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.

Taking Educators Beyond HourOfCode

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As many of you probably know, this week (Dec 7-13th) is Computer Science Education Week. Fueled by Code.org, students and teachers around the world are encouraged to participate in various HourOfCode activities.

Given our passion for empowering educators, we chose to commemorate HourOfCode by hosting a workshop for teachers and the feedback we received was inspiring.

It was fun to implement what I learned in my classroom the next day. The children enjoyed collaboratively working on the 3 x 3 grid prior to engaging in the Hour of Code (tutorials).
– 3rd grade teacher
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In order to get more kids coding we must provide educators with resources and support to introduce computer science activities into their classrooms.

It would be great to see a more pedagogical approach to applying CS into the classroom. By scaffolding and integrating the subject into a unit based approach it would be a lot more effective for student learning and curriculum delivery. This currently is not really happening with anything I see out there right now.
– K8 educator
Embark Labs curriculum and workshops are designed directly in response to this feedback we hear over and over from educators. Our participants received this handout that highlights the free, web-based tools (such as Lightbot, Blockly & Scratch) that we use to reinforce math concepts.

If you know any K8 educators looking for professional development and support bringing computer science to their students, please introduce them to me.
And continue the #CSEdWeek celebrations with Embark Labs at our Adafest Family Festival at the Computer History Museum on Sun Dec 13th.

 

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.”
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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.

Can After-School Programs Bring Blended Learning to the Masses?

BL at CSC

McNair Middle School’s 1:1 experience

It is clear that school is not the sole provider in a community’s educational system and after-school programs play an integral role in extending the learning day for many students. Given the flexibility around content and program model, out-of-school time (OST) providers often have the unique ability to innovate more quickly than traditional public schools. These innovative after-school programs can drive better blended learning adoption, bringing effective personalized learning opportunities to students beyond just those in charter schools

I witnessed this first hand during my time at Citizen Schools, a nonprofit founded back in 1995 with the mission to revive the apprenticeship model and bring relevant, project-based learning opportunities to students after school. In California, they have forged strong partnerships with prominent tech companies such as Google and Cisco to introduce students to web development, creating Android apps and the BizWorld entrepreneurship program. 

Tinkering with the Model

Over the past few years Citizen Schools has experimented with various blended learning approaches, drawing on best practices from tech-focused charter schools to bring personalized instruction to more students. In California, pilots began in 2010 using  TenMarks and Khan Academy during homework help sessions. Those early informal trials showed the potential for these online tools to augment math instruction without it feeling like ‘more school.’ This year Citizen Schools is continuing with pilots at two sites, Ronald McNair Academy in East Palo Alto and Bronx Writing Academy in New York, with plans to expand pilots to approximately ten schools this fall.

Leadership, at the school and program level, is integral to running an effective site. In launching the program at McNair this year, Citizen Schools recruited Adrian Breckel who was formerly Academic Dean at Rocketship, a leading blended learning charter network. Breckel has worked tirelessly with Ravenswood School District and McNair’s Principal, Jen Gravem, who have been cautiously optimistic about how the Citizen Schools team can help implement this model.

iReady

Let Me Upgrade You

The shift to blended learning at McNair has been in the works for years. In 2011 the school received a School Improvement Grant (SIG) from the Department of Ed, which they used to fund a major technology upgrade which included going 1:1 and and installing state of the art projection and sound systems in each classroom. This tech overhaul also included an investment in selecting iReady as their core software system. Breckel shares that “the usage of this technology (hardware) is fairly integrated throughout the day in different ways; teachers use projectors and doc cams fairly regularly and also assign homework that includes using the districts portal and tools such as the internet and Google Docs.” However, the usage of online software is inconsistent since there is not official guideline or push on how to integrate iReady into instruction. This is where Citizen Schools stepped in to help integrate iReady and create more consistent personalized learning opportunities.

Early Signs of Success

Though the blended learning pilot just launched back in November there have been some clear signs of effectiveness. The iReady dashboard and other software tools help streamline communication between the school day and after-school educators, making it easier to meet student needs. Another benefit is teachers have more flexibility with flipped classroom approaches, including assigning homework via Google Docs, knowing the kids will have access to laptops and the network after school. (This is such an important piece of this work in communities where most kids do not have access to devices and internet at home.) Beckel is most excited about the ability for her educators to conduct small group instruction, which was a crucial aspect of Rocketship’s model.

