Connecting Educators and Edtech

In partnership with the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, I hosted my second Teacher Tech Talk event yesterday which focused on how some schools and educators are using Google Apps for Education (GAFE). Rushton Hurley, a member of the first cohort of Google Certified Educators and Founder/ED of NextVista.org, kicked off the event highlighting some of his favorite aspects of GAFE but more importantly shared an inspiring message for how educators should approach integrating technology.

“It is impossible to stay on top of current technology solutions… So don’t worry about it! Find what works best for you and use it in a way that allows you to tap into your inner explorer.”

Kim Brown and Tim Sato from Portola Valley School District shared specifics around how they deployed the Google Engine and Chris Buja from the startup, Hapara (fresh out of Imagine K12,) provided an overview of how their Teacher Dashboard makes it dead-easy for teachers to manage and optimize the GAFE experience across countless students and documents.

If you are interested in learning more about Google Apps for Edu, I recommend checking out the upcoming GAFE Summit July 12/13 in Santa Clara and reading Richard Byrne’s (FreeTech4Teachers) GAFE Guide.

If you are an educator and looking to get plugged into the edtech startup scene, check out the Launch EDU conference June 12-13th at Microsoft in Mountain View. Please email Megan Dickey at megan@launch.co for a free ticket.

Thanks to all who attended and helped spread the word. It has been truly energizing to see the growing interest in this community, and brainstorming ways to bridge the educator and edu startup worlds. Keep an eye out for details for the next Teacher Tech Talk event coming up in July all about Formative Assessments in the Cloud.

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Who will Transform Education?

Diane Ravitch, education historian and professor at NYU, recently posted a question to her twitter followers that lead to a pretty heated back and forth with Justin Hamilton, spokesperson for the Dept of Education, and several other followers.

While I am a believer that healthy debate can be very constructive, pushing the thinking and assumptions of both sides, I find this question really perpetuates this gap between educators and education startups. Ravitch’s view over simplifies the classification of an entrepreneur as someone working outside the school system in a for-profit organization with an emphasis on making money.  I think that narrowly defining entrepreneurship in this way not only undermines all the entrepreneurial work happening within the school system, at the classroom and district level, but also disregards non-profit startups that are fully focused on improving education outcomes for all students. And what about creative efforts from parents and students themselves, who often go above and beyond to stretch limited resources and make something out of nothing. Isn’t that form of alchemy the essence of entrepreneurship?

Being a Stanford Ed School Alum, I am familiar with much of Ravitch’s work and often agree with her thinking around focusing on educators and improving the system from within. However, as someone working on finding ways to bridge these two communities and shine a spotlight on teacherpreneurs, I was really disappointed to see this type of divisive conversation. Broad education reform requires a collective effort and I think we should include as many people in this movement as possible. It takes a village, right?

So, who will transform education? All of us.

Making the Classroom of the Future

The Maker Movement is rocking the education world in a big way.

Kudos to EdSurge for organizing all the activities in the Education Pavilion during this year’s Maker Faire, modeling the classroom of the future. From Thursday’s educator meetup to Saturday’s ongoing interviews with Steve Hargadon, that team and extended community of volunteers really kept the Maker-Education conversation buzzing. The several hours I spent there this morning flew by and I have a feeling that even if I were there the whole weekend, I wouldn’t have had the chance to absorb all the amazing creativity, art and energy flowing in this community. While I spent most of my time in the DIY Learning: The New School area with usual edtech suspects like Motion MathRoot-1 & Educreations, I’m glad I got to catch a glimpse of some of my favorite new tinker toys in action, especially LittleBits and Roominate.

As amazing as this weekend was, the dream is to figure out how to truly make classrooms of the future that embody all the making, doing and learning that is at the essence of Maker Faire. Of course, for me the highlights were initiatives that are trying to bring these types of experiences to communities beyond our own.

SparkLab was there showing off their newly suped-up SparkTruck, channeling the energy from their Stanford d.school class and successful Kickstarter campaign. They are kicking off their summer road trip over the next few weeks, on a mission to spread “the fun of hands-on learning and encouraging kids to find their inner maker.”

Friend and current Harvard Ed Doctoral Fellow, Karl Wendt, was demonstrating some of his creations from his newly launched non-profit, Discover-Create-Advance (DCA), trying to bring project-based learning (PBL) to all students. They are “currently focused on building a library of highly motivating projects, providing alternative funding for great projects, and posting a series of videos that assist teachers and students in facilitating project based learning.” By empowering teachers, through instructional videos and funding, this effort gets at the core of what makes it so difficult to really bring PBL to every classroom. His video deconstructing a hair dryer is one of my favorites and I cannot wait to see what comes next from DCA.

Ideally, newly launched efforts like the Maker Education Initiative will help channel all the inspiring energy from Maker Faire and other DIY/PBL initiatives to bring these learning opportunities to kids all over the world. The classroom of the future will be whatever we as a society want… so we just have to Make It Happen!

