Angela Estrella: Empowering Educators to Embrace Edtech

Profile #2 in the Teacherpreneur Spotlight Series that I’ve produced in collaboration with EdSurge.

Angela Estrella’s personal fascination with technology began during her undergrad years at UC Berkeley, using her Palm Pilot whenever she was riding on BART. “I used that Palm Pilot ALL the time- as a calendar, to take notes so in many ways that was my first ‘smartphone.’”

Her passion for teaching traces back to her own experience in middle school, where she was deeply inspired by teachers who took an interest in her and motivated her to become the first in her family to graduate from a university. Fast forward a few years after graduating from Cal and she found herself teaching at Overfelt High School in East San Jose, which didn’t quite have the resources to match Angela’s passion for technology. Still, she quickly noticed that her students were more engaged when she used various tech tools, especially those that involved using videos to demonstrate their learning. This inspired the savvy entrepreneur in Angela to seek out tech grants, and in collaboration with a visionary principal her school was awarded a substantial grant to start a Multimedia Academy at Overfelt through the CA Partnership Academies (CPA) Program.

“I encourage aspiring teacherpreneurs to identify small pots of local funds, such as the SVEF Innovation Grants or funding from your PTSA, to fuel your vision. I’ve also had 3-4 grants funded by DonorsChoose, so that’s been really helpful.” She added that starting off small creates a unique sense of ownership and the ideal scenario is to collaborate with local schools or educators to apply together. “As a member of SVCUE (the Silicon Valley chapter of Computer Using Educators) I can apply for their mini-grants. I think joining organizations like your local CUE affiliate is a great way to connect with educators and learn more about professional development and grant opportunities.”

Things changed when Angela began teaching in the more affluent Cupertino area in 2010, where teachers and students had more access to technology. But new challenges surfaced. While teachers had access to the latest devices, such as iPads, Apple TVs and SmartBoards, few of them had the knowledge or confidence to integrate them into their teaching practices.

So Estrella took it upon herself to create a more collaborative environment among her students and fellow faculty to help one another locate and try out new tech tools. As Lynbrook’s Library and Media Teacher for the past couple years, Angela has launched some innovative programs for students and teachers such as the Virtual Vikings and redesigning their Tech Menu Days. Virtual Vikings, essentially a student-powered geek squad, has illustrated for teachers how students can provide real-time tech support and enable the smart adoption of tech tools in the classroom. Through Tech Menu Days, Angela has tapped into the expertise within her teaching community to showcase best practices on how to use various edtech tools, such as Google Aps for Edu and KidBlog.

Fostering support and buy-in from her district has been a major factor in her success. “I’m working with our Director of Technology at the District to expand what we’re doing,” she said. “That guidance and support is essential to scaling what we’ve proven works at Lynbrook.”

Estrella turns to her extensive online PLNs (professional learning networks), mainly via Twitter and Facebook, for sources of inspiration on how to creatively use tech in her class.  She’s constantly trying out edtech tools and finding creative ways to introduce those tools and the entrepreneurs who build them to her school community. It’s all part of her larger vision to create a culture of experimentation and embracing of edtech for both students and teachers at Lynbrook.

Hear directly from Angela about her work from this video profile, connect with her on Twitter @am_estrella or check out her blog.

Ryan Kinser: From TV Production to Teacherpreneur

In the first of my ongoing Teacherpreneur Spotlight series with EdSurge on innovative educators who take initiative to experiment with new teaching practices and tech tools, we look at Ryan Kinser, 8th grade English teacher at Walker Middle Magnet School in Tampa, FL.

Ryan Kinser bio pic

Ryan Kinser stumbled upon his passion for education the second time around. After an extensive career in the TV production world he found himself recruited into the DC Teaching Fellows Program. After an incredibly challenging first year, leaving school each day exhausted and emotionally spent, Ryan considered that maybe teaching wasn’t the right fit. But, for some reason that did not sit well with him. “I loved the few moments that I was teaching and not just trying to tread water.”

After moving to Tampa, FL, like any good student he decided to give it another try. He found a Walker Middle Magnet School, a school with strong leadership that recognized the value of his business background, and this time was different. Through strong mentorship Ryan realized “I started to find out what kind of teacher I could be and I loved it. A big piece of that was mentorship, which is SO critical to attracting and retaining the best teaching talent.”

Ryan’s teacher turnaround story doesn’t end there. In 2010 he was a finalist for Hillsborough Teacher of the Year which helped him catch the attention of the Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ). Ryan joined CTQ as one of their handful of teacherpreneurs in a hybrid role where he maintains his role in the classroom during morning hours and spends his afternoons focusing on his areas of interest: advancing teacher leadership, developing PLNs/VLCs and supporting the edtech ecosystem. The truly liberating piece is that CTQ works with the district and school to negotiate Ryan’s release for the 2nd half of the day, over which he has full autonomy to define his contribution as a teacherpreneur. Those afternoon hours are often focused on blogging, research as well as various speaking engagements and advising local, state and national stakeholders on the importance of empowering more teacherpreneurs.