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One class’s system for tracking time and success on program

The district recognizes that creating a culture of experimentation during the after-school hours enables them to test other approaches, such as the new computer-based assessment coming from SmarterBalance. The District’s STEM Coordinator, Robert Pronovost, who has extensive knowledge of blended learning has been a strong ally. Pronovost and colleagues from the district, Soloman Hill and Liz Gordon-Stoll, have gone above and beyond to show their support by teaching apprenticeships themselves. Hill, the Director of Technology, combined his own passions to design an apprenticeship entitled “Jedi Consulting” which allows students to learn about many new technologies and become consultants for school districts who are looking to implement technology successfully. This apprenticeship requires that students gain an intimate knowledge of different aspects of tech tools including usage, pricing, success rates, functionality, as well as assessing school needs.

This type of collaboration between the school, district and Citizen Schools is instrumental in making the program successful. This marriage between integral entities in the school system models how after-school providers can bring much-needed energy and talent to help schools create effective blended learning environments for more students.

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.

Coding in the Classroom

If you’ve been paying attention you know the latest buzz in edtech is a push to teach kids to code, with much credit for the recent surge in publicity going to Code.org and their Hour of Code efforts during Computer Science Education Week last December. However, I have been curious to see how schools are pushing past the challenge of just introducing ‘learn to code’ apps to create more authentic experiences for students to gain exposure to computer science concepts. My research recently led me to Summit Public Schools, a charter network with six schools that is already fairly well-known for their innovative blended learning practices, where all students have their own Chromebook and spend time daily progressing through their personalized learning plans.

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Beyond experimenting with blended learning approaches, Summit created their Expeditions Program to encourage more interest-based activities for students throughout the school year. Over each two month period students spend 6-weeks in their normal class schedule and then 2-weeks participating in expeditions that they select from a menu of options designed around their interests.  I sat down with Greg Ponikvar, Director of Expeditions, who manages this aspect of the curriculum across 6 schools and approximately 1700 students. He shared some details about their current STEM offerings as well as plans for the next school year. 

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Warm-up exercise– translating code screen (which in this case is the white board)

Summit currently offers a computer science elective course for 25 students at 4 of their 6 campuses through at partnership with the Miller Institute (LearningTech.org) and are looking to expand that offering by hiring their own full time CS teacher next year. Ponikvar is exploring how to require at least one week of exposure to CS related topics for each student, which includes visits to local tech companies like Google.

During my visit I got a chance to observe Sam Strasser, Platform Architect on the Summit tech team, who is currently leading an expedition to introduce students to basic web design concepts, specifically html, css and javascript. Strasser is designing the 2-week curriculum himself, leveraging free online tools like Codecademy and JS Bin with emphasis on teaching debugging strategies and getting students comfortable finding answers themselves.

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Always comes back to paper and pencil– Strasser diagramming jQuery selectors and functions

While he is the first to admit that he doesn’t have any formal teaching experience, Strasser did a great job creating an environment where the students were teaching and learning from each other. With the vast libraries of resources, a core aspect of teaching kids to code is empowering them to troubleshoot their own issues, building confidence and learning how to get unstuck.

With the growing number of free online tools like CodeHSTynker and ScratchEd, I’m hopeful we will see more efforts like this to get coding into classrooms and make it relevant for students.

Preparing Educators to Blend Learning

ZayaPDWorkshop

One of the most important aspects of creating successful blending learning environments is preparing educators to effectively manage the students, data and tools available to them. In this final post in the 3-part series on Zaya.org, Soma Vajpayee, Co-Founder & Director of Training, shares some insights on how they are identifying and preparing educators to run Zaya Learning Labs in India.

I’m baffled by how we prepare educators to create personalized, differentiated learning environments by asking them to all sit through the same 6+ hour training session and then hand them a binder of materials to review on their own. (Isn’t this exactly what we want tech to help change in our current learning processes?) Luckily more and more players in the edtech space recognize that in order for tech integration to truly impact learning outcomes, educators need to be prepared to lead and guide students through these new learning experiences.

