Funds to Accelerate Birth to Eight National Programming and Home-Based Education
NEW YORK, February 3, 2020 -- Cognitive ToyBox, a New York-based early childhood technology company, has raised $750,000 in seed funding from Dallas-based investor, CMI Ventures. The company develops assessment technology for organizations that support children from birth to eight years of age. The technology makes assessment easier and more actionable for teachers by enabling them to assess children through adaptive, touchscreen games. Cognitive ToyBox is the first early childhood investment for CMI Ventures.
Tammy Kwan, a Doctoral student in Education, and Dr. Brenden Lake, an Assistant Professor of Psychology and Data Science, both at NYU, co-founded the organization in 2015. The company was spun out of a National Science Foundation Innovation Corps for Learning grant, stemming from Kwan’s interest in early childhood development. Today, Cognitive ToyBox is working with some of the largest early childhood education programs in the country, reaching over 150,000 children a year.
“This started as a research project, but I learned early on that we could do much more to help educators and children win through technology-enabled solutions,” said Tammy Kwan, Co-Founder & CEO.
As part of the grant, Kwan and Lake spoke to over 100 early childhood administrators, teachers and families to learn about the biggest pain points for early childhood educators. Through these conversations, they heard firsthand about the challenges around the status quo of early childhood assessment: teachers in publicly funded programs spend 4 to 6 hours per week observing children, taking notes on their development and then transcribing their notes into a digital system after class or often on weekends. Moreover, this data is often not trusted because of the limitations around an observation-only approach to assessment. These limitations include teacher subjectivity and the feasibility of accurately observing individual student development for 18 to 24 children across dozens of school readiness measures.
“Given everything on their plate, teachers shared that they often ‘miss’ the individual assessment of some children, especially the quiet ones," said Kwan. "This can be devastating: if a child’s level of instruction is mismatched from their skill level, the child is at risk of becoming disengaged from learning at this very early age."
In response to the National Head Start Association's “Better, Simpler Assessments Challenge” meant to maximize the accuracy of assessment tools while reducing time and stress associated with it, Cognitive ToyBox partnered with researchers at Stanford University, the University of Pennsylvania and Indiana University to research the potential impact of games on child development. This work has led to a presentation at the Society for Research in Child Development in 2019 and a peer-reviewed paper to be published in the journal Cognition later this year.
“Most edtech companies build and scale a product first and conduct research later," said co-founder and Chief Scientist, Dr. Brenden Lake. "It was important to us that we start with the research."
In parallel to the research, the team worked with Head Start and Pre-K programs to ensure that the tool was useful and actionable for teachers.
“The typical preschool teacher collects a lot of assessment data but analyzing and using these data in real time can become overwhelming. Cognitive ToyBox has unlocked the potential for teachers to use the data they collect on a weekly basis to modify instruction, so that each student can be better supported in their earliest years,” said Dr. Anusha Subramanyam, who has worked in publicly funded early childhood education settings for over ten years.
With the fundraise, Cognitive ToyBox will accelerate its growth in birth to eight programs across the US. They will also expand the product line to support home-based providers and families. CMI Ventures joins organizations, including AT&T, Camelback Ventures, and Blue Ridge Lab at the Robin Hood Foundation in supporting this work.
David Muzzo and Cameron Chalmers, partners at CMI Ventures, co-founded Archipelago Learning in 2000. The organization went public in 2009 before being taken private again in 2012.
“As former entrepreneurs who bootstrapped our way to the IPO of our own edtech company, Cognitive ToyBox’s founding and growth story reminds us a lot of our own. We are excited to back the team and help them grow,” said Dave Muzzo, Partner at CMI Ventures.
ABOUT COGNITIVE TOYBOX
Cognitive ToyBox is a research-backed technology platform for kindergarten readiness. The platform offers a hybrid observation and game-based approach that makes assessment better, simpler and more actionable for teachers. Program administrators and teachers can then leverage the data to more effectively allocate resources and plan instruction, with the goal of optimizing student learning. Cognitive ToyBox works with Head Start and PreK programs that support hundreds of thousands of children from birth to five years of age in the US.
I’m Erin, product manager at Cognitive ToyBox, and I am delighted to announce the release of our new parent product, First Choice Assessment!
I am a former teacher and math tutor, and I just completed my Masters of Arts in Digital Media Design for Learning at NYU. I am thrilled to be putting both my teaching and technology experience and skills to good use.
First Choice Assessment helps children get ready for kindergarten through weekly, five minute, game-based assessments. The app is appropriate for children 3-5 years of age.
As we designed First Choice Assessment, we spoke with dozens of parents, teachers and children to better understand their needs. We heard about the anxiety that parents face when preparing their students for preschool and kindergarten programs in NYC. We also heard about the importance of app engagement, but also the fear of too much screen time for their little one.
