Teacher Hackers Gather in New York City

Teacher Hackers Gather in New York City


The edtech community and the Maker Movement have been growing rapidly here in NYC. Lately our edtech meetups are filled to capacity, the NYCDOE’s iZone Initiative is making moves with the Gap App Challenge, and we have a brand new edtech accelerator called Socratic Labs. It’s gonna be a big year, to say the least.

And now there is a new techie-teacher group brewing, too. THaSIS (an acronym for Teachers Hacker Space for Independent Schools) held its inaugural meeting on Friday, February 22 at the Dalton School in Manhattan. (It's super new, but you can check out and join the Google group here.) The group was started by Lindsay Velazco, an elementary school teacher at the Dalton School, who during the inaugural meeting gave away her big secret: “The THaSIS Crew is really just me!” In her initial email she explained the purpose of THaSIS as “a meeting to network, eat and hear about the great technological advances that independent schools are making.” It certainly was a solid start with about 30 teachers and tech integration specialists from local independent schools in attendance.

The group was a mix of newbies and experts. Not to mention there seemed to be quite a few NYU ITP alumni, which was quite exciting. ITP (Interactive Telecommunications Program) is a 2-year graduate program for adult tinkerers, referred to as “A Center for the Recently Possible,” and is filled with trailblazers. On my way up to the meeting, I shared an elevator with Liz Arum, a teacher at St. Ann’s and the education outreach and curriculum development coordinator at MakerBot. What an inspiration; I had to keep my phone handy while talking with her so I could take notes on all of the projects she mentioned in literally the time of the elevator ride.

Later, we paired up and tried building a Drawdio, a kit developed at MIT that includes a circuit board that allows a pencil to “draw audio.” Jaymes Dec, the Fab Lab coordinator and Tech Integration Specialist at Marymount, coached us through the process. In less than two hours he taught my partner and I to solder, cut, build, make mistakes and overcome our frustrations. Nice work, Jaymes! He is also a founding team member of NYCMakery, a popup youth Makerspace with hands-on workshops and classes in programming, electronics, game design and 3D printing. I’ll definitely be heading down to take a class at their current popup in Brooklyn. 

About an hour into our work, my partner and I were gritting our teeth as we realized we had soldered the wrong part. (Let’s just say we were experiencing high levels of frustration with the de-soldering tool.) It was such an important moment for me. I’m a literacy coach and special education teacher. My students often hit a roadblock in their reading and feel defeated--similar to how I felt as I stared at my circuit board. My partner and I did not get our Drawdio to work--though our teammates and felIow teachers shared their functional Drawdios with us as they tried to help us problem solve around our own. I know I’ll be sharing that sense of frustration--and the ultimate sense of pride we felt for trying something new--with my students later this week.

Entrepreneurs are often deterred from working in the K-12 education sector in NYC because frankly, the public school procurement system is like crossing the Grand Canyon for vendors. Just getting your foot in the door for a meeting with…anyone…is an achievement. I wonder if THASIS, as it grows, might create a new avenue that could help make NYC K-12 more accessible for baby tech companies? 

Lindsay says her goal is to have monthly meetings. She urged attendees to share their ideas, inspirations and musings and even encouraged them to host a THaSIS event at their own independent school. I know I’ll definitely be at the next one. This is one group to watch.

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