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Or-Tal's Writings

entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict

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Entrepreneurship

Engaging Through Global Communications

Towards the end of the summer vacation, as I was rounding up my plans for my teachings in the coming school year I have decided to dedicate the first month of the year with both my gifted classes to participating in a global project: The Global Goals project.

The month of September is always hectic. The kids are back from vacation with unexpected energy. There are multiple holidays that won’t really let you gather your students to learning, as every day you think about the next vacation. So rather than starting a serious literary unit, I thought that an active project, which requires active research and creative doing, is the best way to start. Now, as we finished this project, I am afraid I won’t live up to expectations for the rest of the year.

The journey of 1_000 miles starts with one single step.-3

A quick background. I teach English as a foreign language to these 2 classes of gifted students. They are in 8th grade, on average 13-14 years old. We live in Tel-Aviv. The Goals Project is an international project aiming to increase awareness of the UN Sustainable Development Goals: “17 Classrooms working on 17 Goals.​ Together.” They from groups of 17 classes, sorted into age groups. Within each group, each class gets a goal to research and do a project on. The project starts with introductions by the participating classes and ends with sharing the projects prepared by each class.

At first, when I explained the project to the classes they seemed unsure. But then, we went on Flipboard and browsed together through introductions of classes of all ages, from all over the world. At this point – they got hooked. Their enthusiasm rose as they started to plan and prepare their own video introductions. You can watch them on Flipgrid here and here. This was our Week#1 assignment.

In the second week, the students accepted their goal and started to get to know it. I can’t say there was any English teaching going on. But, oh, so much English learning. The self-driven character of the project was a fantastic hook. They delved into the net to read about it and further their research. They learned many new words, they were exposed to a variety of international topics and found out how these goals are relevant to their lives. They became passionate about this.

The last 2 weeks of the project were dedicated to each class planning and creating their own project, to demonstrate what they learned and share their knowledge, help spread the word and increase awareness. These were the most creative and enthusiastic students you can imagine. I was impressed by how seriously they grasped their assumed responsibility for raising awareness. This did not stop at making a nice project. It had to be perfect. They rechecked their English writing and double-checked each other even before submitting for my inspection. It is international and so has to be respectable.

Each class worked on its own goal, but both classes considered two similar options of a website and a game. In the end I encouraged them to do both, so half the class developed a game, a serious game, and half of the class developed the website.

It was exhilarating for me to see how engaged they were in the work. They skipped recess to continue working and meet the deadlines. They shared their work with me through the holidays just to make sure it is done correctly and in time. And oh! What project! What a learning experience!

I am so proud to present both projects here.

The #SDG17 project is a website and a card game. The card game is based on Quartets. Since the goal is titled “partnerships for the goals” the students designed a quartet game in which you can only win if all goals-sets are achieved, and you can only get there by sharing resource cards. Here is the link to the website. A link to the game is in the website (for download and printing).

The #SDG3 project is a website and a digital game. The website includes an “ideas” section aimed at developing a conversation about the goal and how to help promote it. As they discussed the goal, “Health and well being”, they claimed it sounded utopic and unrealistic. But through research, they discovered so many ways each person can contribute to it and they became encouraged and curious about more ideas. Their serious game concentrated on the issue of vaccines. It takes a humoristic view on the topic but works well in sending a message about the topic. The students created all game elements and graphics on their own and one of the students assumed responsibility on the programming in Construct2.

Learning to Say “No”.

A sad thing it is, that one of the very first lessons you learn when you enter the education system, is a lesson about exploitation. I fear it is a similar situation in many countries, but that does not minimize the feeling of anger and frustration.
There is so much that parents don’t know about teachers, and the degree of exploitation is one of them. All these negative attitudes I have experienced in the past as a parent must have a lot to do with the fact that teachers feel “if we get the minimum – we will do the minimum”.
So for example, personalized learning?? There is a big difference between preparing one lesson for 30 students, or 20 personalized programs.
Alternative assessments? It’s a lot easier to check one or two standardized tests every semester than to check and re-check personal assignments done individually 1-3 times every week. 60 checks per semester or 120 per week?

enoughisenough

I know what it takes to be a good teacher. I know what I need to do, and how. But after receiving my first salary from the Ministry of Education – I am really depressed. The pay does not justify the extra time, extra effort and extra caring and dedication. The pay is an insult which carries a statement: we don’t care about you, teachers. We certainly don’t care about your students. The state of education in Israel is not important. We just hire a few suckers to fill in space in classrooms. When you leave we’ll get some new idealistic idiots. The students will never get to benefit from experienced and devoted teachers. And we, the well-paid ministry clerks and policymakers, we don’t care.

