Penny Conference: If we could redesign learning for the 21st Century, what would it look like?

“There is more that I don’t know, than what I do know” –Baratunde Thurston on learning more about the book he was writing from others

Once we can get past this idea, we will be both stronger teachers and more active learners.

Last Friday was the first Penny Conference by Skillshare. It is now a week later and I am still floating on cloud nine from the event. Skillshare and all of the speakers at the Penny Conference asked themselves this question: If we could redesign education for the 21st century, what would it look like? Each speaker captivated the audience in a different way, but the thread that tied them altogether was the idea that sharing knowledge is the key to learning.

The Penny Conference was so unique is because it was not a conference about education reform, it was a conference about learning and sharing knowledge. Tony Wagner spoke about the difference between the words “reform” and “reinvent” and in my estimation, Skillshare’s Penny Conference was more about a reinvention of the way we learn through redefining how, when and where learning happens.

My Top Takeaways from the Penny Conference (in no particular order):

  • Learning should not be restricted to the classroom environment
  • Everyone is an expert at something and anyone can be a teacher. [Teen teacher (and student!) Adora Svitak proved this to us during her speech.]
  • Many teachers are working with a curriculum that will soon be obsolete. We need to begin teaching the skills that will benefit our students in today’s society.
  • Engagement must be a top priority for all teachers. Don’t ask yourself: “Do they know it?” Ask yourself, “Do they love it?” -Adora Svitak
My Most Memorable Moments from the Penny Conference:
  • Michael Karnjanaprakorn did not only offer inspiring words, but speaking with him 1:1 after the conference made me realize that a large part of why Skillshare is so amazing is because their CEO is a great visionary. Michael was approachable and friendly, and the way that he spoke about his vision for Skillshare was incredibly engaging.
  • Adora Svitak made me think about how the engagement factor in learning must be a top priority for all teachers. Don’t ask yourself: “Do they know it?” Ask yourself, “Do they love it?”
  • Aaron Dignan won me over on gamification for learning while speaking about how even in games, people want to skip the tutorial and figure out the rules while playing. As a teacher, I sometimes forget what the draw of gaming used to be, but Aaron’s words took me back to the era of DuckHunt, Myst, and Oregon Trail (how embarrassing!) His words illustrated such a clear example of human nature craving learning by doing.
  • “Learning is not about competing with others…” –Eddie Huang (followed by a freestyle rap session)…enough said.
  • Charles Best discussing how organizations such as Donors Choose, Etsy, Kickstarter and more are trying to stop traditional gatekeepers from standing in your way.
  • I’m not sure how but Zach Sims managed to convince me that I want to learn to code. Do I hear a movement towards coding as a second language in schools?
  • Im not exactly sure what to say about Adam Braun. From the second he set foot on the stage, he was completely captivating. I love everything that Adam Braun stands for and am in awe of his organization, Pencils of Promise.

I’ll leave you with this. I was so moved by the attention Kio Stark paid to failure. She put forth the idea that embracing and allowing failure will bring us closer towards success. That is a difficult concept for us (teachers) to grasp today, especially when everyone in the education industry is penalized for failure. With all of the testing in NYC this week, I have continuously been thinking about Kio’s description of how in order to move forward, more people need to risk failure and make mistakes…

Share This:

Read more

Skillshare – Revolutionizing learning by bringing it outside of the classroom.

Last Friday I attended Skillshare‘s first Penny Conference on learning and innovation. I will be writing more about the conference (which I LOVED) later this week but I wanted to spend today introducing Skillshare to those of you who may not know about it.

What is Skillshare?

Skillshare’s allows all individuals to be teachers and learners. It is essentially a marketplace where people can share what they know with those who want to learn more about it. Last Friday morning I took my first Skillshare session and it really was empowering. What I loved most about it was that it was not intimidating. Everyone who attended was interested in learning, including the teacher. It was short and to the point and I left the class with new knowledge. I will definitely be taking more Skillshare sessions this year and I hope that eventually I will gain the courage to teach a Skillshare session.

