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Kandoolu Hits the Airwaves with TechVibe Radio

Jan 25, 2017

The Kandoolu Learning Navigator earned its 12 minutes of fame on January 20th as a hot topic on Pittsburgh Technology Council's (PTC) TechVibe Radio show. Hosts PTC CEO Audrey Russo and Director of Visibility Jonathan Kersting sat down with Elizabeth Forward School District Superintendent Dr. Bart Rocco and OHS President Chris Sweeney to chat about the formative assessment app and the partnerships through the Targeted Learning Moments initiative that made it a reality. 

Listen to the full interview here or read the transcript below:

Audrey Russo: Why don't we start with Dr. Rocco. Listen, if people haven't been reading and listening to the news, I think the whole world should know about the Elizabeth Forward School District.

Dr. Bart Rocco: Yeah I agree, I think over the last seven years or so, we've really been at the cutting edge of innovation and technology in the region. It's awesome.

Audrey Russo: Right and that's actually a school that the kids are from which part of this region?

Dr. Bart Rocco: It's actually the southeastern most region of Allegheny County and it's made up of Elizabeth Township, Forward Township, and Elizabeth Borough. Three communities come together there.

Audrey Russo: it's just incredible. So we're going to jump in and we're going to talk about some new things that are going on over there. And we're going to start by talking about what is Kandoolu?

Chris Sweeney: I'm happy to tackle that. Kandoolu is a new product from OnHand Schools and basically what we're introducing, we rolled it out starting in November of last year but really general availability in January. It's a personalized learning solution that gives teachers an opportunity to get a real-time snapshot of student learning and then dynamically assigns follow-up activities that are tailored, or individual, to the student and what they've learned.

Audrey Russo: So now, if we flip over and talk to the superintendent of Elizabeth Forward Schools. You've been working on this for seven years, right?

Dr. Bart Rocco: Yes, well the major push for us has been personalized learning and that really has been sort of a mesh between Chris and I getting together in this project. So we were in the beginning phases in developing this idea that as technology becomes more connected, we can now track children and push out information to them that gives the teachers information immediately and gives the kids an opportunity to learn really quickly. And that's really what we're trying to do with Kandoolu.

Audrey Russo: But you've had some incredible success.

Dr. Bart Rocco: Yes, we have. We're a member of the League of Innovative Schools through Digital Promise. We're one of eighty school districts that are the leaders in the country with technology. We have two MIT certified FabLabs in our district. We have a K-12 iPad learning initiative which has been in place for four years now.

Audrey Russo: So you're no stranger in terms of trying to take risks.

Dr. Bart Rocco: No, I think one of the key things that educators at least in the technology area should be critical of is they need to look beyond the walls of their schools and partner with companies, look at institutions that are leading the way and using technology with children because that's how we're going to be able to master this environment that we're in to improve learning for children. I think technology, this type of technology that we have through OnHand Schools and with Kandoolu could really provide that for teachers. But more importantly, it gives data to kids and they can start to personalize and track their own performance, which I think is really critical.

Jonathan Kersting: How cool is that? When you're a student, you can actually see how you're progressing and it incentivizes you to do better and strengthen up where you're weak.

Dr. Bart Rocco: The neat thing about it, and I'm sure Chris will talk about it too, is the idea that it's personalizing for each individual child. So before, when you were a classroom teacher prior to technology, it was 1-24. Now teachers can really individualize instruction because there's kids of all levels coming into that classroom. I think that's what certainly the Kandoolu product can do.

Audrey Russo: You’ve been able to shift the culture as well as your school. It’s amazing, he’s being so humble.

Dr. Bart Rocco: Well, I always say it takes five years to change a culture. I started in 2009, so I’ve had some time to do that. But, you know, when you have children that come to you and they’re proud to come to school there and they’re excited about it, it’s the best place in the world to work. The little kids in elementary can’t wait to come to that Dream Factory.

Jonathan Kersting: And it probably starts to snowball as well.

Dr. Bart Rocco: Yes it does snowball, and that’s another thing, too: technology really enables that. Kids know that they’re at the cutting edge of technology use in schools and in the country. That’s happening in this region, which is a phenomenal thing.

Audrey Russo: So switching over to you, Chris. Perfect partnership obviously, right?

Chris Sweeney: It’s a great partnership. We’re really lucky to work with innovative leaders like Dr. Rocco.

Audrey Russo: So what does that partnership look like?

Chris Sweeney: It’s a great question. We see ourselves as very mission-driven; we’re a for-profit company, but we’re very committed to moving achievement and working with great educators like Dr. Rocco. It really does take a partnership. When you look at Kandoolu for example, there’s a mobile technology platform that underlies the whole thing and we had to be the architects of that. But lacking the vision and the content and some of the guidance that we can get from the educators, that’s what makes the difference in making something that’s going to work in the classroom.

Jonathan Kersting: So truly a partnership to bring that up. You need their insight with what’s going on there to build that into the app and make it work.

Chris Sweeney: That’s exactly right and we were very lucky. This is a regional collaboration that goes much beyond just the alliance that we’ve had with Elizabeth Forward. We’ve got other districts, we’ve got intermediate units, we’ve got research institutions, and even some foundations that have subsidized some of this.