The key to blended learning is the ongoing feedback, which I believe is actually more important than the content itself if we see the goal as developing critical thinking skills and not just  knowledge acquisition. We are wired to learn by doing and responding to immediate feedback, which educators need just as much as the students do.

Improving teacher PD is a major issue and even startups that are not specifically targeting the K12 space are taking on this challenge. Coursera has a growing number of Teacher Professional Development MOOCs geared towards educators looking to improve their understanding and instruction in their rapidly evolving classrooms. Last fall Vajpayee and I attempted to participate in their Blended Learning MOOC, but unfortunately neither of us made it past the first couple weeks. (This hints at the core issue with purely online PD as my early optimism waned quickly.) With this in mind, she recognizes that while there are numerous resources online, her ability to engage her instructors during their offline sessions is critical.

Adding to that, a growing number of educators are participating in self-directed PD, supported by tools such as Sanderling and Twitter chats that encourage educators to connect and share their experiences. Vajpayee created the Zaya Learning Community group on Facebook to organize and stimulate sharing within the Zaya community.

Vajpayee shares some of her thoughts from the past year of recruiting and training the first set of Zaya educators.

How did you recruit the educators to run the first set of Zaya Labs? 

Identifying the right educators to lead our programs is an important part of our process. Zaya has partnered with Teach For India (TFI) and other women’s empowerment programs like SNEHA and to selectively screen candidates who have the knowledge, passion and energy to pilot these early programs with us. Our most effective early educators have been TFI teachers as they are a bunch of motivated and young people who are mission aligned to improve the education standards by using technology as an accelerator.

How are you blending the training sessions for your educators?

Once we’ve identified those individuals they participate in a 3 day, in-person orientation conducted in a blended learning fashion using the rotation model. From the very beginning we model for the educators what we want them to be doing with the students and believe this is incredibly powerful for them. They themselves experience the new learning style we seek to create for the students.

The initial teacher training program was formulated based on detailed competency required for a Zaya teacher like pedagogy, technology and classroom management, which includes reviewing case studies from Rocketship, KIPP and learnings from other blended learning sites. We are also creating our own library of resources which includes research on blended learning and “how to” technology related videos and feedback/ideas videos from our advisors.

ZayaTeacherPDRubric

During first two months of implementation we invest a significant amount of time coaching and monitoring each class. Using a detailed teacher rubric (formulated by a volunteer from UCLA) we are able to measure at a micro- competency level where each teacher stands. This is done more frequently at the beginning of the session and then once more at the end.

Based on early feedback we are developing self-paced modules for the teachers to refer to on a regular basis. We are curating the content from free resources and making our own videos with expert teachers.

Even with all the high-quality content we’ve made available online we directly see the importance of face-to-face time. We meet once a quarter to hold small discussion sessions and share success stories. This is an iterative process and will be refined as the platform becomes stronger and Zaya will be more attuned to working with more diverse group of educators.

What could be done to share learnings across different sites and even programs beyond Zaya?

The real magic in blended learning is collecting and analyzing the data effectively to improve instruction, and doing this well is extremely difficult. Even at the top blended learning sites in the Bay Area I observed some of the challenges they face given all the different software tools that don’t communicate with each other.

Beyond that, are we even collecting the right data? We should think more about how data is being mined for “student interaction” with the content and how they are learning it. We need to be able to look beyond which videos students watched and the exercises they completed.

Lastly, we need a uniform tagging nomenclature followed by content providers and shared across schools, content providers and teachers that are mutually agreed upon so that students benefit. The US seems to be moving towards this with the Common Core but there is still quite a ways to go.

Beyond Tech in the Classroom to Deeper Blended Learning

This is a follow-up post to Zaya.org: Bringing Blended Learning to the Base of the Pyramid.

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Soma Vajpayee, one of the co-founders from Zaya.org made her way to the Bay Area last September to observe some top-performing blended learning schools in action and is now working to incorporate those methods into their work on the ground in India. Zaya’s approach to blended learning in India is two-fold: 1) implementing blended learning in low-cost private schools and 2) creating new blended learning centers through their Learning Labs model. She optimistically recognizes a shift taking place from simply having technology (mainly tablets) in the classroom to actual blended learning practices that include dramatically different instructional practices with deeper emphasis on improving learning outcomes.

Vajpayee shared more of her insights and what she’s bringing back with her to Mumbai.

