March 18, 2014

My Dad Knows

It’s my dad’s birthday. He should have been 79 years old. The past 7 months without him have been the saddest in my life. He passed away suddenly and without warning. 3 weeks before embarking on his big trip to the US to visit 2 of his kids and their families. I look at his recent photos and there’s something crazy going in my head. The knowledge that he’s gone doesn’t work out very well with the feeling that he is very much alive and with us. It’s all a trick.

I miss dad so much. My kids miss him too. It’s amazing to discover just how much he’s been a part of our daily lives, though he lived 100 kilometers away from us. His diverse and extensive knowledge has always been a source of pride: not so much for him as for us. We always had some sort of a a living Wikipedia in our lives. And let me tell you, the living version is a lot more fun. It smartly adjusts the way knowledge is conveyed to the curious child.

High schooler instructor

High schooler instructor

As we go through his things we discover this accumulated knowledge is mainly the result of years of extensive reading of books, magazines and publications. His ability to self-teach was really impressive. From languages, to clocks and watches, to aircrafts, to engineering, to materials, to management. And music, art, history, geography. Not to mention technology. In his way, his pace, his order and emphasis of interests. But it seems he’s been all around. That sharing of his knowledge really connected us all, his kids and grandchildren, all that passion for knowledge!

And in that spirit I keep on the flame. I keep learning. I keep sharing my knowledge. I keep nurturing that love of learning and knowledge with my kids and do my best to spread it around. And I strongly believe in doing it at your pace, with your emphasis. For your pleasure. Guided by your passion.

January 31, 2014

Global Game Jam 4 Change

I spent the last weekend developing a game at the Global Game Jam 2014 site in Tel-Aviv. The 2nd largest site in the world this year, I can proudly say. It was the 5th GGJ I participated in. It was the also 5th for my son, now 16. Though for him, it was the first time he joined a team (not mine) from start to end. I think that’s a great mother-son experience to share. We are both pretty proud of each other.

The Global Game Jam event is taking place during the same weekend at dozens of sites across the world. Not going into the whole history, the participants are presented with the Jam’s challenge or topic of the year and that starts a fantastic brain storming session – everybody’s trying to come up with an idea for a game. Eventually most attractive ideas get teams formed around them and within 48-72 hours those games take form and can perform.

There were interesting takes from this year’s event.
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One is looking at the number of kids who participated: they are programmers, artists, graphic designers, story tellers, musicians, science enthusiasts and not all of them are gamers. The majority is still boys, not enough girls come in.

But, and here’s the next take, the number of grown up females who took part also grew immensely compared with previous years.882926_471029929686190_1692142279_o

So if I am taking these two random statistics from the 2nd largest GGJ site of 2014, it’s a good projection for the games industry. The more inclusive the industry is, the wider and wilder it gets.
The other take was the growing number of serious games presented. The basic idea of a game is to play it for fun. But Serious Games groups and organizations like Games For Change harness the fun element to achieve serious goals. It’s a relatively new use for games. But I like the fact it is evolving. I admit I am a fan of comedies, but can’t imagine life without some drama, action or documentary, right?
So here’s to the worldwide games industry: may you grow and flourish and surprise us every year.

December 11, 2013

#edchat: Teach Digital Literacy?

I do my best to join or at least follow one #edchat per week on twitter, using my own twitter account @lemino. It has become one of the best sources of learning about education innovation, about the ins and outs of education systems, and about the shakers and movers in this field. It’s actually very exciting when you try to follow a conversation on a single topic with dozens of educators from around the world talking together.

Sadly I missed this week’s edchat. 7PM here (noon eastern time) is a tricky hour. But it was such a great topic I had to browse through the chat. Fantastic chat. So I decided to bring some of the excitement here, with small modifications (of abbreviations) and the #edchat hashtag removed from all the updates. Note the twitter names and follow these education leaders. The opening statement by Jerry Blumengarten (Cybraryman1), the host of this session, is the topic of the chat:

Cybraryman1: If all educators will be required to teach digital literacy – what do they need to know in order to be digitally literate?

MadameWells: Teachers need to know what digital literacy means. Many don’t know the meaning of the word.

Cybraryman1: What is digital literacy?

EarthEcho: Difficult task but needs to happen before we begin teaching (define digital literacy).

Shyj: @MadameWells I don’t think it has a common definition. Need to be on the same page.

Jdferries: Digital literacy is so broad! Let’s start with information sourcing, the role of human filtering, coping with infowhelm & echochambers.

DrDougGreen: They need to know that their learning never stops and should be a daily affair.

Bobloch: Educators need to know how online tools make many current practices obsolete. How to adapt, stop thinking of curriculum in linear fashion.

Aceedu: @bobloch Exactly. Educators have to make changes in the way curriculum is taught/learned

MaxScholarLLC: Ability to effectively and critically find, evaluate and create information using technology.

Cybraryman1: @DrDougGreen @sdroyer That is true for all types of learning. Important to be a constant learner.