In light of this situation, I consider giving up my position as director of innovation, entrepreneurship and technology. While I have so much to give, and although in the super short time since the beginning of the year I have achieved already incredible achievements, I am going to say “no” to work without compensation. No more volunteering. My work is valuable.

It’s a Movement!

I am surrounded by a fantastic community of innovative teachers. All are looking for ways to innovate, excite, do things differently, connect and share. It is the most active community I have participated in, and we’re not looking at a single Facebook group – but several.
Here are some interesting discussions randomly picked from today’s Facebook feed:

“I would like to open the new school year with an activity based on a song, video clip or fun presentation – for EFL (English as a Foreign Language) for 7th-8th grade students. Recommendations?”

“This is my first year as a teacher in high school. I will be teaching Math. I am so excited and need help – where do I start? Where can I find relevant materials?”

“Hi guys  Can anyone recommend apps or websites to do online tests ??”

“Hi all! I’m starting a new job in a couple of weeks and am looking for any ice-breaker strategies you may have for Year 10 and Year 11 students? They were very loyal to their last teacher so I think I might have a struggle! Thanks all.”

“Teachers, here’s a guide for printing a full size poster on your home printer!” (Link in Hebrew).

“metacognition of writing skills : Using https://www.nomoremarking.com/…students compare each others’ work anonymously….some results are very surprising. All you do as a teacher is upload pieces of writing in the system. Students then judge 2 pieces of work at a time and choose which is the best one, and repeat for the next 2 pieces etc… you can add your own model text to ensure they are exposed to an excellent piece. The idea is they discuss what makes a good piece.. I used it with introductions when teaching essay writing, we were surprised to see that the best one didn’t come from our usual best students..you can analyse results, collect data to instruct following teaching…try it! it’s free! and very user friendly 

“Is “drilling” good practice in class? Teacher gives correct answer, pupils repeat as group, individuals repeat, group reinforces whenever the non verbal signal Is given. It was standard practice in Wales, when I trained, but does it aid progress because it helps more naturally inhibited pupils or is it too Pavlovian a practice? I don’t use it much, but significantly some pupils do It automatically. Comments?”

“Hi all, wondering whether anyone has put together a levels grid which encapsulates all 4 core skills? Trying to create something that we can work with effectively in department to replace in part the old national curriculum levels.”

This could go on and on… My point:

This international, cross border communications, advice, sharing, exchanging views and experience is giving a HUGE push to the profession of teaching. Teachers who participate are exposed not only to their own questions or findings, but to infinite amounts of unexpected knowledge and information.

This is SO exciting!!

Still, the majority of teachers in our schools are still left behind when it concerned online communications and social networks. While the connected teachers leap forward and bring the whole concept of teaching into a new era, those who don’t share, who play their cards close to their chest cannot see beyond and into the horizon.

I often meet educators who say “why should I share something I worked on?” – and the answer is simply the whole is bigger and better than its parts – share one and you will gain access to shared works of thousands. It will help you create better materials, it will empower your work and fire your inspiration.

Be a part of this movement to hack education, make it into a new living breathing creature of society.

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The Challenged Students Venture

Diagnosed or not, struggling students are a challenge and lucky for them I am an entrepreneur. What does one have to do with the other?

Good teachers are entrepreneurs, or at least they use entrepreneurial skills and thinking in their work.

Each lesson must include features that are aimed at recognizing a specific challenge, and hopefully discover a way towards a solution. Each lesson feels like a brand new entrepreneurial endeavor.

We teach a class of students, but each individual poses a different challenge. Very often you have to come up with solutions no one has ever thought about. Sometimes the solutions you reach have been reached by other teachers, somewhere around the world. Each solution may present a scalable feature in global terms. Unfortunately networking and knowledge of these ideas are not easily reached. Even in the online communities, information can hardly be searched for.

