WordScientists: an app to bridge the literacy gap
Multi-platform software to support literacy education for bilingual preschool children in under-resourced areas in the US and the world.
Pitch us on your solution
WordScientists is a multi-purpose, interactive program with an e-platform to support Early Childhood educators and caregivers. WordScientists is deliverable by mobile phone, laptop or tablet, to reach the maximum number of caregivers preparing preschool and kindergarten students for formal schooling. For the students, the program contains multi-lingual, multicultural books which are designed to meet the needs of all learners with special emphasis on learners for whom English is a second language. For the teachers, there are matching lesson guides and video tutorials for teaching how to promote early literacy, language and cognitive skills. Additionally, supports are provided through in-person, web-based guidance for teachers to match their instruction and materials to the students needs and this capacity will be automated using AI and machine learning to serve users more effectively.
What is the problem you are solving?
In poor communities in the United States and around the globe, literacy has remained persistently low because of an absence of resources in child care centers, preschools and kindergartens to build childrens’ vocabulary and develop cognitive concepts for learning. This is especially pronounced when English is not the primary language spoken at home. Economic circumstances and home language often prevent families from accessing libraries and other programs outside the home in the same communities where high-quality preschool and kindergarten are lacking. Educators and other caregivers lack the appropriate guidance to promote language that stimulates cognitive growth because, as research has shown, the vocabulary of everyday life is not sufficient to prepare the children for schools. The lack of these cognitively enriching experiences in the early childhood years before formal schooling begins is the root of the massive literacy gap between rich and poor around the world.
Who are you serving?
Children, before they enter formal schooling, their families, and other caregivers. Our solution offers tools for a solid foundation for early literacy development and a seamless transition to school.
What is your solution?
WordScientists is a low-cost software app designed for use in schools, daycares, or limited-resources homes in multilingual communities. It makes tools for promoting language, literacy, and cognitive development to teachers, children and their parents.
With the support of a website that stores books appropriate for education at several levels, teacher training videos and lesson guides to support teaching with the books, WordScientists provides a single place for families, caregivers and educators to access training in early language development and the tools to get them started in building a creative classroom or home-learning environment, including language rich books, videos and lesson plans.
The materials in the app and through the site provide research-based methods for fostering language, literacy and cognitive development in a child’s early years. Based on neurological research into how the brain acquires reading skills, contains multilingual and multicultural books as well as lesson plans and tutorials for teaching the teachers how best to promote early literacy, language and cognitive skills.
The program has three key features: 1) professional development videos and webinars, 2) research based lesson guides for age and reading level appropriate books and 3) programming for Apple and Android products to facilitate broad distribution of materials and allow for teachers and students to access interactive lessons.
To support the educators, the site serves as a long-term professional development resource for early language and reading instruction to which teachers can return as their instructional needs dictate.
In our pilot for ESL children in preschool and kindergarten, teachers with limited English proficiency were able to increase their expertise in how to recognize their students’ early language and reading behaviors and respond accordingly to help the students progress. That skill was taught to educators through long distance learning sessions and teaching tutorials, but we hope to automate a feedback feature and have analytics track student responses, prompting teachers with appropriate interventions.
Once fully developed, piloted and refined, WordScientists would be scalable to thousands of schools by leveraging digital distribution to serve as a long-term professional development source for early reading instruction, with programs that can track student work and suggest interventions and allowing more ways for teachers to interact with other education professionals.
With these tools, learners everywhere would have access to the resources available to a modestly funded school system in the United States.
Select only the most relevant.
Where is your solution team headquartered?Storrs, Connecticut, USA
Our solution's stage of development:Pilot
Select one of the below:New application of an existing technology
Describe what makes your solution innovative.
WordScientists aims to use common technologies in uncommon ways.
We use the latest in neurological research on how the brain acquires the capacity to read and translate that into training videos, relatable books in multiple languages, and lesson guides.
Our app and web site use open access software, scaled up to empower and serve underprivileged communities. It unites the tools used in affluent school districts and makes them accessible online and worldwide at low- or no-cost.
The WordScientist plan to provide machine-learning-supported interactive support for teachers, connecting student errors to teacher intervention prompts in near real time, has not been attempted at the scale we envision. And our site and downloadable app aim to give teachers and caregivers around the world the best tools to start the literacy education process as early as possible.
Describe the core technology that your solution utilizes.
Wordscientsts will work with impact software development agency AnnieCannons to help leverage its well-developed educational content and staff expertise to build a new software application accessible via both web and mobile.
AnnieCannons will first receive all raw assets and analog notes and guidance from the Wordscientsts team, then aggregate and organize this content for optimal presentations to both students and teachers through a User Experience design exercise - including functions that help teachers track student progress across their classroom, administer skills assessments, and deliver impact results back to the Wordscientsits community.
The application will be designed to further collect and act upon usage analytics, allowing the Wordscientists team to continuously upgrade functionality through an integrated full-stack application deployment framework and distribute improvements quickly and easily to a large number of users, in multiple languages, all around the world.
Select from the options below:
Why do you expect your solution to address the problem?