Sjunkins: Literacy was once the ability to read and write. Today it’s about making sense of and engaging in so much more.

Katie_M_Ritter: Digital literacy: how to navigate & evaluate the internet, familiar with social media and digital technologies, can create content online.

Cybraryman1: Digital literacy is the ability to find, understand, evaluate, create and communicate digital information.

Aceedu: @sjunkins Digital literacy was not something we thought about a decade ago. It changes everything.

ScholasticTeach: What say you? Should schools teach social media skills?

Tkraz: @sjunkins It’s still the ability to read and write, but I’d add view. Same core but wider spectrum of choices.

4bettereducatio: Digital Literacy means creating empathy, understanding of bias, opportunities to create, curation techniques and context for info posted online.

Shyj: Locating, sorting through, analyzing, using and creating information. So much more than what it used to be.

DrDougGreen: Key skills are finding & evaluating information, blogging, multimedia production/editing and writing skills.

EarthEcho: Educators also need to understand the power and permanence of internet in tech in education.

Shyj: Even the term digital literacy has morphed: information literacy, media literacy etc.

Jdferries: I think it is also using digital tools to leverage info in general: using multimedia to persuade, analyzing competing claims.

DrDougGreen: They need to understand how to stay out of trouble with social media themselves. Some teachers don’t.

Sjunkins: Modern literacy means being able to read, write AND use various forms of media.

Katie_M_Ritter: I like the emphasis on “modern” RT @sjunkins : Modern literacy means being able to read, write AND use various forms of media.

4bettereducatio: @Katie_M_Ritter Yes, I think creating the content and getting past consumption is a huge area of Digital Literacy need.

Cybraryman1: What types of professional learning is necessary to help educators learn about being digitally literate?

ITDean: @cybraryman1 very much along the similar lines of pre and post testing. Teachers also need to see a reason. Why learn it otherwise?

Tkraz: Digital literacy requires the same basic read/write skills but also requires more independence in finding and evaluating.

Shyj: Yes, locating and searching for info – all a part of digital literacy as well as using info to create.

Shyj: with emphasis on creating as well. Think the create part had changed a lot over the years.

Tkraz: @shyj creation tools have changed and evolved expanding the options and possibilities.

Shyj: and attached to that are the copyrights, staying safe etc. So when do teachers have time to teach all of this?

DrDougGreen: @cybraryman1 professional development needs to be small bites daily and individualized. Each teacher needs to be responsible for own plan.

Defstef98: I think we have to go back to heightening students’ awareness of genres- within the digital genre there are sub genres

Fishtree_edu: @defstef98 Digital literacy is a broad topic and it needs to be divided into sub topics to make it easier to teach

MadameWells: It’s important to be able to search, evaluate and create, knowing what is legal to use and what is not.

MaxScholarLLC: @ MadameWells also, how to identify a fake website and inaccurate information.

Shyj: @ MadameWells Ugh. You mean… copyright? (runs out of room screaming…)

MaxScholarLLC: Teachers need to be able to explore, understand and use digital technologies to find, create, and share information

Iatlearning: @ MadameWells Digital is becoming a huge part of the student’s world. Bringing it into the classroom will help to connect with them.

Tkraz: with emphasis on creating as well. Think the create part had changed a lot over the years.

Sjunkins: Literacy is a curriculum fundamental but being literate today requires much more than the traditional literacy of yesterday.

4bettereducatio: @tkraz @sjunkins and possibly add evaluate? Same skills but a much larger range of information and perspectives.

Katie_M_Ritter: educators need to be connected and engage online. Can’t teach digital literacy if you’re not engaged with it yourself. Bloom

CecileMcVittie: @cybraryman1 Perhaps “transliteracies“ implying movement across all literacies are what educators need?

Cybraryman1: @DrDougGreen Thanks to wonderful #eduvue now say Professional Learning rather than Professional Development

Shyj: Have we even mentioned staying safe online as part of digital literacy?

Aceedu: @MaxScholarLLC Yes, it’s not simply knowing the basics. We need to be able to take it further and make it effective.

Itechbob: Becoming digitally literate should not be an option. The days of I don’t do technology should be over.

Sjunkins: Forget the 21st century, literacy is an every century skill.

Madamewells: I am trying very hard to be a connected educator. I am helping teachers here build a PLN (Professional Learning Network).

Itechbob: getting people started with a PLN seems like a great way to learn digital literacy. Hands-on learning at its digital best.

Isminc: Do your teachers collaborate for homework assignments?

MadameWells: @ismin elementary teachers do, but the high school teachers do not.

Fishtree_edu: is digital literacy a skill or a mindset?

Defstef98: @fishtree_edu I vote for the second option

Fishtree_edu: @defstef98 @shyj Digital literacy is a skill to learn, re-learn and un-learn which comes from the (learning) mindset

MadameWells: Connected Ed is a key to digital literacy. We learn from others and then teach it to more.

