Startup uses smart devices to teach, reward students

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

That’s the simple concept behind EduLock, educational software that uses children’s devotion to smart devices as a way to teach and reward students for learning. Instead of trying to deter kids from their tablets and phones, EduLock takes advantage of the devices by using them as both carrot and stick.

The software works sort of like the password on your computer. Students complete some assigned task, a math quiz or vocabulary test, for example, before gaining access to the device. And they’re rewarded for learning, receiving a predetermined incentive such as iTunes credits or time with their favorite video game when they finish the test.

The idea is the brainchild of Patrick Grimes, a Reno accountant, who watched his own child’s grades start to falter when smart phones first arrived on the scene.

“The math class wasn’t supervised that well, and we watched her go from an all-star in math to not an all-star,” says Grimes, who founded the company with his son, Cody, a recent business college grad. “As we investigated her cell phone usage we saw she was turning off the math instructor and using the phone during class.”

Since then, tablets such as Apple iPads have become nearly ubiquitous teaching tools in northern Nevada schools. Grimes thinks instead of giving a smart device to all kids, most of whom already have their own, the schools would be smarter to spend their money on outfitting the handhelds with educational software.

EduLock is working to provide the educational content as well as analytical tools for teachers or parents to evaluate a child’s performance. The start-up recently completed a pilot with the third through fifth grade classes at the Capital Christian School in Carson City.

“We weren’t expecting the results to be as positive as they were because we had heard some horror stories,” about other software developers’ experiences, says Grimes.

Pastor Sue Musselman, Capital Christian’s administrator, said she was thrilled, too, and plans to deploy the software to all of the school’s students in the fall. As part of the contract, Grimes is developing additional content applicable for all grades. Eventually, Grimes expects teachers to turn lessons into content modules for EduLock, and he’d like to create an exchange where other educators could download curriculum created by colleagues, allowing the creators of the content to share in the profit and encourage further development of the system.

Grimes, who is not a programmer, has seven full-time programmers working on the software. He initially started with two freelance coders in Reno for proof of concept and then turned to contract programmers in India through a company run by a friend. He hopes once the software takes off to hire programmers locally as well. Grimes has financed the work with his own money, but he says open source software and standards made it feasible.

“The start-up costs now are negligible compared to what they were five years ago,” he says. He’s launching the yet-to-be-named company’s Web site next month and reaching out to other schools, focusing on private, charter and home schools with active parent involvement.


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