Doing What Can’t Be Done Elsewhere @ #ISTE2014

This is my third day at #ISTE2014, and it has been a wonderfully engaging event, especially as I tried to stay true to one of my main goals for the year, to do what can’t be done (or is difficulty to do) elsewhere. While I have and will attend a few traditional sessions, my decision about what to do and where to go is driven by the desire to learn, experience and do things that are more difficult to do otherwise.

  • For example, if an author is speaking on his/her book, I tend to skip that because I can get it from the book. On the other hand, if I read the book and want to discuss it with the author, then I make an effort to find and connect with the author.
  • I hang out in the Blogger’s cafe because I can strike up a conversation with three or four people with different roles and from different places. While I can find that in online communities, it is really easy to do it here; and the conversations are always rewarding!
  • I go to presentations and events that reveal information that might be less known beyond the event. For example, I went to the Pitch Fest yesterday because I had the chance to hear and exciting products and services that may not even be open to the public yet. It gives me a glimpse into the #Edtech startup world.
  • I go to evening events and parties to network. Again, networking is possible online, but putting several hundred people in a pub with a shared interest, and that makes for some great networking opportunities!
  • I go roundtable discussions because it is less of a sit and get, and more of a chance to explore a topic of shared interest with a knowledgeable and diverse group of people. Again, I look for presentations that might not be available online, things that are early-stage research or emerging findings from a study that are less likely to already be published.
  • I blog. Wait a second. I can do that anywhere. That is true, but it is rare for me to have the time to do as much writing and reflecting as I can do when I take a few days away at a special event like this. And I can do it during or right after an event. I tend to schedule my day with gaps between each event, allowing me to reflect, process what I heard or discussed, try to apply it to different contexts, etc. I find this helps the ideas to stick.
  • I catch up with old friends and make new ones. I’m the first to champion online communication and community, but there is still something powerful about greeting an old friend with a hug, catching up, and building new connections through a face-to-face conversation.

6 Great EdTech Startup Ideas in Session Two of PitchFest at #ISTE2014

The startup excitement continues at #ISTE2014 with the next 6 companies in the preliminary round of PitchFest! Here they are.

PlanetLab – “every kid having an innovative, high-quality, hands-on science curriculum”

What is the problem? Over 60% of US teachers say they feel unprepared to teach science. Kids are learning from decade-old textbooks. Only 1 in 5 high school seniors is proficient in science. PlanetLab is building a network. They connect kids to “the spheres of science” as they play a social game. Kids and teachers can search for “missions” based on everything from the season of the year to standards. They get to connect with others. They actually do science, share their ideas, and can even contribute to scientific knowledge. Since there are thousands of great science educators out there, PlanetLab has a vision to connect those educators with students around the world. Did I mention that they have a success portal for teachers, providing rich learning analytics?

Their team includes a physicist, computer programmers, a game designer, and an educator. They’ve already been recognized with several awards. They are launching with Chicago Public Schools this year, which is no small client for a startup, and they plan on a national launch in 2015.

The Open School Project ePortfolio – “help schools come up with holistic ways to look at student achievement”

This ePortfolio solution has an intuitive interface that allows collaboration between parents, teachers, students, and more. Within the software, you can create rubrics and align them to various standards. Next you assign this to individual sections or specific students. Students then have the opportunity to upload evidence tied to the standards and rubrics. Teachers can look at the student work, assign grades and points, and track student progress over time. they have a free teacher account, a $9.99 per school school rate and competitive discounts for the district level. If your school is looking for a promising ePortfolio, this might be work a look.

Million Dollar Scholar

The average cost of a college education has increased by over 1000% since 1980. 3 million high school graduates complete school without adequate knowledge about how to finance their higher education. Million Dollar Scholar is a resource to help students know how to win scholarship. They had over 25,000 unique visitors in the first months.

How did they focus what they offer? They focused on parents, interviewing 100 of them, discovering that affordability was their greatest concern and the overall funding process. MDS will help with essay and resume writing and more. Now they provide on-demand service, targeting both high school and current college students. This is not a service to find scholarships, but one to help you get those scholarships.

Kidnected World – “kids create social good by doing what they love to do”

This nonprofit exists to provide the tools that kids need to change the world. The goal is to connect kids to one another and provide them with tools to be agents of change by using their imagination and playing with others (what they already do well). That is where the “wonderment” comes in. It is a community. Kids enter, pick a path, participate in a challenge, see other kids joining in, the “wonder meter” rises, and they see the impact of a social good project. This is targeting kids who are 7-12 years old. Since these kids don’t have money, resources, or unsupervised time to volunteer; this helps them contribute to something that aspires to have a global impact. This also gives teachers the platform and resources needed to host social good projects with their students. Currently, they are piloting with kids from six countries.

Zu3D “stop motion software animation” 

This seeks to address the founder’s perceived problem of limited high-quality stop-motion software for kids and schools. It was designed specifically for young children. It is a tool that can be used across the curriculum to keep students engaged. It works with any web cam and includes a simple timeline to create your stop motion software. You can add text, import images and sound, and more. This software is currently if 5% of UK schools with a very spresence in the US.

