There's an ancient axiom as old as schools themselves: What do you want to be when you grow up?
As technology evolves and the traditional teacher-in-front-of-a-blackboard model slips into the history books, students are finding new ways to realize their dreams. Discovering the best schools and programs can be as complicated as calculus.
Several Denver-based startups are looking to advance education through technology, customized personalization and ideas outside the classroom.
While it may conjure images of Donkey Kong, Denver-based Monkey Zone
is no retro-gaming site. It’s actually a sophisticated platform blending supplemental learning with innovative Internet technology.
Monkey Zone was founded in 2008 by Dallas Bluth. The website allows students and teachers to create online lessons through fun, interactive and educational lessons -- ones tailored to student’s specific needs and curriculums. The aim is to supplement a student's education, not replace it.
Teachers are Monkey Zone's biggest market. And while teachers are often great in the classroom, sometimes they’re not as tech-savvy as they wish they could be. Each teacher typically adds 15 to 20 students and as many as 70 lessons the day they join.An example of a math lesson on The Monkey Zone website.
"It gets the busy work out of the way for them," says Bluth of the site's manageability. "We're looking to make life easier for teachers. That will allow them to teach more critical thinking and make classrooms more fun while stimulating students intellectually."
Bluth has been working with Denver Public Schools
teachers to hone their programs and improve the efficiency of teachers. They hope to roll out a pilot program in the near future with Centennial Elementary School.
But the market is global: Monkey Zone has helped students as far away as Estonia and Indonesia.
With Monkey Zone's number of users in the low thousands, the four-person team plans to fill out the curriculum and deploy a mobile app through funds generated via a Kickstarter campaign.
Up, Up and Away
There is often plenty of uncertainty and wayward information surrounding athletic scholarships. Experiencing this firsthand as student-athletes at the University of Chicago, Avi Stopper and Michael Farb strapped on their innovation capes and created CaptainU
The duo created a website designed to guide athletes and coaches through the process of procuring scholarships and life skills. It's now the country’s largest youth and college sports online network.
“Think of it as LinkedIn for college sports,” says CaptainU CEO Stopper, from his office in Galvanize
CaptainU provides platforms for high school students, college and youth coaches, event directors and college counselors. Since its inception in Chicago in 2008, Farb and Stopper have added more than 500,000 members to its network.
CaptainU allows athletes and coaches to talk to counselors, create recruiting videos and set up events (such as tournaments) for coaches to see athletes -- all within the parameters of the NCAA's thorny compliance rules.
Avi Stopper, center, is one of the co-founders of Captain U.
The company's goal isn't to place as many kids possible into big-name schools, it's to get kids into an environment that allows them to develop as students and people.
"We want to get athletes where they're happy," says Stopper. "We’re making a product I wish I had as a young athlete."
Stopper and Farb created CaptainU while at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business. A year ago, they packed up shop and opened new offices in Denver and San Francisco. Today they employ 15 workers among the two locations.
Pivoting in Many Directions
Getting past the proverbial red tape isn't a problem reserved for athletes. Immigration and employment rules can confound even the smartest post-grad students.
This is where Helene Kwong enters the picture with her red-tape scissors. Kwong is the Founder of TAOpivot
. The student counseling service was born in 2011 out of Kwong's own experience as a student at the University of Denver
The company works with international students, mostly Chinese marketing and finance students today, helping them land jobs and internships in Denver and elsewhere. TAOpivot also assists students procure U.S. visas and necessary paperwork. "We work with them to get past the red tape they'd experience if they did it on their own," says Kwong.
Kwong wants local intern-seeking companies to reach out to TAOpivot. Resources such as internships and jobs provide a value for the community, says Kwong, who cites an Immigration Policy Center study
that found 80 percent of immigrants create jobs.
Tao, of course, means balance and Kwong and other entrepreneurial innovators in Denver are striking a balance within the educational community only myriad different levels. As the technology rapidly changes, the question remains the same: What do you want to be when you grow up?