The WordScientists approach is based on proven educational techniques developed from neurological research into early childhood learning patterns. Furthermore, our approach has shown remarkable success in pilot programs often under especially trying conditions.
At the pilot preschools operated by our partner, Hands-in-Outreach (HIO), in Kathmandu, Nepal, we have monitored the impact of our full range of programming options for student learning using the USAID Early Grades Reading Assessment (EGRA).
For the school years 2016-2017 and 2017-2018, the students in our pilot schools outperformed those in comparable schools by statistically significant margins.
It should be noted that this achievement data comes from the school years immediately after a devastating earthquake struck the country and region in 2015.
WordScientist web-based resources were downloaded to cell phones and tablets for printing after electricity and internet connections were restored, allowing teachers to proceed with education without having to wait for physical materials to be purchased and delivered. Books were displayed for classroom exercises by simply projecting materials onto a clear or white surface.
This ability to continue educational programs with minimal interruption undoubtedly contributed to the program’s positive results.
At our second, much larger, pilot site operated by the non-profit Ana Aqra in Beirut, Lebanon, data collection is still underway but initial indications are also positive.
In formal and informal sessions we consistently get feedback that the HIO teachers appreciate that WS provides the books and activities to use in their classrooms directly after the training.
Select the key characteristics of the population your solution serves.
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people are you currently serving with your solution? How many will you be serving in one year? How about in five years?
Currently serving approximately 800 students each year in Nepal for 3 years, and approximately
300 per year in Lebanon. In a year we plan to add 100 students in Colombia.
The web analytics show an additional 5,000+ users from around the world including over 1,500 additional users using WordScientists.org offline.
Our goal is to double the number of total users in the next year and reach 500,000 students in classrooms across a dozen countries by the end of five years.
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
Over the next year, WordScientists plans to:
1. Develop a sustainable business model, working with non-profit incubator Bridge 4 Billions, with the goal of being self-sustaining in the next three years.
2. Make inroads into the U.S. teacher development and curriculum market with the support of the Connecticut Small Business Incubator
3. Sustain and nurture our existing implementation partner relationships, using pilot programs in Nepal, Lebanon and with our newest partner FEEB in Columbia as models of the success of our program and examples of how to expand distribution through NGOs in other countries.
4. Launch pilot or active programs with underserved schools in the U.S. to address domestic literacy issues and demonstrate the universal application of the approach.
Over the next five years WordScientists plans to:
1. Establish the organization on a functional business footing.
2. Improve our outreach and distribution capabilities.
3. Refine and improve teacher training components with stimulating and interactive training videos
4. Create assessment tools using analytics so teachers can track progress and make interventions
5. Develop lessons and create a feedback-instructional loop. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TzDfZTaXWws
6. Integrate student assessment tools with USAID open source assessment software (Tangerine)
7. Significantly improve the functions and user interface for the resources available through the cell phone app.
What are the barriers that currently exist for you to accomplish your goals for the next year and for the next five years?
NEST USA the parent organization of WordScientists.org began as a group of individuals who had an idea for how to impact illiteracy worldwide. Therefore, WordScientists.org program was developed by and relies heavily on volunteers who altruistically donate their time to contribute to the alleviation of illiteracy worldwide.
In order to meet our goals, NEST USA as an organization needs to become a functioning organization that is a self-sustaining business. By selling its products and services in the US and generating a profit, it will be able to support its altruistic worldwide goals .
To succeed as a provider of educational programming in the US, WordScientists.org needs to attract the expertise to streamline and expand the interactivity of the website.
NESTUSA needs to expand our connections to partners, developers and investors in order to hire the marketing personnel that will be needed to sell the WordScientists.org educational books, lesson guides and teacher supports in the US.
How are you planning to overcome these barriers?
A new Chief Operating Officer has come on board who has expertise in business development with extensive overseas experience. Working with both the international, entrepreneurial business incubator - Bridge for Billions - and the Connecticut Small Business incubator services,
NEST plans to raise $250,000 through this fiscal year to put the operation on a business footing.
Select an option below:Nonprofit
How many people work on your solution team?
Instructional and teacher training experts: One full time and One half time. Three graduate interns per year from Teachers’ College, Columbia Univ. NYC
Business/Management: One two third’s time and One one third time.
Publicity & Marketing: One volunteer on an occasional basis.
Technology: The resources of Annie Cannons who is the technical partner for WordScientists.org
In each area, WordScientists.org has strong back up from its advisory board which includes three distinguished instructional leaders and two business advisors.
For how many years have you been working on your solution?
5 years: from an idea to fully implemented pilot programs with two different NGOs in two different parts of the world- South Asia and the Middle East.
Why are you and your team best-placed to deliver this solution?
We have attracted leaders from several fields to our multidisciplinary team of experts including neuroscientists, curriculum developers, providers of teacher professional development as well as software developers, and entrepreneurs with business, and startup experience.
Because of our stellar team who have spent several years working to translate neuroscience of human language and speech into practice in the classroom and our technology partnership with Annie Cannon we will be able to attract software and curriculum developers with the expertise to move the analytics aspect of the project forward.
