Imagine an app that allows your children’s teachers to instantly email you an up-to-date progress report of how well they’re faring on class assignments.
That’s not just a dream of the future. It’s a feature that’s just one of many offered by Slate & TABLETS’ latest application, “Planner,” which launched at Greenwich High School on Aug. 19.
The founders and sole employees of Slate & TABLETS are brothers Matt and Brian Meyers, a dynamic duo whose goal is to have a hand in bringing education into the 21st Century through the development of education-based, user-friendly apps, such as Planner.
In an interview with the Post, Matt Meyers, a teacher at GHS, explained that Planner is the digital equivalent of a school’s paper planner, customized specifically for a participating school’s exact schedule, and available to both students and staff. Though the app is ultimately designed for purchase by outside schools, Mr. Meyers provided the app to GHS for the current 2013-14 school year for free as a means of testing the waters, he said.
Just like its paper counterpart, in addition to maintaining a user’s class schedule, Planner shows GHS’s vacation days and even has a place to write notes about after-school activities.
“We really made it to be as functionally identical to the paper planner, with a couple of enhancements,” Mr. Meyers said. “People ask, ‘can you do this’ [within the app] and the answer is generally ‘yes,’” he added.
And although plenty of similar schedule-based apps exist, it’s Planner’s level of customization and flexibility that sets it apart.
“There’s lots of these [kind of apps] in the app store. They’re all over the place. But ours is unique because we build it around an entire school’s schedule,” Mr. Meyers said. “The biggest problem with these programs is that they’re not flexible. They think they’re flexible but they’re not really flexible enough because every person has different needs,” he said.
Accordingly, the Meyers brothers’ app addresses a school’s unique needs and class schedule. The GHS version of the app shows the school’s specific “block” schedule and nothing more, so a student or teacher at another school would not have a use for it, Mr. Meyers said, adding that the feature is the strength of the application.
All it takes is a few minutes at the beginning of each school year to enter one’s personal class schedule into the program, then that student or teacher is set up for the year, Mr. Meyers said. Users may even choose an icon related to the events they add to their schedule — another user-friendly feature of the app. They can also color code classes as well as add the class type, room number, when it meets and, in a student’s case, who the instructor is.
Teachers will find Planner useful because it provides them with essential teaching tools, such as a grade book, to-do list and attendance tracker, that can be updated at the touch of a button, Mr. Meyers said. The app’s progress report provides a detailed visual breakdown of how a student is doing in each category of his or her assignments. That data may then be easily emailed to parents or guidance counselors who wish to see how well a student is doing in a particular class.
“As a teacher, I’ve found that’s the most powerful way of giving a progress report,” Mr. Meyers said. “A table of numbers and grids is one thing,” but showing a student a colored graph of where their progress has declined is invaluable, he added. “That throws a whole new perspective on it because it really actually gets them thinking, ‘what did I do differently in November that I wasn’t doing in October?’”
Accordingly, a teacher may also use the data to very quickly assess how the entire class is faring with certain material or at a certain time of year, Mr. Meyers said. In fact, the chemistry teacher plans to take a screen shot of his classes’ overall progress within Planner at the end of each quarter of the school year so that he can later compare and analyze them, he said.
Another feature parents will find useful is the app’s compatibility with iCloud, Mr. Meyers said. Available on iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad, Planner is able to sync all of the data it contains between all of a user’s devices. This means that parents on the same phone data plan as their children could have access to their kids’ Planner and the ability to view what assignments they have and where they should be at a given time. Additionally, the app’s iCloud compatibility means that if a user loses his or her phone, the data within it isn’t lost because it can be retrieved on another device.
Now that Planner has rolled out at GHS, the Meyers brothers’ next goal is to get other schools to buy the app in place of paper planners. The pair are in the midst of addressing schools with 1:1 programs around the country, meaning each student at a school has his or her own technological device to use for educational purposes. The idea, Mr. Meyers said, is to charge a school a $5,000 setup fee and a yearly maintenance fee after that.
The purchase of the app in place of paper planners would end up saving most schools thousands of dollars, Mr. Meyers said. For example, GHS spends $8,000 to $10,000 on paper planners for students and staff each year, including the current school year, since the school is simply testing the Planner app at present.
If the paper planner is eliminated, he claims, the school would only spend the initial $5,000 fee for the app, thereby saving $3,000 to $5,000 annually, in addition to saving plenty of trees, Mr. Meyers said. Even schools, such as colleges and universities, who charge students for school planners could use Planner in place of its paper version because they could charge students for use of the app instead, he said.
In addition to saving money and keeping education up-to-date, schools who purchase Planner will be able to customize the app for their institutions right down to the school colors and images of the school, which may be programmed to show up on each page, Mr. Meyers said, adding that a photo of the GHS campus is the backdrop on the school’s version of the app.
As far as sales go, Mr. Meyers said he and his brother are “looking for one or two small successes this year” in terms of selling Planner to outside schools. After that, he said, the pair will have the funds to attend conferences where the use of these kinds of apps is addressed, thereby helping them improve and update Planner on a regular basis.
Eventually, Mr. Meyers hopes to see Planner evolve into an app that would allow someone at a school to plug in a particular event, such as one of the school’s sports competitions, which would then make that event visible to all users.
“The magic we could do with a server like that … my brain goes wild,” Mr. Meyers said. But for now, with only a two-person team working on these apps, the Meyers brothers are keeping things simple, he said.
The only obstacle now may be getting teachers to adapt — not only to using a digital planner themselves, but to allowing students to use their technological devices in class.
“The idea is that we really want people, when they open this, to just feel like they do when they open their paper one. It’s the hardest thing for us to wrap our heads around … it’s like how are we going to do this because nobody wants to give away the paper planner,” Mr. Meyers said, adding that a paper planner is like a “teacher’s Bible.”
It’s human nature to be apprehensive about a major change, Mr. Meyers said, but it’s one worth pursuing.
And although phones are currently allowed at GHS, teachers are constantly telling students to put them away, which is not only one of Mr. Meyers’ biggest pet peeves, but could potentially be a hurdle as far as the app goes, he said.
“We spend all this time telling kids to put the most incredible invention of our entire lives and history away,” Mr. Meyers said, adding that he hopes teachers will at least designate specific times for Planner to be used in class.
For more information on Slate & TABLETS apps, visit Slate-tablets.com.