The Far North Story

Far North began as a dream back in 2013 - what if there was a better way to track student achievement and skills? What if all of the data was connected so that I could do my job better?

What if I could really help these kids, and help others help them too?

After a year of teaching in a remote village in Alaska with a standards-based grading system, I realized the need for a program that was more flexible than the standard grade book. The typical grade book program allows the creation of assignments and assigning of grades, and that's it. In the case of my district at the time, a simple checkbox in our grade system indicated whether or not a student had achieved a standard and could move on. Rubrics, standards, skill tracking, and most pedagogical best-practices are often all handled separately in other places, whether they be on paper or in other disconnected programs.

I had students with vastly different education needs and abilities inside of a single classroom every period of the day, and as a brand new teacher I struggled to keep up with just tracking what each student was doing, let alone how to assess and help them individually grow. I wanted more than anything to help each kid grow to their fullest potential, but without the right tools, it was like I was trying to build a birdhouse with each of these kids using a stapler. We both wanted to complete the project, but what we really needed was a hammer. With the sheer administrative tasks involved in this sort of system, it becomes too easy to fall back on practices that have a minimal positive impact: packets and check marks.

With a background in information technology and some programming, I decided to build the course management software that I needed. Due to a confluence of circumstances, it went through several phases of planning, redesigning, and partial implementation until 2019, when I committed to finally building Iceberg.

Students everywhere deserve the right to an effective education, and educators deserve the tools and space to make that happen. The grand majority of us are professionals with deep understandings of education and child development, and we want more than anything to be more effective than our contexts and available tools allow.

The image of the iceberg represents the vast number of factors that play into each student's educational experience that no other software takes into account. As educators, we know that a defiant child may be struggling with dyslexia, issues at home, hunger, or distraction, to name a few examples. We know that each skill that we teach is based on a pyramid of other supporting skills and needs. Until now, there has been no good way to track all of those factors in a meaningful way.

Students by and large want to do well, but can be discouraged by some pretty basic, fixable problems. High school students with busy schedules and several teachers with different late work policies can find themselves falling behind just because it can be too difficult to keep track of everything. Parents by and large want to help, but they might have multiple children, so good luck keeping track of everything.

While maintaining a totally separate full-time job as a teacher in a different district in Alaska, and with the tremendous help of my wife, I started a second job designing and programming in my free time.

Iceberg empowers each stakeholder with the power to truly help, and that was the dream back in 2013.