Sharing the Value of Startup Weekend EDU

Since last fall, I’ve had countless valuable experiences, beginning with my participation in Startup Weekend, which was the catalyst that started the journey that I am now on. This first taste led to collaborating with some of the most dedicated, caring, and hard working individuals I know, to host western Canada’s first ever education-themed Startup Weekend events in Calgary and Edmonton.

9 year old Lauren

9-year old Lauren, team lead for the Crowd Favorite, How Do You Do? robotics kits, Calgary. Photo: Victor Panlilio.

Last week I had the opportunity to share what our Startup Weekend EDU team has learned at the University of Calgary Werklund School of Education Ideas 2015 conference. This week I am excited to be in gorgeous Niagara Falls, Ontario, sharing Startup Weekend EDU at the Connect 2015 conference.

Reflecting on all that we’ve learned has been an experience in itself. When I sat down to create my presentation, a flood of memories filled my head. I thought of every bit of insanity, hope, fun, and inspiration that make up Startup Weekend EDU. I thought about all of our participants: the retired educator, the nine-year-old student who loves robotics, the startup guru, the architect, the parent, the experienced judges, the pre-service teacher, and everyone who participated, mentored, or volunteered. I actually had a physical reaction while reflecting. I could feel heat creeping up my neck as the adrenaline began pumping and I re-experienced the feeling of doing something both scary and exciting.

I’ve packed my presentation (slides below) with a wealth of insights. Here are a few highlights that I’ll build upon during my presentation.

  • Creating learning environments that foster creativity, risk taking, and innovation requires educators to experience these environments themselves. When was the last time you did something that was a real risk for you? Without doing it ourselves, can we truly understand how to shape these experiences for our students?

    SWEDU venue at SAIT Campus

    Our fantastic venue at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary, October 16-18, 2014. Photo: Victor Panlilio.

  • Diversity in expertise, interests, and skills is the key to creating dynamic and authentic learning experiences. Students and educators must also apply their diverse expertise in authentic ways that impact the world. Collaborating with a network of people who know and think differently from one another is necessary across the education space if we are to create what is not yet known.
  • Fostering entrepreneurial spirit in learning means thinking like and learning from entrepreneurs. It’s not just about telling educators and students to take risks and collaborate. It’s about fostering a culture in and out of the classroom through explicit opportunities to do so. In my presentation I’ll share a ton of strategies used by entrepreneurs all over the world, as well as tools that we’ve used at Startup Weekend EDU that you can easily apply in your own context.

You are invited to join me at Connect 2015 for Bringing Entrepreneurial Spirit to Life Through Startup Weekend EDU on Thursday, May 7th at 1:00 pm in room 206. See you soon!



Startup Weekend was the Best Risk I Ever Took

In the fall of 2013, I took a risk and experienced something that profoundly changed me. It was exciting, terrifying, and fueled by adrenaline. No, I did not go skydiving or F1 racing. I attended Startup Weekend.

Here’s What Happened

On November 8th, I attended Startup Weekend Women’s Edition, the first Women’s Edition in Canada. In a nutshell, Startup Weekend is an immersive 54-hour event where participants pitch, form teams, develop, and present an entrepreneurial venture in an adrenaline-saturated blink of an eye. There is a reason why the phrase, “No talk, all action” is the motto of the weekend! Here’s a short explanation of what it’s all about.

Why I Went

As a former teacher who currently works on a district edtech implementation and professional learning team, I have had plenty of opportunities to work with teachers, administrators and students and explore how to apply existing edtech in their learning. What has been glaringly absent is a connection to the people who develop the tools, software and hardware that students, staff and districts use. How can we use edtech in the most effective ways if we don’t even know who creates it? How do we move forward together?

What began as a glimmer of curiosity turned into eye-opening insight when I attended the EdTech Innovation conference in the spring. It was the first time I had attended a conference where the purpose was not to sell technology via a one-way transaction, nor to discuss how to use it without discussing how it was planned, designed, and configured. Instead, this conference aimed to connect researchers, educators, industry, and developers. Participants came from a range of fields including K-12, post-secondary, research and analytics, HR and business, and technology development. I participated in deep conversations and discussions that brought to the forefront the need to connect all of these groups so we can learn from each other and work together. It opened my eyes to the missing pieces in the collaborative equation in the edtech space. My experiences at this conference set off a series of interactions that connected me with absolutely amazing people.

