Last weekend I participated in Startup Weekend Edu, the first time it has been held here in St. Louis. I’m not a business person, by any means, but I have been getting more involved with the startup scene by attending the open house sessions at the Cambridge Innovation Center, a startup incubator located downtown. It’s fascinating to go and see the type of work tech startups do as compared with what work in the classroom looks like. Technology moves so fast and it’s rapidly changing the work environment, so I go on these visits just to keep up as a teacher.
I somehow got suckered into participating in Startup Weekend, which entailed building a business in 54 hours. It was a very intense and my colleague and I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
Friday night was when everyone arrived to network and then pitch an idea. I had been exploring the idea of how to empower teachers by building a stronger network of “innovative” teachers. I put that in quotes because I think what “innovative” boils down to in teaching is not so much how much technology you use in the classroom–as most would probably assume–but rather by how passionate a teacher is at exploring new ways to engage students. This can take many different forms, for example currently there is a push to do project-based learning and create more real-world scenarios for students to experience. Without a strong network to collaborate with, teachers feel alone in their classrooms and lose the innovative mindset. I know I have experienced this feeling already as only a fourth-year teacher.
So Friday night I pitched the idea to build a teacher network. When I first stated my proposal I didn’t know what shape it would take, so I was surprised when a lot of educators supported it during voting. When we made it into the top 10 ideas, I realized that I had to come up with a way to implement the idea and create a startup business. What I did not realize, however, was how much work that involved. It was hard to recruit people to the project because the concept was vague and tech people couldn’t get on board with how they would contribute to the task. That meant that it was basically three of us to do all the work, even though none of us had knowledge of what we were doing.
Saturday and Sunday were a total blur for me. We worked hard all day and night to accomplish what we needed to. There was so much to do with only three of us on a team that there was never downtime. We came up with the idea to create a social networking site just for teachers to connect with each other. We were fortunate to get help from another group of developers that had a networking site for us to borrow just to show our intent. When you join the site, you type in what you are looking to learn and what you can offer others. In this way, teachers would be able to create collaboration groups not based on school building but rather all across the St. Louis region. The second part of our design was to get business people and community leaders to join the website so that teachers could find resources for their classroom to conduct project based learning.
The best part of the weekend was having coaches around to guide us through the whole process. They stopped in every now and then like a shining beacon of hope to ask us important questions that kept us on the right track. This is why the weekend overall was a success, because it pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped me understand the process of project based learning. The only way teachers will be able to implement this type of curriculum and adapt their classrooms for real-world learning is if teachers engage in it themselves.
In the end, we presented and it went off without a hitch. We got second place overall and earned the “Student Choice Award” which was the most exciting part.