Providence Charter School Builds and Launches Its Very Own Formative Assessment App for iPad

Posted by Soren Sorensen

The passing of Apple co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs last week brought with it heartfelt tributes — shared on fans’ Facebook walls and Twitterfeeds — from the moment the news was made public.  Pictures, quotes and videos, countless likely posted from devices that Jobs himself helped pioneer and bring to market, were used to celebrate Jobs’ life, career and the undeniable impact he had on culture and technology.

Any 21st century consumer can attest to the ubiquity of the Apple product line.  Gadgets that didn’t exist ten years ago (the iPod turns ten years old in a few weeks) are suddenly everywhere you look: parks, buses, waiting rooms, etc.

One place where software applications (more commonly known as “apps”) for touch screen devices like iPods, iPhones and iPads can’t be found as readily is in the classroom.  Shawn Rubin and Stephanie Castilla, co-founders of Metryx, figured it was about time for schools to get with the program.

The new Metryx app, a formative assessment tool for teachers, is one week into alpha testing at Highlander Charter School in Providence, Rhode Island.

Mr. Rubin, a teacher with 11 years of experience, told New England Post that it’s challenging for teachers to keep track of each student’s achievements and difficulties.  “I’ve been doing formative assessment in my classroom for the last four years,” Mr. Rubin said.  “But the formative assessment that I used to do was on tiny little scraps of paper.”

Think of formative assessment as qualitative data and notes about each individual student in a given classroom, used to alter teaching practice.  Summative assessment, like test scores, is quantitative and final.

Mr. Rubin continued, “Prior to that, I had been doing differentiated instruction,” or tailoring his lessons to fit student alacrity and aptitude, “but it was not based on formative assessment, it was more based on my gut.”

Mr. Rubin told New England Post that he wanted to know that the decisions he was making—classroom group differentiation chief among them—were backed up by data.

“So when I got the iPad in front of me,” he continued, “I realized that its ‘touchability’ and the backend computing that’s happening while I’m touching this screen in the front is perfect for teachers.”

“Teachers,” said Rubin, “don’t sit in one place with a laptop computer.  Teachers are constantly moving around the room.”

The Metryx app is useful outside the classroom as well.  Like other apps, Metryx will sync with a teacher’s smartphone.

“There’s a first grade class on a field trip today going apple picking,” Mr. Rubin continued.  “If the teachers decide that there’s some vocabulary that they want to teach, they can pull out their iPhones and suddenly they’re collecting assessment data on those concepts.  And the field trip now has a much deeper meaning for the students.”

The app uses teachers’ mobile data input to provide accessible, real-time analysis and automatic, performance-based student grouping.

Ms. Castilla, a 2010 graduate from the Rhode Island School of Design, met Mr. Rubin in 2010 and they’ve been working on Metryx in their spare time ever since.  Several features of the app are still in development.

“Formative assessment,” Mr. Rubin emphasized, “is something that everyone is trying to figure out how to do and no one really has the answer.”

This school year, as he and Ms. Castilla work hard to find that answer, Mr. Rubin is not in a classroom anymore.  “I definitely miss having my own little crew.  The good news is that my office is still in the Highlander Charter School so I’m able to see students all day long.”

Mr. Rubin told New England Post that there’s also a great deal of interest in formative assessment among institutions of higher education.

“Brown University came to the table this summer when Kenneth Wong, head of the education department there, got excited about our method for using iPads to track formative assessment,” Mr. Rubin said.

Mr. Rubin said that Mr. Wong and his colleagues are aware of how challenging formative assessment can be for teachers.

“He’s thrilled,” Mr. Rubin said of Mr. Wong, “to have Brown University at the table studying the effectiveness of this new model with Highlander teachers during the school year.”

“Brown,” Mr. Rubin added, “is currently applying for grant money to fund their study of Metryx.”

The Metryx app is currently being alpha tested by 15 teachers at Highlander and Mr. Rubin told New England Post that it will likely be ready to be beta tested on a much larger market at the beginning of 2012.

Somewhere, Steve Jobs is probably smiling.

Images for this story were generously provided by John Lavall.

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Posted by Soren Sorensen on Oct 10 2011. Filed under Featured - For home page featured article, Technology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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