Building Bridges Between Educators and Edtech
Building Bridges Between Educators and Edtech
Posted by JArora on April 6, 2014
It is clear that school is not the sole provider in a community’s educational system and after-school programs play an integral role in extending the learning day for many students. Given the flexibility around content and program model, out-of-school time (OST) providers often have the unique ability to innovate more quickly than traditional public schools. These innovative after-school programs can drive better blended learning adoption, bringing effective personalized learning opportunities to students beyond just those in charter schools
I witnessed this first hand during my time at Citizen Schools, a nonprofit founded back in 1995 with the mission to revive the apprenticeship model and bring relevant, project-based learning opportunities to students after school. In California, they have forged strong partnerships with prominent tech companies such as Google and Cisco to introduce students to web development, creating Android apps and the BizWorld entrepreneurship program.
Tinkering with the Model
Over the past few years Citizen Schools has experimented with various blended learning approaches, drawing on best practices from tech-focused charter schools to bring personalized instruction to more students. In California, pilots began in 2010 using TenMarks and Khan Academy during homework help sessions. Those early informal trials showed the potential for these online tools to augment math instruction without it feeling like ‘more school.’ This year Citizen Schools is continuing with pilots at two sites, Ronald McNair Academy in East Palo Alto and Bronx Writing Academy in New York, with plans to expand pilots to approximately ten schools this fall.
Leadership, at the school and program level, is integral to running an effective site. In launching the program at McNair this year, Citizen Schools recruited Adrian Breckel who was formerly Academic Dean at Rocketship, a leading blended learning charter network. Breckel has worked tirelessly with Ravenswood School District and McNair’s Principal, Jen Gravem, who have been cautiously optimistic about how the Citizen Schools team can help implement this model.
Let Me Upgrade You
The shift to blended learning at McNair has been in the works for years. In 2011 the school received a School Improvement Grant (SIG) from the Department of Ed, which they used to fund a major technology upgrade which included going 1:1 and and installing state of the art projection and sound systems in each classroom. This tech overhaul also included an investment in selecting iReady as their core software system. Breckel shares that “the usage of this technology (hardware) is fairly integrated throughout the day in different ways; teachers use projectors and doc cams fairly regularly and also assign homework that includes using the districts portal and tools such as the internet and Google Docs.” However, the usage of online software is inconsistent since there is not official guideline or push on how to integrate iReady into instruction. This is where Citizen Schools stepped in to help integrate iReady and create more consistent personalized learning opportunities.
Early Signs of Success
Though the blended learning pilot just launched back in November there have been some clear signs of effectiveness. The iReady dashboard and other software tools help streamline communication between the school day and after-school educators, making it easier to meet student needs. Another benefit is teachers have more flexibility with flipped classroom approaches, including assigning homework via Google Docs, knowing the kids will have access to laptops and the network after school. (This is such an important piece of this work in communities where most kids do not have access to devices and internet at home.) Beckel is most excited about the ability for her educators to conduct small group instruction, which was a crucial aspect of Rocketship’s model.
The district recognizes that creating a culture of experimentation during the after-school hours enables them to test other approaches, such as the new computer-based assessment coming from SmarterBalance. The District’s STEM Coordinator, Robert Pronovost, who has extensive knowledge of blended learning has been a strong ally. Pronovost and colleagues from the district, Soloman Hill and Liz Gordon-Stoll, have gone above and beyond to show their support by teaching apprenticeships themselves. Hill, the Director of Technology, combined his own passions to design an apprenticeship entitled “Jedi Consulting” which allows students to learn about many new technologies and become consultants for school districts who are looking to implement technology successfully. This apprenticeship requires that students gain an intimate knowledge of different aspects of tech tools including usage, pricing, success rates, functionality, as well as assessing school needs.
This type of collaboration between the school, district and Citizen Schools is instrumental in making the program successful. This marriage between integral entities in the school system models how after-school providers can bring much-needed energy and talent to help schools create effective blended learning environments for more students.
