Education is a hotly debated topic in the United States. Recent state budgetary decisions in Arizona have many concerned that we will never be able to pull up from the bottom of the list in providing quality education for our children, teens and young adults.
However, funding is not the only obstacle to education. A variety of learning tools for educators and students can aid our long-running battle to improve, intensify and add quality to the educational experience.
“Teachers and students need as many different kinds of tools to learning as possible,” says Norm Kur, co-founder and CEO of Phlashmob, Inc. “We’re very excited to be introducing the ThinkAgain app, which we firmly believe can help to make a positive difference in the way people learn.”
Phlashmob is the company Kur and his uncle, Norman Franklin, established to create, promote and distribute the ThinkAgain app. They came up with the name as a play on the term “flashmob,” which generally connotes a coming together of many likeminded people for a common purpose. In this case, it signifies that the content of the app is acquired from many different educational sources that come together to improve academic success and outcomes through the ThinkAgain format.
The ThinkAgain concept was developed by Franklin, who lives in Sacramento and is co-founder and vice president of Phlashmob. He is also the founder of Interactive Television Corp. and the inventor of the Jeopardy Challenger device, which allows television viewers to play along with the game show’s contestants. In addition, his work with a charter school and community college led to a keen understanding of the challenges facing students and faculty alike. Franklin has also developed programs that help advance health care education, including direct investment in schools and clinical internships for health care students.
Franklin explains his impetus to create the educational app. “When I was working with Jeopardy! as the inventor of the Jeopardy Challenger scorekeeper, I saw how teachers were using my product and the familiar game show format as part of their school day. Jeopardy’s unique format of answer followed by correct question is perfect for an entertainment quiz program, but I wondered if a question could be formatted differently to be a learning opportunity rather than just telling a student he or she is right or wrong. ThinkAgain has evolved in many ways since the beginning of the idea, but the thing that has kept me going was that every time I described the idea of a question format where the student was told to ‘think again,’ everyone loved it. A very small flame was kept alive because so many people believed in the value of the idea itself.”
Here’s how it works: The ThinkAgain app is designed to deliver study questions, each of which includes an engaging learning moment when an additional bit of information is revealed. If the student chooses an answer that is incorrect, she or he is given a hint or a little more information so that the student can rethink the question and come up with the correct answer. “It’s a much more in-depth way of looking at a question than just being told ‘you’re right or wrong.’ It’s a way of keeping the student engaged in the question or problem to solve,” says Kur.
The app currently works on smart phones and tablets, making it accessible to the majority of today’s students. The initial program is geared to high school students, but the Norm/Norman duo foresees similar apps designed for professional licensing examinations, certification examinations, vocational education and job training.
A unique aspect of Phlashmob that differentiates it from other educational resources is the way the information is accumulated. With the sincere belief that active classroom teachers are the best-suited for creating questions that accurately reflect what students are learning, Phlashmob reaches out to teachers across the county, acting as a curator for original content. Teachers are compensated on a per question basis to contribute to the company’s study and test questions in basic high school education disciplines such as English, history, math and so on. “We know how undervalued today’s teachers are,” Kur explains. “We want to give them a chance to earn extra money while contributing to a great additional learning tool. We think it’s a win-win.”
Each ThinkAgain course has a detailed course outline allowing students to easily personalize the study process to meet their own academic or vocational needs. Recognizing that subject matter can be taught in many different ways, the app also provides the ability for schools and teachers to modify, add or subtract questions to tailor-make a suitable program for a particular school or class. “And everything is aligned with accepted educational standards,” Kur says.
ThinkAgain contains a “Test Conditions” mode in which each question is presented in standard test fashion without the ThinkAgain learning options. In addition, the Test Conditions mode includes conventional assessment metrics of the number and percentage of correct answers.
ThinkAgain also helps students control and manage how and when they study, as all activity is tracked and recorded on the student dashboard.
“Another of the positive aspects of this product is that students can use it just about wherever or whenever they want,” Kur says. “It’s clear that today’s students are attached to cell phones and tablets. We’re giving them an educational tool they can carry with them at all times.”
Kur, who grew up in Tempe, has put his career as a forensic accountant and economist on hold and is putting all his efforts into this new business. He and his wife, Kimberly, who works at the Arizona Community Foundation, are active members at Congregation Or Tzion in Scottsdale. Their son Brian is a 7th-grader at Basis Phoenix, busily preparing for his October bar mitzvah. Their son Ethan is a 4th-grader at Sonoran Sky Elementary. Kur has gotten into the rhythm of being the primary family chauffeur, arranging his schedule to meet the demands of a busy foursome.
Phlashmob has created a $10,000 Kickstarter campaign to help with funding in the initial phases. Kur points out, “Our mission is to build a community of the very best teachers to create our study questions, so we are asking for support to pay enough teachers to complete at least one great ThinkAgain course.” A variety of rewards are given in return for contributions, the top one being naming rights to a course for the full $10,000.