Who are your learning heroes? Is it a former teacher from elementary school? Someone you’ve read about making a difference in today’s embattled world of K-12? Or maybe a MOOC innovator within higher ed? Think no further. I have some nominees for you:
- Maya Gat
- Kara Carpenter
- Mike Zamansky
Who are they, and how did they get on this list? Let me set it up for you. Then I’ll get into the details.
There’s a lot of new terminology that has come out of the influx of technology into education in the past few years. Most of us know about the edupreneurs who have entered the education market to provide tools, services and dollars to implementing technology solutions into the field. More and more, we are hearing about teachers who are taking on the mantle of business ownership in order to parlay their expertise into providing educationally sound technical solutions to educational problems.
I was fortunate enough to spend the other evening at a great event called “Real Teachers of Silicon Alley: Teacherpreneurs’ Impact on EdTech” organized by NY EdTech Meetup, co-organized by Michelle Dervan and Kathy Benemann. I was blown away by the dedication, business savvy and technical expertise of the panel.
Classroom Challenges to Integrating New Technology
The discussion started with a provocative question addressing concern around the products and the bad rap that edtech is getting in educational circles these days. The biggest two challenges, as we have written about before in this space, were summarized as:
- Teachers are in danger of spending more time dealing with new technology than with actual teaching.
- Much of the technology being introduced can be classified as “substitution products,” or “digital replicas” of existing, and perhaps sub-par teaching practices. Think test prep on steroids.
Each of the three teacherpreneurs is certified classroom teachers. Two have left teaching to focus on running their companies, one is still teaching. The fourth panelist is serving as the iZone Director of Special Projects for the NYC Department of Education.
The panelists shared various anecdotes and perspectives on gaps in the current offerings and processes for integrating technology into the classroom:
- Trading existing best practices in the classroom for time spent working with new software programs
- Not enough release time or time to actually learn the systems
- Lack of appropriate content or toolset
The Basic Business Challenges to Teacherpreneurship
As our small sampling illustrates, the major challenge to teacherpreneurship is that it often takes people who truly love being in the classroom out of the classroom. Therefore, if a teacherpreneur does leave the classroom to start up a business, maintaining a team of teacher content experts, developers and consultants is a large requirement for developing the right kind of product.
Additionally, while teachers may have their fingers on the pulse of what kids need, they may not have the business acumen required to start and operate a business in today’s dynamic market. Some teacherpreneurs take on a co-founder or partner to fill this role.
More on our learning heroes
So let me present today’s learning heroes, three teachers who have taken technology into their own hands in order to improve learning.
Maya Gat, CEO and Co-Founder of Branching Minds
Prior to starting Branching Minds, Gat taught both locally and overseas. Through her own experience trying to understand why certain students struggle in the classroom, and through the principals of activism that were inherent to her teaching, Gat started Branching Minds to help identify appropriate strategies for individual students. Part of the solution lies in Gat’s understanding of neurodiversity and the role that plays in how people learn.
A series of questions answered on the Branching Minds site, much like those you may input into a “Web MD type application,” provides users with the learning strategies tailored to their particular learning style.
The platform enables you to:
- Identify students’ learning challenges
- Find research-back support
- Track and report on student progress
Branching Minds just won the Netexplo Digital Innovation Award for 2015. Off to a good start (up)!
Kara Carpenter, Co-Founder of Teachley
Carpenter started up Teachley in 2011 while finishing her Ph.D. in Cognitive Studies at Teachers College, Columbia University. She has over 10 years of classroom teaching experience from kids to adults, and has also taught overseas. Teachley’s program is a research-driven, game-based product that recognizes the distinct thinking processes different learners apply to solving math problems. Knowing how that child approaches these problems, a pathway to learning appropriate to that child can be developed.
The platform provides:
- Personalized learning
- Progress monitoring
- RTI and intervention support
- Professional development
Teachley has been recognized by the Breteau Foundation as a 2015 Prize Finalist and was awarded a Research@Work Honorable Mention in 2014 by Digital Promise. Their work has been cited by Scholastic, the Wall Street Journal and other outlets.
Mike Zamansky, Teacher and Founder of CSTUY
Mike Zamansky was a software engineer who left his job at Goldman Saks to teach. He and a group of fellow master teachers built developed the series of computer science courses taught at Stuyvesant and out of that developed the non-profit organization CSTUY (Computer Science and Technology for Urban Youth) to bring computer science to an audience that may not otherwise have access to the type of teaching and learning that CSTUY provides. Through afterschool and summer school programs, they bring best-in-class CS learning to a much wider audience.
One strong component of the CSTUY program has been bringing together the hundreds of Stuyvesant alumni and creating a network of advisors and connections to those just coming up.
Zamansky is passionate about teaching and learning, about providing quality computer science offerings to students within his school and beyond it.
The Need to Get It Done
The other day I wrote about the need to disrupt education if we want to change it. It was great to hear how these powerful innovators are using technology and business modeling in a way that is truly disruptive in order to improve education. When asked why they would take on teacherpreneurship despite the challenges, the consensus was that “it needed to be done.” These are the reasons I’ve added them to my list of learning heroes.
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