Learn. Link. Launch.

 

 

The Silicon Valley Education Foundation recently hosted their 5th annual #iHubPitchGames at Google. Through this home-grown version of an edtech accelerator, they have been iterating on the process of matching rising education startups with local schools to conduct ~3 month pilots, empowering teachers and students to provide direct and meaningful product feedback. In some ways this experience is a natural follow-on to more well established incubator programs, as several of the teams (Sown to Grow, Bird Brain, Peekapak and MathGames) are alumni of ImagineK12.

My favorite aspect of this event is the authentic focus on educator perspectives. School teams that applied for the fellowship were required to submit a ~60 sec video explaining how they believe technology can be used to improve a specific learning challenge they face in their classrooms. The event started off by sharing these videos to set the context for the 10 startups that then presented their products.

After watching the educator videos the entrepreneurs had 20 min to prepare a 2-minute pitch on how their products can address those learning challenges. The teams clearly knew how to present to an audience of educators, connecting their tools to the educators needs in the participating schools. After the pitch event, a subset of the companies are matched with more than 40 teachers selected from 11 districts across Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.  

While I haven’t had a chance to try out all the products, I was personally impressed with the project-based approach of Cashtivity (real world math challenges) and Cignition (neuroscience based math lessons). The flashiest software tool was clearly HSTRY (create interactive timelines), while MakersEmpire is helping schools unlock the power of their makerspaces.

The iHub program is one of the few structured opportunities for edtech startups to work directly with educators to get meaningful feedback during the early stages of product development. I’ll check back in with the teams in a couple months to see how the pilots are progressing.

The State of STEM Education in Silicon Valley

Under the warm sun shining through the San Jose City Hall Rotunda, the Silicon Valley Education Foundation convened a group of policy makers, educators, and business & community leaders to explore the “#StateOfSTEM: How to Fill Tomorrow’s Jobs.” The forum focused on advancing STEM education, to help our schools catch up to the innovation happening all around us.

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San Jose Mayor, Sam Liccardo joined two local Superintendents and Tim Ritchie, the President of The Tech, for the first panel. The educators shared their school districts’ best practices in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education and successful programs at their schools. The highlight from their comments was the idea of creating “city-wide learning labs,” that integrate schools, community-based organizations, parents and connected citizens. This notion of collective impact is not new and has shown early signs of success in other parts of the country.

The second panel included John York, Chairman/Co-owner, San Francisco 49ers, who is also the key supporter behind the 49ers STEM Leadership Institute. Through launching Embark Labs I’ve had the pleasure of working directly with that amazing team and students, helping them design a robust computer science program focused on creative problem solving through authentic projects.

Personally, I’ve taken a break from attending education events such as this, which often bring together very passionate and well-meaning citizens, yet rarely give audience members a chance to hear from educators and students directly. However, I was pleased to hear the conversations go beyond just STEM topics, to include structural reform issues such as teacher compensation, instructional time, credentialing challenges and much more.

 

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Mike Kirst, President of California State Board of Education, recapped the event perfectly by saying,

“the State of STEM is in transition.”

As a passionate parent and concerned citizen, I’m sure many of you will agree with me that we wish those transitions were happening more quickly and reaching more students. However, the optimist in me is hopeful that our collective efforts are making a difference for students in our communities.

The Art of Teaching is the Art of Assisting Discovery

The incredibly inspiring story of Aydan Meydan, a teacher from Bosnia Herzegovina, and the winner of the first ever Inspiring Educator Award at the Google Science Fair. I was absolutely blown away by the students and projects at this year’s event, but the highlight was meeting Aydan. Her passion is infectious– Share this with a teacher that has ignited the passion in you.

Redefining Success: Most Likely to Succeed

Thank you Girls Innovate for hosting screenings of the documentary “Most Likely to Succeed” in the Bay Area. Everyone, not just edreform-minded folks, should see this film. They make a strong case for why our school system should move to project-based learning approach, by taking the viewer inside the culture and community at High Tech High School in San Diego.

Most Likely to Succeed Trailer from One Potato Productions on Vimeo.

I especially appreciate the call for parents to stop and ask themselves why they are pushing their kids to jump through all these hoops to get into a top college, which perpetuates the false reality that good college = good job.