Posted by JArora on March 13, 2014
Inside the High School Hackathon Scene
My ongoing exploration of coding opportunities for kids led me to the HighSchoolHacks event this past weekend at PayPal HQ. I felt this invigorating energy as soon as I walked in and to some it probably represented the ideal high school of the future. Beyond the space itself, the organizers clearly have a strong grasp of how setting the right tone and expectations is an important aspect of building a healthy hacker community.
Having supported #HackLynbrook, a student-organized hackathon at a local high school, I had a general sense of what to expect, however, this event blew me away. According to HSHacks Founder, Shrav Mehta, there were over 1000 students present throughout the course of the weekend, with 550 staying overnight and 150 teams presenting their projects. (You can read about some of the specific hacks in this post from VentureBeat.) Between the impressive list of sponsors and judges (including usual suspects Pearson and Amplify) there was no shortage of support for this event.
One of the judges captured the essence of the event perfectly, telling the room full of students that “you’re challenging teachers to do more and I’m taking that message back to them.” As schools explore how best to integrate computer science into their curriculum, it is essential that they consider the role of space and culture on teaching kids to code. However, it was clear that as K12 schools struggle with introducing authentic CS learning opportunities, many students are already figuring it out themselves.
NCLB: No Coder Left Behind
Witnessing the energy and enthusiasm these students put into their projects over the course of the weekend was inspiring, but the lack of diversity in the room illustrates how efforts like this often perpetuate the digital divide. The lack of girls present was stark, and not surprisingly the male attendees were predominantly Indian and Asian. This reality makes programs that help bring under-represented students into the hacker community, like GirlsWhoCode, TechBridge and CodeNow, even more important.
I tracked down a few female participants, including Michelle Yeung, who started the GirlsWhoCode chapter at Lowell High School in SF and recruited fellow members to join her for this event. Wendy (pictured above), who made the trek all the way up from Irvine, was one of the only girls to make it to the final round.
The team with the highest energy was definitely the trio from East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy, who also took the opportunity to promote CodeCamp, a free summer camp and after-school program they run to teach kids to code. The impact of these authentic hacker experiences, especially for new coders, is profound. Shadi Barhoumi, one of the CodeCamp instructors shared that “our kids were so focused and excited to code today after the hackathon, because they finally understand why coding is cool and useful and fun.”
It was amazing to see the level of student engagement and learn how attendees keep that energy flowing beyond the weekend. Resources like Hackers Under 20 and StudentRND are just a couple that support young hackers. While education policy wonks debate the best way to teach kids to code and if CS should take the place of a foreign language, many students are ready to hack their future and are clearly not going to wait for schools to figure it out.
Posted by JArora on March 11, 2014
If you’re a regular reader you know I’m a big fan of Angela Estrella and the community at Lynbrook High School. This afternoon I attended their annual STEM Expo, which Estrella describes as “a science fair on steroids,” and was blown away by the students and their projects.
The STEM Expo is the school-level showcase event for students to practice their presentations before the Synopsis Regional Championship, which takes place on Wednesday, March 11th at the San Jose Convention Center. Lynbrook will have 90 students competing (full list here), 30 of which are members of the STEM Research class that was started 10 years ago by science teacher (and fellow Stanford alum), Amanda Alonzo. What began as an after school club with 6 students has grown into an award-winning program that introduces students to science, engineering and design thinking concepts. (Did you hear about the teenage girl, Eesha Khare, who invented a device that could charge your phone in 20 seconds? She’s one of Alonzo’s former students.)
Not So Weird Science
It is clear these kids are doing much more than tinkering in their science labs. One group conducted their research on gene synthesis at DNA 2.0 and many are coached by local experts and researchers from Stanford, Berkeley and Santa Clara University. The quality of the projects is so impressive that winners from the Santa Clara County regional competition bypass the state level and move directly on to Intel’s international competition, ISEF.
Having seen several startups and Stanford students try to hack the Kinect, I was impressed with Abhishek Johri’s Vision Kinection, which uses depth and RGB sensors to see how far an object is from a person without looking at the object. He described possible use cases for the visually impaired and the military.