Sounds pretty amazing, huh? Of course my immediate question was how do we create more opportunities like this for teachers across the country. CTQ has been looking at various ways to scale their efforts through their virtual community which current engages 1500 teacher leaders nationwide. In his teacherpreneur role, one of Ryan’s tasks is to think about working with other districts and next year Tampa will be rolling out 15 new spots supported with Title 1 funds.

Edtech Insights

You may find it surprising that a middle school English teacher’s favorite edtech tool is Code HS, a platform for teaching high school students how to code, which he became deeply familiar with after mentoring the Imagine K12 startup last fall. “We are rethinking literacy- what does it mean to write and create in an online world and coding is a big aspect of that shift.” In 2012 Ryan received one of 10 Magnet School of America grants nationwide, which he used to conduct a mobile app-building project with his students. This game is an example of one what student created during that project. Creating this opportunity for his students illustrates how teachers can (and must) fill in their own tech gaps rather than waiting for instruction or professional development to find them.

Beyond the tech, connecting in the offline world is equally important to supporting the teacherpreneur process. Having the chance to speak and travel to various education conferences (which could be it’s own full time gig) I asked Ryan which ones he found most beneficial. “I found the scope and number of teachers at ECET2 (Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching) really impressive.” Another one that stood out for him was FETC (Florida Education Tech Conference.) Both of these have already passed for 2013, but looking to the rest of year Ryan will definitely be at ISTE in San Antonio in June, and of course, EdSurge will be there, too. While these events can be effective what is really needed is for “more teachers to publicize what they are doing. There is such a silo of education, we don’t step outside our classroom doors.”

Now let’s hear a bit from Ryan directly:

With the explosion of social media tools no one has to wait to attend a conference to learn about a new tool or share their favorite trick. What are your favorite social communication tools?

I love Twitter and that’s how I get most of my information. I lurked around for 9 months before I sent my first tweet and often share that with teachers that are new to Twitter. It’s easy to be a lurker, which is low-risk and potentially high-reward. With my VLC work I am a big YouTube and Google+/HangoutsOnAir fan. Honorable mention to Edmodo, SlideShare and LiveScribe.

What advice do you have to new teachers and/or aspiring teacherpreneurs?

They have to be their own advocate. Do the work and make sure it’s needed by someone else. Be a self-advocate. Get connected with other teachers, with social media it’s impossible not to connect someone that knows someone else. Once you’re doing the work you’re passionate about, find the people who can advocate with and on your behalf.

Also, teachers need to be vulnerable and learn alongside their students. If you’re not adaptable, then there is no use for you in the classroom.

What efforts would you like to see that would truly advance the role of teacherpreneurs?

Meetups are important in regional pockets but what I’d love to see is a widespread exchange program– teachers rotate through an edtech program which also allows entrepreneurs to spend time in the classroom. I’ve been working closely with CodeHS to connect them with my educator network and would love to see this type of edtech-educator exchange on a grander scale.

One program I created at my school to help teachers get more comfortable with tech is small group office hours. I get 10-15 people together and we have a casual and customized conversation about Google Hangouts, Dropbox, etc… They are optional but I invite specific groups of teachers based on their needs and discuss how certain tools can make their teaching lives easier. I hook them by asking questions like “Have you thought about expanding the walls of your classroom? Stop by for 20 min and I’ll show you how.”

(Ryan Kinser can be reached at rkinser@teachingquality.org and followed on Twitter @RyanKinser. He also blogs for CTQ’s TransformEd and Impatient Optimists.)

Meograph: Storytelling as a Service

Meograph for Edu
Storytelling is the oldest form of communication and such an essential aspect of our communities. While anyone can tell a story, as an art form, it significantly improves as the storyteller is coached and inspired. Meograph seeks to empower each of us to tell our stories in a digitally rich way without requiring deep knowledge of complex and expensive creative products. Current SF resident and founder Misha Leybovich has always been a natural storyteller (at one point in his career he was a clown at kids’ parties), but struggled using the existing creative tools.  So he founded Meograph, which he refers to as ‘Adobe for anybody,’ to help tell his own stories and make this rich digital storytelling process accessible to everyone. (You may recognize him from his pitch at the January SF Edtech Meetup- Teacher Tank.)

With the surge of interest in the ‘flipped classroom,’ Meograph saw many teachers bringing this tool to their classrooms, creating content themselves as well as assigning projects for students to craft their own stories. This student created story on the ‘Causes of the Civil War‘ is a cool example of some of the projects created using Meograph.

This step of simplifying the creation process is critical to ensuring widespread adoption of project-based learning strategies, where studente take control of their own learning, document their progress and demonstrate understanding. While Meograph didn’t intend to be an ‘edtech’ startup they have responded well to the significant interest and feedback from the educator community on how this can be used as a learning tool.

Beyond bringing life back to current presentation methods, the larger vision is to power some of the Maker Movement rhetoric by simplifying the creation and sharing process. Striving to be the next suite of creative tools, Meograph is working on creating an authoring tool that can be embedded on other websites. Next steps for the team is to figure out deeper classroom support such as connecting these stories/projects to lesson plans and creating a rubric for grading and assigning project. You can learn more and connect with the team on Twitter @Meograph or email them at meograph@meograph.com.

(And if you happen to be at SXSW this week check out their pitch during the Startup Accelerator on Monday March 11th. Good luck!)