Categories
Blended Learning Tech in the classroom

What Does Blended Learning look like for Educators?

Last night I began my first Coursera MOOC (massively open online course) entitled Blended Learning: Personalizing Education for Students, taught by some of the key folks who are driving this movement. I watched the four short videos for this week, participated in the quizzes and poked around in several of the already active discussion forums. The first homework assignment (which I haven’t done yet, don’t judge me) is to post your own definition of blended learning. While it would be premature to make any meaningful assessment about this particular course, I’m struck by how much of the conversation around blended learning for students is about personalization, self-paced instruction with some component of creating/making, while much of the professional development I’ve seen for educators is not.  While MOOCs have a certain appeal to some, if you don’t learn well from watching video lectures, then you’re pretty much out of luck as self-paced is not the same as personalization.

Earlier this week I participated in a small discussion at the Krause Center for Innovation (KCI) with school leaders, funders and entrepreneurs who are really thinking about blended learning PD for educators. KCI, which has been serving K12 educators since 2000, offers one of the best edtech PD workshops in the country, the MERIT program. While it is not explicitly teaching educators how to manage ‘flex/station/rotation’ blended learning environments, it is empowering educators with the knowledge, confidence and support system to experiment with various tech tools and strategies. KCI also offers some less popular online courses that they themselves admit are not as effective. While KCI has an incredibly effective offline experience if MERIT teachers want to engage online they do so on their own through Twitter and other online communities where educators gather. It seems that most PD opportunities for educators still fall in one camp and have yet to be blended.

During my session at KCI I was introduced to the TPACK Model.
TPACK Model
This visual representation really captures the complexity in developing ‘Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK)’ where teachers seek to understand how their knowledge in the three areas of tech, teaching and content shapes their teaching practice. I think we can all agree that this will not be achieved through teacher PD MOOCs alone, while they may be one valuable piece of the blended learning puzzle.

Gay Krause, Founder of KCI, acknowledged a real shift in thinking amongst school administrators.  Where previously school leaders required convincing, often asking ‘why do we need to this?’, now more often they are asking ‘how can we implement technology effectively?’.  Demand for blended PD exists and is growing.

If the blended learning movement is to truly become mainstream and lead to learning gains for students in schools beyond high-functioning charters (like the 3 highlighted in this MOOC), then we must provide personalized, high-quality blended learning for our educators. And let’s remember the exciting aspect of effectively blending instruction is that it will free up time for students to make stuff; work on projects to stimulate deeper learning. In a recent post from KQED MindShift on empowering educators, they highlight the importance of collaboration and creating opportunities for educators to be makers as well.

For a majority of students their teachers are the gateway to their learning experience, so if we do not adequately prepare and support educators I doubt we’ll see high-quality blended learning really take off.

What do you think? Have you participated in any exceptional blended PD? What has been your experience with PD MOOCs? Please leave your comments below or tweet me @Jessie_Arora.
Categories
Edu Startups Entrepreneurship Tech in the classroom

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.

Categories
Teacherpreneur Spotlight Tech in the classroom

Mitch Weathers: Building a Startup from the Classroom

The 4th and final profile in the Teacherpreneur Spotlight Series that I’ve produced in collaboration with EdSurge.

“When students know what you want them to do, and they can do it, they tend to do it. You’ve built in a chance for them to be successful in your class and it has nothing to do with content mastery– It’s about acting like a student and students want that.”

Mitch Weathers was destined to become an educator. From his early years in college he knew he wanted to work with at-risk high school students. After a brief stint in the nonprofit sector with Young Life, where he spent time as Executive Director, Weathers decided he could have a greater impact helping kids be successful in the classroom. His teaching journey began in 2001 in Sacramento, and shortly afterwards he moved to Sequoia High School in Redwood City, CA, where has has been teaching science for the past 12 years. (He also serves as the Chair of the science department.)

The motivation to create Organized Binder came directly out of his experience at Sequoia, where he taught students who were coming to school everyday but often without completing any work from previous days. Somehow the students didn’t believe they could be academically successful, but Weathers believed otherwise.

“Much of our effort and emphasis in education is around content, yet, it quickly became clear that these students lacked the basic skill set to even access that content,” says Weathers.  Organized Binder is exactly what it sounds like: a physical 3-ring binder that houses a paper-based system to help educators ritualize the classroom, by setting clear expectations about class work and processes.