She Blinded Me with Science
I immediately noticed the healthy balance between male and female participants. Though the initial group when she first started was all boys, Alonzo proudly shares that the number of female members over the years has grown steadily and this year there are slightly more girls than boys. “Girls have really excelled in this program since they seem less afraid to ask for help,” Alonzo adds.
The winner for me was Maitreyee Joshi, who is developing an automatic indoor mapping technique to create an indoor navigation system app for the blind and visually impaired. Joshi shared her passion for improving services for the disabled, which started back when she got involved in VIP soccer program that helps kids with physical and mental disabilities.
Through her research she learned that visually impaired people can take 30-40 tries orienting themselves to a physical space before being able to navigate comfortably. Her app creates a virtual simulation which dramatically improves that experience and cuts down on the time it takes to become familiar with a space. She has already collaborated with Google on how wifi strength fingerprinting and depth sensors can be used to automatically generate maps of indoor spaces and ideally create this simulation for any space in real time.
I wish I could have seen Ruchi Pandya, who developed a carbon nanofiber electrode based sensor for cardiac health monitoring, but was at another competition during the time of the Expo. Alonzo shares that the microchip she designed measures distinct protein composition and can detect one’s chance of having a heart attack.
Beyond the impressive ideas I was struck by the professional level of execution. If these children are the future, I am confident we are in good hands.
Posted by JArora on March 7, 2014
My latest project was working with the Highlander Institute and the Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology to create a guide for developers and others who are interested in the edtech space. This is a natural extension of the curation and editorial work I’ve done with the Edtech Handbook, and you can see an example of some of the overlapping content in this recent post on edtech business models.
We are looking for feedback before creating a finished product so please read through the Table of Contents and let us know what’s missing.(A formatted PDF of the draft is here.) Please let us know what topics are important, whether there are missing pieces, or if you know of success stories or challenges to use as examples. When you leave a comment, please provide your name and affiliation.
Lastly, if you are at SXSW Edu this week and want to share some thoughts in person, track down Shawn Rubin. Thanks!
Posted by JArora on March 3, 2014
If you’ve been paying attention you know the latest buzz in edtech is a push to teach kids to code, with much credit for the recent surge in publicity going to Code.org and their Hour of Code efforts during Computer Science Education Week last December. However, I have been curious to see how schools are pushing past the challenge of just introducing ‘learn to code’ apps to create more authentic experiences for students to gain exposure to computer science concepts. My research recently led me to Summit Public Schools, a charter network with six schools that is already fairly well-known for their innovative blended learning practices, where all students have their own Chromebook and spend time daily progressing through their personalized learning plans.
Beyond experimenting with blended learning approaches, Summit created their Expeditions Program to encourage more interest-based activities for students throughout the school year. Over each two month period students spend 6-weeks in their normal class schedule and then 2-weeks participating in expeditions that they select from a menu of options designed around their interests. I sat down with Greg Ponikvar, Director of Expeditions, who manages this aspect of the curriculum across 6 schools and approximately 1700 students. He shared some details about their current STEM offerings as well as plans for the next school year.
Summit currently offers a computer science elective course for 25 students at 4 of their 6 campuses through at partnership with the Miller Institute (LearningTech.org) and are looking to expand that offering by hiring their own full time CS teacher next year. Ponikvar is exploring how to require at least one week of exposure to CS related topics for each student, which includes visits to local tech companies like Google.
While he is the first to admit that he doesn’t have any formal teaching experience, Strasser did a great job creating an environment where the students were teaching and learning from each other. With the vast libraries of resources, a core aspect of teaching kids to code is empowering them to troubleshoot their own issues, building confidence and learning how to get unstuck.
Posted by JArora on February 26, 2014
The K12 Lab at Stanford’s d.school has designed a series of CreativityBoosters for Educators, to explore experiments in teaching & learning and building creative confidence. On Saturday in collaboration with MakerState, SparkTruck hosted a session on how to incorporate hands-on activities into lessons.
In true d.school fashion the brightly-colored post-its and creative juices were flowing. Inspired by the truck itself, the SparkTruck team created the session on a framework of IT BEEPS– Identity, Teamwork, Brainstorming, Prototyping and Storytelling.