News-O-Matic – “a safe place for kids to read the news and know the world around them”

Now that the Common Core asks for more focus on informational texts, this app provides daily news for kids from 2nd through 4th grade. It offers five interesting news stories daily, and it is age-appropriate, as well as reviewed to ensure that it is appropriate for this audience. These news reports include photos, videos, games, vocabulary, maps, a highlighter, chat, and other features to make the reading engaging and interactive. It is currently offered in English and Spanish, and it includes a “read to me” feature with a real live voice doing the reading. It also has a news room, where kids and write to the editor-in-chief. Not only this, but it includes assessment tools to document student understanding of what they are reading. They get 30,000 weekly kid interactions, a 100% renewal and are in over 1000 schools.

And the winner of this round was…News-O-Matic!

Learn About the First 6 EdTech Startup Pitches @ the #ISTE2014 PitchFest

Day 2 of #ISTE2014 is also the preliminary round for PitchFest, a chance for edtech startups to pitch their product or service…and the audience gets to vote! I’m a addicted to startup pitch events ever since I started researching educational innovation and educational entrepreneurship. These are the places where you get to learn about some disruptive technologies before they become disruptive, or about powerhouse education companies before they have much power or a house. It is a bit like listening to the Beatles in a pub before anyone has heard about them. To me these pitch festivals are the poetry slams of the edtech world!

They brought in five judges: a senior editor of common sense media, Director of Technology Alliances at Pearson, VP of Education Division of the SBA, a member of the Dell Youth Innovation Advisors, and a partner at the EdTech Fund.

The first session started with 6 pitches: CareMonkey, Listen Edition, CourseKicker, Immersed Games, Modular Robotics, and eduCannon. Here is what I learned.

CareMonkey – “electronic health and safety system for schools, clubs and other groups with a duty of care” 

This Australian-based company manages over 20,000 student care profiles so far. Their team of eight has over 20 years of technology experience. The founder has executive experience at SalesfForce, which seems to make great sense when you hear about the product.

What is the problem that they are trying to solve? Tired of filling out all those medical forms for school events? They have a solution. How do you get the forms to the right people for all the field trips and other events? They make all this information instantly available to teachers and nurses on mobile devices, even when they are offline. If you are taking students on a field trip, you can have instant access to all student medical information. No more dragging around that messy folder of medical forms. Parents simply fill out the information online, including space for narrative explanations and instructions, and it goes instantly into the system. Their vision is to become the “health and safety version of Facebook”, allowing parents to fill out a form once and then it can be shared by parents to different organizations (school, church group trips, community athletic events, etc.). Worried about security? The founder assures that CareMonkey is, “like an Internet bank” when it comes to security. Oh, did I mention that it is free for parents to use? They make their money by charging a subscription to organizations what want to gain access to the data shared by parents.

They are looking for US partners!

Listen Edition – “research shows that only 2% of you are really good listeners”

This Boston-based company is dedicated to solving the listening skills problems in our schools. They are “teaching students to listen with the power of public radio.” This is for k-12 teachers who are trying to teach a new standard around listening skills. It includes an ability to assess listening and a project-based curriculum around creating your own radio story. Yes, they are aligned to the Common Core, and they are working with a world-renowned cognitive scientist to build it. What about engagement for students? This curriculum provides relevant and authentic voices from public ration. It is designed to work with diverse ages and demographics of students. They offer help for language arts teachers to get into the non-fiction aspect of the Common Core by providing highly selective 3-5 minute segments pulled from the best of public radio world.

This is not just an audio supplement. It is a full out-of-the-box lesson solution: lesson plans, resources, assessments, activities, etc. So far they reached about 100,000 students. They offer an annual subscription to schools and districts, but offer free individual accounts to teachers. And here is a sign of satisfaction. 90% of those who were in the trial signed on for year two!

What about the team? It is a leadership team with a mix of experience from Public Radio and WebCT/Blackboard.

CourseKicker – A digital space and community for educator collaboration and resource sharing 

According to the founder, there has not been an effective online platform for teachers to share what they know with others. This community is cloud-based, intuitive, and free. It connects teachers to collaborate with one another, sharing best practices and ideas. They also have a lesson discover engine, allowing one to search for and find lessons that fit and that work. They catalog hundreds of lesson items around various topics. Teachers create, upload and share the items; and there is a built-in rating system, allowing the highest rated to “bubble up” to the top. They also allow teachers to curate resources in the system into playlists, pulling from YouTube or most anywhere else on the web. It also includes a social element, with each teacher having a profile, allowing you to build a network with other teachers around curriculum and pedagogy. While it is standalone, you can also connect to Facebook and Twitter.

  • They opened up their site for general use eight weeks ago and they have over a 1000 users, with over a thousand lesson items.
  • They have a team with expertise from business strategy, education, educational technology research, and software development.
  • How do they make money? They are a freemium model, adding value-added resources for a fee.
  • And as the founder was walking off the stage, he murmured something about badges. If you know that, that certainly got my attention.

