By Katrina Schwartz
Most teachers are happy doing their job — helping kids understand and make sense of the world around them. But there’s a growing number of educators who are wading into entrepreneurship, frustrated at the lack of tools they need, and wanting to extend their sphere of influence. As technology becomes more widely used and accepted in the classroom, teachers are taking their ideas about how to improve learning environments, sharing them online, and creating web-based tools to benefit teachers and students.
At the same time, the fact that the multi-billion dollar ed-tech space is exploding has not gone unnoticed by investors. Programs like Imagine K12 run crash courses in ed-tech entrepreneurship, connecting fledgling companies to Silicon Valley venture capital firms (and staking out a six percent equity).
But, as most educators know, while tech entrepreneurs can sometimes hit gold, not every newly minted site or software is useful to teachers. That’s what sets educator entrepreneurs apart — they have relevant classroom experience that can’t be gained any other way than by doing the hard work of teaching.
Jack West has taught for 16 years and has been at Sequoia High School in Redwood City for most of that time. He’s a physics teacher and is naturally inclined to innovate, even if his students aren’t as enthusiastic about his non-traditional teaching style. West returned to traditional teaching for eight years until he figured out how to use his innovative techniques not only to spice things up, but to actually help his students do better. That’s what led to the launch this year of Braincandy, a tool to help students understand the underlying concepts behind their misperceptions.
“Teachers are usually the last people to be consulted on many of these education technology companies.”
West and his co-founders wrote trick-questions on physics concepts that many kids get wrong. The answer choices are all the common misperceptions. The goal is for students to be completely sure that they’re choosing the right answer, the obvious answer, only to find out that most got it wrong. “These aren’t test questions. They are instructional questions,” explained West. “So what we’re trying to do is create a discrepancy event, a shocking event to open the door for a teachable Continue reading