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October 24, 2023

Nurturing young minds in the digital age: Interviewing Seesaw CEO Matthew Given

We explore the vision behind tomorrow's education

The digital revolution brought with it the urgent need for IT literacy, and with the global rise in internet access came the need for education to undergo a vast revamp to better fit the world we now live in. This all begins in elementary school, where young minds first embark on their learning journeys. Few tech firms cater to this market, but Seesaw specializes in creating tools and resources tailored to the youngest learners. From interactive tools that make math and literacy a breeze to resources that ignite curiosity and creativity, we uncover how classroom learning is being reshaped for pupils, families, and educators.

Seesaw CEO Matthew Given
Seesaw CEO Matthew Given

Neil: Can you provide an overview of Seesaw's mission and how it aligns with the needs of educators and students in today's educational landscape?

Matthew: Our mission at Seesaw is to provide every elementary student with joyful and connected learning experiences that lay the foundation for success in life. We know that elementary years are when children develop the key skills and mindsets that provide the foundation for success in life. Elementary years are critical, AND elementary learners are different: in the same way, you wouldn’t use a high school textbook with elementary learners, and you shouldn’t use digital learning solutions that aren’t expressly designed for elementary learners. Educational solutions for elementary learners should be built by experts who understand their developmental needs and explicitly build products to meet them. Classroom teachers and families are our partners and are critical in enabling student outcomes – too often, ed tech is intended to replace the teacher, but we build products that enable teachers to do their best work, which results in optimal student outcomes. This is what Seesaw has been doing for a decade, and it is why we are a trusted partner to over 65,000 schools worldwide.

Neil: Seesaw aims to empower students as creators of their learning journey. Could you provide specific examples of how students use Seesaw to explain their thinking and communicate their learning?

Matthew: Absolutely. Many platforms and edtech tools are built for older learners. At Seesaw we are built from the ground up to meet the needs of elementary learners in the way they learn and with an eye towards bringing joy into their learning. We empower students in relevant, pedagogically sound tools and curricula that are built for their developmental needs – ones that support and encourage both online and offline experiences. Students are given a variety of accessible ways to demonstrate their learning in ways that fosters creativity, meaningful expression, the art of iteration, and a lifelong love of learning.

We regularly receive incredible feedback from teachers on how Seesaw fosters student creativity and ownership and shared a few examples below.

My students created a presentation to share with their classmates on a specific animal that incorporated many standards at the end of the year. They were so thrilled to "show what they knew" about their research. Their Seesaw presentations were interactive – which they built themselves – and it fostered a healthy competition where they were upping the interactivity with creative quizzes and multimedia. They cheered each other on as they presented because they were so impressed with how their classmates chose to share the content.

- Stephanie Towe, Second Grade Teacher, Saint Louis, Missouri

Neil: Collaboration is a key aspect of Seesaw's design. Can you describe how Seesaw promotes collaboration among administrators, teachers, and family members to support students' academic and personal growth?

Matthew: Seesaw fosters a schoolwide collaboration and communication loop centered on learning by providing one spot for all adults in a student’s life to not only view student work on any device, but to engage with that work through comments, feedback, messages, and more - providing an authentic audience to motivate student’s best work.

When families have a window into the classroom, families see what their child learns each day, which sparks meaningful conversations and extends learning at home. Conversations go beyond “how was your day” and deepen to “I saw that you did X in Seesaw…tell me more about that”. Plus, Seesaw’s inclusive two-way messaging allows families to communicate with teachers on the same platform they are viewing student work - teachers even have the ability to easily share progress reports through messages providing real-time data to families. Seesaw translates all written text into 100+ languages, helping teachers and admin to reach every family in their home language.

In addition to engaging families as partners, teachers, and administrators have the tools to collaborate within their school to support students within Seesaw. Teachers can invite co-teachers, like interventionists or specialists, to any class to ensure all educators are in the loop on student needs and progress. Custom group messaging allows teachers to flexibly communicate with colleagues, students, and families schoolwide to provide holistic, coordinated support. With connected year-over-year portfolios, teachers can also get a window into student learning from previous years to keep learning moving forward.

