Creative Problem Solving through Computer Science

At Embark Labs, we believe computer science is the perfect frame through which we can empower kids to become creative problem solvers, starting at a very young age. (Even as young as first grade!) To test this theory, last month we brought twenty 1st-4th graders together at the Google Garage in Mountain View to introduce them to the fundamentals of computer science through our hands-on, collaborative program.

Day 3- Designing original projects to build using Scratch

Over the past several years the ‘coding for kids’ space has become increasingly crowded, and we are constantly asked what makes our program different from the various other tools, games and camps out there. We could spend time crafting a long, detailed blog post about our differentiated instruction and project-based learning approach…but we thought the parents who participated in our Spring Academy at Google captured it beautifully.

 

Reflections on my First #ISTE12

The past few days have been equally amazing and exhausting. San Diego was lovely, as always, and I managed to pack in quite a bit during the 2.5 days of the ~5 day extravaganza that is ISTE. With ~15,000 attendees and so much to cover, I tried to balance my time between meeting the who’s who of edtech cyberland in the blogger’s cafe, observing sales pitches in the Expo Hall and actually attending some of the sessions. There was so much to take in and it is impossible to capture everything here, so I’ll focus on a few highlights.

  • It is always great to get out of your own little bubble and meet people from the real world.  I think this is particularly important for entrepreneurs from the Bay Area who are building tools and programs for K12, to meet educators from all over the world and get a diverse perspective of what teaching and learning really entails. It was fabulous to meet the Steve Hargadon in person as I’m a fan of his weekly edtech round-up with Audrey Watters, and also learned more about his project here, ISTE Unplugged. I had so many inspiring conversations with educators across the globe, and even some from my own backyard, who are really diving into experimenting with different tools and technologies in their classrooms. I especially enjoyed Adam Bellow‘s session on Web Tools that will make your Classroom Rock, and was surprised to learn about so many new tools (beyond what comes out of Silicon Valley) and see how he had used them with his students. It was also fun to get a sneak peak of the new tool he built, EduClipper, that he is launching soon.
  • Yong Zhao‘s keynote on Tuesday morning was just fantastic. I really appreciated his in-depth critique of the US education system and how we must rethink our broader goals around what we are teaching and what outcomes we truly desire. He shared some really thought-provoking data around how even though US test scores are extremely low, the actual ‘success’ of our economy is based on embracing creativity and entrepreneurship. (I really hope this message gets to policy-makers as well.)  “You can’t teach creativity, but you can kill it and the US does a worse job of killing it than other countries.” He urges us all to not think about education in terms of deficits, but rather focus on skills and talents, leaving me wondering ‘how can we all tap into our inner Lady Gaga?’
  • Hat’s off to Remind101, ClassDojo and Educreations for throwing an awesome Startup Party on Monday night where I made one of my most exciting connections of the event, Andrew Coy from the Digital Harbor Foundation. Andrew is one of those educators where you can feel the passion flowing out of him and I was so energized to meet his first cohort of EdTech Link Fellows and learn more about the work he is doing connecting educators and technologists in Baltimore. I cannot wait to speak with him again and bring some of his ideas and energy to the Bay Area.

Overall, I was really impressed with how organized the entire production was and how many sessions had their resources posted and ready to share. The Twitter conversation (#ISTE12 & a few people were using #ISTE2012) was a constant flow the entire time, so if you were not able to attend or just want to track down some information, I recommend revisiting those hashtags and checking out all the links. I’m still absorbing everything and will probably process it all just in time for San Antonio next year.

Connecting Educators and Edtech

In partnership with the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, I hosted my second Teacher Tech Talk event yesterday which focused on how some schools and educators are using Google Apps for Education (GAFE). Rushton Hurley, a member of the first cohort of Google Certified Educators and Founder/ED of NextVista.org, kicked off the event highlighting some of his favorite aspects of GAFE but more importantly shared an inspiring message for how educators should approach integrating technology.

“It is impossible to stay on top of current technology solutions… So don’t worry about it! Find what works best for you and use it in a way that allows you to tap into your inner explorer.”

Kim Brown and Tim Sato from Portola Valley School District shared specifics around how they deployed the Google Engine and Chris Buja from the startup, Hapara (fresh out of Imagine K12,) provided an overview of how their Teacher Dashboard makes it dead-easy for teachers to manage and optimize the GAFE experience across countless students and documents.

If you are interested in learning more about Google Apps for Edu, I recommend checking out the upcoming GAFE Summit July 12/13 in Santa Clara and reading Richard Byrne’s (FreeTech4Teachers) GAFE Guide.

If you are an educator and looking to get plugged into the edtech startup scene, check out the Launch EDU conference June 12-13th at Microsoft in Mountain View. Please email Megan Dickey at megan@launch.co for a free ticket.

Thanks to all who attended and helped spread the word. It has been truly energizing to see the growing interest in this community, and brainstorming ways to bridge the educator and edu startup worlds. Keep an eye out for details for the next Teacher Tech Talk event coming up in July all about Formative Assessments in the Cloud.

Google Edu Efforts

Google recently relaunched its site targeted for educators and MindShift wrote a great overview of all the new changes and features. My favorite aspect of Google’s education efforts is their Computer Science for High School Program (c4hs), that provides grants for universities around the world to help “promote Computer Science and Computational Thinking in high school and middle school curriculum.” They are currently accepting applications until March 3 for their 2012 grants, so if you know anyone who might be interested, please encourage them to apply.