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Dallas Schools Turn to NFTs to Boost Student Engagement

The CritterCoin platform is giving teachers in some Dallas classrooms a new avenue to encourage participation among their students: non-fungible tokens. The digital coins help to track student and group activity.

(TNS) — Clyde Forland, a music teacher at Oran M. Roberts Elementary School in Dallas, starts off one of his classes with a music video about Hispanic Heritage Month.

Over 20 fourth-graders gather around him on a blue music note carpet, hoping to score rewards for the team they represent. Those who listen respectfully get a digital coin — a non-fungible token — deposited in their team’s house.

It’s a Hogwarts-style learning environment, with the school using NFTs for positive reinforcement. Students are divided into houses, each with its own color, similar to the classic Gryffindor and Hufflepuff names Harry Potter fans are used to. The houses are named with cultural affiliations: Novatores, Tallawah, Altruism and the Spearheads. The students stay in their houses from preschool to fifth grade and choose at random from a “sorting hat,” just like in Harry Potter.

Forland hadn’t really heard of non-fungible tokens until Oran M. Roberts began using them last school year.

The school works with Red Critter, a Lewisville company founded in 2010. The company gives the school free use of its CritterCoin system to allow Forland and other teachers to add coins to scores within the houses.

Mike Beaty, CEO of Red Critter, said the company’s products became widely popular in Australia and the UK, expanding to the U.S. as students returned to in-person learning during the pandemic. After schools had gone online during the pandemic, Beaty said the company looked ahead to what schools would need when they came back into classrooms.

It was there that the firm developed CritterCoin, a simpler system for teachers and classrooms to use.

“The main goal of the system was — knowing how busy teachers [were] going to be — being able to eliminate the teacher’s distraction and disruption in the classroom from dealing with the software,” Beaty said.

Teachers are free to name the NFTs after what behaviors they want to see or characteristics they want in their classroom, Beaty said. When they see students exhibiting the behavior, they send a 3D digital coin to the student to collect points.

With a touch on a smartboard, Forland can add points to his class based on five pillars: respect, unity, responsibility, friendship and grit. He uses those words often in class so students are reinforced with the themes throughout their school day.

Cha’Tima Botello, 8, is in Forland’s blue house with classmate Daniel Banks, 8. Both enjoy working together to get more coins. Botello said she gets a lot for best behavior.

Students can also receive “spirit coins” for wearing the color that represents their house.

Forland teaches 16 classes, seeing over 390 students a day. Karen Mendez, the school’s gym teacher, also uses CritterCoin in her classes to reward teams that do well in daily activities.

RedCritter has implemented the system in 550 schools across the country, including eight in the Dallas area. Beaty said the company is gaining thousands of students every day after launching just a few months ago.

The company wouldn’t disclose its annual revenue. It has raised $3.3 million from investors since 2012, according to startup tracking site Crunchbase. Beaty said the firm does all of its development in-house, with no outsourcing.

The basic CritterCoin system is free, but schools and teachers can buy add-ons to enhance the classroom experience. The company generates its revenue from the optional premium services, Beaty said. Schools can pay for data insights, different displays for houses and more. Parents can even pay for access to their child’s achievements.

Beaty said the company has about 27 patents pending on the technology. He said learning about NFTs isn’t really necessary because the software is easy to understand.

“Schools don’t have to do anything,” Beaty said. “All they know is they’re just rewarding behaviors. Our platform manages all that backend engagement.”

NFTs aren’t going away anytime soon, and students enjoy getting rewards, Forland said.

“It pulls them in, in a good way,” he said.

At the end of the year, the winning house will get the ultimate reward — a trip to Six Flags Over Texas at the school’s expense. The school will fundraise for the trip and apply for funding through the nonprofit organization Donors Choose.

©2022 The Dallas Morning News, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.