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.

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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.

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.

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.)

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!

Top 5 Tips for Edtech Storytelling

Sharing your Story: Marketing to the Fragmented K12 World

In consulting with several education related startups, I often get asked the best way to approach marketing to the fragmented K12 space. While there is no easy way to get the attention of massive numbers of teachers & parents at the same time, here are the key strategies I’ve found that successful (read fast-growing) edtech startups leverage to tell their story. Expert marketer and blogger Neil Patel outlines tips for low-budget storytelling through his post on 21 Big Marketing Ideas for Small Marketing Budgets. Pulling from these strategies, I’ve highlighted the Top 5 ways to start with a lens from the edtech perspective.

  1. Comment on blogs

Edutopia and Mindshift are great places to start as they already have vibrant communities that contribute posts and comments. Join the conversation by following a few key authors and establish your own voice through consistent commenting.

  1. Start blogging yourself

Use your own blog as a platform to share information about your product and progress, as well as general trends in a specific aspect of edtech. Choose 1-2 key areas (ex. STEM, Blended Learning, Mobile Learning, PD, etc…) and provide useful updates/tips on what’s going on in that space. There are many great blogging platforms (Tumblr, Posterous) but teachers love WordPress and if your blog takes off a bit, this is another way to build community with educators through WP following and commenting. Invite your early-adopters to guest blog. This deepens their engagement, provides an authentic voice (educators love hearing from other educators rather than product folks) and offers fresh content.

  1. Leverage social networks: Engagement > Size/Reach

If your startup has been around for more than 5 minutes, then it’s likely that you already have a FB page and a Twitter handle. Social Media Marketing, specifically to teachers, can be it’s own massive post but for now the top tip is engagement matters more than the size of your community. On FB, this means looking at the number of people ‘talking about your page’ rather than just the total likes. On Twitter, follow the Top Edu Tweeters and join the weekly chats to share updates and get a sense of what educators are talking about. Lastly, Edmodo, striving to be FB for schools, also has a feature where you can create a community around specific content areas or tools/services and engage with the teacher and students who are on their site. With over 6 million users (as of March 2012 and is gearing up international expansion) this is the largest centralized community of educators anywhere on the web and it’s growing fast!

  1. Craft some Case Studies

Another benefit that comes from early adopters are enthusiastic testimonials. Take time to develop these into case studies, even a couple 1-pgrs can be useful to spread the word about your effectiveness and build your brand. Remember, educators love hearing from other educators and case studies can help you capture the enthusiasm and results from your initial users. Want examples? Check out how LearnBoost has captured early user stories.

  1. Speak at Events & Schools

The edtech scene is heating up and with that comes an increase of events and speaking engagements. Meredith Ely runs the monthly EdTech Meetup (Thurs evenings in SF) and often seeks to shine the spotlight on members, giving startups a chance to share their story. This is great practice for more formal speaking events and even pitching to investors. EdSurge, the weekly edtech newsletter, always highlights upcoming events (it’s long so scroll all the way down) and reach out to the organizers to see if you can join a panel or even give a quick pitch.  Reach out to local schools and see if you can stop by a staff or department meeting to talk about your work. This requires some cold outreach and can be particularly challenging, but if successful, will lead to some very valuable relationship building and customer development opportunities.

Overall, just remember that utility drives adoption and community drives retention, and the challenge is figuring out the best way to tell your story. If you’re delighting your users, especially teachers and parents, they will be drawn into the community and will happily evangelize your product on your behalf.

Future of Education…but not for everyone?

As part of Pearson’s recent efforts to make things more open and interactive they hosted an event with a diverse panel of folks attempting to discuss the “Future of Education- Learn Anything, Anytime, Anyplace through Informal Learning.” The moderator, Leonard Medlock, a fellow Stanford Ed Alum (LDT ’11) and current edSurge contributor, defined informal learning as learning that is “learner driven, flexible and not restricted to time or place.” The ambitious topic and my support for edSurge attracted me to the event but I have to say I was pretty disappointed, mainly due to the narrowly defined notion of ‘anyplace.’ For me, the potential for technology to impact education now more than ever before is the ability for it to level the playing field and ideally create environments for all learners to have access to the highest quality content, anytime and anyplace.

However, the general message from the panelists was that ‘anyplace‘ means wherever people already have access to devices and internet connectivity, as well as exposure to a culture of self-driven learning. Beyond that, it is really quite shocking how little people think or talk about getting these products to communities that need it the most. Credit to Sifteo co-founder, David Merrill who shared a story of donating Sifteo cubes to a local San Francisco school, but sadly no broader vision for how to scale those efforts. At the end of the day, I understand that they are a business driven by the need for sustainability, but then can you really say you’re representing a movement to provide learning opportunities for anyone, anytime and anyplace?