Audrey Russo: So if our listeners want to go to a website right now as we’re talking with Chris Sweeney and Dr. Bart Rocco and we’re talking about Kandoolu, is there any way for them to link and find some information online?

Chris Sweeney: They could go to Kandoolu.com!

Audrey Russo: So you’ve embraced innovation, you’ve got a great customer and partner here. What have you learned in terms of your world and OnHands’ learning? What’s really changed over these last few years? Obviously Elizabeth Forward is a stellar example that we’re glad to have right here in our region, but what else have you learned?

Chris Sweeney: We’re learning a lot of great things and part of it, Dr. Rocco mentioned, is that this isn’t an overnight success story. We’re seeing a maturation process and some of our original products were more about aggregating and consolidating student data and making it easier for teachers to get a holistic view of what was happening in their district, and that’s a first step. I can’t be data-guided, data-informed if I don’t have that strong platform. But the next steps were, how do we begin to then differentiate instruction, which is at an academic level. We’ve made some strides in that area, and now we’re personalizing and the dimension we add there is giving the student more control over that path to learning. They like some of the self-guided activities where they can set their own pace. They like having options- it’s not just “I’m going to tell you exactly what you have to do,” it’s “you have different ways of learning, so let me give you some choice.”

Jonathan Kersting: Can you go through a scenario of how a student would use Kandoolu?

Chris Sweeney: It really starts with the teacher and building what we’ll call quick check-for-understanding quizzes. So one facet of the solution is prebuilt content. We had educators throughout the region writing assessment questions all mapped to the PA Core, the curriculum used in Pennsylvania, to make it easy for teachers to create these quick check-for-understanding quizzes as opposed to high-pressure, high-stakes testing.

Jonathan Kersting: No more of that “show up today and your whole future will be decided!”

Dr. Bart Rocco: [These quizzes come] with immediate feedback, too. So the kids take the quiz, they get the feedback immediately, and that guides the instruction.

Jonathan Kersting: So you don’t wait until next Tuesday to get the results!

Chris Sweeney: Exactly, so the teacher is getting that snapshot in real time when they can still act on the fact that less kids than they thought maybe grasped a new concept. So that’s a key part of it. Once we’ve got that quick check-for-understanding, now I use the resource library to tailor the follow-up activities so each child gets a unique set of follow-up resources that are specific to the skills that they need to strengthen. As the parent of a fifth grader and a first grader, we all get frustrated by what I call the “one-size-fits-all” homework. After all these years, kids still come home and they’ve all got the same homework. Yet we know there are different levels of understanding. With Kandoolu we’ve made it easier for the teacher to personalize that follow-up assignment and really reach out the kids with things that are specific to their needs.

Jonathan Kersting: So the teachers must be loving this.

Dr. Bart Rocco: Yeah and I think, too, for us, not only having that tool available but there’s been a win-win for us. Our teachers are involved in the development of the questions and the process, our kids are involved in the playtesting and actually in the iteration of this whole app that Chris has been working on. It’s really been a powerful opportunity for to see really how kids are learning and how they’re using our technology to personalize their learning. Again, I think I couldn’t have said it better. It’s not a “one-size-fits-all” platform. That’s exactly where we’re moving today with education and technology and children learning today in classrooms. That’s what it’s about.

Audrey Russo: So have you been tracking these kids that leave your schools? What are they up to?

Dr. Bart Rocco: That’s an excellent question. One of the things, Kandoolu, we’re really just sort of ending and finishing up this last semester and now actually beginning of the nine weeks. We don’t have any tracking information. Sorry, no exciting news to present, but we see that at our middle school, our state assessments last year were phenomenal. We did see an increase in learning in that area. I always say you can’t judge a child by one test. It’s a combination of factors that we should use to evaluate children. I know that’s probably not a popular thing to say, but I look at children as not just testing animals. We are more than that. But we do want to give them the skills that are state of the art, that provide teachers that very surgical approach to instruction for children. That’s something that I think has been lacking and that Kandoolu really offers.

Jonathan Kersting: This has been such exciting stuff. We have to have you guys stop back and talk more about this because there’s so much to be talked about here, we can’t squeeze it all into one interview. What you’ve told us today is just absolutely fascination.

Audrey Russo: So proud to have you guys in the region.

Chris Sweeney: I was going to add that it’s not just that the teachers like it, it’s that the kids really like it. That’s one of the main challenges we’re trying to get is engagement. If I have an apathetic learner, I’ve got to engage him first and then the teacher’s got a shot. By using this mobile technology, we’re getting the gravity. The kids want to be using these devices – we’re reaching them where they want to be.

Jonathan Kersting: And all of this happening right here in Southwestern Pennsylvania? It’s why I love it! It’s why we go TechVibe Radio every Friday, to put a spotlight on the work that you guys are doing.

Audrey Russo: Thank you.

Dr. Bart Rocco: Thanks for having us.

Audrey Russo: I think we should be bussing students there. I can think of whole neighborhoods that should be going to Elizabeth Forward.

Dr. Bart Rocco: You’re welcome anytime.


About The Author

Megan Hankins