This week, as nervous children head back to school for another year of social tension, nervous parents have their own worries, namely: are their children getting a decent education? We all want our kids to succeed, and the war over what constitutes a good education is always heated.

Despite the desires of some pundits who want our schools to head back to the good ol’ days of rote reading and writing, most parents and educators expect more from our education system.

The Canadian Council of Chief Executives released a report this year describing the “skill needs” of Canada’s top companies. There is a gap between what skills are required to run today’s companies and what skills children are gaining from our current education system. Higher math scores and better vocabulary were not at the top of these companies’ wish lists; rather, it was the so-called “21st-century skills” championed by education scholars like Ontario’s Michael Fullan that made the list. Companies today consider people skills, communication skills, problem-solving abilities and leadership qualities as the attributes that matter most when looking for new hires.

Twenty One Toys
Twenty One Toys test out their Empathy Toy

In the back-to-school spirit, here are 10 companies that the MaRS Education Technology Cluster has worked with that focus on deep learning goals.

  1. Twenty One Toys: Local toy design company Twenty One Toys sold out the first run of its Empathy Toy on Kickstarter earlier this month. The toy takes the current hype around technology in the classroom and turns it on its head, creating carefully crafted wooden puzzles that are designed to get kids communicating.
  2. WorldVuze: This online geography platform allows students to reach across borders to collaborate with children in other countries. Students are encouraged to log their “mindshifts”—that is, when they actually learn something new from another human being or change their mind about a previously held misconception about a foreign country.
  3. EverFi: Based in Washington, DC, EverFi uses games and interactive scenarios to teach children financial literacy and digital media skills. The company has also done a lot to raise awareness around cyber-bullying and substance abuse prevention in first-year university students. Oh, and they’ve also got Pharrell Williams’ Mountie hat on board. Look for EverFi’s official Canadian launch later this fall.
  4. JUMP Math: Often misunderstood as a rote method for learning math, JUMP Math actually employs a method called “guided discovery,” which allows children to achieve a deep understanding of numbers and their place in our world. There is plenty of research listed here to back up the company’s claims.
  5. The Madcap Learning Adventure: Movies and interactive content created for educators usually skimp on production values and double-down on the boredom factor. Not so with Madcap, a company that has directed its considerable film production skills into history and math classrooms in the United States. Students can take on the roles of the various characters in each Madcap story and decide how the story progresses.
  6. Spongelab: When teachers are let loose on the Internet, they often complain about the abundance of low-quality, superficial education materials. What they need is a curator like Spongelab that gathers all of the best interactive activities for teaching science in one place.
  7. TakingITGlobal: When students connect with their peers to tackle real-world problems such as climate change or poverty, they feel a real sense of ownership over their work and their education morphs from attempting to understand abstract concepts in textbooks to actually effecting change. Check out TakingITGlobal’s intro video here and join 80,000 other young revolutionaries around the world.
  8. Shakespeare at Play: The words on the Elizabethan page come alive in these beautifully shot interactive videos of the works of William Shakespeare. Students can watch the videos while they read Shakespeare’s plays, and also make reference to notes, glossaries and historical contexts, enabling them to make rich connections between oral, written and visual media.
  9. Storyvalues: The ancient art of storytelling gets a modern remix on the Storyvalues website. The Storyvalues program is a blend of live in-class storytelling workshops and online stories that take students on a virtual trip around the world. Dip into the “story bag” with this sample from the Ashanti people of West Africa.
  10. For students who are awash in technology, critical thinking about media creation and consumption has never been more important. At, students can try their hands at creating multimedia content, such as news reports, blogs and photo streams.

Do you have any suggestions of tools that promote deep learning? Email us at with your feedback.

Joseph Wilson

Joseph was an education advisor at MaRS Discovery District. He writes on topics of science, culture and city issues for NOW Magazine, the Globe and Mail, Spacing and Yonge Street. He is the Executive Director of the Treehouse Group, dedicated to fostering innovation by hosting cross-disciplinary events. See more…