The system is composed of different color-coded pages that represent a set of best practices, thus clarifying expectations so students know what it means to be ready to learn. It establishes clear classroom processes to make explicit what some refer to as the “hidden curriculum”– learning skills unrelated to content (such as organizing papers created or handed out in class, taking good notes, managing calendars, and tracking progress towards tests/deliverables) that students often struggle with.

OrgB Pic

After prototyping the system for much of 2003, Weathers began to see meaningful improvement in learning and engagement with the students in his classroom. Soon, other teachers began to inquire about the Organized Binder system and the following school year Weathers led a pilot across all the 9th grade teachers and students at Sequoia High School, thus expanding the usage from 3-4 people to 50. “As I walked through various classrooms observing the Binder in action it became very clear the system was content agnostic.” Epiphanies like that really drove Weathers to continue refining the product.

While currently in paper form, Weathers is working with a couple of designers and developers, with input from several other educators, to translate the process into a web version with a mobile app for teachers which they hope to release this summer.

Beyond the School Walls

Growing the Organized Binder user base beyond Sequoia High School happened serendipitously.  In 2005, Weathers was asked to share his model at the California Teacher’s Association’s (CTA) Good Teaching Conference. Having never presented at an education conference before, he was a bit surprised when his proposal was accepted, and even more so when hundreds of people tried to get into his session. “About 50 people followed me down to the lobby after the session and the hotel made more copies of the binder pages because we ran out.”

Organized Binder is now being used in over 30 states and around the world, with both school and district-wide implementations. The results speak for themselves, where schools using the system are making over 100 point API gains, and EL and Special Education students earn huge gains on standardized exams. Weathers started off by traveling to each school to conduct training sessions himself. Over the years he’s built up an army of regional trainers to scale the business and provide support around the U.S.

Bridging the Offline and Online Worlds

Through his many training sessions with teachers around the country, Weathers has captured valuable insights into what teachers want and need in order to successfully integrate technology into their teaching practice. “For many teachers the issue with tech is that when you bring in new tools and you have the ‘wow factor,’ but then each thing becomes a discrete chunk in the lesson.” One of the challenges with integrating tech into classroom instruction is achieving lessons that flow smoothly. These insights are helping shape the digital version of Organized Binder and future training methods. “What I’m most excited about in translating this system online is that it will function very much as a virtual binder. That is so important to educators who have been teaching (and often using paper-based systems) for 15-20 years because they understand a classroom that functions in that fashion; it fits into their way of thinking and conducting their class.”

However, there are challenges around moving fully to virtual binder, such as cost, access to hardware & wifi, as well as the ability to actually see if a student is disorganized. With all this in mind, Weathers is designing a blended system that allows for both on and offline elements.

Balancing School and Startup

Weathers is straightforward about the lack of any work-life balance, having very little time for much beyond the classroom and Organized Binder. Weathers has impressively built Organized Binder into a sustainable business, with profit built into each of the school contracts, however, managing the growth is a different story. The question of leaving the classroom is a sensitive subject for him, but he openly acknowledges that juggling two full-time endeavors is not sustainable. “For years, standing in front of crowds saying that I’m a teacher and that I use this tool myself on a daily basis gave me incredible legitimacy. I’m getting closer to a time where I will have to leave the classroom or go part-time and I’m not sure what that will look like.”

As with any entrepreneurial enterprise, the trajectory is uncertain but Weathers is confidently optimistic about what the future holds for Organized Binder. You can keep up with his progress by following Mitch Weathers on Twitter @OrganizedBinder, get updates on Facebook and reach him directly at mitch (at) organizedbinder (dot) com.

Categories
Entrepreneurship Teacherpreneur Spotlight Tech in the classroom

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.

Categories
Teacherpreneur Spotlight Tech in the classroom

Angela Estrella: Empowering Educators to Embrace Edtech

Profile #2 in the Teacherpreneur Spotlight Series that I’ve produced in collaboration with EdSurge.

Angela Estrella’s personal fascination with technology began during her undergrad years at UC Berkeley, using her Palm Pilot whenever she was riding on BART. “I used that Palm Pilot ALL the time- as a calendar, to take notes so in many ways that was my first ‘smartphone.’”

