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Lessons from the Evolution of AltSchool

Max Ventilla, Co-founder and director of AltSchool. TIMOTHY ARCHIBALD.


At Smartick, we always are very interested in following what is happening in the world of education technology because we detect that there are promises that could have stayed as such. That is why we were so interested in this article about AltSchool, a chain of private schools financed by many of Silicon Valley’s millionaire gurus.

AltSchool is a network of schools that were established to change how we see education and how classes are given, and the expectations were high. But now, according to a very extensive piece in Forbes, the reality has been cut short.

Max Ventilla, the entrepreneur behind the project educated at the classic elite institutions, was able to easily get money from Silicon Valley investors. They were all very convinced about switching the education approach from a teacher’s ‘master lesson’ to one decided by the student.

The co-founder and director of AltSchool explains that he was very honest with the students’ parents. He told them that there would be many pilot tests and there were, but he experimented and then some of those schools closed. He placed cameras in classrooms to record students and teachers but eventually dismissed this idea. Additionally, there were problems with the schools that had nothing to do with technology. For example, none of the buildings had a playground or yard so the students would go to public parks in San Francisco for recess which, according to Forbes, had complications of their own.

So Ventilla decided to focus on a technology platform to sell to schools for $150 per student, and so it goes. One of the possibilities it offers is to upload all of the student’s work to a profile so that parents know what their children are doing on a daily basis. However, at least for some parents, this might be a bit too much information and not entirely necessary.

One of the parents who took their son out of AltSchool said that he learned that you cannot personalize learning for every single student. We at Smartick, personalize the pace and content, but only to a certain point. There is a very well researched tree of contents with exercises for arithmetic, geometry, logic, word problems, etc. Essentially, the concepts that our team of teachers, educators, and mathematicians considers to be the most important for children ages 4-14 to learn. But all children will end up seeing that content, varying in intensity and pace. We are not those that believe that if a child seems to be doing poorly in geometry, just give them arithmetic.

We have always thought that education does not need a revolution. Not in vain because the system, as it is, has brought us the progress that we enjoy. So every time we hear ”We’re educating children for the jobs that don’t exist yet” we think, well that has been going on for years. Cell phone designers, for example, studied mathematics as always.

That being said, of course, there is technology that can make learning much more effective by adapting to the pace of each student to encourage optimal learning – which is what we do at Smartick. For 15 minutes a day, with total concentration, we support math teachers in the teaching and learning process because at Smartick we continue to believe it is essential to have the human factor in the classroom.

It is true that we think we are the perfect complement to the human factor, precisely because it is what we are not. When children are in their homes in front of a computer with Smartick, they do not feel the pressure to raise their hand and say that they do not know something: an interactive tutorial appears when they don’t understand something and they can see that.

At Smartick we believe that a good teacher cannot be substituted by a tablet or computer. The human factor is very important in order to detect if a child is bored or not, to encourage and motivate them through speaking, and to explain things well. This is something that an algorithm cannot provide, but a teacher can. Smartick can help their students work on their weaknesses, for 15 minutes a day, as personalized training.

Mastering a very solid math curriculum, but each at their own pace to develop the confidence they need, this is precisely what the Smartick method offers. However, it should be noted that even though AltSchool has a different approach, the children who have stayed enrolled there, according to some tests, are still progressing in mathematics.

The Forbes article talks about Edmodo and Amplify as products that had a lot of money invested and did not live up to expectations. That’s why with Smartick, we have not raised large sums of money. We have acquired clients in good faith, little by little, by word of mouth, happy students, and the encouragement from families who consider us to be part of their own.

We know very well that an online program, personalized to their pace, with solid mathematical content, works.

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Fun is our brain’s favorite way of learning
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