Classrooms are like Startups

By Tommy Hoang, Science Teacher at Burton High School
This blog post was republished by permission from his blog.

Business and education are seemingly two very different sectors that we often view as private and public, respectively. One has the potential to make billions while the other… impacts billions. (Education isn’t as lucrative, but we make a difference okay?!)

But after reading the Lean Startup, an entrepreneur’s guide to designing products for the market, I’ve come to realize that the two have more in common than previously thought. How, you ask? Well …

Time & Agility

  • Startups normally have a few years of runway (money in the bank) to develop and grow into a successful lasting business. There’s a sense of urgency and changing directions is common practice when things aren’t working.
  • The education system has thirteen years to impart essential skills to students which they will presumably need to succeed in their lives. Teachers have one year (9 months, really) to adapt and adjust to their students.

Assumptions & Learning

  • Startups operate with many assumptions about their target market that may or may not be true. They validate ideas and learn from their customers through experiments and use the results to pivot or persevere, driving their team in the right direction.
  • Teachers assume practices like collaborative work, reciprocal teaching, and flipped classroom are effective because it’s backed with research. We drive future instruction by learning from professional development courses, past teaching experiences, colleagues, and students.


  • Entrepreneurs validate their learning by assessing customers. Success can mean long-term growth and delivering a product that customers value.
  • Teachers assess students primarily to validate students’ learning and to validate their teaching methods. Traditional success is based on students’ proficiency in key subjects areas.

After reflecting on these similarities and knowing  that students no longer really need teachers to obtain basic information, my colleagues and I implemented some startup practices in our classrooms to see if they’d enhance the learning experience. (We joke that our job titles would evolve into Education Engineers – it’s got a nice ring to it, right?)

Anyway, I present to you tips for establishing and maintaining  “The Lean Classroom.” They’ve worked for me so far and I hope they’re helpful to you, too. Of course, it’s always a work in progress.

Validate Assumptions.
Run small experiments on a class or two (you have 3-5!) to see the effects of a new teaching strategy on your students. Various tactics may or  may not work for your students even if the methodology is backed by research. Example: I set a schedule for weekly office hours instead of telling students “the classroom’s always open”. More students showed up to my weekly session to ask for help compared to the daily lunch session offered by my colleague. The ones who came to tutoring saw a lift in test scores.

Measure Often.
Students testingAssess students’ skills on a rolling basis, not on their content knowledge at the end of the week, quarter, or semester. Skills include actionable metrics such as managing time, studying tactics, and collaboratively applying content.  Providing consistent feedback allows students to be witnesses to their own progress and serves as a strong motivator. It also reinforces the notion that hard work — not innate intelligence — leads to success.Example: We provided an entire week for students to pace themselves through reading a chapter on earthquakes, taking a content test, and designing an earthquake board game with a team. We informally and formally evaluated students during the week and they earned an overall score based on completion (time management), comprehension (study tactics), and project creativity (content application). This instructional model was validated through changes in student behaviors such as increased productivity from all students, requests to continue project outside of class, and improved self-efficacy (measured via survey).

Focus on Skills.
Vanity metrics like test scores, homework completion rate, and classroom participation matter less than students’ personal growth.  Your efforts are better spent helping students to develop skills they’ll need to succeed after they leave your classroom and take that commencement walk.  Classroom success is helping all students be self-directed learners who learn from their failures. Example: Our sixth grade data showed that some of our students were reading at the second grade level. I provided opportunities for these students to improve their reading skills by allowing them to skip some classroom activities in exchange for silent reading. “But they’re in science class!” you say. These students, who rarely read outside of school, exceeded their quarter reading goals by over 100% within two weeks. Furthermore, they began choosing to visit the library and choosing to read outside of school (They enthusiastically shared). Yes, they missed the week on earthquakes but now they have a renewed interest in reading.

Education Needs More than Old Work with New Tools

Originally posted on 11/24/2014 on the Remind blog.

Introducing new educational technology tools cannot, and will not, solve problems in education on their own – if we try to do old work with new tools, we will not see progress. Progress comes when we teach our students how to think strategically, instead of merely giving them new technology without concrete learning objectives.


Last week, Remind hosted an exciting event that helped educators and leaders in the edtech space came together to collaborate, learn from one another, and work to solve current education issues. Alan November and Jill Bromenschenkel of November Learning co-hosted with us to go through the design thinking process for both teaching and education technology development. Alan addressed a troubling problem plaguing our educational system: Why, with all of the technology available to educators, have students’ test scores remained stagnant since the 1970s?


