the past eight years I've walked into a hundred classrooms. I've even marched
boldly into my share of meetups and conferences like South by Southwest and the
NMC Conference. But I will confess that venturing into New York City's McGraw-Hill
Conference Center this week, did give me a few flashbacks to "Stranger in
a Strange Land," which is odd considering I’m an educator and it was a
conference about education.
year was the largest SIIA Ed Tech Business Forum ever,
bringing together 340 innovators, entrepreneurs, thinkers, leaders and
investors in the education technology space. I was there to learn about the
latest innovations--including, I hope, some that will help the schools that I
work with. Plenty of entrepreneurs, on the other hand, came looking for funding
and plenty of investors came scouting out potential partnerships.
kicked off with a speed-networking extravaganza, one of the most popular
functions at the conference. This was our first glance into the scope of the
attendee list. While the background beat of the "Macarena" was a bit
distracting and three minutes never seemed long enough, it provided the perfect
experience for company representatives to refine their elevator pitches and
dish out those Moo Cards.
to veteran SIIA member Frank Catalano, the number of startups at the conference
has noticeably increased. This is a step in the right direction and fits in
nicely with the conference theme of seismic change.
climaxed with the Innovation Incubator: 13 innovators competing in three
separate locations, aiming to share their vision, their accomplishments and
their potential. I spent some time researching the 13 teams prior to the
competition and I had hoped to feel a direct connection to many of them –
particularly those focused on K-12 since that is where I spend my days. (Here's a list and descriptions of them all.) I
wanted their presentations to bring back personal moments from my classrooms and make my internal
teacher voice shout, “This tool would have solved my problem that day!”
Some of them did just that. I find, though, that sometimes it takes a pronounced effort to
distinguish a great speaker from a strong idea from skilled implementation. The
ability and responsibility to distinguish is crucial when participating in a
competition like the SIIA Innovation Incubator.
three-way split was challenging, especially when multiple companies presented
simultaneously on similar products in separate locations. Perhaps next year the
Incubator should consider taking on more of a “Battle of the Bands” vibe, and
encourage companies building multiple solutions to one problem to talk to each
other...or at the very least, to listen.
four presentations in room 207, Clever was the one that racked up the most
votes for "Most Innovative" and "Most Likely To Succeed."
(Here's some background on Clever.) By chance, I sat next to the ever
eloquent Michael Cohn, VP of GSV Advisors:
“The SIIA Ed Tech Business Forum provides a much needed showcase for companies like Clever and LearnSprout that
are solving real pain points for students, teachers, and administrators to get
in front of their broader industry constituents.” Agreed! As a teacher and
instructional coach, I see the challenges that Clever and LearnSprout are
addressing directly impact 80% of the classrooms I visit each week. On Tuesday,
Clever snagged the top title in both the "innovative" and "most
likely to succeed" categories.
I couldn't help but have my heart stolen by Mathalicious.
Founder Karim Kai Ani's passion for bringing highly engaging materials to a
subject that too many teachers struggle with was awe-inspiring. Not to mention
the quotable nature of his words:
@Mathalicious RT @NextThoughter: Mathalicious
on Khan: "you have to have a good product before you wrap technology
around it" #etbf12
about Mathalicious and Karim’s captivating presentation was abundant during the
reception on Monday evening and on Tuesday--so much so, that Catalano dubbed
Mathalicious the winner of “The Bridesmaid Award.” (It officially took runner
up in both categories.)
I--and perhaps the judges-found particular compelling about both Clever COO Dan
Carroll and Mathalicious' Karim is that both have spent quite a bit of time in
the classroom. And
seeing teachers become greater stakeholders in the education technology arena
is exactly the kind of truly seismic change I and many others are hoping to
Marisa Kaplan is the founder of the education blog, EdGeeks. She is also a literacy and special education instructional coach for
K-12 teachers, a private tutor and an educational writer. In addition, she is the Head of Curriculum Development at PenPal News, Community Ambassador at Citelighter and a Mentormob Innovator, and on the advisory board for SxSWedu.