How about a startup, a platform gathering all this amazing knowledge and making it searchable by challenge? Having known the startup world quite well, I am sad to say, this is one startup that can really change the educational world, but this type of startups aren’t very popular, since the financial profitability is very questionable.

Not the social profitability. There’s no question there. So how should potential investors look at such a venture? Which type of investors should look at it? And through which lens?

invest-in-future

 

 

An Education Being

Wow. It’s been a very long time since I last posted. Muses were too busy learning new things. If you’d ask me what is the most important factor in any place I am committed to, as a work place or any venture I am assisting – it’s definitely being able to learn. Facing the new horizons challenges.

For the past several months I have assumed the role of an educator, working with The Institute for Democratic Education (IDE) in several Tel Aviv high school on innovative education, specifically introducing PBL – project based learning. Apparently sharing my knowledge is yet another passion I have always had. Only it took various forms across a diversified career.

Now it’s time for the entrepreneurial bug to kick in again. Taking a long and hard look at several education systems I realize that one of the things they have in common is grades. And tests. And final exams, under various names and titles. The other things they share is a diversity of students. This usually includes a group of self motivated curious  and self learnering students who are being slowed down, almost suffocated, when forced into this frame of grades and tests.dumbdown

I believe a school can accommodate the self learning students, in a way that will allow them to acquire education in a social environment of their peers, but without the limits, constraints and waste of time required by tests and grades.

One of the main things this school should present is the connection to the real world, community, both business and academic, and allow the students to try many directions at this fantastic age of high school, well before they’re into a selected degree or career. This obviously has to include free access to universities and their willing participation.

I am still exploring various models that already exist around the world and will be happy to learn about more innovative school models. Let me know about them.

Startup Nation – Playing it Safe??

Had a very sad conversation yesterday with some people who are in the high tech and investments industries. I expressed my disappointment at the lack of technical-able people who want to join a startup. The reply was “apparently all startups that are meant to happen are to be started by technical founders”. And then “startups should always be about technology”.

This is a way reflects the traditional perception of VC investments in Israel.

As someone who comes from the marketing and business into the high tech world, and who has consulted quite a few technical founders of startups about their marketing and business strategies, I find this a sad conclusion.

A good startup team should have a great balance between the technical and marketing perceptions. A good startup idea will often come out of a great understanding of a market, its needs or problems and the way to reach back with a solution. Right there, in between understanding the problem and supplying the market with a solution – right there comes the technical answer to the problem.

I am not saying it’s impossible for technical people to see or understand the market. As it is not unthinkable that a marketing person will learn how to code or come up with a technical idea without any technical background. What I am saying is that each is best at their own specialty, and I don’t believe that “I’m best at everything” is a real thing. This is where ego replaces clear reasonable thinking. These are the replaceable CEOs.

What can be done to attract more technology people, software engineers and computer science graduates to entrepreneurship? It’s a big question. It seems like of all place, here in the Startup Nation, the concept is that programmers can get a great paying job so easily – that there’s no incentive in the world that would convince them to jump on some brand new startup wagon. Why take a risk when you can easily just enjoy life?

My guess is the economic situation in Israel today contributes to this state of mind. But then I am thinking about my parents. Both clearly with entrepreneurial traits. Only when they started their career it was all about job security. Not about hope or big plans or daring. I would think that as a country we’ve grown up and proved that taking those risks is often worth it. Didn’t we?

But above all, is it at all possible to convey to non-entrepreneurs that superb feeling you get when you are creating your own thing?? When you are making a dream come true? When creating a dent in the world we live in?

Now, if you still prefer to go back to safety, and never think you’re an entrepreneur, I urge you to dedicate a few minutes to watching this fantastic TEDx talk by a fellow entrepreneur, Cameron Herold, about raising kids to be entrepreneurs. Spoiler and disclosure: I never got an allowance.

#EdGames : Where Ed Meet Games And Gamers meet Educators

I’ve been toying between the education and games worlds for ever. Really, it’s been years. At the risk of sounding ridiculous – I always played games. And I’ve always learned. Education is probably the later of them all. Had to become a parent to an education-system child to really get into it. But it wasn’t until I saw the conflict in my kids’ lives, between their own passionate interest in both learning and playing games that I realized – these two should go together.