Cybraryman1: what type of professional learning is necessary to help educators learn about being digital literate?

AdamGoldberg1: @cybraryman1 Teachers need to learn what kids already do online to exchange in meaningful conversation about responsibility

DrDougGreen: @itechbob ever since the school got internet in 1996 I only hired tech savvy teachers. Today I ask to see their blog.

Earthecho: @ DrDougGreen completely agree! Educators need to find the way to use tech to empower themselves and their students.

Katie_M_Ritter: you can read and you can write but can you collaborate with others effectively online? (projects, email, google docs)

Shyj: @MaxScholarLLC When are teachers building their digital literacy skills? What role should that play in the classroom?

CurtisChandler6: In this century there is likely to be a difference between those who are literate and those who are fully, functionally literate.

DigitalJLearn: @cybraryman1 content creation VS content curation and the importance of doing both.

CurtisChandler6: Reading, writing, listening and speaking are great starts. I also think that empathy could be added.

Sjunkins: New forms of media bring about new forms of literacy.

CurtisChandler6: @sjunkins new literacies often evolve faster than our ability to examine them; therefore the ability to evolve is a crucial skill.

Fishtree_edu: @ MadameWells teachers can start by looking into what students are using. Kids these days can be smarter than adults 

MadameWells: @cybraryman1 I think they need to know they can find all the answers they need through a PLN

Shyj: Have we even mentioned staying safe online as part of digital literacy?

Aceedu: @shyj Great point! That’s a HUGE part of digital literacy and shouldn’t be overlooked or assumed to be known.

Shyj: @Aceedu yes assumed for teachers and students… just because we can “FB” doesn’t mean we have digital literacy skills.

Aceedu: @Shyj Exactly! Especially students. Just because they were born into it doesn’t mean they know how to use is effectively.

Itechbob: Educators don’t need to know everything. Digital change happens too fast. Evaluation skills become highly important.

DrDougGreen: as educators we no longer own the information. Any student can know things their teacher doesn’t.

Cybraryman1: we have to be constant learners and model this for our students

Sjunkins: our students should be able to actively create rather than just passively consume media. That’s today’s digital literacy.

TomWhitby: Have you ever tried to figure out what percentage of your school faculty was digitally literate?

Gooru: digital literacy=knowing not only how to use the digital tools but also how to find the ones that best fit your or your students’ needs

Defstef98: It’s in the collaboration that probably digital literacy and or transliteracy are achieved.

Shyj: @deftef98 @Katie_M_Ritter Yes, real application and situations when skills are needed

DrDougGreen: Every student should publish their best work on a regular basis.

Cybraryman1: @ DrDougGreen @sjunkins All students should also blog

MaxScholarLLC: @sjunkins and we should encourage them to evaluate their work throughout the process of creating it and not the final result

TomWhitby: Has digital literacy become a standard requirement for hiring new teachers yet?

DigitalJlearn: @CYbraryman1 They need to know that being digitally literate is as much about a culture of innovation and exploration as it is about tech.

Mamacita: Too many teachers view tech as one more burden when in fact tech relieves many burdens. Tech is no longer an extra. It’s a fact of life.

Sjunkins: having students create their own digital content gives them a whole new perspective on the power of media

QuinnEng8: Any ideas for differentiating digital literacy instruction in classrooms where some kids can program and others only see computers at school.

This is not all of the chat. Only about a third or half of the one hour stream. But I hope you have had the chance to learn from it as much as we did, and that you also got the urge to check out the #edchat stream next Tuesday at noon EST.

November 24, 2013

Coding Is The (New) Literacy

This week I’ve heard my friend, Idit Caperton Harel, been quoted again and again. She said very clearly and loudly that coding is this century’s literacy, the same reading and writing was 100-150 years ago.

I don’t think she meant that by teaching kids to code you are coaching them to become programmers. The same way that teaching kids to read and write 150 years ago didn’t mean you were going to turn them into authors and poets.

But over the last several months, I could even say a couple of years, it had become clearer and clearer and I chose to ignore it only because this fact made me feel uncomfortable. Coding is a life necessity. And since it’s really getting simpler – it shouldn’t be so scary or make us feel that uncomfortable.
kidscode

So this year I’ve decided to go study. I’m studying game design, nearly 5 years after I started to write my first game design document. One of the reasons I signed up for this expensive program is my hope I will get some technical tools that will enable me to create something. For the first several coding (C#) classes I was OK. I liked the simplicity and the logic. But I think somewhere around lesson 3 or 4 I got stuck because of an error I couldn’t decipher. The class moved on, I stayed behind and there was no rewind button to help me discover the missing parentheses.

Several years ago I studied multimedia. It was a full time 7 months course which taught me about 5 different software in graphic, video, sound etc. – plus a crash course in HTML, knowledge that I enjoyed even when using this totally friendly platform called “WordPress”. It went a lot better than the current software and programming classes are going for me. “Did I get stupid over the years?”, I asked myself. I guess not. But my pace have change, I am much more busy today. I read A LOT more than I have back then, and I really, and I mean really love Twitter.

