Here, we highlight stories of how our funding helped four grantees unlock innovation—developing and launching new approaches, interventions, or models that address unmet needs and are responsive to the voices of their beneficiaries. To learn more about our grantmaking efforts and read additional stories from our grantee partners, explore the 2023 Grantmaking & Impact Report.
Early childhood environmental education can increase learning in math and science, yet an analysis of children’s educational and nature-themed TV episodes showed that less than five percent covered environmental themes.
“Cyberchase” is an Emmy Award-winning public media series produced by WNET that engages children ages five to eight in math and environmental science. The animated series features the adventures of a diverse trio of kids who use their “math power” to tackle environmental issues and save the day. Its unique dual focus taps into children’s love of nature and concern for the planet, while showcasing math as a problem-solving tool. Today, “Cyberchase” is the only national media project combining math and environmental education, and is the recipient of two Environmental Media Awards. The series’ last season had 25 million views within a year of release.
External evaluations of “Cyberchase” used pre- and post-assessments to understand the impact of the episodes. Results suggest that children who watched “Cyberchase” improved their math and environmental knowledge and their attitudes and behaviors related to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and caring for the environment.
WNET has launched several new initiatives to increase access to high-quality STEM media for families. Mobile Adventures in STEM, a free, national bilingual family texting program, sends families who sign up weekly text messages in English or Spanish with links to “Cyberchase” media and related hands-on STEM activities. WNET has secured support from the National Science Foundation to evaluate the project, including research into the needs and interests of low-income and Latino parents regarding STEM learning and media. Additionally, “Cyberchase” launched a YouTube channel in the fall, which aims to capitalize on new viewing patterns for families and children, with a target of three million views within one year of launch.
Overdeck Family Foundation’s funding for “Cyberchase” has supported new media and community outreach, and expanded digital distribution channels for video content. Capacity-building support from the Center for Creative Leadership and GlassFrog has provided space for the team to refine its theory of change, build evidence of impact, and strengthen leadership skills.
Math proficiency in the U.S. dropped significantly between 2019 and 2022, with most states seeing a decline. The variance in students’ math abilities within the same grade poses challenges for teachers in tailoring instruction and assessment, particularly when 50 percent of a teacher’s time is spent on non-teaching tasks.
Khan Academy offers free, high-quality, standards-aligned learning resources that cover preschool through early college across a range of academic subjects, including math, science, history, and more. Its resources are used by approximately 18 million people per month.
In 2022, the organization launched Khan Labs, a new space dedicated to testing innovative learning technology such as Khanmigo, an AI-powered tutor fueled by ChatGPT. Officially launched in March 2023, Khanmigo is designed to improve learning and teaching: for teachers, it serves as an AI assistant that supports lesson planning and student feedback; for students, it acts as a one-on-one tutor, guiding them through materials and exercises. Today, more than 55,000 students and 3,000 teachers in the U.S. use Khanmigo. As this AI tool reaches more classrooms and students, Khan Academy is dedicated to monitoring user engagement and academic progress to gain a deeper understanding of Khanmigo’s impact on student learning and the potential of AI-powered tutoring.
For over a decade, Khan Academy has been a leader in leveraging technological innovations to increase access to learning opportunities for students around the world. With Khanmigo, the organization is at the forefront of integrating generative AI into education and testing the potential of this technology to provide one-on-one support to accelerate student learning.
Overdeck Family Foundation has provided general operating support to Khan Academy since 2013, which has assisted the organization in continuing to innovate and develop its technology-driven products, including Khanmigo. With its most recent grant from the Foundation, Khan Academy will aim to increase the capacity of its growth and implementation teams, as well as generate evidence of Khanmigo’s efficacy.
When done well, project-based science experiences, like science fairs, can lead to deeper understanding of science and engineering practices and increased identity and interest in science. However, many teachers and parents lack the support or resources to design meaningful science fair experiences for students.
