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.

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.

LaunchEdu: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The edtech movement got a boost of good old fashioned Silicon Valley energy at Jason Calcanis’s Launch Edu & Kids conference this past week held at Microsoft in Mountain View, CA.  Calcanis, an entrepreneur, blogger and internet personality behind This Week in Startups (TWiST), hosted his first Launch conference back in Feb 2011 which is designed to showcase unannounced startups. Edtech is definitely trending in the startup scene and there have been several events focused on “education and kids” already this year. I’ve been to quite a few of them, so given that perspective here’s my breakdown on the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The Good

Marshall Tuck’s keynote was the highlight of the event. Tuck is the Executive Director of Partnership for Los Angeles schools, an independent nonprofit that works with the City of LA and LAUSD to turnaround LA’s lowest performing schools. He opened the event sharing his experiences from working on the ground in some of the toughest schools in Watt and South & East LA, highlighting the importance of teacher collaboration and setting an entrepreneurial culture that embraces experimentation. “Risk is required to achieve change,” and he wasn’t shy with his praise for ST Math, BetterLesson and a few other tools that have helped his team deliver on their mission.

Given that praise, he also touched on the key element that is often missing from too many edtech startup demos, which is the training and support required to successfully integrate tech tools into learning environments. “Early support (with implementation) is just as important as the software.” Amen!


The Bad

Any effort to bring together a group of individuals focused on providing better tools and resources for our schools and kids in general is a huge step in the right direction. However, the integration of the educator and student perspective felt very superficial. I was hoping that Tuck’s energetic keynote would set the tone for the rest of the event, however, very little focus was placed on how some of the companies highlighted were solving real problems that educators face in the classroom. While Jason and his team made a clear effort to invite teachers and kids to the event, their perspectives were included in what felt like an inauthentic manner. Adding an educator to the judging panel on Day 2 was clearly an after-thought and asking kids to come up and share feedback on pitches in exchange for toys/swag just felt a bit off.

Also, several of the companies were hardly early-stage or unannounced startups, which felt a bit odd presenting with younger startups just coming out of stealth mode.

The Ugly

The deeper issue is that so few conferences and events focused on education even try to engage the educator community. So kudos to Jason and his team for a valid attempt, but it was in no means what we really need from events that are trying to connect educators and edtech startups to create environments fostering true user-centered design. The fact that the event was sold out illustrates the significant interest in this type of gathering, but if we really want to see edtech companies building products people want, we need to include those people (aka educators, parents, learners) in all aspects of the ecosystem in meaningful and authentic ways.

Bridging the tech and education divide is a complex issue and I believe this tweet captures the essence perfectly.

While I keep telling myself I’m going to stop attending events like this, I am off to ISTE later this month and still optimistic about efforts that claim to bring educators and edtech entrepreneurs together to design real solutions for our kids. I’m excited to focus my efforts more on bridging these communities… and more on that soon!

Who will Transform Education?

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

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

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

So, who will transform education? All of us.

Imagine that!

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

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

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

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