Stop the “thousand dollar pencil plan”

Alan cited Shoshana Zuboff’s 1988 novel titled In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power, which explores information technology in the workplace. Zuboff argues that simply introducing technology to a workplace – or, in our case, a school – does not improve productivity. So, what does this mean for education?

The issues that existed in education 40+ years ago have not been properly addressed and are still present in education today. Introducing new educational technology tools cannot, and will not, solve these problems on their own – if we try to do old work with new tools, we will not see progress. Progress comes when we teach our students how to think strategically, instead of merely giving them new technology without concrete learning objectives. As educators, we need to think about how we can improve deeper learning first, before selecting the technology to help us achieve our goals. Simply purchasing “a thousand dollar pencil plan”, or a cartful of devices, does not immediately improve education. Direction is needed. It is only through establishing clear learning outcomes that technology can truly help learning.

Moving forward

We are inspired by all of the teachers who understand that students benefit from personalized, human relationships and technology should facilitate this, not hinder it. The best 1:1 device is a good teacher, and technology is merely a tool to connect teachers, students, and parents together. In the next 40 years, the mobile revolution will continue to push us to find better, faster ways to help these human connections – and we can’t wait to be part of that process.


By , Content Marketing Manager at Remind 
A former teacher of ELA, ESL and Spanish for K-12, she is passionate about the importance of relationships in social-emotional learning and educating the whole child. Prior to joining Remind, Clara worked for the George Lucas Educational Foundation in social media marketing. Clara lives in San Francisco and loves learning about education technology and tools to improve the education system.

Some Kindly Midwestern Advice on Scaling in K-12 Edtech

bootstrappingBy Christopher Nyren of Educelerate. Republished with Permission. Originally published on EdReach.

Stories of frustrated founders quitting their old-line company jobs out of an inspiration to “hack EDU” from their garage figures frequently among the current class of EdTech start-ups.  But, in fact, you can go all the way back to the 1960s to hear stories of hackers and programmers productizing their EDU domain expertise, building what would become the leading K-20 EdTech companies of today, including Ellucian (SunGard-SCT), Scantron (Quality Computing) and Amplify (Wireless Generation).  Such bootstrapped success may not generate the headlines of $60mm invested into the SnapChat of K-12 or nearly $90mm for the Facebook of K-12, however, the less sexy cases probably provide all the more relevant, actionable insight to the aspiring education entrepreneurs trying to unravel the byzantine markets of K-12 education (read more in our EdTech Failings of Silicon Valley).  And they have the added benefit of providing a more capital efficient model to scale, thus boosting returns for both school district clients and founders.

A Tale of Two Start-ups

The August 2014 merger of Frontline Technologies and Aspex Solutions generated few headlines, but these two 16 year old K-12 start-ups provide a compelling case study.  Back in 1998, a young programmer Abe Reese quit his job at the once high flying United Stationers (est. 1922) to start Aspex Solutions. As the son of educators, Abe had a passion (and a few contacts) in K-12.  Running Aspex Solutions as a dev shop, he was able to build a number of customer-financed products (e.g., textbook inventory management, certification renewal tracking, etc.) until focusing on his “AppliTrack” web-based teacher hiring app.

Certainly, Abe and AppliTrack benefited from the unprecedented discontinuity of the Internet, where individual school departments were granted the latitude to “go online” in ways they had no experience (whereas such technology projects had previously fallen under the purview of IT).  Abe found that he could sell his simpleaccessible and affordable hiring app directly to HR departments, especially when priced as low as $850 per district per year through an ASP model (i.e., Application Service Provider or SaaS before it was SaaSy).

In this way, not only did AppliTrack avoid board approvals or competitive bid processes, but the HR department could just buy the product out of their recruiting budget (it was literally cheaper than paper).  And while K-12 is notorious for opaque buying decisions, their pricing strategy bypassed this while further taking advantage of the relatively transparent buyer identities within the market.  Abe downloaded information on each Illinois school district, dividing them into large / high, medium, and low ($850 for schools with less than 1,3000 students).  From there, word of mouth coupled with good old-fashioned mail campaigns (literal handwritten letters) helped AppliTrack scale to over 3,000 districts without ever raising outside money.  Along the way, Aspex cross-sold new adjacent products such as a behavior based candidate assessment pre-screen and an HRIS (all built off the same tech stack).  AppliTrack’s extensive market adoption probably also played a part in their sister site K12JobSpot‘s growth into the most frequently visited K-12 job board  in the U.S. (compare this to the Comcast / GE Ventures dotCom flameout HotChalk, as described by Sramana Mitra in Are We in a Golden Age of EdTech?).

