Over the weekend, I had the privilege to attend a portion of the second Startup Weekend event focused on education. Startup Weekend is itself a startup organization that organizes gatherings of developers, designers, business and marketing experts, and investors to build startup companies in a single weekend. This year, the organization began a series of events focused specifically on innovation in education. The first was (of course) in San Francisco. But despite the lack of trolleys and valleys made of silicone, the DC region is still an indisputable hub for great ideas in technology and education.
The ideas themselves showcased the huge range of possibilities for what techies call “disruptive” innovations in education. Taking top honors just earlier this evening from among about eight teams was a product called CourseCheck. It’s a system that moves information and assignments from college syllabi into online calendars, helping students stay on top of their work.
GrowingAssessment, a project I tagged along with for a few hours on Saturday, was focused more on the needs of under-performing schools. The prototype is an open-source assessment bank for teachers, with items written by teachers, aimed at reducing the pain and redundancy of researching and writing rigorous assessment questions.
Another project, CodeNow, is a platform for helping underserved students learn “foundational skills in computer science and programming to narrow the digital divide.” Browse and Learn is a prototype browser plugin that helps you learn another language as you read the Internet by substituting key vocabulary words with their foreign language equivalents, allowing you to see them in context.
The event is a harbinger of the kind of collaboration between educators, businesspeople, developers, and investors that is absolutely critical to closing the achievement gap. There is a significant lack of innovation in public education, and CMs must take their teaching knowledge and leverage it to build the tools and companies we need.
While I did not join a team at the event, I made several excellent connections and new friends. I explained Exit Tickets to an executive from Wireless Generation, a leader in the new school of education software companies. I met TFA alums running their own education consulting groups, who connected me in turn to TFA alums running their own education technology groups. I swapped classroom disaster stories with former Baltimore Public Schools teachers and drank coffee with Harvard Business School grads.
Five current DC Region CMs or recent alums followed the startup beacon to Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business. Three of those alums devoted the whole weekend to projects ranging from a tool that re-imagined globes for learning about world cultures to clean, accessible visualizations of student data for parents.
I didn’t join a team on account of planning and grading to handle this weekend, so I’d best head to bed to preserve what little of that reserve energy remains. But let this serve as background for future arguments on why this event represents the dangers of an unchecked digital divide, and why we need more TFA folks working on startups during the week, rather than just the occasional weekend.