RemixEd: Teacherpreneurs in Action

CurtisHeadShot

I recently got a chance to reconnect with Curtis Monette, Deputy Campus Director and  Technology Lead at the Citizen Schools campus in East Palo Alto, who was one of the educators who attended my first RemixEd event back in August 2012. Curtis and his team created TimeStampz, a tool that helps streamline communication between school day and after school educators, and took home the “Best Tool for Teachers” prize. Since then, Curtis and the TimeStampz team have been testing and refining the product with the 13 educators and 150 students at Cesar Chavez Academy. I spoke with Curtis to see how things have been progressing over the past ~6 months.

What is TimeStampz?

Timestampz allows teachers and staff to efficiently track attendance for students in our program, as well as their progress towards homework completion for the day.  It allows us a administrators and teachers to look at trends in attendance and homework completion by student, by class, and by grade level at any given point in time without having to actually go into the the class room. This helps us be more efficient with observations and feedback for both students and teachers on our campus.  The first shift teachers are also able to input homework for their students and see their progress.

What was your experience at RemixEd?

I had been thinking about this communication and tracking problem many of us faced at Citizen Schools for a while and was excited to pitch the idea for TimeStampz at RemixEd. Attending that event gave me the opportunity to meet a few developers who were in the final weeks of the DevBootCamp program and were looking for new project to work on. Our combined energy and skill sets were exactly what I needed to begin building this product. By the time the school year started it was ready to test out, so we started using it with the students and educators.

What has it been like sharing that experience and this product with the educators in your community?

The teachers are happy because they can easily assign homework ahead of time, streamlining that communication that populates out to all the students. Students like that all their assignments are in one location.  While I mainly use it on my iOS devices, we intentionally designed a web-based product, which is device agnostic, so that we can share it with all the teachers and students in our community.  It is currently only being used within the Citizen Schools network, however, I have received interest from other after-school/out-of-school time programs but need to think through sustainability before scaling to other providers.

Where do you want to see it go from here? What support do you need to get you there?

Working on TimeStampz has inspired me to learn more about other platforms and programming languages. What would be most helpful is having access to other people and resources, especially mentoring and financial support to test it out while staying in the classroom. TimeStampz is a fully volunteer run endeavor right now with each of us balancing this on the side of our full time jobs. However, we are extremely inspired by this work and would love to have more energy and resources to devote to it.

TimeStampzScreenshot

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It has been exciting to see the continuous energy from our first RemixEd event and hear directly from educators on how they were impacted by this unique experience to connect with developers and designers to prototype their vision. There are several similar efforts to empower and connect educators and hackers:

  • 4.0 Bay Area Lab Cohort: An effort to extend their successful flagship program from New Orleans to the Bay Area
  • SLC, backed by Gates Fdn, has hosted several Camps (edu codeathons) across the country. Their first Bay Area event took place a couple weeks ago and future camps will take place in North Carolina and Austin, TX @ SXSW Edu.
  • Startup Weekend Edu helped launch this trend, hosting their first education focused events back in Summer/Fall 2011.
  • There are also several events geared more towards students, like Hack the Future, whose next event is April 20, 2013 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View.

TeacherSquare is in the process of planning additional RemixEd events this year throughout the Bay Area, so keep your eyes open for that news as well as additional teacherpreneur spotlights like this.

Go Go Games- Live in iTunes Store

Big congratulations to Joy, Heidi and Alexis, the Stanford LDT Alumni who created Go Go Games as their masters project and just launched in the iTunes store this week.  “Go Go Games is a suite of games on the iPad that helps preschool and elementary school children to learn to notice multiple features of the objects in the world around them – a specific perceptual skill that is essential to learning and comes naturally to most children, but is known to be a common difficulty for those with ASD.”

I wrote about these efforts in general after the LDT Expo back in August and it is really exciting to see these research based education games making their way to a consumer audience. The team has even outlined the process and science behind their product development on their website.

