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Living-Room Learning: One Israeli Startup is Improving School Performance

avatar by Yafit Ovadia / CTech

Israeli children in second grade. Photo: Kobi Gideon/Flash90.

CTech – Educators are constantly searching for a custom-made solution for children struggling in school. Now, technology has found a way to make that a reality. Parents and therapists are looking for ways to diagnose children’s learning disabilities early on to better address their needs in the classrooms, while alternatively attempting to understand high-achieving children’s capabilities to help monitor and boost their scholastic performance.

“Child development is a maze: it’s a mess of dense psychological studies and parents often get lost trying to navigate superficial reports from teachers filled with loads of generic jargon that is difficult to understand,” said Ori Hofnung, co-founder and CEO of GiantLeap.

In addition, several cognitive and social emotional aspects that play a key role in children’s development are rarely addressed in school studies. GiantLeap is a childhood learning evaluation tool that uses artificial intelligence in a video game format and can be used on any handheld device, such as a tablet. It is meant to assess children’s development skills between the ages of 4 and 8. It analyzes parameters such as problem solving, spatial abilities, language, memory, math, social and motor skills, self-esteem, attention spans, and flexible thinking, which are not well addressed in classical educational settings, and sets the tone for a child’s later academic performance.

“We’re turning multidisciplinary scientific knowledge into accessible and actionable insights that are tailored especially for parents. And it can all be done from your living room,” Hofnung added.

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The company is based in Tel Aviv and Santa Monica, California. So far, GiantLeap has raised $1 million from Fusion LA, Fresh.Fund, and Go Ahead Ventures with assistance from the Texas Medical Center (TMC) Accelerator in a pre-seed round. Currently, GiantLeap is working with TMC and inviting parents and children to try out their solution in a controlled scientific environment, by recording all the interactions and answers from the safety of a child’s home.

Ameliorating academic for the young

GiantLeap operates like a child-friendly video game, and is a series of neuropsychological tests that a child plays. Parents then answer a series of questionnaires to help the system better understand a child’s function in home settings. The software then provides a map of the child’s developing brain, and what areas they might need to improve or boost.

Children may retake the test a few months later, and the system “studies” the child’s learning patterns, and makes assumptions about development, studies pressing issues and concerns, and learns how to better assess and address them. The more children who use this AI system, the more the system becomes adept at analyzing behavior, predicting it, and learning the way children think.

“It’s a combination of objective input that they play in the game as well as subjective data from parents. We put it all together, and our program turns that into an actionable snapshot of their performance,” Hofnung said.

“If a child has difficulty in math, a traditional analysis would involve consulting with a neuropsychologist who would offer a math remediation strategy, i.e. working harder on math exercises. But we are analyzing non-obvious connections that could affect a child’s performance. Perhaps their difficulty in math is related to symbolic representation, visual memories, or even issues with self-regulation (regulating emotions), or difficulties in sustaining attention,” he explained. “Our technology accumulates scientific data and makes it scalable.”

Democratizing science

Hofnung founded GiantLeap along with CTO Nadav Goshen in 2018 to help deal with an issue he experienced during childhood, where he struggled with school. Coming from a family of academics but not being proficient in scholastics, educators were unable to properly help him move forward. “My parents were lost in loads of childhood development jargon, and even though I excelled in other areas, such as sports, the school did little to help. Our program wants to show parents how multi-faceted their children are, by measuring their weaknesses as well as their strengths to better assist them with learning. We aren’t only concerned with math, language, and attention spans, but also analyze flexible thinking, fine motor skills, social skills and more.”

While the system is currently only offered in the US in English, the company hopes to soon offer a Spanish-version. Although it was mostly trial and error at the beginning, Hofnung stressed that GiantLeap is the first comprehensive neuropsychological evaluations conducted by parents and not professionals on the market, and is an easy-to-use solution that is children-friendly and non-daunting. The program has been praised by researchers, and Hofnung believes that more opportunities are on the horizon.

“We want to democratize science for parents, and give them wisdom from experts in the field at their fingertips.”

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