This past weekend I had the distinct honor of judging at the inaugural RemixEdK12 hackathon event. (This hackathon was focused on encouraging educators--and, as it turned out, students--to articulate their "pain points" so that entrepreneurs could begin to address specific needs.) Below are my take aways and observations of three award recipients.
Award Category: Best mobile app
Award Recipient: Schoolhouse Beats
Joan (@flourishingkids) came in with a very specific problem to solve: how can we make it easier for her and other teachers to offer students the opportunity to use music to demonstrate understanding of a big concept. With this pain-point in mind, she and her team replicated the overly complicated process of having a class of students re-write the lyrics of a popular song to demonstrate their understanding of germs. Through this process, they learned a lot: they uncovered additional pain points and recognized what would be crucial features in their fledgling program. Their final slide showcased these lessons learned and was perhaps the most powerful moment of their presentation because it brought into perspective the inadequacy of traditional “pitch deck.” The “lessons learned” slide is so integral to assessing the true caliber of a team.
Award Category: Best App for Teachers
Award Recipient: Time Stampz
This team created a program to help teachers and after-school educators communicate and share information about assignments. This team came in with a very specific and real pain: communication between teachers and after-school educators is usually non-existent at best and erroneous at worst. What was Tevhyn supposed to work on today? How was Carlita doing in class? Is there anything that happened during the school day that would influence her after school behavior/performance? Has she struggled with a particular test? Where should she focus her efforts so that she’ll ace the final cumulative exam? All of these important questions could be answered by this team’s admirable solution to a very real problem present in a majority of this nation’s after-school programs.
Award category: Best tool for students
Winning Team: Post Notes
Student-driven innovation. It wasn’t an official part of the program; these adolescent rebels hadn’t even gone through the application process. What they did bring: a painful problem, insights and the spunk to iterate with the best of them. And what most impressed the judges was their final presentation.
Needing a way to share notes with friends and classmates, Julia had used Facebook to post and share notes from class with her friends. “Post Notes” aims to be the app that any student could use to photograph and post notes to a central shelf where others can find them. Teachers could award points for notes. When students accumulate enough notes, they earn the right to download other students’ notes.
One judge asked why the team decided to leave it up to the teacher (not other students) to determine the ultimate value of the class notes. Julia, the team leader, quickly offered up two key reasons: If students determine the value of class notes, either the popular kids would be awarded the most points or kids would rig the system to make the most valuable notes worth the least so they could be easily downloaded.
This response from Julia was the most profound moment of my entire RemixedK12 experience because it revealed the valuable knowledge that these students have, which we adults cannot fathom on our own.
They may have looked like kids, but this team wasn’t here to play. Did they make an app in less that 48 hours? No. Did they make a presentation that fooled the judges into thinking they had built an app in 48 hours? YES!!
To all those in the education space, the lesson is simple: powerful education innovations require the input of both teachers and students. As a teacher, I’m fully convinced that our dreams for disrupting the failures of our nation’s education system will not be realized if we exclude students from the work we are trying to do. They are passionate about education reform, and aware of ways we can improve the system that we may never imagine.
We expect those in the classroom to carry our society to a better future yet we rarely include them in thinking through how to galvanize and direct those transformations. While some consider adolescence a prolonged state of insanity, I teach the “big kids” because they inspire me to be a better person. They see the world in ways I can’t and they help me recognize a deeper sense of urgency and power.
We must treat them as an end in and of themselves--not as a means or as victims to be saved. They are the heroes ready to join the struggle. It was an honor to present this intrepid team of young men and women with the award for best app for students.