But in the ultimate tale of two divergent paths, Aspex’s acquiror Frontline Technologies was also founded in 1998 around an even more niche substitute teacher management app, Aesop.  Along the way, they raised outside capital accelerating their expansion such that Frontline could attract a massive growth equity investment in May 2014 from Insight Venture Partners (one of our profiled Most Active Investors in EdTech”), just three months before acquiring Aspex Solutions.  It is unknown to this author which founder equity was ultimately worth more.

Advice from Chicago’s K-12 Start-ups

Of course, scaling strategies for outcome minded education entrepreneurs is not always about making more money.  Its certainly not about a quick buck as the long 16 year path of Aspex Solutions is actually quite typical: per our research, the largest EdTech Unicorns took a median of 14 years to achieve critical scale (i.e., above $300mm in value).  In surveying the entrepreneurs behind some of the leading Midwest K-12 start-ups like Abe Reese of Aspex and Jay Alter, a founding team member at Edline, we have arrived at the following fundamental core principles for monetizing and scaling in K-12:

  1. Sell to Known People with a Known Problem: this sounds rather self evident, but as a current founder Ryan Hoch (Overgrad) succinctly puts it, “the so-called problems of bureaucracy in EdTech are felt most by those start-ups whose products are misaligned with one of the key issues affecting education.”  Make certain your product delivers tangible value for a core problem, but also focus on the largest and most influential schools (see point 3).  Once Abe had a critical mass of schools on his network, he achieved the mythical “network effect” with secondary schools having to be on AppliTrack in order to even get decent applicants.
  2. Keep it Simple: Even though AppliTrack was a back-end solution (hiring), it served as a front-end to teacher candidates (applicants), so it had to be clean and simple.  As both founder and CEO as well as the chief programmer, Abe could ensure the right features were launched at the right time.  In fact, AppliTrack only hired its first developer eight years in: this was clearly not an over-engineered (and thus, expensive) product.  Since their founding, AppliTrack has always maintained an approach of “Show, Don’t Tell”.  Leading with sales (our first point above) and focusing on the MVP / demo is effectively a regurgitation of the Lean Startup methodology, but this is particularly resonant approach in K-12 education.
  3. Selling to School Districts Takes Time: start-ups must not just plan for a school calendar based sales cycle, but likely face a two year sales process at their start.  K-12 is still largely an insular, relationship based industry and our founders believe it takes two years minimum just to “get recognized”. Consistency is key, as familiarity (i.e. touring the conference circuit) breeds trust.  Districts will look to their colleagues in other districts for advice, so seek to leverage each new regional sale to built out client referrals in that geographic market.  Of course, there is also the freemium route, but this is an article about bootstrapped scaling.  A more monetization-friendly strategy is to avoid getting caught up in centralized tech budgets and instead look to vertical / departmental pockets of funding (i.e., teacher recruiting).  And, remember, everyone gets their money in July or August.  That drives the timing of major sales efforts and product launches, but should also drive organizational flexibility and staffing (especially, under-funded bootstrapped start-ups).
  4. School Districts are Loyal Customers: Matt Greenfield has also written on this, but as an additional tip, note that some schools can actually take advantage of the occasional budget surplus to pre-pay for several years of their software subscription – a far cheaper solution for working capital needs than equity investment.  Moreover, in a perhaps anti-SaaS point of view, there is a particular K-12 risk of being locked into POs with one line item budget for the year.  Variable pricing (i.e., apps / users) can be deadly, so Aspex just structured their contracts with unlimited apps and users.  In this way, they could better plan their revenue and budget, but also led their school clients make AppliTrack by default a site license and pervasive across their district.
  5. Implementations are Hard: this is driving unprecedented school and vendor interest in Cleverand the N2N Integration Cloud, but implementations are more than a matter of APIs and legacy IT systems.  Our K-12 entrepreneurs have found that services are key: yes, services are lower margin than software, but at least they are positive margin unlike SaaS (at the start).  And in this way, our bootstrapped platforms have internally funded their start-up and seasonal working capital.
  6. No One Company Cleans up in K12: as previously noted, our research on EdTech Unicorns shows there have been perhaps a dozen exits greater than $300mm, with very few of those B2C models (e.g., Leapfrog, SchoolSpecialty, etc.).  Most exits will be under $50mm, so plan your investment needs/rounds (and valuations) accordingly.
  7. Teachers using Teacher-based Products are not Effective Champions for EnterpriseProducts:  This principle shared by Jay may come off as controversial, but merely reflects the reality that just because x% of a school’s teachers use any given Freemium Teacher App, does not mean a school district will / can find the requisite funding to pay for its premium upgrade.  Of course, there are freemium products achieving success in getting schools to upgrade, none more so than the former Chicago Public Schools teacher Jeff Scheur and NoRedInk.  And so in one last principle…
  8. Sell Your (Freemium) Product around a Measure of Utility or Engagement: This can be the number of questions answered / posted or assignments / assessments completed, but it should guide your product development and customer service focus and serve  as a proxy for learning such that the school can make a decision around it — and come to you to upgrade (eliminating capital intensive field sales staff).  As Jeff at NoRedInk shared with us:

