Tenn., allows teachers and administrators to record student behavior and manage numerous daily tasks, including attendance, participation, hallway monitoring, and assignment tracking.

KnowRe (First place, Best Instructional App) KnowRe, based in New York City, assesses an individual’s strengths and weaknesses, personalizes a curriculum for each student’s focus areas adn engages students through game-like features, attractive graphics and social learning. Mathalicious (Second place, Best Instructional App) Mathalicious, based in Charlottesville, Va., helps creates lessons for educators that are aligned to Common Core standards through real-world topics and challenge students to think critically about the world.