They did a terrific job modeling how to conduct activities like this with students and emphasized the d.mindsets that fuel their work: radical collaboration, bias to action, building to think, show don’t tell and overcoming stuck points. We began with a group activity centered around a common problem that has been frustrating teachers since the beginning of time–
Groups jumped into the brainstorming process, moving on to prototyping and then went around and shared what they had made. Then MakerState took over and set up several stations around the room where participants could practice different maker-focused activities, such as creating a pop-up book or a 7sec stop-motion animation.
What was most impressive is the diversity of educators and enthusiasts that attend these events. In my own work with TeacherSquare I know how difficult it can be for educators to take time out of their schedules for sessions like this, no matter how engaging or relevant they may be. It is clear that schools that create a community and incentives around these experiences reap the most benefits. For example, a group of teachers and their principal made the trip down from Tiburon together, and I’m sure it helped that they were all being compensated for their time and participation. However, I doubt everyone in the room receives that type support from their schools.
I’m optimistic that collectively we can change the face of PD by creating more opportunities like this for educators to put themselves in the place of students in engaging experiences and be compensated for their time and energy.
Wan to see for yourself? The next sessions are on March 8th and April 12th- RSVP here.
Posted by JArora on February 10, 2014
Where was this when I was young? I’ve been researching various STEM learning programs and recently came across Imagineerz, a design-thinking focused summer camp for elementary school kids.
Imagineerz is the brainchild of Vaibhavi Gala, a fellow alum of the Stanford Graduate School of Education (ICE ’00), whose high school dream was to create a student-centered learning experience focusing on creativity and confidence building. Once her own children were in elementary school she knew the timing was right to explore her inner entrepreneur.
In March 2011 Gala decided to take the plunge, quitting her comfortable job in corporate training to focus on creating an experience for kids ‘to become positive and confident makers.’ The first program started in the summer of 2011 and in their 4th year of programming this summer they will serve approximately 75 students a week for four weeks in July. Building on her Stanford experience, she often recruits interns from the GSE to help her with the ongoing program and curriculum design.
As the camp and community grows Imagineerz is looking to deepen engagement with parents and kids during the year through a series of books and apps. With all the recent attention on the maker movement (the White House just announced their first MakerFaire), it would be amazing to see this type of programming become part of the K12 experience.
Posted by JArora on February 3, 2014
One of the most important aspects of creating successful blending learning environments is preparing educators to effectively manage the students, data and tools available to them. In this final post in the 3-part series on Zaya.org, Soma Vajpayee, Co-Founder & Director of Training, shares some insights on how they are identifying and preparing educators to run Zaya Learning Labs in India.
I’m baffled by how we prepare educators to create personalized, differentiated learning environments by asking them to all sit through the same 6+ hour training session and then hand them a binder of materials to review on their own. (Isn’t this exactly what we want tech to help change in our current learning processes?) Luckily more and more players in the edtech space recognize that in order for tech integration to truly impact learning outcomes, educators need to be prepared to lead and guide students through these new learning experiences.
The key to blended learning is the ongoing feedback, which I believe is actually more important than the content itself if we see the goal as developing critical thinking skills and not just knowledge acquisition. We are wired to learn by doing and responding to immediate feedback, which educators need just as much as the students do.
Improving teacher PD is a major issue and even startups that are not specifically targeting the K12 space are taking on this challenge. Coursera has a growing number of Teacher Professional Development MOOCs geared towards educators looking to improve their understanding and instruction in their rapidly evolving classrooms. Last fall Vajpayee and I attempted to participate in their Blended Learning MOOC, but unfortunately neither of us made it past the first couple weeks. (This hints at the core issue with purely online PD as my early optimism waned quickly.) With this in mind, she recognizes that while there are numerous resources online, her ability to engage her instructors during their offline sessions is critical.
Adding to that, a growing number of educators are participating in self-directed PD, supported by tools such as Sanderling and Twitter chats that encourage educators to connect and share their experiences. Vajpayee created the Zaya Learning Community group on Facebook to organize and stimulate sharing within the Zaya community.
Vajpayee shares some of her thoughts from the past year of recruiting and training the first set of Zaya educators.