Benefits of Teaching and Learning through Skillshare:

Skillshare can be a great way to diversify your skills without spending the time and money it takes to go back to school. For example, as a teacher who is interested in educational technology, I often feel like I am at a disadvantage when talking to professionals on the business or technological side of edtech. Skillshare classes can give me the support I need to be able to engage in meaningful conversations with these professionals.

  • Skillshare classes are very affordable (mine was $10)
  • Most Skillshare classes are short (mine was 45 minutes long)
  • Skillshare gives you the opportunity to offer feedback on a class you have taken so that potential students can review your feedback before signing up for that class
  • Skillshare empowers you to teach others about what you already know, which can be very fullfilling

Skillshare offers classes in a variety of areas including, but not limited to: culinary arts, crafts, technology, entrepreneurship and lifestyle. Here are five sample class titles to help you get an idea of the types of learning that happen through Skillshare.

  1. Life Hack: How to Live Rent-Free in NYC
  2. Humor Writing: Become the Next David Sedaris
  3. Drink & Think: Practical Wine Tasting (Introductory Reds)
  4. Getting Started with Responsive Web Design
  5. Crash Course: Branding, PR, & Social Media

Stay tuned later this week to learn more about Skillshare and the Penny Conference. I’ll leave you with this. What I love most about Skillshare is that it reminds us that learning and teaching do not and SHOULD NOT happen only inside a classroom. We can be lifelong learners and anyone can be a teacher. Sharing our knowledge is the key.

Share This:

Read more

Penny Conference 2012

Wow…EdGeeks has gotten so techie in the last few weeks…must be all the inspiration from SxSWedu. Next week I’m going to work on getting back into some low-tech/no-tech learning strategies…but here’s one more exciting event that is not to be missed!

Skillshare will be hosting its first education conference, Penny Conference at The Times Center on April 20th (1-5PM). Skillshare will bring together the world’s most innovative minds to inspire the curious and share their ideas on the future of learning. At Penny, attendees in and out of education will be inspired to rethink what learning is all about. Speakers include Adora Svitak (Child Prodigy Writer), Charles Best (CEO of, Zach Sims (Co-founder of Codecademy), Baratunde Thurston (Director of Digital for The Onion), Tony Wagner (Co-founder of Change Leadership Group), and Adam Braun (Founder of Pencil of Promise). 

I will be taking part in the Penny Conference and I hope you will too. Register here and use the discount code pennyEdGeeks to get 15% off. If you are headed to the Penny Conference and think we should meet…email me or leave a comment:)


In a few weeks EdGeeks will do a feature piece on Skillshare and how the project is revolutionizing learning. For now, if you’re interested in learning more…check out this video.


15% Discount Code: pennyEdGeeks

Share This:

Read more

Reflections on SxSWedu: Highlights and Hopes

What an exciting week at SxSWedu. My brand new Moleskin is almost completely filled with notes (yes I still use paper and pen sometimes, sorry techies.) It is challenging to come up with a concise and organized list of reflections, especially since my brain is filled to the brim with new people, technologies and projects…but I’ll do what I can.

Overall: SxSWedu is still in its infancy and is trying to find itself. The feedback we are able to give via survey and email will be crucial for its growth in the coming years. That being said, the conference is on the right path. I met extremely innovative people and being new in the field, it was such a breath of fresh air to be surrounded by proactive entrepreneurs. I love entrepreneurs because of their “can do” attitude. So much of ed reform has turned into placing blame and wasting time discussing opinions about how we got to be in this mess. I have heard endless complaints from politicians, teachers, administrators and parents – but not entrepreneurs. Instead they come to the table with a proactive attitude. These are the problem solvers and we should be modeling this attitude for our students as we begin to mend the educational environment.


