Posts Tagged educational technology

Tech Teacher Wins New York City’s Startup Weekend Edu

Published by — The story of a social-studies teacher’s meteoric rise through the EdTech world.

Dawn Casey-Rowe (far left) and her team won Startup Weekend Edu with their business BetaMatch.

Social studies teacher Dawn Casey-Rowe has a power plant’s energy packed into a petite frame.  Her students at Davies vocational school come for the hands-on learning of marketable skills.  Last spring she started exploring ways to intrigue disengaged students with jazzier lessons, while aligning her work more closely to Common Core.  Her meteoric rise through the EdTech landscape began then.

And it culminated a week ago Sunday when she won first-place honors at the East Coast’s largest Startup Weekend Edu.  Startup Weekends are global events where entrepreneurs gather for 54 hours, competing to see who can build the most viable business plan.  So many entrepreneurs were interested in education technology, the EdTechies broke off into their own events.  Think: Iron Chef or Project Runway for nerds and teachers, without TV.   The judges at the March 1 were technology rock-stars, district superintendents and the like.

Casey-Rowe gave her two-minute pitch for a business called BetaMatch, worked with a team over the weekend, and flat-out won.  Meteoric.

Her story starts with an outdated textbook.  “Rather than charging the taxpayer to replace old textbooks, these days I can make my own.  I think that in the digital age, that’s my job.”

Fortunately Davies had just installed much new technology, opening up a cyber world of resources.  While asking friends’ advice about online learning, Casey-Rowe was invited to beta-test Learnist, which helps anybody, including educators, “curate” their own materials.  It was love at first site.

“Curating” mimics museum curation.  Instead of collecting hardcopies of Picasso’s early work, Deco artifacts, or treasures from ancient Mesopotamia, teachers can electronically collect them, along with supporting materials.

See Casey-Rowe’s unit on Protest for an example, with its documents, videos, songs, and links to other Learnist collections.  She wrote an excellent outline of the advantages of this electronic textbook strategy in “10 ways to use Learnist in the Classroom.”  Number 3 is “Make it Real,” which notes that the “boards” — curated collections — can include answers to kids’ time-worn question “Why do I need to know this?”  The board can show how the information is essential to certain real-world jobs.

It’s very cool; check it out.

But 66 percent of Davies’ students are low-income.  Won’t kids lacking smart technology at home fall further behind?  Casey-Rowe is emphatic, “I’m sick of using the digital divide as an excuse not to assign work that needs technology.  When students have absolutely no access to technology out of school, I’m flexible.  They can take extra time, or come in early in the morning, use the library, or borrow.  You can’t just let them not use technology.  The expectation of technology skills is industry standard for any industry.  If I’m not getting my kids ready to be hired, what am I doing?”

So refreshing.  Especially since the kids are loving this way of learning.

And when they and their teacher run into problems with Learnist, company officials call to pick Casey-Rowe’s brain for solutions.  “Learnist was using Facebook as their log-in.  Are you kidding?  Schools don’t allow Facebook.  (A hotbed of cyber bullying.)  But everyone else uses Facebook.  So without talking to a classroom teacher, how would they know?  They need to understand my needs in the classroom and to get feedback about how their product is working.  I call them up; they make it better.”

If only the rest of the education industry were so responsive.  Not that she’s complaining; I am.

In any case, that was the seed for her great idea:  Couldn’t we use technology to connect EdTech entrepreneurs to real classroom teachers — with something like a dating service?  Thus:  BetaMatch.

Yearning merely to immerse herself in the EdTech world, she decided to go to New York’s Startup Weekend.  But another friend urged her to go ahead and pitch her idea.  Ooooo.  Challenging.  Well, oka-ay.  On Friday night, Casey-Rowe was one of almost 50 people — teachers, entrepreneurs, developers, marketers — who got two minutes each to pitch their ideas.

Hers was among 18 ideas chosen for further development.  “I was really lucky.  Four developers joined our team; two marketing people, a front end designer.”

Late Sunday afternoon, the teams got four minutes to make a final pitch.  Then they waited, anxiously, eating dinner while the judges decided which was the best.  “Frankly, I thought our idea was the most boring.  Everyone else’s was about games and flash.”

When the time for the final verdict came, she and her team sweated through hearing about the Honorable Mention, the Second Place winner, and finally:  themselves.  They won!

“I was so honored they liked my idea.”

Amazing, isn’t it, that working classroom teachers are so isolated and undervalued, no one had previously thought to connect them to the hoards currently making educational apps?

“EdTech is awesome, but it has to be employed correctly. It does not substitute for quality lessons; it augments them. Whatever happens, I will continue to reflect about how it can improve my teaching.  As far as my future in EdTech, this year was such a whirlwind for me in terms of gaining access, falling in love, and realizing that I, one person, can make an impact here.” She’s pretty sure she doesn’t have time to start a new business on top of teaching.

But keep on trucking, girl.  We need so many more like you.

