Thursday, December 14th, 2017

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eSpark partners with schools using iPads for enhanced learning

Chicago-based eSpark partners with school districts nationwide to make learning more fun and engaging in the classroom (Photo courtesy of eSpark)

Chicago-based eSpark partners with school districts nationwide to make learning more fun and engaging in the classroom (Photo courtesy of eSpark)

By SUE REID

Steve Jobs once called iPads a magical device.

eSpark founder and chief executive officer David Vinca wholeheartedly agrees.

His company, which began in 2010 and is based in Chicago, partners with school districts nationwide to help educators leverage iPads in the vast ecosystem of educational applications to both personalize learning and to make things more fun and engaging for students in the classroom.

Their success is in the numbers, and eSpark has the data to prove it. Student’s test scores are skyrocketing in areas where they were once lacking.

“If you see particularly young kids engage with an effective learning application, there is something magical,” Mr. Vinca explained.

Using the iPad to personalize learning and serve as a basis of the business was the obvious choice, Mr. Vinca continued of his business.

“It is the best educational experience for students,” he said. “If you want to bring something really engaging to them, the iPad is the platform.”

Mr. Vinca explained that there are more than 100,000 educational apps available on the iPad, proving it is the best tool for student learning, and at the core of what eSpark is all about.

“It is estimated that there are about 10 million iPads in schools and 40 million students grades kindergarten through eight.

“For the most part, we are helping schools that have iPads to leverage technology to be a learning tool,” he said.

In most cases, eSpark is working with districts that already have made a commitment to provide their students iPads.

They work with about 300 schools in 20 different states, and look to grow that number moving forward.

As part of their commitment, eSpark takes the test data from the schools and works to understand the diversity in that data and ultimately come up with a personalized profile for each student.

Through their research, eSparks finds, for example, that in some cases students in fifth grade are performing at the kindergarten or first grade level, while other students are bored and are performing above the benchmark.

“There is incredible diversity in every class we see,” Mr. Vinca said.

It is about understanding the student and how he or she learns, he added.

The team at eSpark, which includes former teachers, school leaders, technical experts and data scientists, all of whom share a passion for classroom transformation, download and evaluate every single app of the 100,000, and, if it meets eSpark criteria, it is implemented.

“Our iPad app gives each student a personalized playlist which is based on their unique learning needs,” Mr. Vinca explained.

For teachers to give each student a personalized curriculum is an impossibility, he added, which is why eSpark is so helpful. “We’re not trying to replace books or teachers,” he said. “Sometimes people look at this technology as replacing teachers, but it is the farthest from the truth. We can empower and enable teachers and supporting the great work of a teacher in a classroom.

“I don’t believe we should have students in front of screens all day, but there is an amount of it that is healthy,” Mr. Vinca added. The maximum they recommend for the districts they work with is less than one hour per day.

“It is shocking the impact this has on student learning,” he continued. “There is academic achievement and hard, quantitative data, which is what school districts care about, and a qualitative difference.”

He gave as an example a school district eSpark began working with recently located just outside of Pittsburgh.

“They started eSparking in January, taking a test similar to the SAT for the young kids, and scored in the 48th percentile nationally,” he said. “It’s an important indication if these kids are on track to get the skills needed to go to school.” Scoring over 70 indicates that they will be geared toward college.

“In June, they tested again and the average student is now performing at the 73rd percentile,” he said of the “dramatic improvement.”

eSpark’s primary focus is kids kindergarten through fifth grade.

Mr. Vinca said the business has exceeded his expectations. “It is way beyond what I expected,” he said. “It really surprised me. It has snowballed in ways I could never have predicted.” He credits much of eSpark’s success to hiring “really great people,” Mr. Vinca said of his staff of 45.

“Our primary goal is to grow and serve many more students,” said Mr. Vinca, who once taught executive education to Fortune 500 companies and earned his masters in business administration from the University of Chicago in social entrepreneurship.

“I want to have my work help people in such a meaningful way,” he added, noting that his degree was all about “using business to serve a social cause.”

“We are proving that what we provide is effective and engaging students,” he said. “We want to serve more and help transform public education in this country so it’s more effective and engaging.

“We’ve proven we can transform a whole classroom or a whole district.”

At the same time, eSpark is continuing to improve its product. “A near-term goal now that we have tens of thousands of students using eSpark is to have a much richer data set seeing what apps they are liking most. “We are taking this data and improving its effectiveness,” he said.

For more information about eSpark, contact Mr. Vinca at david@esparklearning.com or eSpark’s Ohio representative Chris Cummings at chris@esparklearning.com.

Chicago-based eSpark partners with school districts nationwide to make learning more fun and engaging in the classroom.

 

 

 

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