ClassDojo scores $1.6M from top investors for gamified classroom management

Test scores and academic performance get a lot of talk in education – and rightly so – but classroom learning isn’t just about ingesting information and mastering skills, it’s about developing habits of mind and building character. Teachers spend a significant amount of their time managing student behavior but, for the most part, they’ve had few tools to help them out.

Since launching last year, however, San Francisco-based ClassDojo has shown that game mechanics (and cutesy avatars) can go a long way in helping teachers not only keep their students on track but encourage positive behavioral skills. On Wednesday, the startup, which was part of education startup accelerator Imagine K12‘s first class, is announcing that it is officially launching out of beta and has raised $1.6 million in seed funding from top investors. The long list includes Paul Graham, co-founder of Y Combinator (it was a personal investment), Ron Conway at SV Angel, Jeff Clavier at SoftTech VC, Kapor Capital, the Start Fund, General Catalyst, Morado Ventures, Lerer Ventures,Learn Capital, NewSchools Venture Fund and other angels.

Co-founded by Sam Chaudhary, a former high school teacher and McKinsey analyst, and Liam Don, a game developer and computer science PhD candidate, the mobile and web app lets teachers give students real-time feedback using any computer or mobile device and a smartboard or display screen.

Each student corresponds with an avatar that appears on a colorful chart and, during the class, teachers can award points (for creativity or teamwork, for example) or subtract them (for actions like tardiness or interruption) in full view of the entire class. All the data is automatically assembled into reports that help teachers monitor progress and follow trends, as well as share information with parents and administrators.

The founders said they developed the tool after speaking with hundreds of teachers who identified behavior management as their biggest problem. In fact, the startup said, 40 percent of U.S. teachers report spending more than 50 percent of their time managing student behavior.

“It has become this punitive, negative thing,” said Chaudhary. “We wanted to move it beyond that to being more about building opportunities for learning and building positive skills and helping teachers do that in a data-driven way, while also solving the pain point.”

It seems to be working. Since its launch, more than 3.5 million teachers and students in 30 countries have used ClassDojo and, when surveyed, users reported a 45 to 90 percent increase in incidents of positive behavior and a 50 to 85 percent decrease in incidents of negative behavior.

The animated avatars and whimsical feel of the platform make it seem more appropriate for younger students and the founders said they’re getting the biggest response from K-9 teachers, but they said teachers of higher grades are using it too.

Going forward, the startup is committed to providing the service to teachers for free but said it could earn revenue by selling additional tools to parents that help build positive character and learning traits.

“We’ve done a good job listening to what teachers want and building for teachers but there are two other important stakeholders, students and parents, and we haven’t done enough for them,” said Chaudhary. “There will be more for them in the coming months.”