    “Schools and districts are pitched on tons of stuff that they don’t want or need, which is unfortunate and largely unnecessary. I’ve always been a fan of freemium models in education because they allow teachers to discover and champion the products that actually help them do their jobs better. The approach is strategic for companies because it lets customers find them, and it’s also just good for the world since it helps school dollars get spent more efficiently. At NoRedInk, we really just try to add as much value as we can, and we’ve been fortunate that so many schools and districts have contacted us about the Premium version after getting comfortable with our software.”

By Christopher Nyren of Educelerate. Republished with Permission. Originally published on EdReach.

It’s Your Turn To Pick The Best Startups Of The Education Track

More than 25,000 entrepreneurs at 230 Startup Weekend events in 80 countries built startups in 54 hours between November 14-23.  Many of these teams decided to improve education by building an education startup and are now competing in the Education, Empowered Track of the Global Startup Battle to receive a prize package powered by General Assembly that will help their startup grow.

Now We Need You


It’s your turn! We want to know which of these education startups you are the most excited about. Which do you think will impact learning the most? Each startup has produced a 90 second video to showcase their startup. Use your voice by voting on the best.

Watch some of the videos from the 108 startups in the Education, Empowered Track and vote for the ones that you like the best. You can vote for each team once every 24 hours before December 3 at 11:59pm and you can vote for as many teams as you want. The top 15 startups with the most votes in the Education, Empowered Track will advance to a judging round and we’ll announce the winner on December 10th.

Vote Now!


Voting ends on December 3rd, 2014 at 11:59pm PST. More details on how to vote

Chamando todos Empreendedores de Educação: a maior competição startup do mundo quer você

Novembro com certeza é uma época especial do ano! A maior competição mundial de startups, a Global Startup Battle (GSB), está há apenas quatro dias de começar! Ocorrendo dos dias 14 a 24 de Novembro, GSB 2014 marca a primeira vez que empreendedores da educação terão seu próprio registro na competição para mostrar suas mais novas e grandiosas inovações. Entitulado “Education, Empowered Track”, nove dos maiores players na indústria de Edtech irão se juntar ao público para determinar a mais nova e promissora startup de edtech da competição.

Global Startup Battle 2014

A Maior Competição de Startups Do Mundo

Todo ano durante a Semana Global do Empreendedorismo, a UP Global, dá a oportunidade a empreendedores de 250 cidades ao redor do mundo a competir por prêmios feitos para ajudá-los a levar suas startups adiante. A competição é chamada de Global Startup Battle (GSB), e seus parceiros incluem Google, Coca Cola, Amazon, Sprint, Bigcommerce, e mais. Com mais de 30,000 pessoas participando esse ano, esse será facilmente nosso maior GSB de todos! Confira os ganhadores do ano passado, assim como o infográfico do GSB 2013, e confira o website para encontrar mais sobre o que virá no GSB este ano.

Educação, Empowered Track é A Primeira Competição Focada em Educação do GSB

Esse Ano, Education Entrepreneurs e a General Assembly orgulhosamente estão co-organizando o primeiro Education, Empowered Track dentro do GSB. Milhares de pessoas dentro de 10 Startup Weekend Education (SWEDU) e mais  200 Startup Weekend estarão participando, e a expectativa é mais de 300 times construindo soluções para educação em um intervalo de tempo de apenas 10 dias. Ideias serão julgadas em quatro categorias: Impacto Educacional, Experiência de Usuário (UX), Execução e Validação. (Veja Aqui todos os critérios de julgamento). Se você está se sentindo desapontado pela forma atual de educação, tem uma idéia para melhorar, ou quer contribuir com o movimento para inovar e melhorar a educação, então participar no Education, Empowered Track é um grande passo a tomar.