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist whose work also regularly appears at and She is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, a restorative-practices initiative, currently building a demonstration project in Central Falls, Rhode Island. She consults for schools and government initiatives, including regular work for The Providence Plan for whom she analyzes data.For more detail, see or contact her at or c/o GoLocalProv, 44 Weybosset Street, Providence, RI 02903.

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The Jury’s In, Screen Time Hurts Little Kids

Published by — A recent report shows how extensive screen time is linked to a host of problems for children including childhood obesity, sleep disturbance, and learning, attention, and social problems.

I study kids and families when I’m out in public, and recently observed this crazy-making family:

Dad pushed a double stroller with a young toddler and a girl who looked too old to be caught dead in a stroller.  Not that she was complaining.  Mom brought up the rear with another stroller, carrying an obvious middle child.

On this lovely fall day in the midst of a lively neighborhood’s commercial street, all three kids were Gone, Elsewhere, deeply engrossed in hand-held screens — phones, games, tablets, whatever.  Forget present-time experience; forget observing the world around them; never mind eye contact, smiles or exchanges with other humans.

My head screamed:  You nicely-dressed, probably well-meaning parents are wrecking your kids!  Do you know what the long-term effects of screen time are?!

If the parents had been smacking them around, passersby might at least have called the cops.  Hardly anyone has the nerve to intervene in community misbehavior any more, at least not when kids are involved.  And letting children get sucked down the rabbit hole of e-entertainment is parental misbehavior.  Facts are stacking up.

This past October, a coalition of some of my favorite early-childhood advocates — the Alliance for Childhood and Susan Linn, among others — published an analysis of the current research about the effects of electronics on young children.  Their report, Facing the Screen Dilemma:  Young children, technology and early education, is a frank condemnation of the impact of electronics on the mental and physical health of little kids.  Couched in the upbeat tones of early-childhood educators, the authors conclude, with certainty, that electronics of all kinds need to be introduced very  carefully, and only as kids get older.

They write, “There is no evidence to support the popular view — heavily promoted by companies that sell electronic media — that children must start early if they are to succeed in the digital age.  …Great innovators in the computer industry like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs did not even experience computers until they were about 12.  But both had wide experiences with hands-on learning when they were young.  Gates was a Cub Scout, and Jobs spoke of his love for tinkering with the inner workings of radios and televisions as a boy.”

About 12 years old seems right to me.  Middle school is an ideal time to add electronics to the toolkit of learning.  For younger kids I would make the singular exception for charming, and only charming, movies.

Consider just this sampler of the report’s facts, which are scrupulously footnoted.  By all means, examine their sources:

*  Modern science confirms what the early childhood community has known for years — that infants, toddlers and young children learn through exploring with their whole bodies, including all their senses.  And yet:

*  Twenty-nine percent of babies under 1 year watch TV and videos for an average of 90 minutes.  (?!!)  Sixty-four percent of children 12 – 24 months watch TV and videos averaging just over 2 hours.

*  Extensive screen time is linked to a host of problems for children including childhood obesity, sleep disturbance, and learning, attention, and social problems.  And time with screens takes away from other activities known to be more beneficial to their growth and development.  This applies to children of all ages.

*  For preschoolers, watching just 20 minutes of a fast-paced cartoon show has been shown to have a negative impact on executive function skills, including attention, the ability to delay gratification, self-regulation, and problem solving.

*  Games and digital activities that limit children to a predetermined set of responses have been shown to diminish creativity.

“Diminish creativity?”  Aren’t we supposed to be the land of innovators?  We’re actively crippling our own emerging talent.

*  Exposure to media violence is linked to aggression, desensitization to violence, and lack of empathy for victims.  Media violence is also associated with poor school performance.

‘Nuff said about the mind-numbing, socially-corrosive effects of screen time like video games.

Of course computers are superb tools when used actively, laboriously, to solve problems.  Who among us does not regularly put them to work researching all kinds of questions, including how to get from here to there?  They’re fabulous.

But they’re not for young children whose bodies and beings are hardwired to upload the realities of their immediate worlds.  Let them learn, according to their natures, not according to advertising’s genius at selling stuff.  Children need trees, friends, bikes, like that.  In time, kids will pick up basic computer skills with frightening agility, so there’s absolutely no need to start early.

The report laments the successful efforts in the 1980s to ease laws limiting marketing to children.  As a result, advertising, movies and TV now shape kids’ desires and imaginations, overwhelmingly.  “In 1983 companies were spending $100 million annually targeting children.  Now they are spending over $17 billion.”

Yes, electronic distractions free parents to take a stroll — or to make dinner or spend time on themselves — without being interrupted by a fussing child.

But the cost down the road is a tsunami of kids, from all economic brackets, who are fat, passive, irritable, oppositional, disengaged and addictive.

As a culture, we have an amazing wealth of ways to wreck kids.  For too long, adult interests have trumped kids’.  Where and how will this stop?