Udemy founder, Gagan Biyani, strongly stated that students either need to have access to really high quality schools or parents or they don’t have a chance to be successful within the current system. While this is probably true (and lead to a lively conversation about what constitutes high quality schools and teachers), I thought the focus of this particular event was to get the best and brightest people thinking about solutions to help all learners, anytime and anyplace, through informal settings outside the current dysfunctional school system. It is much easier to create informal learning options for kids who are fortunate enough to attend good schools and/or have good parents. Many of those learners are  already empowered to take control of their education and really take advantage of learning anything, anytime, anyplace. But isn’t limiting the conversation to those populations such a narrow way to discuss the future of education and informal learning?

I think the bigger challenge around the future of education is making learning anything, anytime, anyplace a reality for all students. This goes beyond distributing devices, which we saw clearly from the crash and burn of the OLPC program, and really extends to creating environments where people are empowered and motivated to learn. Brad Feld put it well in his blog post just today that “you can’t motivate people, you can only create a context in which people are motivated.” For me, creating these environments where people are motivated is the true challenge that we must tackle in thinking about the future of education and I’d love to find a community and go to events where people are talking and thinking about this broader issue.

Overall, the individual panelists are bright, inspiring and passionate entrepreneurs and the event attracted an interesting group of people. So, my biggest piece of feedback is directly to Pearson and the title of the event. Can you really claim to be fostering a conversation around the ‘Future of Education,’ focused on informal learning that can happen anyplace if that doesn’t include a large portion of the population that needs these services the most? While I know there isn’t a purely technical solution to creating motivating learning environments, I believe that technology can and will play a big role in helping people reaching their learning goals and I hope the tech community will embrace a broader definition of the future of education and what it means to truly make their products available anytime and anyplace.

Explorers need a good map!

I have been looking for a map of the edtech world for a while now and cannot wait to see what is unveiled later today. Stay tuned for thoughts on that and more insights from the Philanthropy Roundtable Education Conference.

(Courtesy of EdSurge)

MAPPING THE WORLD: Every pioneer needs a map and now the NewSchools Venture Fund has started to make one of the edtech world. With support from theLaura and John Arnold Foundation, and contributions from edsurgent dudesMichael B. Horn and Anthony Kim, NSVF’s Ted Mitchell and Kristina Ransick have pulled together a marvelous connect-the-dots portrait of the industry, cataloguing companies into FOUR high level groups (such as curricula and instructional systems) and then into more specific areas (under curricula: tutoring, test prep, digital textbooks, etc). The project aims to give entrepreneurs and funders (nonprofit and for profit) a clearer view of the industry. The market map OF 230 COMPANIES will be unveiled publically late Wednesday afternoon at a meeting of philanthropists in San Francisco. By the end of today (Wednesday), you should be able to click here and see if your company has landed a spot on the atlas. The challenge, of course, is keeping it current. Other catalogues of the edtech world, such as StartL’s Dealbook,  have languished. No word yet on how this one will be maintained.

Are you reading EdSurge?

If not, take a minute to sign up today. Their growing team, lead by seasoned technology journalist Betsy Corcoran, is doing a fantastic job collecting and disseminating the most relevant edtech news. Looking forward to seeing what is coming next from this team!

Some of the highlights from this week’s edition…

APIs FOR ALL: Thank you, TeachStreet, for starting to gather up edtech APIs! If you have one, make sure you send the details here.

ED ELEMENTS: $2.1 million, San Francisco: Education Elements, founded by Anthony Kim, took on investors including NewSchools Venture FundTugboat Ventures, venture capitalist Wally Hawley, and Imagine K12’s three cofounders. Kim is one of America’s top consultants in setting up blending learning programs at schools. Here’s the nail-biting truth about the most sophisticated learning programs: each one has its own, carefully designed “data dashboard.” That provokes air traffic-controller-like nightmares for teachers who try to use, say, three different programs to teach math, language arts and science. EdElements’ solution is what Kim has dubbed the “Hybrid Learning Management System,”—basically one dashboard to rule them all.

BUILDING CHARTERS: $25 million from the U.S. Dept. of Education to support 124 new (& 3 expanded) charter schools, serving 45,000 students over the next five years. Some of the programs will have to do more additional fund-raising than others. Recipients include KIPP ($9.5 million and planning for 18 schools), Breakthrough Charter Schools in Cleveland ($3.5 million, and building or expanding 11 schools) and San Jose’s Rocketship ($1.9 million and planning to build 56 schools).

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