Grandes Patrocinadores, Juízes e Pacotes de Prêmios Incluídos
This year, we’re excited to announce that General Assembly is the official sponsor of the Education, Empowered Track. As one of the largest and most successful education organization’s in the world, General Assembly is excited to work with education entrepreneurs during GSB to improve the way people learn, increase access to education, and ensure that everyone is empowered to be a thinker and maker.

Esse ano, estamos animados em anunciar que a General Assembly é o patrocinador oficial do Education, Empowered Track. Como uma das maiores e mais bem sucedidas organizações educacionais do mundo, a General Assembly está animada em trabalhar com empreendedores da educação durante o GSB para melhorar a forma com que as pessoas aprendem, aumentar acesso a educação, e a garantir que todos tem o poder de serem pensadores e criadores.
Os juízes são também incríveis! New Schools Venture FundPearson Affordable Learning Fund, EdSurgeClass Dojo, e o Institute for Global and Online Education todos juntaram-se a General Assembly para garantir que os participantes tenham a oportunidade de mostrar seus produtos para alguns dos maiores influentes no espaço da inovação em educação. (Veja a lista completa de juízes aqui).

$20,000 dólares em cursos da General Assembly, $5,000 dólares Living Stipend, Sessões de Mentoria Um-a-Um, 40 Horas de Suporte, Legal Startup Kit, e Social Media Super Powers. Esse é o pacote de prêmios atual, e há mais vindo essa semana! Organizações estão ansiosas para premiar as mentes mais brilhantes que irão se juntar para melhorar a educação, então tenha certeza de conferir antes de 14 de Novembro para ver os prêmios incríveis adicionados!

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Todos Podem Participar 
A competição GSB começas com um  Startup Weekend tomando lugar no intervalo de 10 dias do GSB (de 14 a 23 de Novembro). Disperso ao redor do mundo, esses eventos acolhem cada um e todos que queiram entrar no mundo do empreendedorismo e trabalhar em equipe para montar um produto inovador e startup. Startup Weekend é conhecido como uma experiência de aprendizado de fim de semana que ajuda pessoas a transformar suas idéias em uma startup em menos de 54 horas. O lema é Sem Conversa, Só Ação, então se você tem uma idéia que quer apresentar, ou um desejo de contribuir com suas habilidades e idéias a um time existente, garanta sua participação, antes que as vagas acabem.

10 Startup Weekend Education (SWEDU) Eventos Estão Ocorrendo Durante GSB
Qualquer pessoa participando de um Startup Weekend durante o GSB, que construir uma startup de edtech durante o final de semana pode participar do Education, Empowered Track. É importante ressaltar que existem dois tipos de eventos Startup Weekend: Startup Weekends que são referidos dessa forma, e Startup Weekend Education que são referenciados como SWEDU.
Os elementos que fazem um SWEDU diferentes de um Startup Weekend comum é que 25% dos participantes são educadores, todos os Mentores e Juízes no evento são experts em educação e tecnologia para educação (edtech), e todas as idéias sendo trabalhadas durante o final de semana são especificamente focadas em resolver problemas educacionais. Os dois tipos de Startup Weekend ocorrerão durante o GSB, então independente de qual você se registrar para participar, você está automaticamente elegível para participar do Education, Empowered Track, se estiver desenvolvendo uma solução para educação.

Aqui está a lista de todos os eventos durante, e abaixo você encontra os 10 eventos especificamente de SWEDU.