And so I found myself on Codeacademy learning JS. Thought I should give it a try. A couple of hours and I’m over the basics. I have now reached the “program your first game” stage and I feel so proud of myself.

Then I started to think about this methodology. First of all – the very short intro, followed by a very short exercise of the topic. Then, the important role of the “back” button. I mean I haven’t finished a book in two years, but I’ve read on twitter and through it the amount of at least 100 books. It’s easier to gulp, spreadable, flexible, not tiring, not requiring the concentration of … well someone else. I don’t even know who.

Why is the codeacademy model not replicated as a math test prep model is beyond me. Teach math in 140#rythm seems like a pretty good idea. My 10th grader would have loved to learn math if he could do it like this. And math teachers would be able to finally concentrate on those students who need the extra attention, instead of giving useless speeches in noisy classes.

October 10, 2013

Under The Lime Trees

My first ever Berlin visit took place last week. It was a very emotional trip for me: To the city where my father was born, less than two months after he had left us. I was supposed to plan the visit with him, take some relevant addresses, and share my experience with him during and after that visit. Instead I found myself spending a 4 day journey into skipping between past and present of a city that has many stories to tell and loads of scars to show. And still it was sort of a memorial trip.

My father was born and spent the first 4 years of his life in a part of Berlin later known as East Berlin. His family history is entangled with this city’s history, and his wounds are, too. His first ever visit to Berlin as an adult was paid for by the German government. After years of deep resentment and anger, he was able, well, not to forgive, but live with what had happened and narrow his anger to the individuals and circumstances, and not a nation or a country.

We were so lucky to meet Aviva Brueckner in Berlin on our visit. She has made it into a really special visit. I think I found a kindred spirit there. She is an amazing story teller in person as well as through her remarkable art. The whole strange mixture of the Berlin history, the promise it keeps and the horrors it experienced, came to life. Touched us and confused us in a way we couldn’t imagine.

Unter Den Linden
Being an Israeli all you can think of when you first visit Berlin is The Holocaust. But Berlin is a war stricken city for centuries, and the last holocaust it experienced was actually the dividing of the city into east and west, good and bad, us and them. The city and its residents are still licking these wounds. It didn’t exactly end on 1989.

Since Aviva grew up on the east, and was only 14 when the Berlin wall was taken down, it was the first time we could learn how things look, or looked, from the other side. How the east was happy to find freedom, yet unhappy to feel concurred. How teachers became confused. Or how it is to be young people growing up in the 21st century in Berlin, belonging to the German nation and living with movies like Indiana Jones, who portray German as the ultimate evil. But young Berliners aren’t just living with it, they love these movies, exactly like their peers over the ocean.

And all through this trip, I could feel my dad’s presence, or lack of, in and around me. Pointing me to childhood photos like this one, taken 1938 or so on Unter Den Linden, the main avenue crossing Berlin. Taken by a loving father he didn’t get to know.

September 10, 2013

Back in a Classroom

Last week I went into a classroom as a student for the first time in 20 years. Very important for an education innovator who isn’t a teacher. I am very proud of the fact that motherhood dragged me into the education innovation, but experiencing a classroom as a student isn’t experiencing it as a mother of a student, not even similar to experiencing it as a teacher, I am sure.

You can’t really comprehend the enormousness of the education crisis before you are sitting behind a desk totally dependent on someone else for the pearls of wisdom you’re supposed to get, without any say about how you’re going to get them or when, and then you’re graded for your grasp. Hmmm.

classroom I am an old fashioned schooled one. I grew up without any digital mobile instruments around me, not even a PC. I think that even a walkman was too much of a luxury, had to work and save before I could get one. And I started my journalistic career with my dad’s Hermes typewriter and working in the print house with lead letters.

So the technicality of sitting behind a desk, writing a summary of the class, doing exercises, performing to the rhythm of the conductor – all this should be well imprinted in me.

But it’s not. I’m was slowly and gradually spoiled by various forms of computers. I think it started in the early 90’s with a DOS computer, and grew exponentially until today I spend about 14 hours a day online. I have a desktop, a laptop, a netbook, an iPad and an iPhone. I rarely get disconnected. In fact I can say I am pretty addicted. Can’t go through a day with no connectivity at all. Can’t watch a movie without playing something on my iPhone\iPad at the same time. Ahmm. Yep, in the movies too.

Reading a book is one of the toughest tasks for me. When I was 14, 8th grade, I got the school’s annual award for reading the largest number of books which I borrowed from the school’s library. 400 books. Some days I finished 2+. I couldn’t get enough. Nowadays, give them to me in 140 characters chunks. I am sure if I’ll do the math I’m reading much more today than I have ever – in characters count. But I’m down from 400 books in 10 months, to 1 book in 800 days and the sad thing, I miss the relaxed experience.

This rhythm my life has adjusted to is an immediate rhythm. I’m at The State of Now.

