Inside Workbench's plans to spread project-based learning to more classrooms - Technical.ly Baltimore

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Oct. 10, 2017 2:12 pm

Inside Workbench’s plans to spread project-based learning to more classrooms

The City Garage–based edtech startup recently raised $1.7 million, and promoted a pair of employees to new leadership roles.

The Workbench team at City Garage.

(Courtesy photo)

With new funding and a pair of new high-level roles, edtech startup Workbench is laying the foundation for expansion of its platform that provides schools with project-based learning tools.

The City Garage–based company recently raised $1.7 million in new funding, led by Fells Point–based Brown Advisory, said CEO Chris Sleat. The company, which changed its name and moved to Baltimore last year, is looking to raise another $300,000 before the round is complete.

Workbench is looking to be a go-to platform for project-based learning, which involves applying learnings to hands-on challenges inside the classroom. Often, it also involves making. The company has partnerships with companies like robotics maker Sphero, drone company Parrot, Makey Makey and tool company Dremel. The platform makes projects and content from those partners available as well as Workbench’s own content to help teachers design projects to reinforce learning. The lessons apply to subjects like math and social studies. The idea is to provide a central point where educators can find these hands-on lessons, rather than scouring the web for one-time lessons.

“Our goal is to take project-based learning that’s very time consuming and take away the time that it takes to put this stuff together,” and create “a scalable way for teachers to build and find content,” said Becky Webster, who is one of the recently-promoted leaders.

Sleat said the platform is being used in 10,000 schools. Locally, it used in Baltimore city and county schools. Workbench also has a partnership with Maryland’s public library system.

The company is now focused on expanding to more school districts. Sleat said the funding comes ahead of a sales push, and could mean more hiring to add to its current team of 14 people.

But it starts with a pair of promotions within the company’s own ranks. Webster, for one, was recently promoted to VP of Sales from Director of Business Development. An early employee of Moodlerooms, Webster said she continues to be drawn to startups because it provides a chance “to learn things that you have interest in and haven’t had a chance to put into practice yet.” At Workbench, her latest work on that front will mean putting together a sales team over the next six months.

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Meanwhile, Jennifer Klepper will be working to ensure that the company’s educational offerings are in line with federal standards governing data and privacy. She was recently promoted to Chief Compliance Officer. Klepper, who is an attorney, started working on product at the company, and later became Director of Operations.

Workbench wants to enable interaction with the work both at school or at home. At the same time, “we have to be really cognizant of protecting personal information for all of these kids,” Klepper said.

Tools within the platform are designed to ensure information isn’t shared or exposed, and the platform received “Safe Harbor” status from the Federal Trade Commission. It’s especially important as school districts are increasingly prioritizing such controls.

“We’re hearing more and more from schools about how important this is for them,” she said.

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