If you know students and families that would benefit from this, please spread the word and follow them on Facebook and Twitter. Go Go LDT!

Connecting Edupreneurs

On Thursday I met with an amazing group of aspiring education entrepreneurs who are the most recent members to join the FounderDating network. Over the summer FounderDating, in partnership with Teach For America and with support from New Schools Venture Fund, launched their first vertical-specific initiative for people interested in solving problems related to teaching, learning and education in general. I was happy to be a part of the team that brought these individuals together and Thursday night’s kick-off event was full of some great conversations and early relationship building.  It was really exciting to see how many teachers applied (which was partly due to partnering with TFA) but also illustrates how educators are playing more active roles in shaping tools and solutions they’d like to see in their schools.

I believe that efforts like these that bring together high-quality individuals from diverse backgrounds is what is going to lead to truly innovative solutions that we are all hopeful for in the education technology space and I’m glad I was able to support building this network.

Tech in the Classroom, Really!

“If I can do it, you can do it”

Huge shout-out to Angela Estrella for organizing a fabulous Tech Menu Day for her HS teachers this past Wednesday. It was great to volunteer with several other usual suspects from Imagine K12 and see how teachers are training each other on integrating tech into their classrooms. Resembling a mini-edCamp, the format was fairly simple– teachers, many with iPads in hand, were asked to choose 2 sessions from a menu of options introducing best practices for tools like Google Apps, Evernote, Symbaloo, Dropbox and Remind101 which took place between 730-9am on a late-start day. I was in the App Smackdown session where one of the science teacher shared a couple of her favorite apps- PickMe and Educreations and then opened up the floor for attendees to share their picks. The language teachers were big fans of Quizlet already and SplashTop was a general favorite of the crowd.

The feedback from the teachers was incredibly positive with many of them asking for more sessions like this to stay current on popular apps and share tips on using iPads and other devices during instruction. Observing teachers sharing their expertise is particularly exciting for me as it’s the main focus of my work with my own startup, TeacherSquare.

This offline Tumblr was one of my favorites, seeing how students translate their online experiences into their offline classroom environment. The envelopes represent the private Tumblr messages while the post-its are the wall, which is available for public consumption.

Meeting Angela at my first Teacher Tech Talk back in March has been truly inspiring and I’m excited to continue to support her efforts to make technology work for her teachers and we are also in discussion of having a RemixEd event at her campus.

Community Drives Retention

As any of my readers know, I care deeply about cultivating diversity in the edtech ecosystem, with an emphasis on empowering educators to be at the center of the movement. So I’m always happy to have the opportunity to share my perspective with the ImagineK12 cohort just as they are building their startups and encourage them to engage educators at all levels of their work. Generating buzz offers a short-term high (and sometimes a spike in user numbers) but building a community drive retention which can lead to an enduring organization with real impact.

Here are the slides from my presentation and click around because I linked  to many of the resources I mentioned. Please let me know if you’ve tried any of these strategies and/or what has worked for you to create community within the fragmented K12 space.

Edtech For Teachers, By Teachers

On Friday Imagine K12 hosted their 3rd Educator Day and I have to say these events just keep getting better. This makes sense as IK12 is a startup itself, iterating and improving with each group and  just getting ready to launch their third batch of 11 startups later this year. Tim Brady shared some insights from their first 30 companies, highlighting 3 categories that the companies they incubate fall into:

  1. Learning Tools: Student-centric tools designed to improve the learner experience, in both formal and informal settings
  2. Teaching Tools: A majority of their companies fall in this bucket, creating tools and systems to help teachers do their jobs more efficiently
  3. Administrative Tools: This is the least common area, where companies are building tools to help schools and districts operate more effectively, typically with an enterprise sales business model

I am extremely impressed by the number of teacher-led teams in this batch as I am a big believer that edtech for teachers, by teachers is going to create the products that are most likely to improve teaching and learning. (If those companies will survive long enough to figure out a business model is a topic for another post.) My quick highlights from the event:

