Andrew Rowland, founder and CEO of Classkick, talks about his app development journey and how Classkick uses Firebase tools to help teachers and students work better together in real time.
Where did your passion for teaching come from?
I've always loved teaching, but I never thought it would be part of my career. I thought I was going to be an economist or go into finance. And then someone convinced me to apply to Teach for America. It was the best career decision of my life. I taught high school math and started the robotics program at a school on the west side of Chicago, and I loved it. It was also the hardest job I'll ever have in my life, except for maybe being a dad.
What led you to start Classkick?
As a teacher, you're constantly trying to figure out ways to make those "aha" moments happen more often. At the same time, you're trying to build relationships with all your kids, so they know you're there for them and you can help them achieve those moments.
So I thought, what if we could use technology to help with the first problem?
Technology can do small things at a huge scale really, really well, so what's a huge problem that happens a million times a day in every classroom that teachers and learners would love to solve? Scaling those "aha" moments and feedback loops, so that teachers have more time to form relationships with their kids. And then Classkick was born.
How does Classkick work?
Classkick is a digital notebook with real-time feedback and collaboration from student to student, and student to teacher. It works the same way whether the teacher is remote or there in person. The teacher makes some sort of content, like an assignment or activity, and it goes out to the students. As they start to work on it, the teacher gets a bird's eye view of all the students' work in real time.
The teacher can dive into the kid's work and help them with a chat, an audio clip or a handwritten note on their work in the form of a sticker. With Classkick, the amount of feedback given to students to help them get unblocked is more than 10x what it would conventionally be.
That simple framework leads to many, many more "aha" moments because students are getting way more practice and way more attempts.
What app development challenges were you trying to solve at Classkick?
We started with a really small team, but we needed to build an app that was available on multiple platforms, scalable, and appealed to teachers who may or may not have much experience using classroom technology.
Early on, we couldn't find the right app development platform that met these requirements until we tried Firebase.
How did Firebase help solve these challenges?
From the start, Classkick really leaned on Firebase to build a scalable and usable app that felt snappy and fresh. Had we not done that we would have had to build all sorts of sockets and stuff in-house. And that would have been less performant and taken a lot more time and energy. So Firebase really helped us iterate fast in the early days because we were able to scale with it.
Our iOS and web clients both talk to Firebase in the same way. Firebase handles all the real-time interactions, so that when a teacher draws, the student sees it instantly and vice versa. It's super cool, because you can be anywhere in the world and it's as if you're writing on the same piece of paper together, in real time, on any content that the kids need to be working on that day.
As we've grown, we had to learn different ways to use Firebase, like sharding to handle more traffic. But all those things helped a lot.
How would you describe Firebase in one sentence?
Firebase scaled with us from a small operation to over 180 countries and more than half the schools in the United States — and we're excited to see where it can help us go next.
Thanks to Andrew for sharing his Firebase story and taking us behind the scenes of Classkick. For more developer stories, check out our website, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to the Firebase YouTube channel.