It was about 7 or 8 years ago that my eldest child, a student today, played Maple Story with her classmates. The summer vacation brought it to new heights. They all used English of course, not their mother tongue, to chat with other players and trade goods – and I observed how much they have learned through this process. Maple Story was never designed with education in mind. No ESL thoughts.

During these years I’ve designed an MMO (massively multiplayer online game) twice. But before, during and after I spent tons of time just studying about both game design and education: innovation in education, technology in education, new methodologies, different pedagogic approaches, types of learners, learning disabilities and difficulties, challenging students, classes and learning environments,  different teachers – with teachers needs, abilities, limitations and dreams. I’ve connected with teachers all over the world: US, Canada, Brazil, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Romania, France, the UK, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Germany, Holland, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Greece, Spain – need I go on? There’s one thing in common to all the teachers in my constantly expanding network: they are teachers because they want to teach, and they do no settle for dreaming on improving or changing education – they are actually doing the change, pursuing innovation.

 

There’s an interesting thing that has happened to my game designer friends during the same several years. Lots of them have grown up and mainly became parents. Suddenly – they are also exposed to the urgent need to make something for it, to change, to affect.

I couldn’t be happier standing here right in the crossroad of these two innovative communities. Now I am doing my little thing: I founded #EdGames Meetup, which is designed to be the meeting place between teachers and game designers. Education professionals, and programmers, designers, animators and gamers. It’s an interesting cross and an important one. Too many game designers attempt to create games for education without understanding needs or constraints of the systems and audiences they design for. And too many educators convince themselves they are using games in the classroom when in fact they barely understand true gamification the way it works today. This conversation, this meeting place, is essential if we want to grow and expand the use of games in education and the surrounding industries. It is a challenge, however, to create a meeting place between communities who differ so much from each other. I am lucky to have partnered with the local Game Designers Association, GameIS, where I chair the education committee, and am looking for their support in bringing this new concept to Israel’s game designers.

I started it here, in Israel. I hope to grow it across the world and have more #EdGames meetups all over the world. In the meantime, I announce our monthly meetings here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/edtechIS/ and twit under #EdGames and #GBL. You are welcome to join the conversation.

Age of No Age

It must have been one of the strangest days in my life.

Met a 20 year old entrepreneur. Thought about how society’s age discrimination stands in the way of any successful partnerships between such young entrepreneurs and those who are twice their age. Then read about another entrepreneur who is doing a crazy thing: he wants to build his founding team based on 5-6 people who are all 35 or older. Yea, that’s right. He appreciates experience. In the world of “20 under” . Whatever happened to my “40 over 40” survey?

Should age become an obstacle? Should it be a consideration at all in the world of entrepreneurship? Personally I find that age is one of the last things I check for when a candidate applies. The relevancy of experience is much more important. Not to mention your online presence.

A couple of weeks ago I posted an ad on Xplace for a technological partner to join my startup. I made sure what I wrote is pretty clear. It’s a person, not a company, it’s a partnership, not a service, and it’s pre-funding. All of the replies I received except for one were from companies or freelancers who didn’t bother to read what I wrote, or decided that perhaps if they send me their lovely price proposal I will give up on a partner and come up with funds. Hmmm. But what made it even worse was the way some of these people responded: They didn’t bother to present themselves, their curriculum, their experience or portfolio. It was a “one-line-proposal” in the form of “tell me more about your project”.

Sorry, but I don’t get it. Or rather, I do get it. This is why these people are having trouble getting a position. Not because they are young or old. Because it’s all about how and what you communicate. We live in an age and a professional environement where age has the least significance it ever had. Whether you are 20 or 60 if you have a valid idea and you know how to communicate it – you have a chance at success.

So back to the 20 year old. This was a delightful encounter. I don’t know if something ever comes out of it. I offered my help as a mentor in marketing and business strategy aspects through the wonderful Tomorrow Israel  project started by my friend Nir Kouris. I had the pleasure of meeting one of the more mature entrepreneurs, acknowledging where his knowledge is insufficient and needs help, respecting his team say in any involvement of third parties. A refreshing look on a traditional line of apps. And a general impression that working with this entrepreneur (note I’m not calling him “a kid” or “a young…”) – working with such a person would be great.

What do you want to do when you grow up?