  • My favorite teacher-founder is Kasey Brown with DigitWhiz. Kasey and I met at the Women 2.0 conference in Feb of this year and she was passionately talking about her product to help kids master fundamental math skills in a game-based environment. I strongly encouraged her to apply for IK12 and it’s wonderful to see her as part of this group, watching DigitWhiz evolve and become more than a side project.
  • My favorite product idea is Raise, which is taking a unique approach to college readiness by focusing on the financial barriers, giving students visibility and access to scholarships before the actual college application process. If done right, this has the potential to make college more of a reality for kids from underserved communities. I find these types of student tools particularly exciting and really hope they can create the partnerships and funding streams to make this happen.
  • My favorite new addition to IK12 is the Teacher-in-Residence. I am slightly biased as I’m a huge fan of the first person to take on this role, Jennie Dougherty, who is a HS teacher and co-founder of edUpgrade. You can’t walk by Jennie without picking up on her energy and passion for this work and all the teams are incredibly lucky to have her there to share her direct experiences from the classroom at the largest high school east of the Mississippi.
  • Special mention to Chalk, where 2 of the 3 team members just graduated from the Stanford LDT Program and began incubating their idea as part of their masters project.

I’m excited to see these teams continue their process and am optimistic about their potential to make a real impact on education.

Hacking the Future of Learning

What an awesome weekend! In partnership with Mike Lee, co-founder of edShelf, and local educator Rob Rinsky, I hosted my first education-focused hackathon, RemixEd K12, at 500 Startups in Mountain View, CA. Mike posted some great reflections on the edShelf blog, sharing more about hackathons in general and some of the questions and challenges we faced.  There are more pictures and information about hosting RemixEd in your community on TeacherSquare. I storified some of the tweets and you can see them all at #RemixEdK12.

As I continue to develop my scope and vision for TeacherSquare, it is clear that hosting events like these to bring together teachers, students, designers and developers to think about challenges and opportunities in the K12 space are so valuable to all involved. This quote really captures the educator experience beautifully.

“I felt like such a student. I learned so much this weekend.”

The teachers were thrilled to have a platform to share their ideas, collaborate on the very early stages of product development and then present their findings to the diverse audience. (I’m always surprised at how teachers, who spend their lives speaking in front of groups, get nervous addressing crowds outside the typical school environment 🙂 I’m convinced that if TeacherSquare can get more educators to participate in events like this they will be inspired to bring these new practices and a culture of experimentation to their schools and classrooms.

Not surprising, the students were the best part. They jumped right into the activities and their energy (as well as a Saturday afternoon zumba break) kept the teams going.  While this was a successful inaugural event, of course we have a growing list of how we can improve for next time.  For one, I’d definitely like to be more explicit about students sharing their ideas in advance and also include them as coaches and/or judges. (And there were clearly some avoidable tech and presentation issues.)

Audrey Watters, a friend and well known edtech blogger, showed her support throughout the weekend and dives deeper in the role and potential for these types of events in her post on Designing Education Hackathons. I optimistically see this collaborative learning format as part of the classroom of the future. This type of event is the embodiment of project-based learning (PBL) and I’d love to explore how to bring elements of this directly into schools and districts.

I’d like to express tremendous gratitude to our panel of judges, all education practitioners themselves, who not only provided feedback to the teams but also helped coach Mike, Rob and I on how to continue creating opportunities like this for teachers and students. And we couldn’t have done any of this without the generous support from our sponsors, especially New Schools Venture Fund.

We are continuing to gather feedback and there is so much more to share, so keep an eye out for a follow-up post on best practices for hosting an education-focused hackathon. This is just the beginning and as we collectively explore the potential of the flipped classroom I hope others will think about bringing this format of project-based learning to their schools. I’m thrilled to see all the enthusiasm to carry this work forward. Onward!