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist whose work also regularly appears at and She is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, a restorative-practices initiative, currently building a demonstration project in Central Falls, Rhode Island. She consults for schools and government initiatives, including regular work for The Providence Plan for whom she analyzes data. For more detail, see or contact her at or c/o GoLocalProv, 44 Weybosset Street, Providence, RI 02903.

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Ed Tech Ignorance Wastes Millions Each Year

Published by — Education-technology leader Angela Maiers talks about the promise and future of ed tech — and how we integrate it into our classrooms.

Self-described Ed Tech expert Angela Maiers just returned from a 3-day authorspeak Conferencein Indianapolis. In total, ninety-nine education-related authors gathered to hear innovation-expert Daniel Pink give the keynote. They broke into normal conferency sessions to discuss 10 different “idea strands.” But they also blogged, tweeted, and did whatever ed-tech nuts do to communicate internationally with 12.1 million other people, mainly educators. Techies keep track of such numbers. Together they talked, shared their books, stories and work, and modeled techniques for e-teaching right there on the spot.

Interestingly, the 10 “idea strands” were education’s most hardy perennials – assessment, special populations, instruction, leadership, school improvement. The usual.

The “21st-century skills” strand has been a hot topic since the late 1980s. Big deal.

But Maier makes the point that for all the talk about technology’s impact on the classroom, educators and policy-makers pay little attention to what’s barreling down at us from the e-horizon. Who knew smart phones were coming? And what happens when kids can learn whatever they want, on the go? Most adults past a certain age didn’t grow up reaching for a computer instead of a map, a recipe book or a dictionary. These folks – including me – automatically try to fit new technologies into our existing mental framework for teaching and learning. Square mindset in a round portal.

Maiers says, “We make millions of dollars of stupid decisions, because the decisions are related to technology and not to learning. The people making decisions about school technology and how to use it are not themselves digital learners. We aren’t looking at impact of the new technologies on the web itself. We tell teachers to bring these devices into their classes without having a clear idea of what’s happening out in a very dynamic, dramatic landscape.”

So districts spend big bucks for shipments of i-pads, shiny new computer labs or Maiers’ favorite bete noir, whiteboards.

“The number one trend in learning is the rise of mobile. Mobile means ‘on the move.’ Now learning can take place anywhere, anytime. But we buy these expensive, 300-pound things (whiteboards) and mount them on the wall. They are archaic dinosaurs designed to deliver content – glorified monitors. They are not transforming learning.” Mostly, teachers use them as tools for stand-and-deliver instruction, just like they would use a periodic chart or show a movie. However shiny, this is passive learning.

Today, Maiers says, “computing is ubiquitous. You don’t go to a pencil lab. You carry the pencil with you. As educators, we need to help kids adapt to the ubiquity of digital learning. This is not about technology. It’s about being fluent with multiple tool sets. Sometimes the best tool is a pencil. And if you took my post-it notes away, I would be crazed. But when I forget my phone, I limit my ability to participate as a learner.”

The tools – the hard and software – are only part of the e-changes. Consider the kids. Right now virtually every kid has a mobile device in his pocket. In Central Falls, Rhode Island, a town of distilled poverty where I consult, the kids all have phones.

Even phones that are not “smart” are powerful portals to the larger world. Student learning isn’t dependent on teachers or textbooks; they can always text someone for an answer. Phones connect kids to networks of flesh-and-blood pals. Ubiquitous information feeds kids’ interests in cars, music, politics.

Granted, the phones are fabulously annoying to the adults. Way too many kids use phones to stay connected to anything but the world of school, distracting everyone from the work at hand. It’s hard enough to grab kids’ TV-trained, 4-second attention span without competing with texting under the desk. Sharing test answers across the school and within the classroom is now almost impossible to stop. Online bullying is a new social disease.

But these things aren’t going away. Maiers says, “We put these devices in kids’ hands and teach them no competencies. Those most at risk of being influenced are those who most need to know how to receive information.”

Allow me to jump back into my own comfort zone for a moment. We need to collaborate WITH the kids to figure out how adults, kids and smart phones are going to live together in peace. Until we do that, those phones are just AK-47s in kids’ fight for adolescent freedom. The fight is developmentally appropriate, but technology changes the rules of engagement. Without the kids’ participation, we’ll never successfully create moral or social codes regarding phone use in public and at school.

Besides, those phones could be powerful learning tools. Maybe. At least, Maiers insists, the issue demands study.

She recommends starting with the Horizon report. Since 2002, a consortia of thinkers has studied the e-landscape, forecasting what will be available in one year, three years, and even into the sci-fi land of five years from now. This year their report focused on education. Their examples and mindset skew towards higher education. But if the goal of K-12 is success in college and post-secondary training, now is when all educators need to prepare for a technological future.

But what does it mean to be a digital learner anyway? I thought I knew. Next week we’ll return to Maiers and her colleagues to see how they describe it.

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist whose work also regularly appears at She is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, a restorative-practices initiative, currently building a demonstration project in Central Falls, Rhode Island. She consults for schools and government initiatives, including regular work for The Providence Plan for whom she analyzes data. For more detail, see or contact her at

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