Her passion for teaching traces back to her own experience in middle school, where she was deeply inspired by teachers who took an interest in her and motivated her to become the first in her family to graduate from a university. Fast forward a few years after graduating from Cal and she found herself teaching at Overfelt High School in East San Jose, which didn’t quite have the resources to match Angela’s passion for technology. Still, she quickly noticed that her students were more engaged when she used various tech tools, especially those that involved using videos to demonstrate their learning. This inspired the savvy entrepreneur in Angela to seek out tech grants, and in collaboration with a visionary principal her school was awarded a substantial grant to start a Multimedia Academy at Overfelt through the CA Partnership Academies (CPA) Program.

“I encourage aspiring teacherpreneurs to identify small pots of local funds, such as the SVEF Innovation Grants or funding from your PTSA, to fuel your vision. I’ve also had 3-4 grants funded by DonorsChoose, so that’s been really helpful.” She added that starting off small creates a unique sense of ownership and the ideal scenario is to collaborate with local schools or educators to apply together. “As a member of SVCUE (the Silicon Valley chapter of Computer Using Educators) I can apply for their mini-grants. I think joining organizations like your local CUE affiliate is a great way to connect with educators and learn more about professional development and grant opportunities.”

Things changed when Angela began teaching in the more affluent Cupertino area in 2010, where teachers and students had more access to technology. But new challenges surfaced. While teachers had access to the latest devices, such as iPads, Apple TVs and SmartBoards, few of them had the knowledge or confidence to integrate them into their teaching practices.

So Estrella took it upon herself to create a more collaborative environment among her students and fellow faculty to help one another locate and try out new tech tools. As Lynbrook’s Library and Media Teacher for the past couple years, Angela has launched some innovative programs for students and teachers such as the Virtual Vikings and redesigning their Tech Menu Days. Virtual Vikings, essentially a student-powered geek squad, has illustrated for teachers how students can provide real-time tech support and enable the smart adoption of tech tools in the classroom. Through Tech Menu Days, Angela has tapped into the expertise within her teaching community to showcase best practices on how to use various edtech tools, such as Google Aps for Edu and KidBlog.

Fostering support and buy-in from her district has been a major factor in her success. “I’m working with our Director of Technology at the District to expand what we’re doing,” she said. “That guidance and support is essential to scaling what we’ve proven works at Lynbrook.”

Estrella turns to her extensive online PLNs (professional learning networks), mainly via Twitter and Facebook, for sources of inspiration on how to creatively use tech in her class.  She’s constantly trying out edtech tools and finding creative ways to introduce those tools and the entrepreneurs who build them to her school community. It’s all part of her larger vision to create a culture of experimentation and embracing of edtech for both students and teachers at Lynbrook.

Hear directly from Angela about her work from this video profile, connect with her on Twitter @am_estrella or check out her blog.

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Teacherpreneur Spotlight Tech in the classroom

Ryan Kinser: From TV Production to Teacherpreneur

In the first of my ongoing Teacherpreneur Spotlight series with EdSurge on innovative educators who take initiative to experiment with new teaching practices and tech tools, we look at Ryan Kinser, 8th grade English teacher at Walker Middle Magnet School in Tampa, FL.

Ryan Kinser bio pic

Ryan Kinser stumbled upon his passion for education the second time around. After an extensive career in the TV production world he found himself recruited into the DC Teaching Fellows Program. After an incredibly challenging first year, leaving school each day exhausted and emotionally spent, Ryan considered that maybe teaching wasn’t the right fit. But, for some reason that did not sit well with him. “I loved the few moments that I was teaching and not just trying to tread water.”

After moving to Tampa, FL, like any good student he decided to give it another try. He found a Walker Middle Magnet School, a school with strong leadership that recognized the value of his business background, and this time was different. Through strong mentorship Ryan realized “I started to find out what kind of teacher I could be and I loved it. A big piece of that was mentorship, which is SO critical to attracting and retaining the best teaching talent.”