Now think about the generation born into this reality and this rhythm. About the toddlers trying to swipe the photo in the frame on their grandparents’ mantle. How are they expected to take a break for 5-9 hours a day and go back from rockets to horse-and-carriage?

People, when talking about the education crisis, worldwide, know that what you’re seeing is just the tip of the iceberg and think Titanic.

August 24, 2013

A Passing Thought

I wish I could be funny. I always wanted to be funny. From the very early days of noticing social positioning in elementary school – funny was something worth being. No one really hates funny people. No one bugs them. And they always seem to take life so smoothly. Laughing it over.

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I love to laugh. There’s nothing I like more than comedies – on theater, movies, TV and books. Humor is grand. Humor is a fantastic cure for bad moods, pains, and just plain sadness.

As I grew up I developed some sense of humor. A better tendency to laugh and join in the laughs. I still wish I could really be funny. When I make people laugh it feels like a little miracle. I admire comedy writers. I think I’m too serious most of the time.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been thinking about humor and my dad. He just passed away and I’m filled with the deepest sadness I have ever experienced. I didn’t know sadness could get so deep. And comedies don’t make me laugh now.

But humor played a great part in my dad’s personality. He had a special sense of humor. The intelligent type. Cynical at times. But he always knew how to make us smile. Give it time, I say to myself, you’ll soon hear him make a few jokes about this situation. Humor got him through a tough childhood and not an easy life. Humor is the survival kit.

Love you, Dad. I miss you.

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July 16, 2013

Test All Mathematicians in Music Performance First

My boy is 15 years old, going on 10th grade next year, and he is one of those lucky people who have that mix of ADHD and Giftedness. So up to a certain point his giftedness got him through without drugs. Lately it’s not working that well.

He studies at the Jazz department of the lucrative National High School For the Arts here in Israel, plays the trumpet. Only unlike most accepted players, he joined with a little less experience… well, a lot less. One year less than the minimum usually required and no orchestra experience. He only decided he is into Jazz about 2-3 months before the audition. His trumpet teacher nearly had a fit when the kid announced he needed 2 pieces for the audition. Yet, somehow he got in.

High school is a lot different than what he had experienced before. Especially since he moved from the incubator called “a class for gifted” to a “high school for excellence in arts”. Those are the top of the top of young artists in Israel and the school has a reputation to maintain.

Now think ADHD.

It’s a struggle, and with drugs or without them, it’s still a struggle. Too many topics, too many demands, too many expectations. And, in a recent talk with the school the topic of Math came up. And I was asked what I think is the worst case scenario in terms of my son and his matriculation exams… hint hint … Math. I said, well matriculations exams don’t matter to me. Least of all math.

This is a reply that puzzles school officials. The school is first and foremost to provide the kids with the matriculation certificate, sort of a Baccalaureate, SATs or similar and parallels. This school throws in exams in arts topics too. And here I am saying all I really care about is that my kid gets to experience his arts, learn and develop with his chosen form of arts – Jazz music, and have fun with his friends – and really, honestly, I swear, I do not care one bit about his success in math.mathtrumpet

In fact, I care about math being removed from high school obligatory topics for matriculation. Remove it from high school graduation certificate altogether. I think math, in the level they require here (yes, I am talking about the minimal level) is just too much. I really don’t believe that solving equations is that important for the life of my son, whether he chooses to be a jazz musician, an illustrator, a chef, a game designer or any other profession he might be fantasizing on now or in the future when this profession will pop up. You know why?

Google.
You can solve your equations on Google. Or this app or the other. And if you want to test my son’s skills in coping with the demands of the real world, let him take the test at home, with Google access and a 24 hour time limit. That’s the only way to convince me there’s any point in testing this or any connection between the test and the real world these kids are growing into.
No? So leave him alone. If you can’t force the mathematicians to take tests in Trumpet playing, you shouldn’t force the trumpet players to test in math.

June 23, 2013

Say “Passion” instead of “Engagement”

“Engagement” seems to be the key word, the major buzz word, where educational technology is concerned. Ask an Edtech entrepreneur what their app or software is doing, and at least 90% of the time the word “engagement” pops up. The other 10% are administrative apps that do not presume to change any classroom or student experience.

Last week I attended several events, one of them was the Demo Day of the first wave of graduate startups from the MindCET incubator. MindCET is the first and currently only incubator for educational technology startups in Israel. Obviously, there wasn’t a single startup that skipped the word “engagement”. And there’s nothing unusual about it: Dozens of edtech startups I met during SXSWedu and SXSW also made sure they slip “engagement” into every pitch or presentation. At one moment during last week’s presentations I found myself trying to build an image to go along with “engagement”. That promise of engagement seems to be the main attractions teachers feel towards educational technology: something to keep their students wide-eyed, open-mouths, hung on the teacher’s every word. Something like hypnotized. With built-in recorders in their heads.engagedclass

And then today I read this wonderful blog post by Angela Maiers, “an Educator, Author, Speaker passionate about literacy, learning, and power of social media”. “The Passion Gap” is the title, and she tells that “As a teacher at the K-2 level for 14 years, I had the privilege of spending each day with children eager to learn and explore. Yet this begins to change somewhere around the fourth grade.”