That’s why we have designed First Choice Assessment to be a technology product designed to enhance school readiness outside of the screen. Parents and children use First Choice Assessment together for five minutes per week to assess kindergarten readiness skills in critical developmental domains like math, language, literacy, and social-emotional learning. The app then aggregates the data into weekly reports that provides you - the parent - with teacher-approved practice activities that take families off the iPad and into the real world.
So if your child is not able to complete tasks in connecting numerals with quantities, you can play a game called Secret Agent to help them practice!
Check out First Choice Assessment on the App Store today and tell us what you think!
Cognitive ToyBox is honored to receive the 2017 Rethink Education Impact Award! Our team is committed to continuing our work on closing the early achievement gap through evidence-based technology solutions.
The Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop shared the story behind the research and development of our newest app, Fuzzy Numbers: Pre-K Number Foundation. Check out the blog post here!
Note: This is a reprint of an article that our co-founder Tammy Kwan wrote. The article first appeared on Getting Smart on January 20, 2017.
AI-powered technology can help the future workforce have more creative and fulfilling careers. But as the world continues to change at an ever-faster rate, how can we best prepare the next generation to flourish in this new economy? Moreover, how can we do it equitably?
According to a recent White House report on AI and the economy, the key is early education:
“All children [need to] get off to the right start with access to high-quality early education. In a world of AI-driven skill-biased technological change, people with low levels of even basic skill such as reading and math are at higher risk of displacement.”
Can learning “in the cradle” actually impact a child’s career? Research shows that early childhood experiences have lifelong impacts. Vocabulary size at 24 months predicts academic and behavioral performance in kindergarten, three years later, even after controlling for many other variables. Kindergarten skills go on to predict later reading and math achievement, as well as life outcomes such as earnings at age 27, home ownership, and retirement savings.
What can parents do to ensure their child is off to the best start? Parent-child communication is key. Research shows that well before a child speaks, they are actively listening. Infants use parental input to learn the elementary structure of speech and language, such as different phonemes and words. But it can be tough to keep the conversation going with a child who does not yet speak back. To help keep parents motivated, campaigns like the Clinton Foundation’s “Talking is Teaching” provide resources around conversation topics, books and songs.
Digital media is another promising tool. Toddlers learn best in contingent environments that provide feedback based on their actions. Touchscreen technologies, unlike TV, are flexible enough to provide this type of feedback.
This nascent development is a win-win. Parents want to provide the best learning resources, and children love touchscreens. Emerging research has shown that young children can learn from research-based touchscreen experiences. The “research-based” component is important – not every touchscreen experience provides a rich learning experience. For example, using a touchscreen as a mini-television with YouTube and Netflix is no better than TV. In essence, quality matters. The American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents to choose evidence-based digital apps.
Finally, high-quality pre-k can help children from disadvantaged backgrounds to catch up. Young children from low socioeconomic status households are, on average, exposed to 30 million less words by the age of 3, when compared with their higher income peers. These differences in early environment impact all aspects of learning. As stated in the White House report:
“On average, children from poor families score far below their peers from higher-income families in early vocabulary and literacy development, in early math, and in the social skills they need to get along well in their classrooms. Studies indicate that kids who start off with deficits in basic skills fail to catch up to peers by later grades.”
Every child deserves an equal opportunity. Although we’ve made great strides in increasing preschool accessibility in places like New York City, we still have a long way to go. The US ranks 29 amongst 38 OECD countries in the percentage of 3 and 4-year-olds enrolled in early childhood education programs.
Investing in preschool is also good for the economy. High-quality early childhood programs for disadvantaged children have beneficial impacts on health, crime, mother’s income, and child’s future income. Nobel laureate James Heckman estimates the total benefits yield a 13.7% rate of return per annum. The bottom line is that early childhood factors are predictive of life outcomes. Through early childhood programs, we can ensure that every child is poised to succeed in the changing labor market.
AI-powered automation will enable the future generation to reach new frontiers. In 2016, we saw driverless cars, AI-powered grocery stores, and ubiquitous smart home assistants. As more routine-intensive occupations become automated, new occupations will open up in the workplace. We can only begin to imagine the careers of the future, but we know that they will utilize the best of human creativity and general intelligence. With high quality early childhood initiatives, we can ensure that every child can reach their full potential.
Research has long shown that math whizzes tend to have a stronger intuitive sense of quantity, or “number sense” (Halberda et al., 2008). Our games aim to improve your child's number sense, so he or she will have a leg up at learning math in school.
In the lab, four and five year old children who played digital number sense games demonstrated better math performance (on tests of counting, number identification, addition, etc.) compared to control groups, when tested right after a brief practice (Wang et al., 2016) or after several weeks of practice (Park et al., 2016).
We are excited to release More 4 Monkey 2.0, which was inspired by this 2016 research. The app guides children through seven activities in approximate quantity, addition, and subtraction. The app is adaptive and continually challenges your child’s number sense. Children from ages 2 to 6 enjoy playing More 4 Monkey.
See below for two examples of the digital number sense activities that are in our app:
We hope you enjoy this new version of More 4 Monkey, which provides a much richer set of activities for your child, as well as a parent dashboard for you to keep track of progress.
