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DreamBox Learning: Adaptive, Engaging, and Motivating Math

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DreamBox is a K-5 adaptive math product widely used in US elementary schools. Adaptive means that the program captures every decision a student makes while working in the software and adjusts the student's learning path in real time, maintaining just the right degree of difficulty and no gaps in understanding. DreamBox builds conceptual understanding and fluency with a combination of rigorous math, motivating environment, and adaptive experience.

The company has taken its own unique adaptive pathway to edtech success. It was started by a couple of Seattle software entrepreneurs in 2008 with an initial focus on the consumer space. They built a great engine but the marketing never gained much traction with parents. DreamBox did gain traction with Rocketship Education, powering the learning labs of the high performing network beginning with the 2009-10 school year.

In April 2010, in a unique transaction, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings sponsored the acquisition of DreamBox through a Program Related Investment by the Charter School Growth Fund. Seeking the potential to personalize K-12 learning, Hastings followed up on the acquisition with an additional equity investment in 2011 along with Kleiner partner and New Schools benefactor John Doerr. Charter School Growth Fund's Kevin Hall, Rocketship's John Danner, and Hastings sit on the DreamBox board.

Post-acquisition the board added some serious talent. Jessie Woolley-Wilson joined as President & CEO. Jessie had been president of K-12 Group at Blackboard. Former RosettaStone exec Greg Long leads product development. Patti Smith, former VP marketing and strategy for math at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, leads marketing. Tech vet Dan Kerns is the chief architect.

I visited the DreamBox office in Bellevue, just across Lake Washington from Seattle, where I got my first demo in two years. In addition to adding a couple grade levels and a new learning environment designed for older students, the quality of the standards-based reporting system looks like a great addition. The data visualization developed to communicate math progress is exactly the kind of tool that should be part of weekly communication between teachers, students, and parents.

Historically, we would have called DreamBox a supplemental product, but Jessie said, "The distinction between core and supplemental curriculum is going away with the shift from basal textbooks to digital content." DreamBox is at the forefront of an historical change in instructional strategy: an evolution from basal textbooks to a truly blended schooling model with digital content at its core

DreamBox is also breaking down the distinction between assessment and instruction -- it delivers both simultaneously on a personal pathway tailored for each student. Until you see an adaptive product like DreamBox in action, you don't really appreciate the benefits of personal digital learning including how assessment will move into the background, learning will be customized for every student, and motivating content and feedback systems.

And get this, for those of you that thought I was crazy when talking about 10,000 keystroke days, DreamBox evaluates an average of 48,000 data points per hour for every student. (If students are learning in six different apps daily, that's a million keystroke week; that's why it's time to define a common electronic record and a new generation of super gradebooks.)

DreamBox is typically used in the classroom or computer lab, but can be used as part of before- or after-school programs. It has been proven effective in accelerating student progression in early mathematics if used 90 minutes per week. These days DreamBox sells primarily to elementary schools with a price point that makes it a pretty easy decision for principals.

With engaging content driven by a smart engine and visual progress reports, Dreambox is a snapshot of what the rest of education will look like five years from now.