Beyond Your Basic Hackathon

#BeyondHacks Teams

Students preparing for final presentations

At first glance, the Beyond Hacks event this past weekend at Facebook looks like your typical hackathon. Groups of young hackers chatting and plugging away on projects surrounded by energizing music and pizza. (Lots of pizza.) However, when you take a look behind the scenes, you quickly realize it was a rather unique gathering. The entire event was organized by a group of high-schoolers from East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy as part of their participation in the BeyondZ Program.

BeyondZ, which sprouted from the social innovation efforts of Teach For America, was founded by Aimee Eubanks Davis and is currently piloting programs in Washington DC, New York, LA and the Bay Area. Eubanks Davis shared that her passion for this work comes from a deep motivation to,

“ensure our nation’s next set of leaders can emerge from anywhere.”

She went on to describe the vision behind their programs is to create a “suite of opportunities that a young person needs, beyond traditional academics, to take some of the pressure off of schools to do it all.”

FB Tour

Taking a break to tour the FB campus

Building more than Apps

The Bay Area program, lead by Miki Heller, focuses on in-depth leadership and coding curriculum. The students develop leadership skills and build their networks through learning how to code their own website, connecting with popular tech companies, and creating a student community that will hear from experts in the industry from across the country.

Organizing the hackathon was the perfect way to combine their new-found passion for coding with developing those leadership and communication skills. When brainstorming possible locations, one of the organizers, Jurgen Arvayo, felt the answer was right in their backyard. “We should do it at Facebook,” suggested Arvayo, who was inspired by his participation in the Facebook Academy program the previous summer.

Under guidance from Heller, as well as Leah Weiser and Aly Mejia, two Beyond Z volunteers from Stanford, the student organizers, Cristian Jiminez, Paulino Lopez and Carlos Garcia, secured the space, contacted local vendors to donate the food and recruited over 50 attendees.

Trio from Buchanan High School, Fresno

Trio from Buchanan High School, Fresno

Building Authentic Experiences

I was especially impressed by a trio who made the trek all the way from Fresno. Johnny Tiscareno, Rahul Bekal, and Rushil Mehra won honorable mention for building a snapchat-like website that allows you to take a photo and share it instantly even if you don’t have a smartphone. They had a sense of what to expect having made the similar drive to attend CodeDay in SF this past May.”We don’t have things like this back home. This event has been better since the group is smaller and we actually get more time with the mentors,” shared Mehra. Another female participant echoed similar feelings, saying that,

“the best part of these events is getting into small groups and working on something over a sustained period of time. The fact that we are at Facebook is just a bonus.”

A promising sentiment for schools and libraries that are trying to create a coding culture.

The projects were designed around real-world challenges. The winning team built a fully functioning app that lets you take a photo of a receipt, categorize it, and email it to someone for reimbursement purposes, while second place created a Chrome extension to enhance functionality for School Loop, a website that allows students to track their grades.

The Next Rev

Moving beyond the hackathon, most (but not all) of the EPAPA students will spend their summer honing their javascript skills through a free summer coding program, CodeCamp. In designing the vision for Embark Labs I am constantly thinking about how we can create authentic experiences for students to learn relevant tech skills beyond just a super-long Saturday here and there. Opportunities for students to not only participate, but lead as well, and weekend events like this illustrate how engaging this can be for students.

These experiences are essential because as Eubanks Davis captures so simply, “education as we know it is not enough.”
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The BeyondZ team would like to express special appreciation to Facebook for their generosity in hosting the event, the engineers who volunteered their time (particularly Brian Rosenthal) and for donating four Macbook Pros as the prizes for the winning team.

 

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Creating Learning Innovation Hubs

Building Bridges Between Educators and Edtech

SVEF NSVF

The Silicon Valley Education Foundation (SVEF) and New Schools Venture Fund (NSVF) Seed Fund have constantly been exploring ways to deepen relationships and meaningful exchanges between educators and the edtech community. With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, they teamed up to launch the iHub program earlier this year. (Many regions are testing different approaches with similar programs being piloted in NYC and San Mateo County.) Curious to hear how these efforts were progressing and provide insights for others trying to connect these communities, I recently caught up with Ritu Tandon and Jennifer Li who are leading the efforts for the SVEF team.