How did you recruit the educators to run the first set of Zaya Labs?
Identifying the right educators to lead our programs is an important part of our process. Zaya has partnered with Teach For India (TFI) and other women’s empowerment programs like SNEHA and to selectively screen candidates who have the knowledge, passion and energy to pilot these early programs with us. Our most effective early educators have been TFI teachers as they are a bunch of motivated and young people who are mission aligned to improve the education standards by using technology as an accelerator.
How are you blending the training sessions for your educators?
Once we’ve identified those individuals they participate in a 3 day, in-person orientation conducted in a blended learning fashion using the rotation model. From the very beginning we model for the educators what we want them to be doing with the students and believe this is incredibly powerful for them. They themselves experience the new learning style we seek to create for the students.
The initial teacher training program was formulated based on detailed competency required for a Zaya teacher like pedagogy, technology and classroom management, which includes reviewing case studies from Rocketship, KIPP and learnings from other blended learning sites. We are also creating our own library of resources which includes research on blended learning and “how to” technology related videos and feedback/ideas videos from our advisors.
During first two months of implementation we invest a significant amount of time coaching and monitoring each class. Using a detailed teacher rubric (formulated by a volunteer from UCLA) we are able to measure at a micro- competency level where each teacher stands. This is done more frequently at the beginning of the session and then once more at the end.
Based on early feedback we are developing self-paced modules for the teachers to refer to on a regular basis. We are curating the content from free resources and making our own videos with expert teachers.
Even with all the high-quality content we’ve made available online we directly see the importance of face-to-face time. We meet once a quarter to hold small discussion sessions and share success stories. This is an iterative process and will be refined as the platform becomes stronger and Zaya will be more attuned to working with more diverse group of educators.
What could be done to share learnings across different sites and even programs beyond Zaya?
The real magic in blended learning is collecting and analyzing the data effectively to improve instruction, and doing this well is extremely difficult. Even at the top blended learning sites in the Bay Area I observed some of the challenges they face given all the different software tools that don’t communicate with each other.
Beyond that, are we even collecting the right data? We should think more about how data is being mined for “student interaction” with the content and how they are learning it. We need to be able to look beyond which videos students watched and the exercises they completed.
Lastly, we need a uniform tagging nomenclature followed by content providers and shared across schools, content providers and teachers that are mutually agreed upon so that students benefit. The US seems to be moving towards this with the Common Core but there is still quite a ways to go.
Posted by JArora on January 30, 2014
Often times the various demo days and edtech press all tends to blur together in a cloud of buzz words (a la adaptive platforms, flipped classroom), however, Imagine K12′s recent batch of edtech startups sounded distinctly different. With 13 teams presenting, one of their largest batches to-date, there was a noticeable shift in tone as many of the startups were not afraid to say they are selling to schools and are actually generating revenue. From the “ramen profitable” startup DeansList kicking off the day to YC and Zuckerberg-backed Panorama Education closing the show sharing they have “4,500 schools using their product, all of which are paying customers.”
As someone who has been following and working in this space for the past few years, hearing these stats are a welcome change. This not only indicates that the investor side of the ecosystem has matured and has a better understanding of the K12 market, but it also demonstrates that more and more schools are deciding to purchase and pilot new edtech tools.
As for the teams themselves, the pragmatist in me likes more enterprise oriented startups like SchoolMint, while the optimistic side is drawn to efforts like Kodable. SchoolMint’s appeal comes from the basic idea that they are saving schools/admins hundreds of hours by digitizing a process that is currently entirely offline. (And the fact they are already on track to $100k annual revenue is a sign they are addressing a real pain point for schools.) Similar to another IK12 alum, Chalk Schools, these products seem obvious and I think in several years we’ll look back and wonder why schools took so long to adopt these more streamlined and efficient systems.
Kodable believes that even before kids learn to read they can learn the basic elements of programming. My 3.5 year old and I have tried out the app and I hope more schools and parents will find engaging ways like this to introduce loops and conditional statements to their kids. Kudos to Imagine K12 and the teams for kicking off the year on this impressive note.
Posted by JArora on January 14, 2014