Immersed – “We are harnessing the additive power of video games for learning.”

Inspired by the lessons learned in World of Warcraft, they are seeking to address the problem of engagement, with students reporting being bored 50-70% of the school day. How will they address it? Games. Using quest-based learning, they challenge students to problem-solve within a story in a game. Instead of short games, they are putting it all into a cohesive virtual world where students can build a character over and extended period. They are building all of this on a game engine called unity, which converts across devices, but it has limitations on small mobile devices.

  • This is focused on providing a teacher supplement and not a replacement for an existing lesson. The game would typically serve as a place to practice what was learned in the rest of the lesson.
  • They are starting with middle school, but plan to extend it to include third through twelfth grade. So far, the feedback from “players” and parents is very good, and they are starting with an immersive middle school ecology game. Right now, they are working with homeschoolers and parents to get feedback on the early versions of their product.
  • The leadership team includes a PhD student in educational games, as well as others who have experience in computer programming, engagement, and art.

Modular Robotics  – “to prepare the world” or “Tikkum Olam”

Only 24% of STEM jobs are filled by women. Modular Robotics seeks to help by creating highly engaging learning experiences through robotics. Their vision is to help students learn how to think more than what to think. They deliver hands-on, engaging, and fun learning opportunities. This includes two small modular robots and the company is in the process of creating lesson plans to go with them. They have an eduction director who is building curriculum and lessons that will allow this to fit into many school curricula. Did I mention that the curriculum is free from their website? They make their money by selling the robotics kits.

eduCannon (Interactive Video Unleashed)

This service allows teachers to embed assessments into their videos. Over 20,000 teachers have registered in the 9 months since they started. With growing interest in blended learning, eduCanon provides an assessment solution. Right now, teachers have to “Frankenstein” a solution, all with different logins and platforms. eduCannon offers a one-stop shop, where lessons can be pulled from different places. It includes a rich learning analytics dashboard along with a teacher-development platform that helps teachers learn how to get the most out of this resource. In other words, this is a product that comes with the professionals development needed to leverage that tool for high-impact learning. Teachers can pull from over 25,000 existing lessons in their database to along with the Common Core.

And the winner of round one is….eduCannon!

Reflection on Teaching Scientific Argumentation & Using Social Media to Teach Disciplinary Thinking

I find that the larger the conference, the more I gravitate toward one-on-one and small group conversations. That is where I have the chance to interact with others. I can listen to a lecture online as a recording, but when I want to leverage a face-to-face event, that is where I look for opportunities to have instant, spontaneous discourse around a topic of shared interest. So, for my first session of the morning, I decided to hangout in a room full of roundtable discussions. I chose the table facilitated by Amber Rowland and Craig Hare of the University of Kansan. They shared about year one of a three year study on using social media to teach scientific argumentation. It was a rich and action-packed hour of content and discussion.

Their mixed method study was shaped by three questions, drawn from the TPACK model of technology integration (a helpful model that addresses the role of technology, pedagogy and content). As such, their three research questions were:

  • What technological knowledge and technological professional learning supports are needed to facilitate the use of scial media?

  • What pedagogical knowledge and pedagogical professional learning supports od teachers require to support students development of argumentation practices

  • What content knowledge nd content professional learning supports are needed?

If you are not familiar with the idea of scientific argumentation, it is about learning to think and communicate scientifically more than learning discrete scientific facts. Toward that end they used Bulgren and Ellis’s Argumentation and Evaluation Teacher’s Manual (2009), which describes an eight-step strategy for scientific argumentation:

  1. Consider a claim and its qualifiers.
  2. List Evidence
  3. Identify Types of Evidence
  4. Evaluate Evidence
  5. Identify Chain of Reasoning
  6. Identify Type of Reasoning
  7. Evaluate Chain of Reasoning
  8. Make counterarguments, rebuttals or new questions known.

With this foundation, their study included talking for classroom teachers, providing a two-day summer orientation to the study, setting them loose for the year with their students, and collecting rich data for the next phase of the study. They used high-interest controversial articles as prompts for student discourse in one of four platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Blackboard, and WordPress. Students would read the article and then use the eight-step strategy for scientific argumentation as a guide for their social media conversation about that article. Those chose hot topics to focus on a unit about inheritance and variation of traits.

They found that teachers needed more help to learn scientific argumentation themselves, which will be addressed in the year-two professional development. However, they also found that this was indeed an effective way to help students learn scientific argumentation, with students preferring more open social media outlets compared to closed systems. The researchers noted the importance of teaching students about online communication etiquette, online identity management, and using this to help them be more critical consumers of digital media; a reminder that any effort in blended learning calls for the intentional and ongoing teaching about digital citizenship. Of course, there is much more to their study, but this is my quick summary version.

This was a wonderfully though-provoking roundtable, with implications far beyond teaching scientific discourse. This was a great model for teachers who want to engage in action research about using social media to help students cultivate disciplinary thinking. Their study could just as easily be focused upon numeracy, historiography, literary discourse, or teaching any discipline-specific discourse. It aligns beautifully with the broader conversation around new literacies!