And how can I, your mother, help you achieve it?
I’ve been toying with this discussion for the past couple of weeks, after being approached by one of the TV networks, who’re doing a series of reports on the topic. Tying education to it all brought them to my doorstep.

So I asked my kids this very important question. The 16 year old said “I want to eat”. A very typical answer from a 16 year old, who just wants to… well, eat. The 12 year old said “I haven’t got a clue”. The 19 year old said what she has always said “I want to be a physicist” which in her case means a lot more than a single occupation.

So what’s my role in their future? To open as many options as possible before them.
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Going a little deeper into the conversation, the 12 year old admitted he wants to save whales and other endangered species. Something he has been talking about since he was 4 years old. The 16 year old expanded to “I want to be happy” and then said that currently the 3 most important and enjoyable areas in his life are music, games and food and “I’d like to develop some concept venture to put all those together into the best hanging out place in the world”. And my oldest, in between tests and studies she’s developing at least 2 startup ideas, following the previous venture, Globalvert, an organization to push forward the study of Algae as an alternative energy source.

What we all have in common is entrepreneurship. The urge to solve, innovate, create.

Several months ago I met with a wonderful entrepreneur and a business man. After sharing his rather apocalyptic view about the deterioration in entrepreneurship and number of entrepreneurs he shared a plan he has of adding a set of topics to pre-school classes, to train the minds of the 3-4-5 year old and develop them into our future entrepreneurs. “Entrepreneurship is at the very basis of sustaining the human race, with the ongoing depletion of resources on earth”, he explained, “We are dependent on those who will become entrepreneurs in 30 years and their breakthrough ventures”.

I strongly believe in entrepreneurship and the need in entrepreneurs. But while he’d start with external enrichment classes, I would much rather work with the teachers and educators first. With the correct state of mind and a basic set of tools they can achieve much more than any fantastic “thought shaping” “mind developing” external content that hosts an hour a week.

This state of mind is the one I’m struggling for at home. Trying to keep doors open, or at least within reach. Keeping the creative vibe going. Being attentive to my kids’ interests and passions, putting those well ahead of any concepts of “should and shouldn’t”, but not striking off rules. And, not ignoring society’s high road called “schooling” although sometimes I wish I could.

By now I have a 19 year old student at a university, a 16 year old in high school and a 12 year old in elementary school. I’m counting 28 years in the schooling system as a mother. I must admit that even though all three of my kids enjoy what constitutes the best to elite schooling in Israel, I’m generally dissatisfied with the education system. It’s the same disappointing system worldwide but it doesn’t make me happier. As a parent I am doing my best to offer the widest possibilities to my kids. However, the schooling system limits them.

What’s happening to my brilliant girl at the Nobel Prize winners’ academic institute reminds me of what happened to my wide eyed youngest in first grade. From the shining smile, sheer excitement and hopeful dreams of knowledge and exploration down to a thin reality of memorization and teachers’ mind-reading. She might be better equipped today to deal with it, looking at it as just a phase to go through, it still feels like a system putting you down.

And so does the whole testing system I’m going through, for the second time as a parent, with my high schooler. “Teaching? I wish I could teach”, one of his gifted teachers told me, a fantastic creative and beloved teacher, “I’m not teaching, I’m prepping for exams”.

So back to “what are we doing to help our kids prepare for a vague future we have no way of predicting?”. One thing is for sure, 3 years wasted on test preparations hardly contribute to it. Education must develop a stronger affinity to the entrepreneurship state of mind if we want it to contribute to our future. To be blunt, for a period in history lead by the workmen, the manufacturing line approach to education was fine. For an era lead by entrepreneurs – education needs to be recreated as something else, something different, some fertile ground for budding entrepreneurs.

What about the Team?

I started to write this blog post about team work. Then I restarted it. I wasn’t always a team player. When I started my career, a young and daring journalist at the age of 15, a journalist was in most cases a solo flyer. I was a journalist for 15 years. Most of the time it was indeed a solo performance. When I ejected from print journalism to the online technology world I started to discover team work.

Investors often tell you that when choosing whether or not to invest in a startup they look at the team harder than they look at the idea. Yea, showing off with a shiny new prototype is impressive, but if the team is a screeching machine, then no thank you. Better luck at your next meeting.

