NSF News

NSF names 9 winners of VITAL Prize Challenge

The U.S. National Science Foundation announced the winners of the Visionary Interdisciplinary Teams Advancing Learning (VITAL) Prize Challenge. Launched in the fall of 2022, the VITAL Prize Challenge takes a novel approach to bringing new, emerging innovations to K-12 learning, with a focus on rapid and continuous learning assessment and mathematical literacy to promote a future science, technology, engineering and mathematics workforce, and other innovative concepts and technologies to support diverse communities of K-12 student learners and teachers. 

"These innovations will have a transformational impact on the learning landscape, catalyzing a new generation of emerging technologies and innovations for K-12 learning for all learners all across the U.S.," said Erwin Gianchandani, NSF assistant director for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships. "The award-winning teams were selected through a rigorous, multistage process, with a focus on solutions that demonstrate strong potential for market adoption and impact among those who have traditionally been left out of STEM fields."

Over the past nine months, participating teams across three technology tracks have received training from industry experts, mentorship from educators and research and development support through three competitive rounds of programming. The competition began with 100 teams in the Discovery Round; 54 teams advancing to the semi-final round and 18 teams further advancing to the final round. Earlier this month, the teams presented their minimum viable prototypes in live pitch sessions to a judging panel, resulting in a first-, second- and third-prize team for each track, with grand prize winnings of up to $250,000 per team.

From hyper-personalized career discovery for young people to multisensory learning systems for students who are blind or have low vision, to a game-based learning platform to support problem-based learning, the award-winning teams represent a new generation of emerging educational technology products designed to improve the experiences of students who have been historically and systematically excluded from learning and education systems.

"We are thrilled with the outcome of the VITAL Prize Challenge," said Kathryn Petrillo-Smith, vice president and chief operating officer of the global education nonprofit Digital Promise, which managed the challenge for NSF. "Over the course of this rigorous competition, the entrants worked with a team of mentors to develop powerful, research-based learning technologies that will help each student learn. We are excited to see these emerging technologies enter the market and help learners on their path to well-being, agency and economic security. We believe this novel approach to translation can also serve as a model in other settings."

The award recipients across each technology track are listed below. 

Rapid and Continuous Learning Assessment

First Place: Dreami
Dreami powers hyper-personalized career discovery for youth via data-driven and scalable mentorship programs. Dreami uses the power of machine learning, and powerful analytics to design, match, train and track high-quality mentorship programs for youth. Dreami bridges the gap to learn, earn and grow equitably.

Second Place: Junior Scientist Maker Program
The Junior Scientist Maker Program is a transformative educational platform that aims to be the premier introduction to the scientific method for children aged six and up, fostering scientific literacy and instilling lifelong critical thinking and problem-solving skills. It uses a unique multidisciplinary approach, blending engaging narrative media, an accessible, affordable and scalable inquiry-based curriculum, and hands-on local citizen science projects and research.

Third Place: FrenalyticsEDU 
Inspired by CEO Matt Giovanniello's grandmother who suffered a severe stroke, FrenalyticsEDU is a patented, personalized learning and data collection software that delivers individualized learning sessions that reinforce academic concepts and life skills for students of all abilities, and enables special education and English-language learner teachers to auto-collect and easily track progress-monitoring data. 

Mathematical Literacy to Promote a Future STEM Workforce

First Place: trubel&co
trubel&co (pronounced "trouble and co") champions underserved youth to tackle complex societal challenges using equitable data analytics, responsible technology and inclusive design. Their flagship program, Mapping Justice, teaches high school youth to design geospatial tools to tackle community-based challenges for social change.

Second Place: Kasi Math
Kasi Math, Alchemie's multisensory learning system, provides students with a tactile alternative to a mouse or a touch screen for digital interactives. Using a nonproprietary webcam installed on computer equipment already owned by schools, the Kasi system brings an independent and inclusive method for students who are blind or have low vision to learn in today's classrooms and communicate with their sighted peers and instructors.

Third Place: Tyto Online
Tyto Online, a game-based learning platform, empowers diverse learners with STEM by setting up problem-based learning in a video game. Students experience the "why" behind these subjects, set in a meaningful context and with an open, visual, inquiry-based approach that research shows can powerfully improve math and science understanding.

Other Innovations in Translational Learning Technologies

First Place: Dissect 360 Brain Anatomy in 3D
With Dissect 360, students can learn about the brain through a full 360-degree engagement. Games are designed to foster mastery of brain anatomy using repeated practice, three-dimensional spatial orientation, and recall from memory. 

SING AND SPEAK 4 KIDS (SS4Kids) is an evidence-based music online program based on a clinically tested neurologic music therapy that stimulates speech-language development in children ages 18 months to eight years. The program is specifically designed for those with developmental disabilities and English-language learners. Facilitated by a teacher or parent, in person or virtually, SS4Kids offers fun learning sessions with embedded assessment tools, data tracking and reporting, and encourages social communication and social-emotional learning. 

Third Place: Social Optics
Social Optics is a web-based program that supports students, parents and educators in developing a set of social critical thinking lenses, focusing on helping neurodivergent students understand, navigate and gain confidence in their social skills and interpersonal communication styles to build positive relationships and well-being.

The winning teams will be celebrated at a ceremony in Alexandria, Virginia, hosted by NSF on Feb. 29, 2024. To learn more about the VITAL Prize Challenge, please visit https://new.nsf.gov/tip/vital-prize-challenge.

This $6 million prize challenge is made possible through a partnership between NSF and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Schmidt Futures and the Walton Family Foundation.