Ryan’s teacher turnaround story doesn’t end there. In 2010 he was a finalist for Hillsborough Teacher of the Year which helped him catch the attention of the Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ). Ryan joined CTQ as one of their handful of teacherpreneurs in a hybrid role where he maintains his role in the classroom during morning hours and spends his afternoons focusing on his areas of interest: advancing teacher leadership, developing PLNs/VLCs and supporting the edtech ecosystem. The truly liberating piece is that CTQ works with the district and school to negotiate Ryan’s release for the 2nd half of the day, over which he has full autonomy to define his contribution as a teacherpreneur. Those afternoon hours are often focused on blogging, research as well as various speaking engagements and advising local, state and national stakeholders on the importance of empowering more teacherpreneurs.



Sounds pretty amazing, huh? Of course my immediate question was how do we create more opportunities like this for teachers across the country. CTQ has been looking at various ways to scale their efforts through their virtual community which current engages 1500 teacher leaders nationwide. In his teacherpreneur role, one of Ryan’s tasks is to think about working with other districts and next year Tampa will be rolling out 15 new spots supported with Title 1 funds.

Edtech Insights

You may find it surprising that a middle school English teacher’s favorite edtech tool is Code HS, a platform for teaching high school students how to code, which he became deeply familiar with after mentoring the Imagine K12 startup last fall. “We are rethinking literacy- what does it mean to write and create in an online world and coding is a big aspect of that shift.” In 2012 Ryan received one of 10 Magnet School of America grants nationwide, which he used to conduct a mobile app-building project with his students. This game is an example of one what student created during that project. Creating this opportunity for his students illustrates how teachers can (and must) fill in their own tech gaps rather than waiting for instruction or professional development to find them.

Beyond the tech, connecting in the offline world is equally important to supporting the teacherpreneur process. Having the chance to speak and travel to various education conferences (which could be it’s own full time gig) I asked Ryan which ones he found most beneficial. “I found the scope and number of teachers at ECET2 (Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching) really impressive.” Another one that stood out for him was FETC (Florida Education Tech Conference.) Both of these have already passed for 2013, but looking to the rest of year Ryan will definitely be at ISTE in San Antonio in June, and of course, EdSurge will be there, too. While these events can be effective what is really needed is for “more teachers to publicize what they are doing. There is such a silo of education, we don’t step outside our classroom doors.”

Now let’s hear a bit from Ryan directly:

With the explosion of social media tools no one has to wait to attend a conference to learn about a new tool or share their favorite trick. What are your favorite social communication tools?

I love Twitter and that’s how I get most of my information. I lurked around for 9 months before I sent my first tweet and often share that with teachers that are new to Twitter. It’s easy to be a lurker, which is low-risk and potentially high-reward. With my VLC work I am a big YouTube and Google+/HangoutsOnAir fan. Honorable mention to Edmodo, SlideShare and LiveScribe.

What advice do you have to new teachers and/or aspiring teacherpreneurs?

They have to be their own advocate. Do the work and make sure it’s needed by someone else. Be a self-advocate. Get connected with other teachers, with social media it’s impossible not to connect someone that knows someone else. Once you’re doing the work you’re passionate about, find the people who can advocate with and on your behalf.

Also, teachers need to be vulnerable and learn alongside their students. If you’re not adaptable, then there is no use for you in the classroom.

What efforts would you like to see that would truly advance the role of teacherpreneurs?

Meetups are important in regional pockets but what I’d love to see is a widespread exchange program– teachers rotate through an edtech program which also allows entrepreneurs to spend time in the classroom. I’ve been working closely with CodeHS to connect them with my educator network and would love to see this type of edtech-educator exchange on a grander scale.

One program I created at my school to help teachers get more comfortable with tech is small group office hours. I get 10-15 people together and we have a casual and customized conversation about Google Hangouts, Dropbox, etc… They are optional but I invite specific groups of teachers based on their needs and discuss how certain tools can make their teaching lives easier. I hook them by asking questions like “Have you thought about expanding the walls of your classroom? Stop by for 20 min and I’ll show you how.”

(Ryan Kinser can be reached at rkinser@teachingquality.org and followed on Twitter @RyanKinser. He also blogs for CTQ’s TransformEd and Impatient Optimists.)