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Educação Empreendedorismo é Ano-Round
Qualquer pessoa que queira inovar em educação tem a chance única de participar em um Startup Weekend ou SWEDU durante o GSB e competir por prêmios incríveis a uma grande exposição internacional! Entretanto, nós queremos ter certeza que você saiba e entenda que a oportunidade para utilizar empreendedorismo para resolver problemas em educação é algo que você pode fazer ao longo do ano. Education Entrepreneurs é a comunidade oficial dentro da  UP Global que especificamente foca em alavancar empreendedorismo para melhorar resultados na educação.
Reconhecendo que as pessoas que inovam na educação encaram problemas únicos, o Education Entrepreneurs criou uma série de programas para especificamente ajudar empreendedores da educação ao longo de sua jornada. Programs incluem SWEDU, Startup Digest Education, bootcamps, meetups, recursos, e uma rede global de Líderes de Comunidades que estão felizes em ajudar. Localizados em todos os 6 continentes, Education Entrepreneurs facilita para todos, em qualquer lugar a ter um papel ativo em moldar o futuro da educação.
Aprenda mais sobre o Education, Empowered Track
Confira o que mais está acontecendo no Global Startup Battle
Siga toda a ação do Education, Empowered no Twitter usando a hashtag #GSBedu
Perguntas? Email

Build Better Edtech Products By Connecting Early And Often With Teachers

Effective EdTech tools come from effective engagement with teachers. Instead of throwing solutions into the over-crowded paths of teachers, reach out and connect.  Get ahead by gaining teacher feedback early and often.



Top Reasons To Engage With Teachers Early

Engaging with teachers early will ensure you have a valid product fit with your customers. It will also save you valuable time as you will be building a viable product that solves a real problem.

What You Can Gain From Early Engagement:

  • You need to know about your competition and what tools teachers are currently using.

  • Learn from the mistakes of others and find out what tools teachers have ditched and why.

  • You need to understand a typical daily routine of a classroom: Technology must be easily integrated.

  • You need to know the limitations and barriers teachers face when adopting new Technology into a classroom.

  • Teachers can help you to understand the politics of entering the school system.

  • What you think may be simple and easy to use, may be surprisingly unclear to your users.

  • Teachers can be the voice of parents and students.

“After speaking with teachers I realized there were so many things I had not thought of. The only way I could of found these things out was through talking to teachers.” Bret Kopf, Co-Founder, Remind

Top Reasons To Engage With Teachers Often

Education is constantly changing and you need to keep up to date with what is happening. Demands on teachers and students constantly change and new EdTech tools are being created rapidly to address these challenges. You need to keep in front of teachers. What you can gain from engaging often:

  • You need to know if your product is user friendly and easily adopted by the intended audience: teachers / students / parents.

  • You need to know if a better solution has been created- find out about new competition.

  • Save your time and efforts by finding out what features teachers use most from your product and which ones they don’t use.

  • Get ideas for new features through teacher requests.

  • Technology can run into problems and teachers don’t have time to waste- find out what hinders them from using your EdTech.

  • Find out if teachers are using your EdTech frequently and if not, why?

  • Test your hypothesis. Did your EdTech solve the problem?

  • Find out if you need to pivot. Are teachers using your EdTech to solve an entirely different problem that you intended?

  • Don’t solely rely on feedback from existing users who know your product.  Get out there and find fresh eyes.

What You Need To Ask Teachers

Ask before you build. Teachers spend their days encouraging and fostering inquisitive minds in their students. Make a teachers day and ask them questions.  Make sure your EdTech solves a problem.

  • What problem can I solve for you and your students?
  • What are your biggest pain points?
  • How often do you struggle with this problem?
  • What other solution / EdTech do you currently use to help solve this problem?
  • What are the problems with existing EdTech tools that address this problem?
  • If you could have any feature added to the current solution you use,  what would it be?
  • What is your biggest turn on / off with new EdTech tools?
  • Tell me about a good / bad experience you had with an EdTech tool?
  • What are your biggest challenges when adopting new technology?

3 EdTech Companies Who Successfully Engage With Teachers

Finally I want to share some great words of wisdom from 3 very successful EdTech companies who believe in the power of engaging with teachers early and often.

“We want to co-develop the right solution with our customers, teachers.” – Scott Freschet, Actively Learn.

“We have a dedicated support team who ensure regular personal contact with teachers for feedback.” – Stuart Reavley, Class Dojo

Remind states their mission on their website: “We listen before we build.”


These companies continue to build both their products and their users base through dedicated collaboration with teachers.

About the Author: Teacher Suzy is the Founder of TinkerEd, winner of Startup Weekend EDU. TinkerEd connects EdTech developers and teachers. Get feedback from teachers today at TinkerEd.

Create Educational Opportunities for All During Global Startup Battle

Some might say that we’re in an education crisis. Due to decreasing budgets for schools, an increase in student drop-out rates and college tuition, and an increased need for adults to learn new skills, education innovation needs to happen now more than ever. For every problem, there’s a plethora of solutions waiting to be discovered.