And team work is indeed key to success. In a good startup you’ll have several founders, each assuming responsibility on another domain. While in many cases each member of the team can probably do more than just his or her own job, and at the early stages – that’s what they have to do, it’s critical that every member of the team is the chief of another domain. Has the last word in this domain. Not the only word, the last word.chess-set

This distinction is important: early on the team all share the exciting notion of creating something new. They all pitch in. They all have a contribution to the production process from planning to execution. But in each area there’s supposed to be the top decision maker of the arena: one person decides over technology, one person deciding over design, one person over business strategy. Even if all team members have degrees in programming and business, each member must honestly acknowledge which is his or her area of expertise. Where they would be better than any other team member. And that’s your domain.

This mastery is of course accompanied by a lot of ego. Which makes it hard to listen to other people’s opinions or advice. But if you’re truly an expert – then you will embrace the fact that every input can enrich you and benefit the greater good of the venture you’re all producing.

Which takes me back to school. So the high school typical behavior I’ve encountered so far, through my kids mainly – is that in each group there’s one who does all the hard work. Well the easy work too. In fact, why bother, when there’s one in each group who really cares about the grade? Unfortunately I’ve seen this attitude drag into college, first degree studies. There are those who care about the grades, so why bother contributing to the shared project? In further studies I’ve also encountered the complete opposite behavior, with similar non-team-work results: condescending team members competing with each other on their status within a team, all in the name of credit and prestige.

Do education systems give it another thought? Do they know how important is the ability to work within a team? The whole deal: contributing, learning from each other, sharing ideas, feeding the team, respecting, communicating politely and efficiently, putting your ego aside. And enjoying it.

I sincerely believe that if tests where replaced by projects with correct guidance and supervision – we’d be looking at better chances for all those future team members. There’s a limit to how far you can fly solo and without wings.

Teachers: Innovate or Vegetate? (Or: Why teachers hold the key to society’s innovation)

On the road to innovation, success, evolution and generally doing good we have to go through the education systems. Where ever we are. Tomorrow’s innovators are being educated today. While Peter Thiel with his 20-under-20 Thiel Fellowship is doing a rescue operation to fish entrepreneurs out of the higher education system before it squashes their dreams and plans under frames and debts, I’m thinking that the only operation we can have for the younger students is recognizing that teachers today hold the key to innovation. I need to create a clear separation between innovation and entrepreneurship. There’s a factor of bravery, risk taking and daring in entrepreneurship that is not always present with pure innovation. Teachers can and must innovate all the time. They don’t have to assume the role of entrepreneurs. But it’s “innovate or vegetate” for them. Going out with my dear friend Miri to a bar the other night, we spoke about career choices. Miri loves being a teacher. It’s the only thing she has ever done and she’s one of the more innovative teachers I’ve had the pleasure to meet. Without innovation – how could she survive around 3 decades of teaching science to middle school students? Day in day out, year in year out, same curriculum approximately. But she’s a master in improvising. She knows how to read each unique group of students, as well as specific students, and how to raise the curiosity and tease their own inquisitive minds into the same thing she’s teaching. They keep surprising her, and she keeps surprising them. Yet, teachers’ professional development is extremely weak in Israel. To encourage it the government with the teachers unions created a framework that recognizes specific programs or institutions as an official supplier of professional development. Going through any of those a teacher is then compensated financially for the investment. This framework created a terrible situation in which most teachers limit their quest to develop professionally to only these programs or institutions that will “pay off”. There goes innovation. An enthusiastic participant at Twitter’s #edchat I’m learning so much about education and educators around the world. It’s a sheer joy even if I am just a listener and not participating. I am not a teacher, and nobody pays me to learn education. But all of the participants, who are teachers and educator by trade don’t spend that 1 hour (sometimes 2 hours) per week in a multi-national conversation about education because they are paid to do so. They do it because they are passionate about what they do and they want to innovate and grow. They don’t want to get tired and worn, they want to keep the enthusiasm going on in their lives and careers.

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Why I think teachers hold the key to society’s innovation

Here’s innovation for you. These teachers are in fact cultivating tomorrow great entrepreneurs. When their students will grow up, I hope they can appreciate it. Because we hear so much about the successful entrepreneurs and their grand startups, but we rarely hear about those who showed then the way.

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.

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.

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?

The Curse of Traction

02-06-2013 11-53-54
http://www.thefreedictionary.com/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?

 

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