We must all stop and ask ourselves what is it all for? What do we ultimately want for our children?

It is worth 2min to watch the trailer and hopefully you can find a viewing in your neighborhood.

Hacking the Future

HSHacks- Paypal

Getting ready for the final round of judging

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.

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Wendy, sharing their app Pen, which turns any web page into a shared document

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.

STEM Expo: Not Your Typical Science Fair

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.

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Pragna Upputri’s – The Application of Optical Lift on Micromotors

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.

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Johri, a senior at Lynbrook, explaining his Kinect-based project

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.

Developing an Automatic Indoor Mapping Technique to Create an Indoor Navigation System App for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Automatic Indoor Mapping Technique to Create an Indoor Navigation System App for the Visually Impaired

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.

Supporting Edtech Newbies

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!

#Edtech Goes Back-to-School

“Tell me about your biggest problems, I’d like to fix them for you.” As well-intentioned as this sounds, it is a common request from tech entrepreneurs that often frustrates educators and school leaders. And unfortunately it is still how many edtech solutions are designed and distributed.

TeacherSquare wants to flip that model by creating opportunities that bring educators together as the influencers and creators of edtech solutions. This past Saturday, in partnership with Castilleja, we co-sponsored “Edtech Goes Back-to-School,” an invite-only event targeting educators and edtech enthusiasts to stimulate conversations around how to foster better innovation from within schools. The optimist in me hopes that the top-down policies and district-level decisions will be balanced by a grassroots, bottoms-up movement and meet in a productive middle that improves learning outcomes for all.

 The activities of the day were framed around several ‘how might we…’ questions that we collectively wrote based on participants’ responses to a pre-event survey. Questions like how might we:

…make EdTech more student-driven, student-led, and student-centric?

…give developers and EdTech entrepreneurs a better opportunity to observe, interact with, and serve students and teachers?

…build a community of EdTech learners, educators, entrepreneurs, and enthusiasts?

We started the event with a mini design-thinking exercise (that participants shared was ‘inspiring and productive’) lead by the brilliant minds at d.cipher. Zanette Johnson and Marilyn Cornelius met while completing their PhDs at Stanford and upon graduating launched d.cipher to ‘transform complex challenges into innovative solutions’ with a focus on climate change, education and wellness. Their passion for this work was energizing and I was so pleased to hear that several schools are going to invite them to jumpstart future PD sessions.

Throughout the day many educators expressed common opinions about their experience with edtech and these were a few questions/comments that I heard over and over:

  • How can we take the focus off the tech? (The tech is great but it’s just one aspect of teaching/learning.)
  • How can we avoid tech implementation that is just for tech’s sake? (Investing in devices without any guidance on how that will impact teaching and learning.)
  • How can we be innovative while working in highly constrained systems, specifically with standardized test, grades, A-G requirements (It is not impossible but requires a certain mindset.)
  • Extracting meaning from the data is the biggest challenge and opportunity

This event would not have taken place without the energy and leadership of Gabe Lucas, Director of Technology at Castilleja and while it was hosted at an affluent private school, the audience and conversations spanned all levels of preK-12 and school types (district, charter, private, parochial.)

We often hear complaints about teachers being behind the times or not open to trying new approaches in their classrooms. This is not always true and I’m constantly inspired by the educators I meet who are leaning in to their PLNs and experimenting with different approaches. Events like this bring PLNs to life and are necessary steps in the right direction.

My hope is that one or more of the attendees will take a new idea and experiment with implementing that in their school and I’d gladly showcase those efforts here in a future post. If you’re interested in fostering a conversation like this in your school community, please join the TeacherSquare Community on Google+ or reach out on twitter @TeacherSquare.

LDT Expo: Keeps Getting Better

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything as I’ve spent the past couple months enjoying time at home after the birth of my second daughter. However, I decided to venture out last week to check out the masters projects from this year’s Learning, Design and Technology (LDT) cohort. Every August Stanford hosts their LDT Expo and I’m increasingly impressed with the level of sophistication of the event as well as the ways in which the students approach their learning challenges and solutions. Last year I had the honor of attending as one of the reviewers so I had the chance to get a deeper look into many of the projects. This year I just saw the teams at expo and it was interesting to see that none of the teams chose to tackle a traditional K12 topic, but rather focused more on informal learning.