As someone who reviews many instructional technology tools and applications in our district, I believe Seesaw is the “all-in-one” tool for elementary. It’s a Swiss army knife; connecting families, engaging students, and giving teachers creative ways to instruct and assess,

- said Josh Ehret, Instructional Technology Specialist in Wichita.

Neil: The Seesaw Library offers a standards-aligned curriculum. Can you tell us more about how this library complements teachers' existing curriculum to enhance student engagement in core subjects?

Matthew: There is no one-size-fits-all curriculum or magic wand in education. While district and education leaders spend hours, months or even years vetting a core curriculum to ensure it will work for their schools, there will always be gaps in coverage and additional needs. Teachers everywhere are looking for content that supports the various standard gaps and needs they have in their classroom while ensuring that content is meaningful, powerful, engaging, and ideally ready-to-use without even more time spent learning how to use that content effectively. This is where the Seesaw Library comes in.

Each lesson in our library is created using current research and evidence-backed practices. They are standards-aligned, grade level appropriate, and culturally-sustaining. Unlike the worksheets folks will use to supplement their curriculum, Seesaw's Lessons come alive with the beautiful styles and characters we create and the creative tools at the student's disposal. These tools make the learning engaging as students can choose the best way to show their learning and explain themselves in a way that feels good and builds confidence. A teacher can pick up any piece of content and know that it was designed by educators, for educators.

Additionally, our content is built with ALL students in mind. We include English and Spanish audio directions, editable content for teachers to adapt and differentiate, visuals and real world scenarios, and so much more. We want students to see themselves in the content and feel excited and empowered to take on the learning.

Neil: Many edtech platforms exist in the market today. Could you highlight what specific gap or challenge in the education technology landscape Seesaw was designed to address, and how it fills this gap?

Matthew: Educational products for elementary learners should be built by experts who understand their developmental needs and explicitly build products to meet those needs. This is what Seesaw has been doing for a decade, and it is why we are a trusted partner to over 65,000 schools worldwide. Traditional LMSs, engagement platforms, assessment tools, and digital learning solutions are often built with older students in mind, and at best, repurposed for elementary learners. Seesaw is built for the elementary use case.

Oftentimes, communication products are disconnected from learning. We unify communication tools with learning and instruction, which ensures that families are connected to student learning. This makes it easier for teachers to share student work and gives families the opportunity to support their students and celebrate their successes.

Additionally, many edtech products do not work well for students who cannot yet read. Those that do support pre-readers often don’t extend to more sophisticated and complex learning. Seesaw offers scaffolds for pre-readers while also providing creative tools and content that grow with students as they become more proficient readers.

About six/seven years ago, the district I was in implemented Seesaw and I remember being in awe of what it allowed teachers and students to accomplish. I had one student in particular who could not read or write, and it was always challenging for him to share his learning. Seesaw gave him the ability to record a response using audio and video. It was life-changing for my student. I recall calling his mom and she was in tears hearing his little boy's voice sharing all about our story of the week.

- Imelda Gomez, Fifth Grade Teacher, Los Fresnos, Texas

Neil: Can you share a real-world success story that illustrates how Seesaw has transformed the learning experience in a way that was previously unattainable through traditional education methods?

Matthew: Wichita Public Schools has been a Seesaw customer since 2020. Since adopting Seesaw district-wide, they have strengthened home-school connections, increased effective use of instructional technology, especially for younger learners and “non-techy’ teachers, fostered a positive, collaborative classroom culture through Seesaw’s interactive tools, promoted a balanced approach to screentime where students use Seesaw to reflect on and document learning that happens in-person and offline.

Neil Hodgson Coyle
Neil Hodgson-Coyle
Editorial chief at TechNews180
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