Categories
Edu Startups PBL (Project-Based Learning) Tech in the classroom

Meograph: Storytelling as a Service

Meograph for Edu
Storytelling is the oldest form of communication and such an essential aspect of our communities. While anyone can tell a story, as an art form, it significantly improves as the storyteller is coached and inspired. Meograph seeks to empower each of us to tell our stories in a digitally rich way without requiring deep knowledge of complex and expensive creative products. Current SF resident and founder Misha Leybovich has always been a natural storyteller (at one point in his career he was a clown at kids’ parties), but struggled using the existing creative tools.  So he founded Meograph, which he refers to as ‘Adobe for anybody,’ to help tell his own stories and make this rich digital storytelling process accessible to everyone. (You may recognize him from his pitch at the January SF Edtech Meetup- Teacher Tank.)

With the surge of interest in the ‘flipped classroom,’ Meograph saw many teachers bringing this tool to their classrooms, creating content themselves as well as assigning projects for students to craft their own stories. This student created story on the ‘Causes of the Civil War‘ is a cool example of some of the projects created using Meograph.

This step of simplifying the creation process is critical to ensuring widespread adoption of project-based learning strategies, where studente take control of their own learning, document their progress and demonstrate understanding. While Meograph didn’t intend to be an ‘edtech’ startup they have responded well to the significant interest and feedback from the educator community on how this can be used as a learning tool.

Beyond bringing life back to current presentation methods, the larger vision is to power some of the Maker Movement rhetoric by simplifying the creation and sharing process. Striving to be the next suite of creative tools, Meograph is working on creating an authoring tool that can be embedded on other websites. Next steps for the team is to figure out deeper classroom support such as connecting these stories/projects to lesson plans and creating a rubric for grading and assigning project. You can learn more and connect with the team on Twitter @Meograph or email them at meograph@meograph.com.

(And if you happen to be at SXSW this week check out their pitch during the Startup Accelerator on Monday March 11th. Good luck!)
Categories
Entrepreneurship Tech in the classroom

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!

Categories
Blended Learning Tech in the classroom

#EdUnderground: Finding your Herd

EdUnderground_Nov2012_59

As I continue to grow the TeacherSquare community, I’ve been inspired to find other local efforts around the country that are bringing together innovative educators to deepen their knowledge and comfort with using technology to change teaching and learning. One such organization is the EdUnderground, a group of ~20 educators in Rhode Island who have come together to learn from and inspire each other. As the co-founder, Shawn Rubin describes, “we are group of wild horses looking for our herd, feeling a lack of exploration and innovation in our existing school cultures.”

Rubin, Director of Technology Integration at Highlander Institute, is exactly one of those wild horses who has always been “looking for ways to do transformative things inside and outside the classroom,” and is cultivating that spirit of tinkering through the EdUnderground community. “I see the EdUnderound as equal parts edCamp + Apple Store + Fab Lab. A space where there are crazy-inspiring tools, with a balance between being polished while still encouraging tinkering and knowledge sharing.” Through his role at the Highlander Institute, he realized he had this unique acces to hardware and software tools to stimulate that tinkering and invited 7-8 educators to join him. Fueled by some Rhode Island state grants to support PLCs (professional learning communities) this group quickly doubled and is continuing to grow, with geography playing a role in that growth as well.

Being a small state with 11k teachers and 150k students, Rubin quickly found there were lots of ways educators were experimenting with different tools and strategies in a very small geographic area. In addition, Rubin shares that being “uniquely positioned between New York and Boston, we serve as a testing ground for those edtech ecosystems who are all incredibly interested and eager to get access to this engaged group of RI teachers.”

EdUnderground session

The group currently hosts regular meetups and workshops to share best practices and experiment with various edtech tools. Up next, Shawn is working on building a lending library of hardware and software for teachers to bring these blended learning experiments back to their schools. Shawn and his team were also just awarded a significant grant to build a Blended Learning Institute (as part of Highlander Institute) to showcase blended learning(BL) in action and create a space for educators to explore various BL methods.

As TeacherSquare evolves, I have been looking to connect our community with others, like the EdUnderground, to create a national network of entrepreneurial educators to continue their edtech explorations together through on and offline interactions. If you’re interested in getting involved or starting a similar group in your community, please feel free to reach out to Shawn (srubin@highlanderinstitute.org) or me (jasmit@gmail.com.)

Categories
Edu Startups Entrepreneurship Tech in the classroom

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.