 

While the broader goal is bridging the gap between educators and edtech, the more specific mission of this pilot is to “facilitate collaboration and product feedback for more effective and impactful edtech tools,” according to SVEF.
iHub Pilot Group

Pilot Group: Educators and entrepreneurs focused on middle school math

Pilot Group
The four teams and eight fellows, all with a focus on middle-school math, are approximately half-way through the pilot now, capturing results through case studies, video reflections and measuring student engagement.  The iHub team was very thoughtful in their approach to identify and pair up the educators and entrepreneurs. Once the eight fellows were identified, their school and classroom details were shared with the NSVF team who looked to their portfolio and beyond to identify the startups.  “In selecting the startups it was important to look at the stage of development of their tool, would their product work on the platform/devices for the schools they had chosen, as well as if they had rich content for teachers to delve in to,” Tandon explains. She goes on to share, “one of the main selection criteria was the ability of the entrepreneurs to work with teachers.” The group of semi-finalists went through a ‘shark-tank’ style competition where the winners were chosen by a panel of school administrators, educators and business leaders.

 

With the selection process complete the match-making began, pairing teachers with the startups in regionalized groups to meet regularly, mentor each other and talk about product implementation feedback and strategies. The pilot culminates in May with a collaborative session to reflect back on the experience and redesign certain aspects of the program to be implemented for the fall cohort. Tandon shares they have been “extremely cautious about jumping to any assumptions about impact on student achievement because the pilot is only three months long and classrooms differ on pacing and structure.”

 

In designing the program, there were a few key factors that have led to the positive results so far, including compensating the educators (each receive a $1750 stipend), incorporating their feedback in iterating on the pilot and the timing of the selection process. “We were looking for educators that had more experience teaching, previously worked with tech and excited to try new things,” shares Tandon. She adds, “it was also essential that the schools we chose have capacity to support this type of work and have a philosophy for embracing tech in their classroom.”
blendspace screenshot
One of the fellows, Gabriela Rios, clearly embodied this philosophy, as she was already open to experimenting with new tools. (One of her students learned about Knowre, an adaptive math platform, while attending a MouseSquad conference and spoke so passionately about this product that they decided to pilot it in their classroom.) That culture set the perfect stage for a successful iHub experience implementing Blendspace to organize content and create personalized lesson plans for students. Rios shares that using this tool has improved her ability to flip her classroom more effectively, which “allowed me to have more conversations with my students, more often. This experience has made my students more comfortable with math and has taught them to be more independent and proactive around their learning.”

 

In reflecting back on the experience so far, the main critique Rios shares is how she wished fellows were more involved in the first round of the selection process. She explains that, “the (judging) panel was impressive but many of them are not in the classroom and it would have been useful to have someone who is in the classroom give their input.”

 

Beyond Silicon Valley
When efforts like this see pockets of positive results we often think about how that can scale to other communities. Many startups (BetaMatch and TinkerEd are the two most recent that come to mind) have explored how software can possibly support this type of match making to bridge the educator and edtech divide, however no one has been successful, yet. SVEF and NSVF clearly see value in the early results and are looking for ways to scale this type of program by emphasizing the local and centralized approach. According to Li, “rather than run the program ourselves in other locales, our thought is to engage others and provide support for them to execute this model. This is similar to our approach in scaling our Elevate [Math] program to Alameda, Contra Costa and San Mateo counties over the past two years.”

 

The team has been very happy with the progress so far. “For me it has been really exciting to see the community reaction to this project as it is something we’ve been trying to launch and facilitate for a while,” says Li. “One area we are looking to improve the next time around is to draw from a more diverse pool of teachers.”

 

Hear that, Bay Area educators? If you’re a local educator or edtech entrepreneur and want to get involved you can apply for the next round of the fellowship (applications open later in April) and attend the next pitch event slated for this summer.

Creating a Culture of i-Can

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.

WebOFMain2

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.

No VC, No Problem: How TeachBoost Built a Sustainable Business

A Successful Bootstrapping Journey

offsite_team1
Upon graduating from Imagine K12’s Winter 2012 program, TeachBoostfounder and CEO, Jason DeRoner, was faced with the challenge that most early-stage founders face: spend time raising money or continue building the product?

His meetings with VCs on Sand Hill Road were unfruitful, but he did learn one thing: “I realized pretty quickly that investors who aren’t familiar with the K12 space were looking for consumer type growth and not necessarily revenue…We assumed showing a bit of revenue was our ticket to investment when really it was about hockey stick curves and big markets.” Many investors suggested that he circumvent the cumbersome process of selling to schools.

But avoiding schools is a bad way to go about building an education product. And DeRoner knew he had to get in front of principals and teachers in order for TeachBoost, an observation platform that helps schools and districts differentiate PD for educators, to make the greatest impact. So he decided to return to his hometown in New York City in June 2012 and bootstrap his way to a self-sustaining business.

