Scope2016 - page 35

ow does a teacher get students to lean in,
think deeply, ask questions and make con-
nections? There’s an app for that!
Kimberly Mitchell ’91 is working on it.
Though she took no education courses at Skidmore,
majoring instead in philosophy and history, she says it
was her freshman liberal-studies course “The Human
Experience” that “set the foundation for who I am as
a teacher: someone who looks for the connections
between disciplines.”
Her career in education has included teaching
fifth grade for Teach for America, bilingual kindergar-
ten in Ecuador, middle-school science in Los Angeles,
and “Teaching as a Profession” at the University of
Washington, as well as serving as principal at the
American Community Schools in Athens, Greece, and
senior programming officer at the Bill and Melinda
Gates Foundation.
A co-founder of Seattle-based Inquiry Partners, she
has helped create an innovative tool to help teach-
ers promote creative, active learning. The goal is to
ask more and talk less, encourage questions, and get
students to connect what they are learning to the real
world. She and her partners recently won a Small
Business Innovation Research grant from the Na-
tional Science Foundation to support further develop-
ment of Earshot, their user-friendly app that builds
on technological advancements in language process-
ing and voice analysis to provide real-time data for
teachers on their talk time, wait time, and frequency
and complexity of questioning. The developers plan to
launch next summer, marketing directly to teachers
through unions and professional organizations and of-
fering subscriptions for about $5 per month. Mitchell
describes it as a sort of FitBit for teachers.
“We’ve done focus groups and the response was
huge,” says Mitchell. Before they use the app, “teach-
ers don’t realize how much they are talking, or that
the questions they are asking are low-level, not those
seeking analysis.” Of the 3.5 million K–12 teachers in
the US, Mitchell and crew hope even 5 to 10% will
become early adopters, particularly at middle and
high schools.
Too often, she says, “you see students passively
listening to the teacher and following instructions,”
whereas in an inquiry-based classroom “you see
students leaning in, taking control, and doing the
majority of the talking and questioning.” It’s the way she
learned at Skidmore, and the way she wishes she had
learned in grade school.
While you might call Mitchell an “education
reformer,” she prefers to talk about improving the class-
room experience for both students and teachers, using
inquiry-based instruction—a model as old as Socrates
but wired for the 21st century. “The new economy is
predicated less on a model of industry and goods and
more on a model of creativity and ideas,” she explains.
“We are creators. That’s what makes us human. We
connect things. That’s what I am trying to nurture in
the classroom.” She adds, “I give credit to Skidmore for
the abilities to go beyond, make connections, and not be
afraid of change.”
—Kathryn Gallien
Kimberly Mitchell ’91
a FitBit-like app to help
teachers hone their
communications with pupils.
Joel Levin
Ask more,
talk less
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