She doesn’t mention the word “engagement”, but points out that in Education conferences “you are far more likely to hear the words “assessment,” “standardize,” “common core” and “pedagogy” than you are to hear the word “passion.”…” And let me add, as an edtech entrepreneur, that I am much more likely to hear the word “engagement” in tech solutions for the classroom, and I don’t think I heard the word “passion”.

So what is passion? I love her quote: “Passion is what you must do, even if you have to suffer to do it”. I should know, I experience passion in what I do and it is costing me every day. Because at some point I decided pursuing my passion is more important than getting a salary. Silly me?

Angela Maiers refers to the human teachers, not the tech they might use or not use, as the first circle needed for students to find their passion. Sir Ken Robinson is devoting his messages and books to this topic too; The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, is a New York Times bestseller and has been translated into 21 languages and Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life has just been published.” The Element is the point at which natural talent meets personal passion. When people arrive at the Element, they feel most themselves, most inspired and achieve at their highest levels”, is the introduction to his first book.

Yet, Edtech startups are still mostly concerned about engagement of students in the classroom. How does this contribute to helping students find their passion? Or element?

Education systems are so hung on educational technology to reform, change and modify. But obviously, no real revolution can be achieved without striking the personal passion fuse of each and every student.

Touching kids’ passion is what I’m doing with my new startup. More to come.

June 2, 2013

Hats Seeking Heads: Partners Needed

The hardest thing when founding a startup is to build the founding team. Some lucky entrepreneurs cook their startup right from the beginning through brainstorming with others, and voilà – team! But there are many entrepreneurs who come up with an idea and then start looking for their partners.

The relationship between cofounders is a lot like the relationships between spouses. So you’d want to make the right decisions and make sure you work great together. I recently read an amusing article on Inc. magazine suggesting a camping trip to test potential partnerships. I will be perfectly happy with testing the waters in an incubator or accelerator too. I don’t really feel the urge of eating dust in the desert. The thing is the article is about choosing your partner, assuming you have a pool to choose from. It’s not about finding them.

And finding partners is tricky.

So I started off with one potential partner, then a second one tagged alone, the first one said he is not seeking any active role in the company, and his job will probably be done before the production begins. The second one seemed promising as we met a couple of dozen times, but his availability seemed limited, until he finally admitted that assuming the risks and responsibilities of setting up a startup isn’t really what he is looking for right now. And woops! I have one and a half advisors, but no partners.

I advance in very little steps towards developing my own product, or at least its offline test version (I am not a programmer), but the search for co-founders is a real distraction:

hats

Can’t raise money to pay for the development of the product if there’s no team to meet the investors. Investors, as we all know, invest in people first, ideas second.

I can’t recruit developers if I can’t pay any salaries.

Risk assuming entrepreneurs who are looking to join a startup based on someone else’s idea are nowhere to be found here, in Israel. People either have their own idea or they expect salaries pretty much from the start of the startup. And the investors keep expecting established teams and launchable products (if not launched with traction…).

But keeping an optimistic and keeping an open mind I’ve met several great people over the last few weeks. One of them actually gave me several ideas about other less common founding models: for instance, to have a potential team ready to meet investors and declare their intention to join the startup as soon as funds are there to cover their costs is one of them.

Does it really work?

May 2, 2013

The Curse of Traction

“We would need to see a product/evidence of traction in the market before discussing further”. You can’t call yourself an entrepreneur if you haven’t heard this sentence before.

But there are companies in need of funding even before there is a product which can attract any traction. And long gone are the days when investors could expect entrepreneurs to work on developing, launching and marketing their product, then growing its traction – for periods of time ranging from 8-18 months, with no income what so ever.

So whenever I hear this kind of sentence, especially after my first introduction was “there’s no product yet and I am not looking for funding yet”, I get upset. Why did that investor ask me to send him my introductory papers, if this is the reply I get from his assistant or partner or co worker? What kind of a conversation is that?

It makes me feel the venture capital industry is getting older and bored. Remember “venture”?

Here’s from The Free Dictionary:

  ven·ture  (vnchr)

  n.

  1. An undertaking that is dangerous, daring, or of uncertain outcome.

  2. A business enterprise involving some risk in expectation of gain.

  3. Something, such as money or cargo, at hazard in a risky enterprise.

It’s the “risk in expectation of gain” that has kept the VC industry going. It’s pretty obvious most investors would do anything to reduce their risks, leaving fewer investors to support younger riskier startups. Pulling out the “traction curse” whenever they want to simply say – `hey, we have less riskier businesses standing in line for our money, why should we gamble on you?`

I have a split loyalty here:  I am married to a VC man, yet I am trying to found a startup. So I totally get VCs wanting to cut down their risks and go for surer promises. Obviously if I have a product, it was already launched, I am gaining traction – then I am a safer bet than the entrepreneur I am right now, with a brilliant idea, that needs funding to pay programmers to start developing the product that only I am sure is going to be a hit.

