Organizing special needs education is often complicated because teachers have to juggle learning materials for students with different requirements. TeachMate365, a new cloud-based teaching platform developed by education technology startup SpecialNeedsWare and Boston Children’s Hospital, wants to make it easier for educators, therapists, and parents to collaborate so kids get the help they need.
TeachMate365 announced today that it has picked up $3 million in Series A funding from private investors, which it will use on product development and to grow its sales and marketing team. The platform was created by SpecialNeedsWare founder Jonathan Izak and Dr. Howard Shane, who leads the Autism Language Program and the Center for Communication Enhancement at Boston Children’s Hospital.
After graduating from university with a degree in computer science, Izak created an iPad app that was inspired by his younger brother Oriel, who has autism. Called AutisMate, the app, which TechCrunch covered in 2012, helps kids learn communication, social, and study skills using visual tools, such as stories and scenes. AutisMate now has 10,000 users on its classic platform, as well as another 15,000 on its lite version.
Like AutisMate, TeachMate365 is focused on visual learning. The platform allows educators to create visual tools for their students using technology developed by Izak and Shane. It also lets them sync and store lesson plans, schedules, and other educational materials, and track a student’s behavior and progress so it can be shared with other teachers, therapists, and parents. Students can access lessons and visual exercises through their own tablets or smartphones.
“Currently what you will find is that the special education market is extremely fragmented and that is one huge reason why there is such a massive opportunity here. You’ll find hundreds of communication options on the market, geared toward different areas of communication, dozens of apps designed for social and life skills, and things that cover academics but don’t really cover communication and behavioral needs. The content market is very fragmented, and there is no single source,” says Izak.
“You have all these individual pieces which instructors need to put together. We’re really the first platform which helps support all those needs in one device.”
TeachMate365 is aimed at educational institutions and has already been implemented in several school districts throughout the U.S., including in El Paso, Texas. Izak says TeachMate365 is focusing on large rollouts with 100 to 1,000 licenses and will provide districts with up to 37 days of training to use the platform.
Boosting Special Education With Technology
One of the benefits of a collaborative platform like TeachMate365 is that it can make it easier to integrate children with special needs into general education classrooms. “Inclusion classrooms” are supposed to prevent students from being ostracized by their peers, but it can be difficult for teachers to organize individualized lesson plans and teaching strategies for each pupil. TeachMate365 cuts down on the amount of paperwork they have to do and makes it simpler for educators to coordinate with therapists and support staff.
“Everyone has diverse and unique needs and the platform really allows teachers to cater to all of them by creating, teaching, and collaborating around individualized content,” says Izak.
As students get older, TeachMate365 can be used to help them transition to college or their first jobs. For example, the Arc of Northern Virginia, an advocacy group, has used SpecialNeedsWare’s technology to create a program to help people with learning disabilities navigate public transportation.
While the growing affordability of tablets and platforms like TeachMate365 have provided new tools for students with special needs and educators, Izak says there is a still huge gap in available resources.
He notes that even though venture capital investment in technology aimed at students in kindergarten through high school jumped 32 percent to $642 million last year, almost none of that went toward tools for special education. That is especially striking because 13 percent of all students in U.S. public schools currently receive special education services.
Furthermore, the average amount spent per year on a special-education student is about $24,000, compared to $9,559 for a student in general education.
Izak believes that there is plenty of room for educational technology startups to help improve education for children with learning or developmental disabilities, especially since only 15 states met the U.S. Department of Education’s basic standards for special needs education last year.
“It’s really a massive opportunity to help students with unique and diverse needs who have the most to gain from tech,” says Izak.