Doubling Down on the Customer

Many startups, especially in education, strive for the grassroots upsell (sometimes referred to as the “Yammer model”) where early adopters influence higher decision-makers to purchase the product. This model has so far worked for TeachBoost, whose target customers are principals. As more schools in a district sign up, district officials create and manage professional learning communities across schools using the tool. From an initial 8 pilot schools in 2011-2012, TeachBoost has grown its customer base to hundreds of schools in NYC and other districts (including six KIPP regions) across 17 states. And yes, these are paying customers.

“The intra-district mentoring and coaching that TeachBoost enables is very powerful” for increasing exposure, according to Jillian Lubow, the Director of Marketing and Educational Partnerships who formerly worked at Wireless Generation and Virtual Nerd. “We’ve seen principals literally drag their colleagues to our booth at various events to talk about how great the product is and exactly how TeachBoost is addressing a real problem for them.”

TeachBoost also turned to partners for help to expand its network and outreach. This summer, it worked with the Arkansas-based Principal Centerto launch the Instructional Leadership Challenge. The idea was based on the notion that school leaders want to be in the classroom more often but need tools, skills and time to make that a reality.

Through the Challenge, the Principal Center offered a variety of PD sessions to the selected participants and TeachBoost complemented that with free product training and licenses to their full product offering. The results were impressive. In just 2 months 550 schools participated, conducting hundreds of observations–with one school racking up an impressive 110 observations.

“This type of collaboration is a fantastic way to build national exposure while keeping with our customer-focused strategy and supporting school leaders who are looking to improve their teacher evaluation process,” said Lubow. “They immediately see the value, which makes them extremely willing to pay and share with others.”

All Hands on Deck

Another aspect that keeps the team customer-focused is that no one is 100% focused on sales. TeachBoost embodies a hybrid-role approach where everyone on the seven-member team spends time with both the product and customer, fostering collaboration and creativity.

The decision to have everyone spend time with schools established a deeply customer-centric culture, says DeRoner. “We spoke with principals day in and day out and the schools we worked with from the beginning became our advisory board. We ran prototypes and worked side-by-side to refine the product. That level of engagement drove this authentic customer evangelism that has fueled our growth. It is that authentic word-of-mouth marketing from trusted members of our principals’ networks that drives sales and adoptions in schools.”

Adds Lubow: “We have a very clear vision on how we can help schools and that sincere focus comes across very strong,” she adds. I’m not sure if we’d have that luxury if we had raised capital from the start and had to answer to multiple stakeholders.”

Overcoming the Bootstrapping Blues

But bootstrapping is not without its challenges. DeRoner says trying to run a company solely off revenue is “a bit like playing chicken with [financial] runway.” Lubow admits that her sales efforts are hampered by lack of resources: “It would be ideal to meet all my customers in person, but since that is not an option, we’ve developed some creative ways to train and connect with our customers.”

On the marketing side, there is no budget for PR, events, or videos, so all those efforts take longer. Lubow adds, “Given our customer base, it would be great to have one or two more folks on the team supporting marketing so that we can deepen our level of engagement with teachers.” Teacher engagement is a critical piece given the stigma around teacher observations and evaluations.

Despite limited resources, TeachBoost has built a network not only in the U.S. but overseas as well. In October, it received the GREAT Tech Award, an international startup competition organized by UK Trade & Investment that will help bring their platform to U.K. schools.

Looking ahead, DeRoner is thinking about giving Sand Hill a second go. “The thinking was not to avoid fundraising forever, but rather spend the first year or so focused on product and customers,” says DeRoner. “We’ve been able to grow and sustain a team of 7 and could continue to bootstrap, but now that our fundamentals are in place we’re thinking about ways to strategically step on the gas pedal, and that could include outside capital.”

(This article was also published by my friends over at EdSurge.)

The Meet Education Project

Kudos to Nick DiNardo, member of the Pearson Online Learning team, on launching the Meet Education Project. This podcast series showcases educators and edtech innovators from around the country and I’m honored he invited me to share my experiences building bridges in the edtech community through TeacherSquare.  In our ~30 min chat we discuss the edtech ecosystem in the Bay Area and beyond, highlighting some of my favorite players Imagine K12, 4.0 Schools, EdTechRI and more.