What were your expectations for the blended learning school visits?

My goal for this trip was to observe a few blended learning classrooms in the Bay Area, as it has been the fountainhead of innovation in education technology. At Zaya we have been researching various blended learning models, such as Rocketship, KIPP and Alpha Schools and it was inspiring to meet with those school leaders and hear some insider perspectives.

We have incorporated approaches from these models into our initial teacher training sessions to introduce our educators to new instructional practices and set expectations for these new learning environments.

What were some highlights from speaking with these people who are pioneering innovative teaching/learning practices?

I was so grateful to meet with some of the thought leaders in this space, including Greg Klein from the Rogers Family Foundation and Jennie Dougherty from KIPP. Given my focus on teacher training it was great to hear some of the innovative approaches around preparing teachers for effective blended learning instruction. Many people are focusing on developing the software and devices that is fueling this movement, but we believe developing educators to run blended learning environments is the key to successful outcomes for students.

Dougherty shared that KIPP’s seen early success “by creating ‘blended learning champions’ in each school who in turn trains the other teachers in the school.” Similarly, Klein has built a strong teacher feedback loop for his network of Oakland sites, with a few blended learning experts that provide on-going tech support and coaching. While these innovative schools are experimenting with different PD models, I noticed that a scientific and structured way to measuring the teachers performance seems to be missing.

Beyond teacher preparation, John Glover, Principal of Alpha Schools, shared that his key issues are data collection from the various learning programs they are using in the different subjects and also the accurate tagging of skills and competencies to the content.

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What struck you as the biggest differences between blended learning sites in the Bay Area vs. India?

The investment in hardware and infrastructure in the US is astounding. While I’ve read a bit about 1:1 methods it was another thing to walk into a classroom and see each student with their own Chromebook. Beyond the hardware, the investment in the connectivity was significant with one KIPP school sharing that their broadband setup cost ~$1M. These systems are all still very basic in India and it is unlikely to see schools make this type of investment.

With regards to the educators, they were extremely competent and it helps a lot that the typical charter school teacher is young and relatively comfortable using technology. In India, we see a huge variation in the quality of teachers and even fewer teachers who are proficient in using innovative ways of teaching. An interesting revolution that has started for the last 5 years is the influx of young and motivated individuals who join the workforce for two years of focused teaching at the bottom of the pyramid, through Teach for India. They create a change in the way teaching works in their isolated classroom, however, as you can imagine the bigger challenge is to sustain positive change beyond those isolated classrooms.

As for students, charter schools in the US serve a similar population of students as Affordable Private schools in India, so I noticed that there is a similar hunger to learn. The use of technology in the classrooms has instilled a new sense of engagement in their own learning which is really motivating our work.

Lastly, what innovative practices have you observed in India that could be shared to the US?

This is an interesting question since most of my focus has been bringing innovative practices to India. We at Zaya are working on an education solution which is an on and offline delivery model outside of the traditional school system. Our Learning Labs create blended learning environments where there is no internet or even electricity, and even space is a constraint. This innovative “class in a bag” package is definitely a scalable and shareable model.

Pleasant from the Beginning…

 

It’s that time of year when most of us are resting, reflecting and resolving to start (or stop) doing things in the coming months. My recent reflecting lead me back to Paulo Bilkstein’s research paper, Travels in Troy with Freire, which captures some of the key education theories and thinkers behind the current maker movement in education. In thinking about designing effective learning environments, there are so many factors to consider, however I agree with Freire’s thinking that the trick is to balance the rigor with the fun. He captures this perfectly, stating that “it is important the child realize, from the beginning, that studying is difficult and demanding, but is pleasant from the beginning.”

KA Discovery Lab

The biggest potential technology offers is to serve as an ‘agent of emancipation’ as Bilkstein puts it, empowering learners to see themselves as creators and not just consumers. If we praise the current edtech movement for simply shifting students from boring offline lectures & exercises to slightly less boring online lectures & exercises, what is so pleasant about that?

I speak with many edtech entrepreneurs and while I don’t expect everyone working in this space to be an expert on education theory, I think this paper offers valuable insights for anyone exploring the intersection of education and technology. I hope some of you will find it useful and even more hopeful that 2014 will offer some pleasant education innovations. Happy New Year!

#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.