One of the many people that I met suggested that I participate in Startup Weekend. I was reluctant at first, because I did not feel that my skills fit neatly into any of the three participant categories: designer, developer, or business. But an excited voice inside said I had nothing to lose. So I signed up, not knowing what to expect. I hadn’t planned on pitching. I just wanted to observe and learn. But an hour before the event began, I decided to risk it and pitch. And I am incredibly glad that I did. Here’s my conversation about the experience with my amazing mentor and friend, Angie Tarasoff.

Three Big Insights

In my conversation with Angie, I shared a few observations that I’d like to elaborate on. I won’t give everything away though, because my motive is to encourage you to experience it and feel the terriffantastimazingness for yourself at the next Startup Weekend Calgary in February.  Here are my top three insights:

  1. Take a risk. Especially if you work in an industry that is unfamiliar with: organization-wide flexibility and innovation, strategic pivots, thorough and continuous validation, clear value propositions that aren’t confused with resources or activities, and collaborative relationships that reach deeper and further than business transactions. An experience like Startup Weekend makes you feel free, uninhibited, and ready to try, fail, try, and keep going.
  2. Know your value. It’s there. We all have something to offer. I had no idea that I would end up with the second largest team, work with seven absolutely amazing team members, see the value, insights, skills, and strengths of each one, and blaze into a third place finish. I have never accomplished so much in such a short amount of time with people that I had never met before. And there was so much to learn, just like the awesome second place founder Jenn Egroff writes.
  3. Iterate using the Startup Weekend model. I am absolutely convinced that this model can be applied in just about any situation where you want to solve a problem by acting instead of getting stuck in a perpetual loop of planning/analysis/doubt/fear. It’s a way to experience a true iterative action cycle where experiments are small, failure is short, coaches are incredible, and teammates are committed. Creating a working prototype or plan in just one weekend is incredible. You just do it. I can see this model used in classrooms, schools, organizations, and teams everywhere at just about any scale.

Next Steps

Angie and I are creatively conspiring to bring an event similar to NYC Startup Weekend EDU to educators and students. Angie has shared our whirlwind brainstorming sessions and first steps in her blog post here, complete with descriptions of the heart-stopping excited panic that I’m sure will continue as we move forward. If you’d like to learn more, ask a question about my experience, pick my brain about K-12 education, or be involved somehow, then let’s connect! We are just in the first stages of planning, brainstorming, and throwing ideas up, down, out, and back in!

I have remained in close contact with many of the people that I met at Startup Weekend, as well as edtech developers that I connected with in the spring. I am happy to offer what I know about the edtech space while they have been terrific sources of inspiration and advice about the startup space. I feel lucky and excited to be part of an incredible community of open, caring, and creative innovators.

I am going to be at Startup Weekend in February. I hope to see you there!


Scaling Down to Ramp Up Learning: How to Bring the ISTE 2013 Conference Model to Your School

Two weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to be in San Antonio at ISTE 2013. I had the amazing opportunity to present some research around how high school teachers take up technology with students. Though I was worried about the flooding in Calgary, my home survived unharmed and the city came together with tremendous spirit. (Quick shout-out: I have to share this great video of how the Calgary Stampede worked so hard to clean up in just 14 days).

Alright, back to the topic at hand.


Me + the ISTE Banner in San Antonio!

We are all a part of a shift in approach to professional learning. There are many lessons to be learned from the model that ISTE 2013 executed so well. ISTE is a huge organization with many hands, funds and experience. This year saw over 13,000 attendees, 800 concurrent sessions and 500 exhibiting companies. This is no small gathering! But it doesn’t have to be intimidating or overwhelming to apply the successful strategies that ISTE has, and keep the fires of excitement burning long after the event. I believe there are ways in which you can scale down and apply ISTE’s model without excessive effort, time, or money.

Current research into effective models for professional learning include characteristics like:

  • Choice and flexibility in topics, formats and approaches
  • Participation in a PLN, community and/or network
  • Ongoing, long-term and supported professional learning
  • Shared learning and improvement goals for staff, students, parents and the community
  • Research-based strategies
  • Focus on student data to determine needs and paths

Here are some ideas for how you could adjust the ISTE model to fit your own needs in a team, school, or district, and use activities to foster professional learning by teachers, for teachers. The key here is that you don’t need to plan for hours to pull it off. Based on the types of sessions offered at the conference, I’ve put together ideas that require little pre-planning and do not focus on formal presentations. All you need is to set time aside throughout the school year and select a few of the activities to try (I recommend trying an activity several times over a few months) and learn as you go. I hope they are useful!