MeetEducationProjectLogo

While podcasts may seem dated, I am actually a fan and find they are a great way to directly hear from some of the thought leaders in this space.  My favorite is Audrey Watters’s Hack Education series with Steve Hargadon, which I hope they’ll bring back sometime soon. (Their most recent one is from Feb 11, 2013.)  I put one on during a run and find it’s a great way to learn from others doing inspiring work in education. If you have any feedback for Nick or me, send it our way.

Building a ‘Perspectful’ Edtech Ecosystem in India

teach her to read SA copyrighted

India’s education technology industry is poised for explosive growth over the next few years. Over the past 20 years, India has enjoyed an annual average GDP growth rate of 5.8%. Although recent months have seen a slowdown, analysts estimate a growth increase of up to 7.5% within a year. The mobile industry is slated to be the second largest market by 2016, and half of its 1.2 billion people are under the age of 25.

So if you want to make an impact in education at scale, India is the the place to be. Just ask serial entrepreneur John Danner, who co-founded Rocketship Education and devoted a 4-part series on his blog outlining the insights from his travels there last winter.

While the opportunities seem exciting, there are many challenges in connecting Indian startups with investors around the world. Enter Perspectful, a newly launched advisory firm that helps investors make more meaningful and effective edtech investments. I recently caught up with one of the founders, Shabnam Aggarwal, to learn more about her take on the Indian education ecosystem.

What drew you to working in education in India?

I am a Bay Area native, and after studying electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon and working stateside, I realized there were more opportunities to make an impact abroad. In 2008 I moved to Cambodia to dive into the world of social impact. A year later I moved to India to work with a professor from Carnegie Mellon to build English games on low-cost mobile phones for children in rural areas.

This is when I became obsessed with the potential of technology to make an impact on student learning. In April 2012 I joined Pearson in India as the Head of Strategic Partnerships, where I spent a year working with local edtech entrepreneurs to determine how Pearson could support their work. During that time I crossed paths with Josh Engel, who became my co-founder.

What is the problem that you’re trying to solve?

Perspectful wants to channel more investment dollars to promising entrepreneurs in India by enabling more risk-tolerant foreign investors to enter the market and make an impact. Our efforts are focused on 3 core areas:

  • Sourcing: Identify education ventures that increase access and offer high quality learning opportunities

  • Diligence: Align and mobilize capital

  • Mentorship: Provide assistance to entrepreneurs on content, team, product, processes and technology

What are the challenges for edtech investors in India?

One of the biggest problems is finding the right entrepreneurs that meet their investment philosophy and are at the right stage for funding. Through numerous conversations with investors who were curious about the Indian edtech market, a common concern was being able to identify and support the right entrepreneurs, given their limited travel to this region. And even after the investment, support for entrepreneurs require more hands-on attention that can’t come from Silicon Valley.

From our research, there are hundreds of investors for whom “education in India” is a portfolio they’d like to pursue over the next five years. We’ve personally spoken with at least 50 of them, with a good majority looking to make investments this year.

The most well-known education investment firm in India is Sandeep Aneja’s Kaizen, which focuses on later stage ventures to mitigate risk. The latest philanthropic fund is Ashish Dhawan’s Central Square Foundation, which solely focuses on nonprofit ventures. These two firms are just the tip of the iceberg when you think about the increase in VC investments and actual dollars going into education over the past decade.

The edtech ecosystem is just starting to develop. There have been a few social entrepreneurship pitchfests, and Pearson’s Affordable Learning Fund, in partnership with Village Capital, just kicked off the first education-focused incubator.

What is one of your current projects?

In April 2013, Atlanta-based Gray Ghost Ventures First Light Fund invested in Sudiksha to build a chain of affordable private preschools. They then decided to hire us to help scale that model to support another 50+ schools. Building, recruiting and creating processes for that type of growth is a daunting task, so Josh is in Hyderabad right now working with that team.

What do you feel are the main challenges to the effective adoption of education technologies in India?

India’s education technology ecosystem today is where the U.S. was about 15 years ago. We don’t have centralized systems for teachers and educators to connect, streamline systems and share best practices.

In terms of actual tech adoption, the challenges aren’t that different from any other region in the world. Currently, almost all the attention is focused on hardware sales–mainly Android tablets/phones–and there is very little software or programmatic support to ensure effective implementation. There is huge potential for products on the Android platform for teachers, parents, administrators to manage and improve learning outcomes.

Which edtech companies have caught your attention out there?

