IVCA Profile: LEAP Innovations at ‘1871’ is Moving Education to the Future Through Technology, Personalized Learning, and New Teaching Methods

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IVCA Profile: LEAP Innovations at ‘1871’ is Moving Education to the Future Through Technology, Personalized Learning, and New Teaching Methods

July 8, 2015

The IVCA continues its series on accelerators and incubators making an impact at “1871” – the technology and business development center at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago – with the appropriately named LEAP Innovations. This accelerator’s goal is for school systems and education to “leap” to a more modern teacher/student approach, by creating a personalized learning classroom, enabled by technology, and tailoring instruction toward a student’s skills, interests and goals.

LEAP Innovations has three main initiatives that aim to create a new learning trajectory. The “LEAP Collaboratory,” the “LEAP Pilot Network” and “Breakthrough Schools Chicago” each have a distinct purpose (explained below) and goals as innovators, that marry education ideals with new technology solutions. Representing this unique organization in this profile is Phyllis Lockett, Founder and CEO of LEAP Innovations.

IVCA: You launched just over a year ago. What inspired the unique elements of the program and how did that inspiration evolve to the launch?

LEAP Innovations: I was inspired by the challenges we’re facing in this country when it comes to education. This notion of a ‘one size fits all’ model is not working for all students. To advance education, we need to infuse innovation into teaching and learning. If we don’t, by 2040, half of U.S. jobs that exist today won’t be available, and most of our workforce will not be skilled for 21st century employment.

IVCA: You split the organization into three distinct initiatives – the ‘Collaboratory,’ the "Pilot Network" and "Breakthrough Schools Chicago." What are the mechanics of the three programs, and how do they interact with each other?

LEAP Innovations: Each of our programs at LEAP are designed to scaffold or build upon one another. The Collaboratory is all about providing exposure and connection points. We wanted a destination place for educators and tech innovators to come together to learn from each other, and create, which is why we opened in ‘1871.’ For example, we have created an environment here where educators can participate in workshops, collaborate and learn about tech.

The next program is our Pilot Network. We want to see educators and tech companies get together for pilot programs that support teaching and learning, right in the classroom. So we created the LEAP Pilot Network in Chicago to identify the best new math and literacy tools from across the country, bring them into Chicago classrooms, and help educators integrate them into personalized learning environments that allow them to differentiate instruction more powerfully than ever before. Teachers tailor lessons to each student’s skill level, interests and goals. This has been shown to increase both teacher satisfaction and effectiveness as well as student outcome. We research what works, how to use it, and what districts across the country should think about using.

IVCA: And how does the ‘Breakthrough Schools Chicago’ go beyond piloting?

LEAP Innovations: The next leap is to transform a school into an entirely new model, a 21st century learning model. Our Breakthrough Schools Chicago program commits $4 million in philanthropic funding and professional development to create next-generation, personalized learning schools.

Twenty-three public schools located throughout the city are eligible after being selected in an open competition. Each will undergo a complete transformation led by their principal and key teachers to create sustainable, 21st century school models that personalize instruction to meet each student’s needs, goals and learning styles. The schools are a mix of traditional, magnet, selective enrollment, alternative and charter elementary and high schools.  And as Mayor Emanuel said, ‘These educators are leading the way forward, paving a path for how our schools can thrive in the future.’

IVCA: The overall goal of LEAP Innovations is a rewrite of education techniques supported by technological advances. Since structurally and in general, public schooling is slow to change, how does your organization, and the companies that participate in it, use innovation for redirecting the model of school as most of us know it?

LEAP Innovations: I find that innovation doesn’t come from the top to down, it comes from the bottom to up. And so we’re fortunate we have incredible educators and principals who are leaders around the city, who are really interested in taking their schools to the next level. There are schools that are refocusing their curriculum into competency-based approaches, moving and accelerating kids based on their skill levels, rather than grade levels.

It’s about changing and personalizing the school experience for each student. There are a lot of schools that are thinking about incorporating computer coding, and reinventing their schools to link closer to employers’ needs. We’re going to see a number of examples of what the future of learning can look like. That is what is happening at LEAP right now – more educators, administrators and schools are realizing these solutions are out there, and they’re hoping to provide that access to their students.

IVCA: What is an example of an application of technology – besides computer labs – that has been crucial to education in the last ten years, that you know has come out of accelerators like LEAP Innovations?

LEAP Innovations: We are changing how classrooms look, how teachers teach, and how students engage in education. For example, educators are providing students access to differentiated content through multi-age classrooms, dynamic grouping, and competency-based approaches. They are creating flexible classrooms with co-teaching and adaptive technologies that students can leverage. They are building personalized learning paths that focus on academic and non-academic outcomes – allowing students, teachers, and families to map out a future for success.

There are many examples in our pilot programs. There are amazing reading tools like myOn or LightSail. You might liken them to Pandora, except instead of music, it’s for reading. It accesses a student’s reading level and comprehension, and it can offer a digital library based on the user. As music is now available that is tailored to what you like, can you imagine a digital library that automatically adjusts, based on your skill level and interests? Plus, the teacher can provide coaching and stay on top of your progress every day.

What we’re seeing is incredible excitement from kids, and more of an interest in reading. A lot of the tech companies are incorporating artificial intelligence and gaming technology to really focus on what the student needs, reintroducing topics and specific strands that the child is trying to master. This continues to accelerate the students as far as they want to go. We’ve had examples of reading comprehension go from third grade level to fifth grade level in one year – it’s about going at the student’s pace and tailoring a student’s individual needs.

IVCA: Real life applications of education technologies and techniques are practiced within your Pilot Network. What result within that Pilot Network is a prime indicator that the program being tested is a good fit for those real world applications?

LEAP Innovations: The goal of the LEAP Pilot Network is to implement personalized learning approaches in the classroom and then see how technology can further accelerate that teaching and learning experience. We’ve just completed six literacy pilots this year, and we’re looking at the numbers this summer to see what solutions are coming out of these pilot programs.

We’re talking to a number of schools, who are very excited and very encouraged, about how the solutions can be used to advance teaching to see where their students stand. They are seeing more engagement from their classrooms, and a more active learning environment overall.

IVCA: Let’s look into the crystal ball. What are examples of new education tools that could possibly breakthrough in the next ten years that companies participating in LEAP Innovations are involved in developing?

LEAP Innovations: I think learning, and access to learning, will be much more available, and it won’t be just geographically based. Learning will happen both inside and outside the classroom – students will have access to online technologies in school and beyond. And what we’ve always known about school, the grade-by-grade advancement, is going to evolve into personalized learning paths, based on needs and skill sets.

IVCA: Where do you see the public school system evolving, given the debate on school vouchers and budget concerns toward education for all?

LEAP Innovations: The examples I just gave you are for public education, and the beauty of technology and personalized learning is that it will democratize public education – now education is not anchored to a person’s zip code. I believe there will be a tremendous opportunity, for students of all types and all places, to get access to high quality educational tools.

IVCA: What would you tell the membership of the IVCA about LEAP Innovations that you think makes you most desirable to investors?

LEAP Innovations: What I’d like to tell your membership is to take a closer look at how education is changing, it’s a huge opportunity for investors in the future. We need our best and brightest to get involved in education, and it’s a favorable time to realize that in the next ten years there will be an overhaul in how school is structured, and the investor community should be a part of that drive toward innovation. Their investment can dramatically change the future of our country.

For more information about LEAP Innovations, click on http://www.leapinnovations.org/