With what organizations are you currently partnering, if any? How are you working with them?
1) Implementation: Hands in Outreach (HIO) with Intel. HIO supports the pilot schools in Nepal where Intel facilitated technology infrastructure. Ana -Aqra, an NGO in Lebanon which integrates Syrian refugee populations into its educational programs in order to prepare the refugees for mainstream schooling in Lebanon. the WS provides the teacher training and in-class books, lesson guides to teach English and support the home language.
2) Funding : Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, New England Yearly Meeting of Friends (Quakers)
3) Distribution: The World Literacy Foundation, Sun Books, The Asia Foundation, Let’s Read! Alll help to generalize the product and delivery models.
4) Engineering support as well as distribution through Gooru.org to partner schools in Asia and South Asia. Annie Cannons is the primary technology partner.
5) Product Development: Bridge for Billions incubator program to support the development of the business model and the State of Connecticut Small Business Incubator.
What is your business model?
Learning grounds our operating strategy. Learning is the process of 1) engagement with a puzzle; 2) establishment of shared strategies; 3) execution of plan; and 4) evaluation of outcomes. Our business model supports learning for individuals, communities, and the organization.
We serve educators with the tools and training they need to teach literacy through our innovative software platform. This platform provides educators with professional development resources to increase their pedagogical knowledge and improve their teaching skills. AI testing analysis provides regular feedback to inform teaching strategies to better reach their students.
Learning happens in community. We view each school we partner with as a learning community. We work with school administrators and teachers to establish shared learning goals and strategies for the year. This enables us to better serve the schools that we work with by incorporating their specific needs into our more general training program.
We plan to have an area coordinator to work directly with schools in a particular geographical region to provide virtual and in-person support. Direct relationships are important for continual and honest feedback for both clients and ourselves. Many of our materials are universally applicable, though, some materials need to be modified to be culturally relevant. The role of the area coordinator will partly be to assess how materials can better serve local contexts.
Finally, our software facilitates global communication among all our partners. Our team of program and software developers will incorporate feedback from this larger community to continually improve materials and services.
What is your path to financial sustainability?
The production and sale of the WordScientists platform is primarily a Service that uses a Software. As a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization, we were able to use grants and volunteer services to develop the product and initially offer our services free-of-charge. To increase our global impact, we recently shifted toward a social enterprise model whereby the majority of our revenue will be generated by charging for our services.
Currently, we provide our clients with our services in exchange for their feedback used to develop our software and training program. We aim to increase our client base five-fold over the next year and to experiment with different pricing models.
This will take more time to establish our pricing policy given our socio-economically diverse clientele and our commitment to reaching the most communities possible. We are entertaining options to provide certain materials for free and charge for premium services, charging U.S. clients more to subsidize costs for poorer communities, and a flat fee per child per year scaled by country.
Why are you applying to Solve?
Solve can provide exposure and access to:
1. Connections to the MIT campus and other universities for
- Technology partners and mentors to provide engineering assistance. For example, assistance to merge USAID Tangerine software with WordScientists.org teacher training feedback loop. WS goal is to connect data on student achievement data, to training support and generate specific lesson plans for individuals and groups needing additional instruction. And, to be able to distribute this support to cell phones.
- Departments with professors and graduate students for Impact Measurement and Validation and Media Visibility and Exposure
2. Key global contacts needed for distribution.
3. Potential funding organizations and possible business partners in the CT. Small Business Incubator through the publicity associated with SOLVE.
What types of connections and partnerships would be most catalytic for your solution?
With what organizations would you like to partner, and how would you like to partner with them?
Save the Children; World Vision; World Learning; UNICEF; UNESCO;
The first 3 have outreach capacity through large scale partnerships with educational agencies and governments. If WordScientists.org could partner with these organizations and if WordScientists.org could be deployed in their schools WordScientists.org would come close to achieving its goals of bringing the gift of literacy to millions.
If you would like to apply for the Innovation for Women Prize, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution.
WordScientists.org works with and through local NGOs. In Nepal, we work with Hands in Outreach (HIO) and other local non-profits. HIO sponsors the school tuition of destitute girls . To improve the well-being of the girls it sponsors, HIO has added programs for mothers where the WS materials are used in a family literacy format. The adults learn to read from the WS materials for beginning readers as they practice reading to their own children. The mothers also learn to use computers to access the reading materials.
WordScientists would use the advancement for women prize by generalizing the Family Literacy Model to formal and informal child-care providers in the communities surrounding the schools that HIO serves. We would teach women who already provide child care on an informal basis to become business women who provide family literacy day care as a source of income. We would be working with an informal model that already exists: for example, Manisha, one of the teachers featured on the WS YouTube site, was a family day care provider until she joined the staff of the HIO operated child rescue center. And teachers from LMV have decided to use the WS materials as a selling point for their at-home-day-care businesses.
The prize would enable WS to put technology skills into the hands of impoverished women who would be trained to use the simple cell phone technology App. And, enable them to become business women providing family literacy day care as legitimate businesses.