TutorVista is heralded as the darling of edtech in India. It was one of the first Indian edtech companies to expand services to U.S. and Europe, and in 2009 was acquired by Pearson for $127 million. This acquisition also included the subsidiary company, Edurite, a school management company that provides private schools with services to revamp infrastructure, technology, and teacher training.

On the flip side, all the buzz and growth potential don’t always lead to positive outcomes. The case in example is Educomp, which went public in 2006 but has spent the last 5 years in a downward spiral. Despite the fact that the adoption numbers for its most touted edtech product, Smart Class, grew from 100 to 6,550 schools in 2012, net profit margins have fallen 61% in the last four years. The stock has fallen 91% over the last three years. This has created quite a few disgruntled schools, parents–and investors.

What we’re seeing today are smaller efforts targeted at parents-as-payers, such as after-school tutoring products, informal “educational” (often used more for marketing than actual learning) gaming apps and test prep for IIT entrance exams.

Lastly, where exactly do you see the brightest spots for innovation in edtech in India?

The areas that excite me most from an entrepreneurial perspective are the unregulated markets: preschools (a $2 billion market projected to grow at an annual rate of 40-45%), supplemental tools for K-12 classrooms, tutoring, assessments and test prep.

Over the next few years, I think we will see services that empower students to play a more active role in their learning process. We will see more and more students in India gaining access, via mobile devices, to tools like Coursera and Khan Academy that are better tailored to the Indian culture and context.

It’s an insanely exciting time to be at the front line with such innovative entrepreneurs. I’m meeting entrepreneurs who are able to put adaptive learning tools in the hands of poor children at just $2/month. And companies such as FunToot can show a 20% improvement on learning outcomes at that cost. I don’t know anywhere else in the world you can achieve that kind of cost-benefit ratio in education for the poor.

Learn more about Shabnam and follow her on Twitter @shubbless.

This article also appeared on EdSurge.

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.

Kirti & DesignDuo

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.

Adam Bellow: Journey of a Teacher turned Entrepreneur

One educator’s gritty journey to turn a pain point into a product and company. Profile #3 in the Teacherpreneur Spotlight Series that I’ve produced in collaboration with EdSurge.

Adam at Desk

“I never thought I would be a teacher”

Adam Bellow decided early on in life that he wasn’t going to be a teacher, even though both his parents were respected educators. As a self-proclaimed ‘nerd,’ Adam started programming BASIC when he was 7 years old on an Apple IIe.

But life plans aren’t set in stone. After completing film school with a minor in sociology in 2003 he was an assistant teacher at The Churchill School (a school in Manhattan for students with language-based learning disabilities). In 2005, Adam took over teaching a class, “Technology in the Special Ed Classroom,” to 22 eager graduate students at Hunter College. Over the next couple of years, he started to piece together a “terrible catalogue of sites using iWeb,” in his words, and in 2007 the first version of eduTecher was born. “I thought of it simply as a place to organize resources for my class,” Bellow remembers, “and then when I eventually saw hits coming in from Australia and China I realized was meeting a need for a larger community.” His entrepreneurial spirit began to blossom.

Evolution of eduClipper

eduClipper Screenshot

The countless positive testimonials motivated Bellow to continue eduTecher as a side project while he worked full time with a series of teaching jobs, technology training positions, and as Director of Technology for the College Board Schools. In 2009 Bellow launched one of the first edtech iPhone apps, eduTecher Backpack, and the momentum continued. “I was curating the web for educators and it was cool to see the community organically grow.”

In 2011 he added a custom social network component and began spending more and more time building in new features. “I thought about what it would mean to work on this full time. I put out a survey to my edtech friends to get their input on what aspects of eduTecher I should rebuild and possibly even build a business around.”

The feedback was overwhelming and he learned that what educators valued most was the simple, visual curation element that eduTecher had offered. Around this time, Pinterest was gaining popularity, which led him to think about how he could optimize the “clipboard” experience specifically for educators.

Bellow built initial mockups for the rechristened eduClipper in Keynote and in early 2012 outsourced the project to developers in India through Elance. He convinced his wife to let them put some money into this project and began working night owl hours to test out his idea. “It was rough…On a typical day, I’d wake up around 3 am to work on my startup until 5 am, before I left for a full day of work. Then once I’d tucked the kids in at night I’d jump back online. I was sleeping  around 3 hours a night and it was not sustainable.”

However, all that hustling paid off by June 2012. He had hoped that the first iteration of the site, intended to be a proof of concept, would attract 200 users. Instead, he got 20,000 a month. He realized he was onto something and decided to pursue the project full time.

