Flexcat is a new audio system that is designed to help teachers and students working in small group settings in K-12 classrooms. The system includes two-way speakers that you can place on students’ desks as well as a microphone and earpiece for the teacher. The general idea is that the teacher can easily hear what’s going on within each group in the classroom, regardless of where they’re at, but there’s a whole lot more to the system so let’s check it out!
Before jumping into the review, here’s a quick overview of the Flexcat system from the Lightspeed team:
The overall goal of the Flexcat audio system is to help teachers authentically gain insight into what students are talking about and working on when they’re in small group settings. As anyone who has ever taught in a setting where your students are working in small groups knows, it can be nearly impossible to have your attention everywhere it needs to be to ensure beneficial learning is taking place.
When I taught high school science, I was constantly trying to sit with one lab group and help them, while still keeping eyes and ears on all the other lab groups in the classroom to make sure they were doing all right. And not just doing all right classroom management wise, but doing all right with the concepts, the procedures, and not developing any misconceptions over the course of the lab. All that can be incredibly hard to keep track of in a busy classroom and the Flexcat system is a really great way that technology can assist with this task.
Here’s an example of how you can use the system to “Hear what the students are thinking.”
But Flexcat is more than a way for you to listen-in on what your students are talking about in their different groups, it also allows you to jump into their conversation whenever you need to. If you hear that a group or individual is off-task, you can talk directly to their speaker from wherever you are at, rather than shout across the classroom and break everyone’s focus.
This is an excellent way to help redirect students when they might need it, to answer a quick question, or to clear up a misunderstanding a group is having. And the fact that you can do it from anywhere means you can more quickly “jump” around the room to see what each group is up to and what they’re doing.
Here are some additional ideas along those lines from teachers who are using the system in their classrooms:
Another beneficial feature of the Flexcat system is that not only can teachers hear what they’re students are talking about, but students can talk to the teacher, or the rest of the class, through their speaker as well.
This can be hugely beneficial in so many different situations. From my own experience, there were many times where I had students who were quieter when answering questions and other students in the class just couldn’t hear them. With the Flexcat system, those student answers can be broadcast out to everyone’s speakers, so that it becomes easy to hear what everyone is saying in a discussion.
Alternatively, those student responses can just be broadcast to the teacher’s earpiece, so if it’s something only the teacher needs to hear and respond to, that’s possible as well. Plus, each speaker has a call button, so students can press that if they have a question for the teacher, making it easy to see where you might need to check in.
In terms of setup, the demo system I received to test out from the Flexcat team was surprisingly easy to get working, even without reading the manual. They’ve got a short 15-minute onboarding video for anyone who is interested, but the basic gist of it is: charge it, sync it to an app (through the built-in Bluetooth), and you’re ready to go.
I tested out all the features over the course of a week, and everything worked without trouble. The only note I would add would be to make sure to charge everything when you’re not using the devices (or at least daily), because it does take a little while to get the system all charged up if you’re planning to work wirelessly.
There’s also the Redcat that I was sent to test out, which is basically a larger portable speaker for the entire classroom (as opposed to the individual speakers for each student group). The Redcat worked great as well and would be useful if you just need to amplify the teacher’s voice within a classroom.
As for training, the team does offer on-site professional development for schools that purchase the system at no additional charge, so they can send out a team member to help teachers begin to use the system in their classrooms.
Finally, in terms of pricing, the system is definitely not on the cheap side. The Education Price for the standard classroom set is $2185, which isn’t something that most schools could afford to purchase for all their classrooms, unfortunately. That being said, if you are in a school or classroom that does focus heavily on small group instruction, and your teachers and students struggle with a lot of the issues that this system can address, it is an incredibly user-friendly tool that offers a lot of potential benefits.
Overall, I am a big fan of what the Flexcat systems offers. It’s easy to set up, and it provides solutions to a number of problems typically seen with small-group work in the classroom. The fact that it’s a 2-way audio system makes it infinitely more valuable, especially since it allows for students to broadcast their voices throughout the classroom as well.
That being said, the $2000 price point could be expensive for a lot of schools and districts. I recommend requesting a pilot unit from Lightspeed to trial with your own staff and students to determine the cost-benefit analysis and see if their system is a good fit for your school
In the end, if you have the resources, and you have the need, the Flexcat audio system works incredibly well for a wide variety of purposes. Whether you’re wanting to perform more accurate formative assessments of your students during group work, or if you’re wanting to create a more participatory atmosphere in your classroom where every student’s voice can be heard, or if you’re just trying to create better connections between students and the teacher, Flexcat can meet those needs
The opinions expressed in this review are my own.
I was not compensated for writing this review.
I received a demo unit for the duration of the review.