Why Ed Tech Companies NEED Teachers

Steve Blank talks about the mistake that led him to lose $35 million – not having gamers as co-founders in a gaming company. HE emphasizes the importance of having the right people on your team, including the ones who truly understand the product that you are building. He says,

“To found a tech startup with an entirely non-technical team would be like opening a restaurant without a chef.”

You might get lucky and find a great chef who is available for hire, but as a statistician, one thing I know for sure is luck is a very poor basis for making bets.

Yet, the same people who nod their heads at this wisdom are fine with an educational technology company without teachers. In fact, many in the ed tech field I have met believe that “bad teachers” are the reason that students are performing below where we would like them to be. That is a post for another day.

I’ve taught math at all levels from middle school through doctoral students. I’ve taught judo from preschoolers through Olympic athletes.

Anyone who thinks teaching is simple is simply clueless.

Here are some things teachers can tell you:

  1. What students of a given age should be learning. (But can’t you look that up in the Common Core Standards? Yes, you can and why more people don’t is beyond me, but a teacher would know you could do that.)
  2. That many students are below those standards. In some schools, only one student in a class might be a grade level while the others are a year or two below.
  3. Because of #2 you DEFINITELY want to pretest students when measuring with your educational technology works because you cannot assume that the average student in fifth-grade is at fifth-grade level.
  4. What students must know as a prerequisite to what they should be learning. For example, for a student to understand how to multiply two fractions they need to understand how to multiply two numbers and the concept of fractions. To understand the answer they need to understand the concept of a fraction. To understand that, they need to understand division, since a fraction is what you get when a whole is divided into equal parts.
  5. That there is a world of difference between being able to perform a task and understanding it. I could teach a group of children to multiply 1/2 by 3/8 and get 3/16 far easier than getting them to understand what that meant and transferring that ability to multiply 1 2/3  x 24 .
  6. Motivation and interest MATTER. The average child is not going to sit down and watch one video after another explaining subtraction. (Think that’s obvious? If I fined people $100 for asking, “Why are you making educational games? Doesn’t the Khan Academy already address that need?” we would never need investor money.

Not only do we have a teacher as a co-founder (me), we also have an advisory board of teachers AND we meet with groups of teachers several times a year to give us feedback on our games as we are developing them.

What do you learn when you get ten middle-school teachers in a room? No, it’s not the beginning of a good joke (although it could be). That’s my next post.


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