Authentic Edtech Incubation

It was a full house this afternoon at the Learning, Design and Technology (LDT) Expo at the Stanford School of Education. I was not at all surprised by the size and engagement of the crowd given the impressive quality of the teams and their final presentations. The groups took on a diverse set of learning challenges, ranging from learning math through music, addressing learning needs for children on the autism spectrum, skills retraining through the Kinect to religion and sex education. I was honored to attend the morning presentations as a reviewer, specifically for Handily and The Presence Project, and it was interesting to see the details behind several of the projects.

What was most inspiring for me was to see how this program has evolved, especially over the past few years. Karin Forssell, Director of the LDT Program (now referred to as the MA in Edtech), captured the essence of the program with her thoughtful closing message as she officially launches this cohort into the world. She stated that the challenge with education technology is to start with the learning goals, push assumptions on what is possible and what we expect from current technology tools to design solutions focused on the learners first and then incorporate the technology.

Kudos to the Stanford School of Ed for creating this environment that is incubating authentic edtech solutions, focusing on prototyping various approaches to specific learning challenges, grounded in research and classroom practice and then thinking about potential for commercializing those efforts.  I think a few of these teams have particularly promising ideas and I hope they will continue building on this initial work. Like most incubator programs, some teams are on track to be more successful (and marketable) than others and that’s typical.

For today, they’ve all launched and for that they should be extremely proud.

RemixEd K12: Mixing up #edtech

As part of my new initiative, TeacherSquare, I’m super excited to be partnering with edShelf to host our first educator focused hackathon, RemixEd: Build Tools for Schools which will take place Aug 4-5th at 500 Startups in Mountain View, CA. Building on the vision of previous Teacher Tech Talks, this event is designed specifically for teachers, as part of a larger effort to bring the educator and education startup communities closer together. Only current classroom teachers can submit ideas and Mike Lee, co-founder of edShelf, has been working with them to set realistic goals for what is possible to ‘hack’ together over the course of ~2 days. We have invited developers, designers and students (yay!) who are passionate about building tools for schools to form teams around the educators and their ideas and spend the weekend building something together. We have an impressive line-up of teachers as judges, as well as some of the best edtech entrepreneurs offering their support as coaches.

While I’m sure some interesting (and useful) tools will be created during the event, what really excites me is co-creating this experience to connect educators to the startup world, giving them an opportunity to inhabit a typical startup incubator space for a couple days and get exposure to their lingo and processes. This is a community-driven event and we are still looking for a couple more sponsors to support these efforts. If you’re interested in helping bridge the educator and edtech divide and getting involved as a sponsor, just let me know.

Some of our favorite edtech bloggers are going to stop by and I will be sure to share the highlights in a follow-up post. You can find out more about events like this @TeacherSquare and follow the progress over the weekend using #RemixEdk12.

Edtech Handbook Comes to Life

Our K12 education system is extremely complicated. I have spoken with a ton of entrepreneurs who are excited by the challenge of building products to help improve teaching, learning, or the school experience itself, but don’t really understand the nuances that make this a particularly tricky space. I have been thinking about compiling this resource for a while and am happy to see this first draft come to life.

An early version of VentureHacks for Education, the Edtech Handbook is designed to demystify the process of launching an education startup, specifically for companies focused on the K12 market. (I would like to add insights from tackling problems in Higher Ed as well, but for now I personally feel that space has gotten quite a bit of attention lately.) This guide is a collection of tightly curated articles from edtech entrepreneurs sharing their direct experience overcoming specific challenges in designing, launching and distributing products for teachers, schools and districts.

This is a community effort and I’d like to thank the early contributors for sharing their expertise. This space is evolving fast. There is no ‘right‘ way to be an entrepreneur. To make this resource truly useful, I encourage this community to comment on these initial perspectives and invite more education entrepreneurs to become contributors. If you want to see an article on a particular topic and/or contribute to this resource, just contact me.

I hope you find this helpful and would love to hear your feedback!