Greenwich teacher’s apps brings learning to students’ fingertips

As the age of technology continues to change how the modern world functions, brothers Matt and Brian Meyers are trying to bring a new advance into the classroom.

The two have teamed up to create Atom Builder and Clean Slate Hamlet — free computer apps that endeavor to bring 21st Century education up to speed. Co-founders of a company called Slate & TABLETS, Matt, a chemistry teacher at Greenwich High School, and Brian, a graphic designer, started their educational app work in the spring of 2011 without a shred of programming experience, Matt explained.

Relying on a book and his patience, Matt used the following months to teach himself how to program apps while Brian worked on layout. The result was the release of the Meyers’ first educational app, Element Matching, which provides an easy way of learning the symbols, charges, and models of chemical elements. The app has since been downloaded approximately 14,000 times in 60 different countries, but the Meyers brothers have even higher hopes for the two educational apps they launched earlier this week.

While Element Matching began as a side project, the duo have recognized the significance of educational apps and have since made their development a priority, in addition to their full-time jobs, Matt explained.

As both a teacher and an individual who grew up in the video game era, Matt said he sees the power of combining education with interactive technology. When a student walks into school with a cell phone in hand, the first thing a teacher says it to put the device away, he said.

“Cell phones are the most incredible inventions in our existence. It’s a computer in your pocket, it’s insane,” he told the Post in an interview last week. “There’s a way to use it in the classroom … It just takes something to show it can work.”

The answer, Matt said, may be educational apps like the ones he and Brian have created.

Atom Builder, designed for iPhone and iPod, teaches students the skills needed to count protons, neutrons and electrons in an atom, which is fundamental to learning chemistry, Matt explained.

The app can be used in either practice mode or play mode, using repetition to drive the lesson home.

In play mode, the participant is able to earn bonus points and other achievements that can be compared to others’ scores on leaderboards, which display players’ accomplishments. Those achievements can also be shared on Twitter with the touch of a button, utilizing tools that are already available to tap into students’ natural sense of competition, Matt explained.

Perhaps the best feature of Atom Builder is that each level gets harder as one progresses through the game, he said. An important objective in education is differentiating structure, which means providing lower-level students with work they can handle while providing higher-level students with challenges.

“This does that really well,” Matt said.

The second app, Clean Slate Hamlet, available on iPhone and iPad, is a bit more cutting edge than Atom Builder, according to Matt.

It’s serves as both a study guide of the characters in Shakespeare’s Hamlet and as a set of games that correspond with each act of the play to test the participant’s knowledge of the story.

Game questions can be as simple as “Who is Hamlet’s love interest?” to the more complex, “Do you think Hamlet was happy with revenge before he died in the end?”

The app’s most important feature is one that has never been seen before in an educational app, Matt said. Clean Slate Hamlet provides participants with the opportunity to create a global discussion via Twitter about the various parts of the play.

Each act has a question associated with it that may be answered and shared using a hashtag already connected to the app. The app then pulls in all tweets containing the hashtag, allowing users from all over the world to deliberate the question at hand.

The app also strives to incorporate real-life issues into the discussion.

In Act Four, for example, Ophelia kills herself, prompting the question, “What advice would you give Ophelia as a friend?”

Suicide is unfortunately an issue that many teens deal with, Matt said, so players can use the game to relate Hamlet to modern life.

The Meyers brothers hope Clean Slate Hamlet will open the doors for social media in the classroom, something that currently “is not quite there yet,” Matt said.

Additionally, the model for the app was purposely created to be adaptable, which allows for the development of apps that teach other pieces of literature or history in the future. In fact, the brothers already have a Clean Slate app based on The Tragedy of Macbeth in mind, at the request of those who have already used and become addicted to the Hamlet application.

Eventually, Matt said, the goal is to bring educational apps into the classroom for all to use in an interactive setting, allowing every student in the classroom to be actively engaged simultaneously.

Until then, he said, it will be up to instructors to give educational apps a permanent presence.

“Students don’t really have a way of discovering things like this for the most part. It’s the teachers that will make it happen.”


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