Q+A: Amplify

A pioneer in K–12 education since 2000, Amplify is leading the charge in the evolution of education. By creating supplemental programs for specific subjects for both teachers and students, Amplify is engaging children to learn in ways that's never been done before. Their programs are used all over the country, serving 5 million students in 21,000 schools across 9,000 school districts in all 50 states!

Alexandra Clarke, SVP and General Manager of their ELA curriculum, and Ian Nies, VP of Design at Amplify sat down with us to talk about the ways Amplify is changing the methods of education.

Ian Nies and Alexandra Clarke of Amplify
Ian Nies and Alexandra Clarke of Amplify

What is Amplify?

Alexandra: Amplify is leading the way in next-generation curriculum and assessment. Our core and supplemental programs in ELA, math, and science engage all students in rigorous learning and inspire them to think deeply, creatively, and for themselves. Our formative assessment products turn data into practical instructional support to help students at every skill level build a strong foundation in early reading and math. We provide teachers with powerful tools that help them understand and respond to the needs of all their students. Currently, Amplify serves five million students in all 50 states of the US.

How do you go about creating effective lesson plans? How does it change as the children grow older?

Alexandra: We work differently for every product because every subject is incredibly different on their own. Sometimes it's a teacher-led instruction, sometimes it's a student working on a computer. We’re really thoughtful and intentional about starting with what subject are they learning and what mode they're learning in. The biggest thing that we do is partner really closely with teachers; we make sure that we test everything we do in real classrooms, even in the early stages.

Ian runs a design team, so when we have early designs, they go out and show them to teachers and they get feedback, then they keep building. The same thing goes for the students. Students can often come here after school with their parents. We call it “play testing” where we bring them in and let them say “That character is really distracting” or whatever opinions they have on the product. Sometimes we need to adjust the colors in a program because they aren’t all accessible to students who have different learning issues, things like that. We try not to create just in the bubble of our office, but actually get out into schools and test it or bring kids here to try it out.

Ian: The digital component really enables that kind of testing. Making progress in the digital atmosphere means making progress on flexibility and visibility for the teacher. Making the best use of a teacher's time, knowing which students are where in terms of their work, and being able to respond accordingly and group students is something that print really can’t do. Another thing that digital does is engage kids with game-like aspects. It’s not a trick to get kids to engage with the material. Our data shows that the kids really connect with our material and want to use it. We get a lot of feedback from students saying it’s not school, asking why it’s ending/why there isn’t more of it, and that school should be like this. That really is the most perfect response you could get.

Our company often thinks of the teacher at the center, and even with students on the computer we think about how this relates to what the teacher wants to accomplish across their classroom

What would you say is the most rewarding part of your job?

Ian: Having the kids come in and test the products is definitely the most rewarding part of the job. It doesn’t happen enough, but even having student criticism and having them just destroy what we made is great. Kids can be brutal and can move really quickly.

Alexandra: My favorite part is the different kinds of districts that I get to see the product working in, since I’m on the road more. That can range from huge urban districts like New York City or Chicago, to super rural places 20 miles off the highway in Tennessee. The fact that we’re able to create products that resonate with teachers and students that are that diverse is the best part.

Do your products also go to kids that are homeschooled or are they just for the classrooms themselves?

Alexandra: We do have some homeschool customers, but certainly our focus is on the traditional school environment. The key thing is all of our curriculum products don't only involve online learning. The full core curriculum products are teacher-led for the full year. The products we do see being used at the homeschool level are more of the supplemental products, where it’s more of the student on digital/self-guided learning.

Our company thinks of the teacher at the center, and even with students on the computer we think about how this relates to what the teacher wants to accomplish across their classroom.

The theme of this year’s annual meeting is futurists! Where do you see the future of education going and how is Amplify going to try and shape that future going forward?

Alexandra: I think what’s been really amazing for us to see is that there’s been a huge shift toward the instructional materials that teachers are using within their classrooms. There was a wave of focusing on data and testing in the past, that was when state testing was really emphasized. That was a movement around data and accountability. When people saw that, they saw a lot of kids weren’t doing well and the first reaction was to ask, "how do we get more teachers that are higher qualified in the buildings and how do we monitor them and see how they’re doing?" But we didn’t actually dig in and help on what they’re using day to day to teach their students. The past 3-4 years show a bigger focus on improving the materials the teachers are using everyday. It’s a movement that people are calling a focus on "high quality materials" and I think that has been really rewarding to see. Largely because teachers were expected to create all their own stuff on top of all of the other millions of things they have to do just to keep the classroom going everyday.

We’ve even seen states start to want to provide high quality materials to their teachers, which for a company like Amplify, we see that there’s a big appetite for strong curriculum, good products that genuinely help teachers free up their time to actually read their students writing, call parents, and more.

What brought you here to Dumbo?

Alexandra: By locating in Dumbo we’re able to get incredible talent, on the design side, engineering side, park managing side, etc. Being a part of this type of community that’s super creative and collaborative is amazing. There’s just a sense of creatively all around us, and you can see that translated in our products. That’s something we’re always really excited about.

And finally, what’s your favorite place in Dumbo?

Alexandra: Plaza M Spa is the best place for relaxation. Whenever I’m really stressed out I run down there during my break.

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