Since September 2010, assessment, evaluation, and reporting for students in Grades 1 to 12 in Ontario schools has been based on the policies and practices described in Growing Success: Assessment, Evaluation, and Reporting in Ontario Schools – First Edition, Covering Grades 1 to 12. Growing Success asks each teacher to provide evidence of ongoing observations and conversations throughout the year as a means of assessing student learning and growth. A copy of the document is available as a PDF here. Capturing, managing and assessing “Observations and Conversations” can be a challenging especially when it comes to discussion and critical thinking. One Canadian start-up (Parlay Ideas) offers teachers a tool to help them meet that challenge through engaging discussions both inside the classroom and at home. As it happens that founder of CEO is also a CIS Ontario grad. In this post we will meet Bobby McDonald and learn more about Parlay Ideas and how it plans to help support teachers and students all over the world.
C21 – Bobby tell us a little about your time at SAC and how it prepared you for your journey into the world of entrepreneurship?
“I was at St. Andrew’s from Grade 6 until graduation. It’s difficult to sum up the whole experience in a few words, but SAC really encouraged me to go outside of my comfort zone and explore new ways of thinking and expressing myself. I jumped headfirst into many areas of school life including debating, drama, bagpiping, squash, student council, and more. Passion is not something that springs out of a well. You have to continually put effort into new pursuits until you find your own unique combination of natural talents and work that you find exciting.
St. Andrew’s also taught me discipline and resilience. When you’re starting a business you have to live with uncertainty and cope with a lot of self-doubt. Most of the time entrepreneurs end up putting a tonne of effort into ten different things and only one of them works (if we’re lucky). It can be very draining. Working 16 hour days at the age of 16 definitely helped prepare me for this experience.
So I guess what I’m saying is that grit and passion are so necessary for entrepreneurs, and St. Andrew’s really helped in both respects.”
C21 – As a developer “looking in” on education from the outside can you describe the shifts you are seeing that prompted you to build Parlay Ideas?
“There is a necessary and encouraging paradigm shift in education right now. Educators are clearly focused on fostering and measuring “soft skills” like critical thinking, self-awareness, and communication in their classrooms. Student engagement is the new black. Discussion is one of the oldest and most effective ways to encourage critical thinking and improve communication skills. Drawing on my own educational experiences, there are many opportunities to make discussions more engaging, substantive and measurable. Moreover, students want to have discussions. They want to give each other feedback and connect what they’re learning in the classroom to the events and ideas that are shaping our world. Finally, the obvious lack of informed and respectful discourse in our world today is central to most of the pervasive issues that we face. If we can help the next generation learn to challenge each other in an open respectful manner then I think we’ll be doing our small part to solve a big problem.”
C21 – Can you describe the way in which Parlay Ideas might be a great tool to help teachers capture “Observations & Conversations”?
“The Ministry of Education has set out guidelines for tracking observations and conversations in the classroom. In short, they are looking for evidence of discussions and the teacher’s ‘evaluation’ of student participation. Our conversations with educators across the province over the last year (many of whom are a part of Cohort 21!) have lead us to understand that the broader goal as two-fold:
- Create a learning environment that encourages critical thinking and supports more inclusive student engagement.
- Measure engagement and provide individualized feedback to students as the learning process unfolds.
This is challenging because it means teachers have to regularly facilitate engaging and inclusive class discussions, and it creates additional reporting requirements. So we’ve spent the last year working with teachers and administrators at CAIS / CIS schools to help make this process more fun and efficient.”
C21 – Where do you see Parlay fitting into the “teacher toolkit”?
At Parlay, we know that educational technology can’t succeed all by itself. It requires dedicated teachers and education administrators to be effective. But great tech can be a useful tool that educators and students leverage to improve the quality and measurability of learning in an efficient manner. That’s what we try to do with class discussions. Whether in an online discussion that takes place over a week or two or a verbal discussion that happen in a live classroom setting, Parlay is designed to help teachers improve and measure student engagement. With Parlay teachers have a new way to track observations and conversations in the classroom and provide meaningful feedback to their students without taking up more time than they can afford.
Our goal is simple. Create educational products that:
Maximize student learning output via higher engagement and improved feedback channels.
Minimize the amount of time teachers need to put into the creation, execution and tracking of engaging discussions.