Today's children are the first generation of digital natives, completely versed and immersed in technology. The analog technologies of yesteryear are often mocked by newer generations that cannot understand how VHS and physical fold out maps were the norm. Because children are increasingly digitally wired, parents and teachers are becoming aware of how difficult it is to extricate kids at home and in school from using screens.

To address the current and potentially explosive future of technology in the classroom, the U.S. Department of Education has released their plan, Future Ready Learning: Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education, which calls for improving teacher training in digital tools and how to leverage them to enhance their academic experience.

Whether it is phones, tablets or laptops, screens are becoming the interface through which we experience life.Children are introduced to these technologies very early on by their parents and child care providers. One study found that 83% of children are exposed to the use of tablets as early as six months old. This presents challenges, especially for the education system. Fortunately, there are a number of innovative startup companies working to overcome these obstacles. The goal is to use technology to keep children engaged with their learning, and their day-to-day environments.

Here are three companies reimagining play time and academics to engage kids while helping shape their thought processes.

Gamifying Movement

At school, there is growing pressure on teachers to make their classes achieve certain thresholds on standardized tests. This often causes schools to limit recess time. Scott McQuigg is the co-founder and CEO of GoNoodle, a company that uses videos and games to get kids moving. The company works with over 12 million kids to provide much needed 'brain breaks' at intervals of a few minutes to encourage them to get up, stretch, and practice dance moves. The goal is to increase productivity and decrease behavioral issues.

"By leveraging kids' familiarity with both screens and visual media, we are able to engage them and get them moving for short, but impactful bursts of physical activity while keeping them visually entertained," says McQuigg. "This sort of video integration could prove an effective method for not only physical activity, but also educational content."

Seeking Mobile Opportunities

Data from a recent Pew Research study shows that more than 75% of teens own cell phones. The growing temptation to have games and social networks at your fingertips is a tough temptation for children and teens to disregard. Companies such as Ideament have identified this problem and are creating mobile platforms that help students create, collaborate and share.

"What we've seen are big trends toward the '4C's'--creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking--as well as a fifth C--classroom management," says Julie Farago, Engineering Manager for Android and Play for Education at Google. "The apps that generally have been the most successful [in the app store] tend to be less about curriculum and more about in-classroom collaboration and 21st century skills."

Data and Analytics for Personalized Learning

It's only a natural progression that data and analytics would make its way into our public academic system. Versions of the real-time, unobtrusive, everyday activities of student-learning data are now being introduced by companies like Edgenuity. Edgenuity uses data to create a more engaged, blended learning experience online.

"Schools need a provider to help them implement effective strategies to integrate online curriculum," said the CEO, Sari Factor, in a press release. In many ways our education system is lagging dangerously behind in this area. Human interaction is more common via the internet than it is in person, yet our education system plods along in low tech, crowded classrooms.

Competency-Based Education

Learn-by-doing has been a pillar in education for decades. In the past five years, another term has gained traction: Competency-Based Education. This was highlighted as a top trend by Campus Technology for 2016. The approach applies to both teaching and learning and is often more focused on learning concrete skills rather than solving abstract problems. Students work on one competency at a time, often a smaller learning goal that feeds into the bigger scope of the subject.

"The availability of CBE as a serious form of education has not yet reached the public consciousness," said Jonathan Blake Huer, Director of Emerging Technologies, Ball State University. "I think in the near future, CBE, blended learning and other forms of education will become a bigger factor in differentiating institutions and will attract students who want a particular mode of learning, not just a major."

The caveat for competency-based education? It's an app-less arena. But as startups begin to realize the opportunity, there is no doubt we'll see them catching up in 2017 and beyond, much like their counterparts who capitalized on "screen-time" to create technologies that benefit children in a myriad of ways.

Published on: Nov 26, 2016