So?

I guess I will just have to dig deeper. I know that out there some investors who are ready to put their money in early stage startups are still looking for great opportunities. It’s going to be a long and hard search. But I know they’re out there and I will start looking for them when I am ready to start looking for funding.

And as for that VC who sent me the automatic traction curse, I think that when I have a product and traction, you’d probably be at the bottom of my list. Simply because I prefer investors who communicate and listen, not just tell.

Just for fun, here’s a song I heard this week, and really listened to the lyrics. I call it “The Entrepreneurship Hymn”. What do you think?

 

April 21, 2013

Where is the learning revolution?

Here’s another thing I’ve learned at SXSWedu. Remember this quote? “Every education system in the world is being reformed at the moment”, said Sir Ken Robinson so wisely about 3 years ago at his famous TED talk (watch it below). Yet these world education systems don’t really matter. What matters is the American education system. That’s the system that’s having a problem, that the market for educational technology and if we solve the American education system’s problems, then we will most likely help the world.

Or would we?

You might think I am wildly exaggerating, after all it was an American and theoretically regional conference (SXSWedu). But after a while in this industry, even beyond one event or the other, I get the same feeling I get about all those movies where the aliens always land in the US and communicate in English.

America is the world, and the world is America. But seriously, though many of the illnesses which characterize the sick education systems around the world are similar, the American education system has its own problems. Not always shared by other markets or states around the world. Unfortunately, due to market size and financial potential, the “edtech” industry is way too obsessed with the American problems. I happen to think it’s actually globalization that would guide us through and advance us towards a real revolution, even for the US. For example, many excellent universities, Nobel-Prize-Winners-producing universities, are located outside the US and cost a fraction of what a parallel university would cost in the US. 3 such universities are located in Israel.

But it was the edtech industry that caught my attention during SXSWedu. I found that too many companies try to deal with the American common core standards, a term relevant mostly to the US education system (EU have their own core standards), and with the over priced higher education, again, mostly an American phenomenon. The competitiveness that is felt through the American education system, that “College Starts at Kindergarten” – again one of my favorite Ken Robinson’s quotes, all those are driving hundreds of companies to create yet another app to teach math and reading to preschoolers, those poor kids who should be playing in the sand.

I haven’t met enough companies in this industry attempting to solve critical problem that happen in more than a single country. The appeal is always directed at the never ending American market. I mean – “math skills” – that’s something all parents all over the world want their kids to have. Explaining perhaps why relatively many companies concentrate on Math. It’s so easy, it’s language agnostic, and all education systems around the world are trying to come up with a trick that will make kids not only like math but actually succeed in it.

But there are very few companies who attempt at the basics of the education systems problem. For instance, how to personalize education; teaching techniques or curriculum development for the needs and abilities of the individual student. Or how to create a tool that would offer guidance into self teaching, which in my opinion is the top goal any education system should have.

So education systems around the world are still trying to reform. They attempt to insert modifications or use smarter tools, while doing the same things over and over again: they concentrate on teaching math, sciences, reading comprehension, literature – not on teaching kids. They do coach kids in taking tests and might actually prepare them for the next phase of chewing study materials and doing tests.

But no revolution yet.

Innovation in education is left in the hands of individual teachers. Take that note.

April 10, 2013

Are Skills Based Standards the Solution, or a New Problem?

I’m confused, I admit.

Just recently spent a week with educators at the SXSWedu in Austin, TX (a very cool event by the way), where CCS (Common Core Standards) were the talk of the day, if not the talk of the conference.

Tried to dive in to better understand what it is and spoke to many educators and education entrepreneurs – and what I got is a lot of question marks. A few educators admitted that they are not sure what to do with the CCS, how to decipher the code encrypted in them and transfer it to a clear and relevant work plan in the classroom. Some simply found it “out of sync” with their work (here’s a good example - http://wapo.st/GHVI7T)

I took a look: http://www.corestandards.org/ - read sample items and thought about it. 10-04-2013 10-20-29

I thought that defining the school curriculum through skills we want to achieve rather then through a specific content one has to go through, is a pretty cool idea and I would love for it to happen here too (I live in Israel), and all over the world. Awarding kids with skills is really “teaching them how to fish”.

However, I do believe, after reading some of the items, that they are not clear enough to become solid grounds for a school curriculum. They can be interpreted in many ways, and also – it could prove difficult to make sure the kids actually acquire these skills, in other words, would you test the kids in order to assess if they got those skills? How can you test for skills level in a way that won’t harm learners?

There were several very interesting discussions about the Common Core Standards I came across on various teachers networks. On Firesidelearning Mike posted this on 2009

Cindy posted this on May 2012  and this one on September 2012  and there are more mentions of the CCS if you search for it.