Image Credit: Shutterstock
Fall is in full swing which means it’s time for apple picking!
Did you know that when you quickly choose a tree that has the most apples, you are using your intuitive sense of quantity, or “number sense”? This ability to quickly estimate quantity is a cognitive skill that is thought to be important for children learning math: research has shown that children with a stronger number sense tend to perform better on math tests (Halberda et al., 2008).
While these studies have been largely correlational, a 2016 study from Johns Hopkins University investigated whether there could be a causal link between ANS precision and symbolic math performance. In the study, researchers asked 5-year-olds to compare quantities, where the questions started easier and became harder. Control groups saw the same questions but in a different order. Amazingly, researchers found that children who played with the experimental version of the game demonstrated better math performance (on tests of counting, number identification, addition, etc.) immediately afterwards, when compared to control groups that received the training in a different order (Wang et al., 2016).
More 4 Monkey was inspired by the research on number sense and its link to math achievement, and it is a fun way for your child to exercise her number sense. In the app, a child is presented with two quantities of objects and is asked “which is more?”. The objects on the screen are only presented for a limited amount of time, to ensure that the child is exercising her number sense. The app provides feedback and gets more difficult as a child progresses through the game.
More 4 Monkey is available in the App Store now. We hope you enjoy it, and we look forward to hearing your feedback!
Image Credit: Shutterstock
The American Academy of Pediatrics’ new screen time guidelines have renewed conversations regarding the topic. How much of the discussion is rooted in research? We review the findings around screen time and early childhood development, helping you make educated decisions regarding your child.
The static nature of TV is not conducive for learning.
Most research on screen time has been conducted with TV. The consensus from researchers is that TV is not beneficial for early learning, but TV is not representative of all types of screen time. Toddlers learn best in contingent environments — that is, environments that provide feedback based on a toddler’s action. TVs do not wait for a child to process information or respond to a question, leaving them without the type of feedback they need for learning.
All screen time is not equal.
Most previous research has conflated TV with “screen time,” but reactive screens that provide feedback have potential to change the debate. For example, researchers have shown that toddlers can learn vocabulary words equally well from a virtual Skype session on a computer screen as they would through an in-person interaction (Roseberry et al., 2014). Where does this leave touchscreen technologies, which are flexible enough to provide contingent feedback based on responses?
Touchscreen technology has the potential to change the debate.
Research with touchscreen devices is limited but promising. A 2016 study demonstrated that 4-6 year olds were able to apply logic puzzle strategies learned from an app in 2D to a real life 3D model (Huber, 2016). Furthermore, there has been some research indicating that apps like Bedtime Math may help promote children’s math achievement (Berkowitz, 2015).
Ultimately, more research is needed to provide definitive recommendations. In the meanwhile, parents may relieve themselves of some screen time guilt, if their child is using a tablet or smartphone rather than watching TV.
Be cognizant of their toddler’s touchscreen activities. Not every touchscreen experience provides a rich learning experience. For example, using a touchscreen as a mini-television with YouTube and NetFlix videos is likely not better than TV. However, if you take the time to choose apps with high quality content, your child may have the opportunity to learn while engaging with the touchscreen.
We recently released our first app, First Words Checklist. The app is an informal vocabulary assessment on the iPad to help parents and early childhood teachers to better understand how a toddler or pre-k aged child’s language is developing.
Why assess language development? Children may develop at different rates, but all will eventually speak their native tongue. However, early language skills span beyond communication: language is the foundation on which learning is based. After all, without language, how can you learn new concepts, understand logic puzzles, or solve word problems?
Early language experiences have long-term impacts. A recent study showed that a larger oral vocabulary measured as early as 24 months predicts later achievement in reading, math, and behavioral functioning three years later at kindergarten entry (Morgan et al., 2015). Moreover, school readiness at kindergarten entry is a major predictor of later reading and math achievement (Duncan et al., 2007), and kindergarten test scores correlate with later outcomes such as earnings at age 27, college attendance, homeownership and retirement savings (Chetty et al., 2010).
As a parent, how can you ensure that you are best supporting your toddler’s learning and development? One way is through informal at-home assessments. Early childhood assessments sometimes get a bad rap because parents don’t want to subject their child to test taking so early. But there are ways to assess your toddler’s language in a non-threatening, engaging manner. Assessments can also take the form of observational notes regarding social/behavioral, cognitive, and motor development domains.
Informal assessment apps, like First Words Checklist, are helpful for a number of reasons. First, they can help your toddler prepare for iPad-based assessments, like the AABL or Kindergarten School Readiness Test (KRT/SRT), which are required for admission to some of NYC’s top private schools. Assessments can also help pinpoint your child’s strengths and weaknesses and serve as a starting point to guide future educational activities. With vocabulary acquisition, parents can also track development over time, to see how many words their child has acquired from month to month. Finally, at-home assessments enable parents to provide more precise information to a child’s pediatrician, caregivers, and teachers.