This November, we encourage you to see these challenges as opportunities for innovation in education. There are many opportunities to improve education and we can’t wait to see what you build during Global Startup Battle! If you’re passionate about changing the world, there’s no greater opportunity than by improving education for others, creating opportunities for them to flourish!

Global Startup Battle 2014

This year, General Assembly is supporting education entrepreneurs by sponsoring the Global Startup Battle’s Education: Empowered Track.  From improving the way we learn to increasing access to education, we’re looking at you to join us in creating a world where everyone is empowered to be a thinker and a maker. This is why General Assembly is proud to host the Education, Empowered track and elevate the next great idea in education.

CLICK HERE for info on eligibility, prizes, and judges! 

It’s your turn to create the next great education startup during one of this year’s 250 Startup Weekend events. Find your city on the Global Startup Battle website and read more on the Education Empowered Track.


Carrot Sweeps Startup Weekend Education Chicago

Guest Post by Ingrid Gonçalves

chicagosweduI was not excited for Startup Weekend Education. When I registered on a whim, it hadn’t clicked that I’d be spending my entire weekend—the kind of sunny, 70-degree weekend Chicagoans live all winter for—holed up in a National Louis University classroom.

But I sucked it up and took the bus from my job at the University of Chicago, already worn out from a long week at work. I hoped, at least, the weekend might be a fun experience and a good networking opportunity. Plus I felt bad backing out.


After pizza and introductions, 24 participants pitched their ideas for improving education. Teachers, programmers, and entrepreneurs tackled problems ranging from language learning to summer planning, each in less than 60 seconds. We all voted for our favorites, and began forming teams around ideas that made the cut.

I braced myself and approached the designated area for “Whipping Post”, a product pitched by fresh DevBootcamp graduate Ryan Spencer. As a former graphic design teacher, Ryan hated all the paperwork involved in reporting student discipline issues. He wanted to build an app to save teachers time. I knew student behavior management was a big challenge for many educators, so I got on board.

postitsThe next hour was a whirlwind of features spitballed onto a wall of giant Post-it notes. I’d barely had time to learn anyone’s name, but already our simple concept had morphed into a monster. (We want teachers to record video now? Why? How?) At some point we called it a night and went home. I lay awake for a long time despite how exhausted I felt. This is going to be a disaster, I thought as I finally drifted off.


The adrenaline kicked in the next morning. Whipping Post wasn’t going down without a fight. We regrouped over breakfast, and refocused on our immediate goal: winning Startup Weekend Education. We had five minutes to convince the judges we’d built a useful, marketable product. So we looked at the judging criteria and hashed out a game plan for addressing each one.


Luckily, we had a well-rounded team. Abhi Pillai and Ryan were both software developers. Nathan Conroy and Jeremy Peters had education backgrounds. Purab Kaur, Pat Doyle, and I knew a few things about marketing. We agreed on a less scary name—Carrot, to reflect our new focus on positive behavior—and got to work.

We started coding. We designed a cute logo. We surveyed teachers and principals and counselors, calling and tweeting all the educators we knew. We crunched some numbers. We argued.  We researched the competition. By dinnertime, Carrot had grown into a coherent product with a working demo. I finished the pitch deck around 1am.


carrotteamWe spent the final day polishing our presentation of a simple web app to help teachers, administrators, and parents encourage positive student behavior. (The logo T-shirts were a game-time decision.) Team Carrot sat united in the atrium, anxious to see what the others had in store.

First up was Pairs, a tool for partnering students so they can learn from each other. Then we heard from Watch Me Work, a video library of experts practicing their skills in a non-tutorial setting, and Eternity Engine, which is like Google Earth but with history-related educational content. Fantasy Finance and Jock Games used sports-inspired programs to teach financial literacy and math.

As the judges deliberated, we already felt like winners. Carrot had been a team for less than two days, but we meshed as if we’d been working together for months. We had a blast regardless of the outcome—and we had a pretty cool product to show for it.

carrotwinsCarrot ended up winning both first place and people’s choice. We toasted our victory with fellow participants, including runners-up Pairs and Fantasy Finance, and the Startup Weekend EDU organizers. After working nonstop since we first met, we finally had a chance to ask each other where we lived and how many kids we had. But we knew we’d have plenty of time to get to know each other. This weekend was just the beginning.

What’s next for Carrot? Follow us at @classcarrot or!