But even after reading all these discussions I fail to understand the shortlist of the pros and cons, and was wondering if you can help me summarize it and answer the following questions:

1) Are the common core standards needed?

2) What would you change in them?

3) What do the CCS mean for the choice of contents in classrooms?

4) In one of his talks I heard Jesse Schell describe standardization as the enemy of creativity. Is this true for the CCS in their current form too, or do they actually enable personalizing education to the student’s needs and abilities?

March 24, 2013

No Educational Games For Me, Thanks.

As I am recovering from the worst case of flu I have ever encountered I’m beginning to list all those blog posts I cooked in my head for the past two weeks. Over a 26 hour flights schedule home I was contemplating all that I have learned and experienced in the two consecutive conferences I attended in Austin Texas this month: the SXSWedu and the SXSW interactive.

Both conferences offered many events, sessions, workshops, keynotes, parties and shows around the two topics which I find most interesting and relevant these days: educational technology and games. The mix is inevitable, but is also, unfortunately, too often a very disappointing mix.

It’s like every student going to study how to become a teacher is going through a crash course titled “games” which is actually a course in how to try and appeal to your students by trying to talk the kids’ language, the games talk. And so they are trained in taking the boring stuff out of the text books and turning it into a “fun” page, or: take the assignments and try to convert them into something that might fool the kids into thinking the boring set of actions they are required to do is in fact a game.10-04-2013 10-09-58

Kids are no one’s fools, and all those flash card apps are, sorry to say, really, passé. Creating a new game, a real game, which is both fun and educational, is a challenge. And I admit that one of the biggest disappointments at both conferences is that I have met no real innovation: not in education nor in games. Sure, there were some cute ideas. But when a teacher like Lucas Gillispie can take real games, like WOW or Minecraft – and apply them in the classroom, you can’t help wondering why bother developing an “educational game”? What’s the point?

I think the term “educational games” is wrong in its basis. Of course it is the right of those developers in this area to call it this and feel that this is what they do, but as for me, I prefer the term learning game, as a game one might, perhaps, learn from, rather than a game that presumes in can educate, or teach. But then I’ll take learning over education any day.

February 4, 2013

Graphic Designers, Start Up!

Why is it so rare to find a startup founder who is a graphic designer?

Are graphic designers not entrepreneurs? This couldn’t be accurate as so many of them found their independent studios. But it seems like they are avoiding the startups world. And it’s especially notable in a country titled “the Startup Nation”.

I’ve spent the last couple of months trying to recruit a graphic designer, illustrator or even an art director to join our startup – in vain. . It’s an amazing startup with a big promise to change the way kids learn and perceive learning, or knowledge. I had no trouble “selling the idea” to several amazing artists.  The 3 designers that seemed to be into it got as far as a second work meeting before they announced the project will demand too many hours for them to commit to.

What do you mean?

When you join a startup you make a commitment. That’s what you do. Like the programmer who joins a startup, like the marketing or bizdev or product person or community manager who joins a startup. Yes, you join a company means you make a commitment to work for this company. And when it’s a startup doing its early steps this means you give it the hours that you have after your day job, until funding is in and you can fully dedicate yourself to that same startup you joined.

That’s what people do when they join a startup. Why not graphic designers?pencil_carving_by_cerkahegyzo

 

I’ve been trying to crack it. One artist told me “Graphic designers are one of the most exploited sectors there are. People are always asking them to do a “quick design”, with a promise to compensate retroactively or with company stock options, but at the end the stock options are worth nothing, or the company didn’t raise funds, and so we don’t get paid. Experienced designers are familiar with this pattern and will not repeat this mistake”.

“Wait”, I told her, “you can say the same thing about the programmer who coded for hours, and days and weeks and might or might not benefit from the startup – if it gets on.”

“Yes, but it’s not really the same thing”, she said, “Graphic artists are usually paid less then programmers and so they are forced to get more after-hours projects to survive. If they will not get paid for their after-work project, their financial stability is hurt”.

I was willing to go with this theory until I found out this is not really the case. The gap between the salaries of a programmer with 5-6 years of experience and a graphic designer with the same number of years is not that big. It seems to me programmers are simply more the types who would take on a risk. And graphic designers underestimate the risks in running a services firm.

“The simplest answer. Designers are trained to be agents. In almost every environment we act as agents in service to someone else. Even internal corporate design departments usually act as an agency whose services are rendered at the bequest of others” writes on Quora Dave Malouf, a professor of Interaction Design at the Savannah College of Art & Design in Savannah, GA and a current co-founder of a startup.

That’s an interesting concept really. “…designers are more visionaries than they are executors”, writes James Sinclair, a Business Growth Consultant, “with all of the skills and talent and understanding they bring, without someone to place constraints, it will never ship.”

But that brings me back to square one: when invited to join a venture, an idea you really like, why are graphic designers so reluctant to join?

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