Science fairs are a seminal academic experience for an estimated 10 million U.S. students a year, but they can often be low-quality. In an effort to improve the science fair experience, Science Buddies offers educators and students in kindergarten through 12th grade access to an online database with over 1,200 high-quality science fair project ideas; a “selection wizard” to help students find projects in which they’d be most interested; an “Ask An Expert” forum where both teachers and students can receive expert support with projects; and resources for teachers, including lesson plans, pacing calendars, and planning documents. Over the past year, the organization reached over eight million students.
Teacher support is a critical component of a successful science fair. In January 2023, Science Buddies launched its Google Classroom Science Project Pathway, designed to make it easier for teachers to support students as they concept, develop, and present their projects. Through this optional Google Classroom platform, teachers can select and organize science project assignments; plan a project timeline and set due dates; and cue usage of Science Buddies resources like worksheets, articles, and online tools. The Google Classroom platform improves the planning and tracking workload for teachers, while also embedding data collection mechanisms that allow Science Buddies to better understand user experiences and impact.
Science Buddies’ initial internal findings on use of the Google Classroom Science Project Pathway show that 82 percent of student users understand how scientists use the scientific method to answer a question, 65 percent developed new science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) knowledge compared to a typical science class, and 67 percent felt confident in using the scientific method to answer questions outside of science class.
Science Buddies capitalized on a one-year pilot grant with Overdeck Family Foundation to strengthen its revised theory of change and build data infrastructure to test it. The organization also partnered with GlassFrog to develop a rigorous measurement and evaluation framework, which was embedded into the Google Classroom Science Project Pathway.
Tools of the Mind
In early childhood education, executive function is predictive of reading and math achievement, as well as outcomes beyond schooling and into adulthood. But, in many cases, formative and summative assessments to gauge these skills can be time-consuming for educators to administer and fail to capture holistic child development.
Tools of the Mind provides comprehensive Pre-K and kindergarten curriculum and teacher professional development that support the development of executive function skills for children. Kindergarten programmatic data from 2020-21 show that children in Tools of the Mind classrooms were significantly more likely to read at grade level (56 percent) compared to their non-Tools counterparts (48 percent).
In 2023, Tools of the Mind piloted a new approach to create SEED, an assessment of children’s self-regulation development. With the SEED app, teachers periodically assess young children’s self-regulation development across the year within a variety of regular classroom activities. SEED captures what a child can do independently or with minimal teacher scaffolding, and identifies if a grade-level task (an assessment “indicator”) is currently outside their ability. In addition, children’s emotion regulation is recorded in each assessment cycle.
Throughout the year, SEED follows a repeating two-week cycle:
- Week One – Assessment: Teachers assess each child’s self-regulation development in a specific activity by observing different aspects of self-regulation in the context of different activities.
- Week Two – Application: Teachers make use of an automatically generated Scaffolding Roadmap based on the prior week’s data to support each child’s self-regulation development, with ideas for how to meet each child where they are and build their self-regulation in multiple activities.
SEED also provides families with actionable ways to support their children’s development in coordination with teachers.
Results from the 2023 pilot of SEED show that teachers were able to assess 98 percent of students during regular instruction in the first week of launch, and that assessment using SEED was quick and efficient, with more than 90 percent of individual assessments taking less than 90 seconds. This suggests SEED is able to make measuring and improving executive function skills both time-efficient and accessible for early childhood educators, providing teachers and families with valuable data to support each child’s development without taking away crucial time for teachers to focus on these skills in the classroom.
Overdeck Family Foundation’s multi-year general operating support has provided Tools of the Mind with maximum flexibility as it continues to innovate and scale—in 2023, the organization grew its reach by 25 percent. Since the Foundation first funded Tools of the Mind in 2021, we have intentionally supported efforts to pilot new measures, encouraging the organization to take risks and deliver solutions that address pain points in early childhood classrooms.
Header image courtesy of Springboard Collaborative