How Do You Turn Girls Into Hackers? Vidcode Has the Answer.

This spring, three female developers, Alexandra Diracles, Melissa Halfon, and Leandra Tejedor, teamed up to get more teen girls excited about technology.

The all-women team met at a Startup Weekend Education event. As professional women in computer science, they shared a passion to level tech’s male-dominated playing field for girls and women. In their research efforts, they spoke directly to girls about:

  1. the disconnect they feel from computer science classes, and
  2. the misperceptions they hold, primarily that tech is boring.

Soon after, Vidcode was created, a coding app designed with girls in mind that pairs with a hobby girls love – creating and sharing videos.

“It works!” says Alexandra Diracles, one of the creators. “The app is already empowering teenagers and opening their eyes to how fun and creative computer science can be.”

The team has been taking Vidcode around the country, holding introductory workshops in New York City, New Orleans, and Minneapolis.

“We’re excited about Vidcode,” co-creator Melissa Halfon added. “We want to do more. We see Vidcode as the start of a suite of tech educational tools for girls.” STEM educators, take note.

Fifteen-year-old Emma is proof. She appeared to be thrilled to share her own video completed with the Vidcode software, “I love it! I coded the colors, added a blur filter and I even got my friends involved in the process.”

Sarah, 16, shared her enthusiasm, “At my school there is a class for coding filled with guys. After using Vidcode, I’m realizing something may seem complicated, but also girls can do it.”

In January of this year, Vidcode took home 1st Place Winner in New York’s Startup Weekend EDU weekend. Next is a KICKSTARTER campaign to fund development of extensive coding software and curriculum for consumers and schools. As the team continues to introduce Vidcode, one thing is clear: girls love it. The future for women in technology looks brighter already.


Using Quick Prototyping to Develop Online Courses

By Haidee Thanda, Instructional Designer 

For the past few months, I have been working at a university to develop their first MOOCs (also known as Massive Open Online Courses). As a student who has taken courses in a classroom setting on top of working a 25 hour/week part-time job, I have been motivated about the opportunities and flexibility these courses can provide. The potential they present is very exciting. However, success rates aren’t as great as you might think. For all of the hype about MOOCs, the dropout rate is approximately 90 percent (Liyanagunawardena, Adams, & Williams, 2013). Only a fraction of students successfully complete a course.

Bayne and Ross’ report for the Higher Education Academy on The Pedagogy of the Massive Open Online Course: the UK view (2013), provides valuable insights into the tensions, ambiguities and opportunities afforded by MOOCs. Truly, there are as many reasons for the low student completion rate as there are individual motivations for taking an online course. As an instructional designer, this made me curious and I decided to explore this problem.

With the interest of many universities veering towards developing open online courses, the alarming statistics on dropout rates and some really stimulating discussions with faculty and colleagues, I decided to pitch a solution to help students successfully complete online courses at EDU Startup Weekend Montreal. The aim of Startup Weekend was to come together and share tech solutions for education, by forming teams and developing minimal viable products (MVP).

Eric Ries, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, popularized the idea of a minimum viable product, also known as quick prototyping. The concept is akin to writing an outline and getting it reviewed by your audience before you do hours of research and build your argument. When you get early feedback, you are able to develop a more effective paper.

We named our prototype the “MOOC survivor tool.” While developing a prototype, I learned that there were a few things this approach could offer to the field of online learning.

When applied to online learning, the idea is simple: create a prototype in increments and test it with customers to validate its effectiveness with real life users. This allows you to learn about what your users need and want while investing little time in going down unnecessary paths. It is essentially a fast process to nullify or accept your hypotheses and assumptions. The process tells you from an early stage if your idea or hypothesis is useful and worth building. The formula is simple: build, test, learn and repeat:


So what can creating a minimal viable product offer the world of learning and development?

As a designer, my ultimate aim is to build a product that meets the desired learning outcomes in order to develop knowledge and skills. Without gathering feedback, it’s difficult to know if I am hitting the mark. So I need to test early and frequently. When I create an MVP, it’s easier to not get attached to a basic design so I can make faster iterations. In most cases, developing an MVP can accelerate learning and save valuable resources.


Bayne, S., & Ross, J. (2013). The pedagogy of the Massive Open Online Course: the UK view.

Liyanagunawardena, T. R., Adams, A. A., & Williams, S. A. (2013). MOOCs: A systematic study of the published literature 2008-2012. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 14(3), 202-227.