Calling All ‘Teacherpreneurs’

I’m excited to be hosting my next Teacher Tech Talk event later this month, in partnership with the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. These events stemmed from my growing interest in bridging the gap between classrooms and the education startup world, and the larger vision is to empower ‘teacherpreneurs,’ who are the ones that will truly drive change in our current education system. Here is the invitation so please help spread the word to any aspiring ‘teacherpreneurs’ you may know!

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Are you an educator interested in learning how to better integrate tech tools into your classroom? Do you have an idea for a fabulous edtech product that you’d like to share with the startup community? Do you just want to connect with other teachers thinking about these questions and edtech in general?

Join us for our next Teacher Tech Talk event on Wednesday, May 30th from 4-6pm in partnership with the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. The vision is to co-create a community of educators and entrepreneurs to collectively design and implement solutions to improve teaching and learning for all students.

This event will focus on Google Apps for Education and will feature Kim Brown, Lead Technology Specialist from Portola Valley School District, and members of the technology start-up, Hapara, (fresh out of Imagine K12) which specializes in deploying Google apps in classrooms and schools.

In addition to hearing from these speakers, you will get a chance to talk about the opportunities and challenges associated with technology tools for education and the issues educators are encountering in the classroom that either need to be addressed or share solutions that can be scaled more broadly.

Hope you can join us! Please RSVP.

Is there Really A Movement?

Howard Fuller was absolutely amazing as the keynote speaker at the New Schools Venture Fund Summit this past Wed, appropriately kicking off the event asking everyone to think about why they are here, doing this work, and what role they can and will play. He passionately expressed the sense of urgency we need to have in solving the challenges of our current education system and echoed a similar message from Don Shalvey, that I wrote in a previous post, that there is room for everyone to play a meaningful role in improving education outcomes for all students.

Many of his comments were twitter-worthy (and the audience did an impressive job keeping the tweet stream (#nsvfsummit) flowing all day) but this was by far my favorite.

“We think we are all awesome. We are not all awesome. Most of us are regular people. We have to create systems where regular people can have awesome results.”

For me, this captured the essence of the entire event. NSVF has been supporting some of the top edupreneurs since 1998, who span from school builders to tool builders and everything in between, who are working to create ways in which regular citizens can make a real impact on teaching and learning.

The title of this post borrows from that of the opening session itself, questioning whether the current education reform movement is moving fast enough. I wonder if outside our bubble of edtech trends and the charter reform, is there enough community engagement and energy to even classify this as a movement? I would love to see what happened to the environmental movement take shape in the education world, where regular citizens not only have awareness of the problem but have actionable ways in which they can make a difference. Everyone recycles and that’s awesome. Can we get everyone to volunteer at their local school or contribute to educating all our children in other every-day ways?

Fuller simply states that in order to build a movement, we must engage people on a grassroots level. I whole-heartedly agree, which is why I’ve been organizing a growing community of educators who are interested in helping build the edtech movement through my Teacher Tech Talk events. (The next one is coming up on Wed, May 30th.)

The rest of the day was equally amazing, full of great speakers and opportunities to connect with fellow edupreneurs, old and new. It would be impossible to capture everything here, so keeping with their efforts to foster this community, NSVF will post all the sessions online. (A few of the sessions are already live on NBC News Education Nation.)

If you only have time to watch one session, skip straight to the closing conversation between Rahm Emanuel and Laurene Powell Jobs. Clearly a seasoned politician, he had an established message to convey, however, his passion for fixing the broken education system in Chicago was pouring off the stage.

“We’re not for reform, we’re for results. As reformers, we’re for education excellence, not educational reform. I think we confuse the means with the ends.”

It was such a powerful way to close the day and bring the conversation back to the focus of all our efforts, and events like the summit. The focus should not be reforming “the system,” or unions, or teaching training programs, etc… But rather engaging regular citizens in building a grassroots movement that optimizes for educational excellence for all students. If we could do that, then maybe we are all awesome.

Imagine that!

Imagine K12 hosted their Demo Day for batch #2  today and I was impressed not only with the progress of the teams but with the IK12 program itself. In true lean startup form, ImagineK12 has rapidly incorporated feedback from their first cohort, iterated on their processes and prepared 9  startups to contribute to the edtech movement.

Alan Louie kicked off the event with some statistics about the edu startup space that appropriately engaged this audience, made up largely of edtech investors. Most compelling for me is the reality that the US represents only 3% of the global edu market, which means the real opportunity is in designing and distributing tools to learners on a global scale. As the movement continues to build momentum, it is projected that US spending on education will grow to $789Billion by 2015 (just 3 short years from now.)

Compared to other Demo Days that attract an audience of hundreds of people generally interested in getting in on the startup action, Imagine K12 clearly focused on the quality and caliber of the attendees. This not only creates a more targeted pitching experience for the startups but also deepens ties in broader edtech community. I wanted to stop and meet (or re-connect) with almost every person in the room, as I know they are sincerely committed to funding entrepreneurs striving to solve real problems in the K12 space.

The leap from cohort 1 to cohort 2 was tremendous and seems like it just keeps getting better. The next batch embarks on their journey in July and  IK12 is still accepting applications through through this Sunday, May 6th.