  • Keynotes. ISTE featured keynote speakers who are leaders in the education field. Take advantage of their websites, books, publications, TED Talks, and YouTube videos (not to mention the many blog posts that have been written about their ideas) as a team, staff, or district. Delve deeper than a single speech and share the free resources.
  • Networking Fairs and Lounges. The conference hosted a number of events that brought together various groups, including young educators, newcomers, Tweeps, and special interest groups (e.g. focused on topics like mobile learning, edtech coaching, edtech in early learning, edtech in the arts, etc.). You can host regular get-togethers (as opposed to meetings) that encourage informal and creative discussion and sharing. Create spaces and times that allow people with specific interests and ideas to come together face to face and/or virtually.
  • Technology Infrastructure Pavilion. The conference included a space aimed at technology administrators, IT professionals and infrastructure planners. In my mind, infrastructure is just as important as the application of effective pedagogy in edtech. As educators, we should be able to plan for and evaluate the state of our technology infrastructure. It would be useful to invite those who are involved in infrastructure decisions to visit your school regularly and speak with students and staff as part of the technology planning, acquisition, maintenance and professional learning process, and to maintain open communication between IT professionals and educators.
  • Playgrounds. One of the largest areas of the conference featured hands-on opportunities to ‘play’ with software, apps, and hardware. Following the notion that everyone has something valuable to offer, I would suggest that educators bring something they are already using in their classrooms to share with others, such as a web 2.0 tool, social networking tool, or website that they find useful. Playgrounds can also be organized by topic, such as social networking, video conferencing, blogging, etc. Let’s say a few staff members share something each month in an informal playground setting. This would allow staff who are not sharing that month to select which playground to attend. Students could share too!
  • Learning Stations. This is one of my favourite ideas! At ISTE, these were informal two-hour sessions where students often led the conversation and shared short and long-term learning activities that they were engaged in. This idea can be expanded to include student sharing opportunities at lunch time in a learning commons where staff and other students can learn together. Wouldn’t it be terrific for students to share how they use Google Docs to collaborate with others, blogs to reflect on learning, or share their in-progress work to gather feedback from students and staff that they don’t normally interact with?
  • Start-up Pitch Fest. Edtech innovators pitched their ideas to the crowd in a fashion similar to the show, Dragon’s Den. In schools, you may not be pitching your idea to business investors, but both staff and students could present tools and apps that they are using in a quick, 2-minute format, or they could pitch  ideas such as a proposal for a student advisory board, or an edtech student-teacher support group.
  • Edcamp-style Sessions. If you haven’t experienced an edcamp event, you should look for one near you! Edcamp or un-conference events aim to flip professional learning upside down by encouraging educators to lead informal discussions on particular topics that are determined and facilitated by the  participants themselves. Un-conferences require little organization. The entire group of participants sets up a time to meet and brainstorm the topics they would like to discuss and share. Then they select which ones to participate in and the time(s) for the sessions that they will hold. Here’s an example of a first-time edcamp setup by my amazing buddies at Edcamp YYC. Though they solicited topics of conversation ahead of time, the facilitators were exactly that–they came to the table with some thoughtful inquiry questions, not formal presentations.
  • Ignite! Sessions. These were engaging PechaKucha presentations (20 slides in 5 min. where each slide appears for 15 seconds) in which presenters prepared something fun, inspirational and valuable to share. This would be a great way for students to share their ideas and inspire other students and staff.
  • Iron Chef. A new feature of ISTE this year was a hands-on event where groups set forth to create a solution to a challenge such as, “How would you design a program to facilitate digital citizenship in your school?”. Groups were given a couple of hours to work on their solution and then presented in a fast-paced PechaKucha style session the next day. Not only would this support fast iterations of prototypes and fuel brainstorming to solve challenges in the school, but it could also support team spirit channeled toward school-wide goals.
  • Roundtable Presentations. My roundtable presentation (along with my first ISTE conference) was an incredibly exciting experience! I shared my research into how high school teachers use technology with students and ended up meeting some incredible educators and app developers at the session. The roundtable session lasted for an hour and allowed for both the presentation of information as well as time for discussion with a group of 10-12. I prepared for my presentation, but believe that you could use this sharing format in a way that encourages the exploration of real examples and collaborative planning.

To sum it up, my ISTE 2013 conference experience showed me that there are ways in which we can harness the power of everyone’s experiences, and provide low-prep, collaborative opportunities for a variety of different types of professional learning. Could you select a few of the above items, work them into your team, school, or district’s calendar several times during the year, and watch the engagement around professional and peer learning grow? Share your thoughts below!

I’ll post more about my reflections on ISTE soon! For now, it’s back to the Calgary Stampede. I’m going to try deep fried butter and Doritos this year…