DC Startup Weekend EDU: Building Startups, Building Teacher PD

This past weekend, Startup Weekend EDU was at Georgetown University in Washington DC. Having gone from a weekend in Silicon Valley at the latest SF Startup Weekend EDU to DC Startup Weekend EDU was an interesting shift -- in terms of the participants, the judges, the cities' cultures.

I could make all sorts of sweeping generalizations about the difference in tech events in Silicon Valley versus those in the nation's capital: the former is the playground of makers, who churned out code with amazing speed and efficiency; the latter was the land of the deliberators, who debated the direction, the scope, the business model to such a degree that I worried "when will they start to code?!" The former event featured pitches that were demoes; the latter featured a lot of PowerPoint.

But these generalizations seem unfair in a lot of ways. People hacked together great projects in DC, and folks in Silicon Valley do still love their pitch decks. And the "cultural" differences between teams in DC and San Francisco and Seattle (and soon to be in London and Detroit and Research Triangle Park) are part of the point -- we need to spread these events, these projects, these conversations globally and tap into local knowledge and expertise. The Silicon Valley ed-tech startup -- I'm sorry -- just isn't "the" solution.

As someone who's attended the last four Startup Weekend EDU events, I am actually pretty excited to watch the new education vertical for Startup Weekend start to really take shape. I think the team involved is really serious about making sure teachers' voices are heard here, and one thing that struck me this weekend is that Startup Weekend EDU is actually quite a powerful professional development experience for those teachers who participate -- even if they have absolutely no intention of leaving the classroom to start their own businesses. (I wrote more on this topic today over on MindShift.)

This sort of project-based learning that happens over the course of a Startup Weekend is something that teachers are trying to bring to their own classrooms. In this case, it isn't just that the project is "build a tech product" or "build a tech startup" (although yes, that has been the point of the Startup Weekend model in the past.)

It's also about peeling back the layers behind the surface level of the "business of ed-tech." It's about peeling back the layers behind tech itself. Why do certain business models work (or not work) in education? Why does certain tech work (or not work) in education? Who are the customers? Teachers? Students? Parents? Administrators? How are we helping student achievement? How are we empowering students? How are we helping teachers make that happen?

At last night's pitch event, the Department of Education's Jim Shelton spoke briefly to those present. He said something that really resonated with me. We talk a lot about the difficult of penetrating the education culture. We often believe that teachers are hard to convince to adopt new technologies. But "when teachers talk to their friends," he said, "and they see what really works, they actually adopt new tools quickly."

Startup Weekend EDU is helping grow that very ecosystem -- not just of teachers talking to their friends about the tools that work, but of teachers talking to engineers and entrepreneurs about what works. Some of these things might get addressed during a 54-hour period; many, of course, will not. But it's helping, I'd argue, to engage more people in a conversation about education technology -- in its business, in its tech, in its application, and in its creation.

Here are the 13 startups launched over the course of the weekend in DC:
  • Show Your Work -- digital archive for students' work, sorted by class
  • One Point Education -- OpenCourseWare + college credit -- expand opportunities for college students
  • Interactive Fitness Platform -- using the Kinect for to bring fitness instructors to customers around the world
  • What's New in School -- give teachers a simple way to help parents know "what's new in school"
  • CourseCheck -- syllabi upload for college students with calendar and tasking (Winner)
  • Four Eyes on Me -- communicating student data w/ parents with infographics
  • GrantStar -- grant-monitoring program
  • Lectics -- encouraging more participation in the classroom, "Stack Overflow" for the classroom
  • MyGlobes -- helps students understand "the global"/"the globe" by helping inform them about world-wide events (e.g. by following recording artists' tours)
  • CodeNow -- helping get girls and minority youth into coding; project-oriented
  • Operation Hire Me -- simulation game to help people work through the hiring process
  • Growing Assessment -- one-stop shop for assessment tools for teachers (by teachers); openly-licensed
  • Browse and Learn -- language learning app, browser plug-in for contextual learning as you surf the Web


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