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Kirti Patel sharing her project- DesignDuo

I was particularly motivated to attend to see DesignDuo, a DIY toolkit designed to get dads and daughters to build things together to drive engagement and interest in STEM, which was created by a friend of mine. You can read about all 12 of the projects in this nice overview piece from EdSurge. It was also great (for both the LDT Program and the Stanford School of Education) to see this press coverage (~2min video) from ABC Local News. I hope all these teams will continue this work in some way and am curious if any will launch this as a real product.

Plugging Edtech into Schools

TeacherSquare partnered with Silicon Valley Education Foundation (SVEF) to bring November’s SF Edtech meetup to the San Jose. True to form, it was a fabulous gathering of teachers, technologists, education enthusiasts and supporters. I was particularly excited to support this event, not only because I’m a South Bay resident and am so pleased to see this meetup expanding to other regions of the Bay Area, but more so because I’m passionate about expanding the conversation in the edtech space beyond tools and entrepreneurs, to really focus on teachers and school leaders, who are at the heart of education change.

Muhammed Chaudhry, CEO of SVEF, moderated a really thoughtful conversation between our panelists of local school representatives to highlight the challenges at the core of making this edtech movement a real revolution. The panelists were:

  • Chin Song: Director of Technology at Milpitas Unified School District
  • Bruce Neff: Technology Curriculum Specialist at Oak Grove School District
  • Mariana Garcia: Science Teacher, AdVENTURE STEM Program at Herman Intermediate School (Oak Grove School District)
  • Randy Phelps: Director of Information Technology Services at East Side Union High School District

I storified some tweets for anyone who wants to see quick highlights and some of the questions that came from the audience.
The core of the conversation was framed around  connectivity challenges, mainly around these 3 aspects: 1) infrastructure 2) devices and 3) tools and support.

Bruce Neff from Oak Grove shared that their “goal is to have a wireless access point in each classroom,” which is still a ways off. All the talk of connectivity made me think of efforts like the Education Superhighway, which is trying to bring national awareness to the lack of broadband in schools and how that is an essential element for creating the classrooms of the future that we all fantasize about.

Beyond connectivity, the audience was very interested in hearing more about the complex procurement process in districts and if there are any strategies to navigate that system, especially for smaller startups with shorter runways. The panel shared that for the most part, hardware decisions are made at the district level to enable discounts for buying in bulk while software decisions are made at the school level, and school boards only get involved when it’s a much larger purchase. Chin Song from Milpitas Unified shared his basic rubric for evaluating educational software; does it does it fundamentally change the teaching and learning environment, impact student learning and offer easy access to the data. In response to assessing free tools he also added that-

“We look at it as a VC… is this built to last? Would we recommend this to other districts?”
This is particularly interesting when you consider the growing number of consumer-oriented edtech startups offering their tools for free and exploring freemium business models.The conversation also addressed the anticipation around common core and how everyone is hopeful it will lead to better forms of ongoing assessment as well as the buzz vs. reality of flipped vs. blended learning, to which Randy Phelps replied, “it’s all still pretty much buzz.”

In closing, the panel was asked to share their dream app or what they most want to see from the edtech community. The common response was to remember that the student is the ultimate client, and technology approaches should be appealing for students and engage them in their own learning process. I appreciated Chin’s addition that even as we explore getting more/better technology in schools, “we want to minimize the time that kids are online, in front of a screen, at school” and must focus on character development and social/emotional learning. His comment that “I don’t want (kids) hooked on badges, creating a token economy” reminded me of a LearnBoost blog post from last year on 3 reasons not to gamify education.

It is so refreshing to attend an edtech event where school leaders are at the heart of the discussion, sharing their perspective on the realities of utilizing technology to improve education for all students. Muhammed closed the night with a thoughtful Bay Area based request for this growing community to not just think about students who live off 280, but to also remember the kids and communities off 101.

TeacherSquare plans to continue this effort to host future SF Edtech Meetups in San Jose in the coming year and we are already identifying teachers to serve as panelists and share their insights on how they are bringing edtech tools to their schools. If you know a teacher who would like to participate or you would like to get involved, please contact me (jessie (at) TeacherSquare.org.)