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For Students, Qykno Makes Every Day Career Day

Here's what educators don't talk enough about: That a child's success has more to do with whom and what they are exposed to, contrary to a current focus on test scores and talent shows that mean something only within the short-term progress and small-sized ecosystem of the school.

Teachers know that a very bright student can go from making top grades to barely getting by academically. Why does that happen? Research tells us that the world around that student began to affect them in tremendous ways, and this isn't limited to the poor kid in Harlem or the farmer's daughter in rural Kansas.

Kids who fail to connect scholastic achievement with professional opportunities are more likely to grow disinterested in more-demanding schoolwork and goal setting. I recently interviewed Qykno Labs (prounced "Kee No") founder Kalimah Priforce about these issues.

Qykno Labs (formerly Careersters) is an early-stage technology venture that builds web applications for kids. The signature project is Qykno, a "Careerspotting 4 Kids" gaming platform that crowdsources fun, activity-based content to accelerate and reinforce classroom learning.

Qykno uses a multi-tiered gaming layer that introduces students to career possibilities with the help of video stories from professional subject-related mentors (micro-mentorship), a mission/badge achievement system, and a challenge board that gives users the opportunity to test their newly developed competencies.

Douglas Crets: We've started with a brief description of Qykno and what it does, but can you explain why you built Qykno and why something like Qykno is necessary in the kind of circumstances for which you build it?

Kalimah Priforce: When I was 8 years old, I held a hunger strike against my group home to get more books into the library. The policy at the time restricted the mobility of me and other residents. Simply, we couldn't leave to go to the library or to the museum. My exposure to the world was through a limited set of donated books, and when I read them all, I didn't want my exposure to the world beyond those foster care walls to end with just those books. After several days of not eating, I won the hunger strike and was given special privileges to take solo trips to the local library and museum and that was when my world truly opened up. How big is my world now? It expands faster than the rate the universe does. That's how far my imagination reaches and has fueled my ambition to transform children's lives in and out the classroom. The key to knowledge is exposure and we want to bring career day back into the classroom but on a massive scale.

I remember my first career day vividly, because I had a teacher in the fourth grade who was determined to expose her group of students to a world outside of their urban neighborhoods. I grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn New York during the crack-infested late '80s and early '90s. There weren't a lot of role models to look up to and drug dealers were considered the entrepreneurs of the community. So Qykno comes out of the experience I had when a professional visited our public school classroom and gave their stories of success. It was one of the few magical instances where I felt like my classrooms lessons were relevant to my life path. It's this magic that my team and I are reproducing through crowd-sourcing technology and gamification. Our mission is to make career day, every day.

What should teachers know about Qykno if they are interested in using it? How would it fit into their lessons plans or daily teaching rituals?

The problem that Qykno solves for teachers is the need for a classroom-friendly career literacy tool that tackles student motivation and engagements in scaleable ways.  As part of their daily teaching ritual, teachers have the satisfaction of having a tool that allows for their curriculum development to be crowdsourced by Qykno's mentors.

Can you lay out the STEM philosophy behind Qykno, and some of the efforts you have been leading to get more young girls on career and education tracks that answer to some of the important issues in science, technology, and engineering we face globally?

In the United States, less than 20% of engineering and computer-science majors are women. STEM4Girls is our first content channel featuring eight career fields. We decided to incorporate STEM focus into our product development strategy because of a pressing need that we identified as closing the gender gap in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. We've already assembled more than 200 videos and games towards STEM4Girls.

Qykno's philosophy rests on the notion that gaming can do a great job at assessing the critical thinking and problem solving involved in STEM learning.   

What is your vision for how we can make students more global learners and doers, and how does Qykno address this call?

Our challenge board is an exciting place for kids to engage the world in real-time, because the real-time world will be coming to them. When a student goes into the classroom on Monday, by Friday three political dictators have been removed—but their college textbooks remain the same and are too costly to update. The "current events" feed on their homepage is being constantly updated with content that comes from multiple points. The flow of information can come from their Careercards, mentors, and challenges that they are currently undertaking.

We challenge our clients to think of fun ways to engage our users. A weak challenge would be for a user to visit their website, so we discourage those. For one of our clients, Happy Day Micro Fund, one of our challenges is for users to upload a video pitch about their business and get their friends to vote on them. This helps students learn how to pitch, tell their story, and market their ideas to friends using social media and offline promotion. We're hoping that global challenges will engage our users to think very different about how accessible parts of the world are to them and how what happens in the Sudan or in China can affect them at home.

If you could re-arrange one thing in education right now, what would it be?

I would love to see hackathons around building web products for kids. Most edtech is geared towards adult tools and learning. I'd also like to see fellow edtech startups present to kids, parents, and teachers—community stakeholders, not just to angel investors and venture capitalists..

[Image: Flickr user Wilson (Army Gal)]