He was blown away. “The number of accounts created and positive buzz around the potential was a clear indication that I had to explore the possibilities. I made the transition from educator to entrepreneur; however I had no knowledge of startups beyond watching The Social Network and religiously reading TechCrunch and other related blogs.” Connecting with the growing edtech community was a significant driver in his success and after a serendipitous encounter with Jeff O’Hara, co-founder of Edmodo, during a trip to Chicago, Bellow was more motivated than ever to build his own product and company.

Bellow is currently gearing up for a major re-launch of eduClipper slated for June and expand his user base beyond the 25,000 that he currently supports; at last count, there were 16,000 on the waitlist.

Show Me the Money

Balancing his schedule between teaching and product development was grueling. But for Bellow, nothing prepared him for the plunge into the fundraising world in the New York venture capital scene. “At first it felt like a waste of time,” says Bellow, who felt awkward revealing that he didn’t have all the answers. Over time, he became more comfortable going to investors for advice after having met many who supported his vision for change. And he realized, “who wants you to succeed more than your investors?” 

Bellow is getting ready to close his seed round which includes some luminaries in the edtech space.

Lessons Learned

Consistent with the Valley’s spirit to embrace failure, Bellow is quick to admit that he made a ton of mistakes along the way. “The trick is to learn quickly and keep going.” In thinking back on what helped eduClipper come to life, Bellow offers these few bits of advice:

  • Focus on real pain points. “Don’t just set out to build something cool. If I set out to build Pinterest for educators that would suck. Start with a real problem and understand that pain point that you’re trying to resolve.”

  • Community is at the core of everything. “Even before there was a real product, I focused on talking to people and being accessible. Growing my network in the startup space, especially around edtech, has been invaluable especially fumbling through our failures.”

  • Education is about people. “Our core values, as you can see from the sign on our door, is that teachers and students come first. If we started from the perspective of trying to make a ton of money it would never work.”

Fellow educators often ask Bellow if he misses the classroom, to which he replies, “I still think of myself as a teacher. I train a ton of people in schools all the time. I miss doing that legitimate work with kids, but I think that what we are developing is designed to help kids and teachers get results everyday.”

Adam will be the keynote speaker at ISTE in San Antonio this June. You can follow him on Twitter at @AdamBellow.

Teacherpreneur Spotlight: Celebrating Innovative Educators

(This is the first post in a Teacherpreneur Spotlight series I’m writing for EdSurge.)

Lynbrook Tech Menu Day

Tech Menu Day at Lynbrook High School

How do you spot a teacherpreneur? They are the secret force that will lead to true educational reform, yet very little attention is paid to these important agents of change.

As we rethink the future of education much of the buzz, especially in edtech, is focused on the technology and tools. Very little of the conversation is about the individuals using these tech tools to transform this complex system. However, as we all make big bets on what is going to improve teaching and learning for all students, a significant factor will be how the role of educators will evolve and adapt to match the energy of new learning environments and methodologies.

So who are we talking about, exactly? The teachers on the front lines in the classroom who are looking for online tools to help with their math lessons? Or the tech coordinators and specialists who help decide which ones to use? Or those who, after many frustrating years in the classroom, decide to take it upon themselves to build the tools that they wish existed? And what about the librarian?

MindShift’s Tina Barseghian wrote a great post back in 2011 asking the very same question: “What the Heck is a Teacherpreneur?” Barnett Berry, who founded the Center for Teaching Quality and was one of the first to use the term “teacherpreneur,” has a book out later this summer,Teacherpreneurs: Innovative Teachers Who Lead But Don’t Leave, that focuses specifically on identifying these talented educators and empowering them with opportunities to be entrepreneurial while maintaining a strong role in the classroom.

And over the past few years I’ve met some incredibly inspiring ones myself. This was one of the reasons that I launched TeacherSquare, to support entrepreneurial educators and improve the resources available for them to pursue innovative approaches while working within the confines of the K-12 system. There are other similar teacherpreneur communities popping up around the country–some of which you may have heard about already on EdSurge, such as the Digital Harbor Foundation in Baltimore and EdUnderground in Rhode Island (which I covered in my previous post.)

Too often the conversation around education reform focuses on all that is “broken.” But I hope to shift that conversation by celebrating positive change that local educators are cultivating in their own communities. In this series, we’ll explore profiles of teacherpreneurs who are actively taking matters into their own hands, and showcase their talents and energy to encourage others to join the mix.

Keep an eye out for our first profile in the coming weeks and maybe you’ll discover the teacherpreneur in you!

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.

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