1. The Meetups – Although I won an ipod touch through WeAreTeachers, that is NOT why the meetups made my list (but I am super grateful since I never get lucky with those things!) The Meetups were an informal way to get to know other individuals in the field. The most meaningful moments throughout the conference for me were the conversations I was able to have with inspiring thinkers during social events. We get used to the way things are in our city/state and then we go to a meetup where we can gain perspectives by talking to others in the field who are scattered throughout the country. Although we may live far away, it made me feel less isolated.

2. Session on EdTech Reporting – The fact that anyone can create a blog and begin writing as if they are an expert is frightening. I am always skeptical when reading any material that has been published online for this reason. This session stood out to me because the panelists offered new and interesting information (and sadly, I couldn’t say the same about some of the other sessions I attended.) The panelists were all equally as skeptical as I am and did a great job of speaking about the path of edtech reporting. The portion that spoke to me the most was when Audrey Watters said “I’m almost amazed when people don’t want to talk to teachers. A lot of tech journalists don’t seem to know any teachers.” This is a huge issue and if I could add just one more word into her quote I would add “parents.” Thought-provoking ideas at this session.

3. Offering Feedback – One thing I have been struggling to understand is how edtech startups create educational products without the input of educators. I really appreciated the fact that so many edtech startup founders wanted to discuss their products with me in a way that was not pushy or “sell-y,” but rather in a way that was asking for an educator’s perspective. The only way that we will mend the disconnect between edtech companies teachers is by engaging more educators…and SxSWedu offered a platform for this.

Hopes for Next Year –

1. More Educator Perspectives – There was a lot of buzz around the sessions not being eye-opening. I enjoyed some of the sessions, not all. They definitely acted as a reminder of what our students must feel like all day, sitting, listening, not moving. I don’t feel negatively about the sessions – but I would like to see some changes for next year. I am interested in having more sessions that offer the perspectives of educators who are in the field. We are having a conversation about children and we need to be including more people who are in direct contact with children in order to get the most meaningful information.

2. More Assistive Technology – As a special education teacher, I was a little bit disappointed that there was not more of a conversation around the use of technology to support students with special needs. There was one session, which I attended, but I hope to see more next year. The lack of sessions speaks to the broader issue of re-thinking the opportunity we have to use technology to support our ever-growing population of students with IEPs. We must also remember to include our students with “invisible disabilities” in the conversation.

3. Sessions on Parent Engagement – Is is just me, or should our country be placing more of a heavy emphasis on parent engagement? There were a handful of edtech startups reaching out to the parent population but I didn’t notice any sessions which spoke to or about this audience (Disclaimer: I didn’t attend every session because I am only one human being.) I think we can all agree that students become more successful when they have a safe, supportive family environment. That being said, we need to reach out and offer tips and tools to parents to help them become more supportive at home. I hope to see this crucial audience play a role at SxSWedu 2013.

4. Flipped Sessions – During one of the sessions, a new friend turned and said to me, “I could have read this.” I hope that in 2013 there is at least one flipped session. I want to be able to read information or watch a video and then attend a conference to discuss the implications of the information I have read/seen. This will help me identify whether the session will be useful to me, and it will help me bring something to the conversation and we all know that the more perspectives we have, the stronger our learning can be. My biggest hope for next year is that the sessions at SxSWedu become more conversational.

Important! It can be easy to get swept away by the promises of technology for learning. While listening to speakers discuss the implications for their technologies inside the classroom, we begin to believe that technology is THE answer. I believe that technology is AN answer. So, what is the answer? Balance! Have we learned nothing over the years, through history, politics, education, even diet…too much of something is not healthy. The use of technology is crucial for our youth, but that doesn’t mean it should take the place of everything else. I’ll leave you with this:

Over the years, balanced literacy has emerged as a methodology that allows us to incorporate different ways of teaching literacy to our learners. Years ago people believe it was either phonics OR whole language. Balanced literacy says we need both because no two learners learn the same. We need to take this approach with technology. Although many tech tools can differentiate, that doesn’t mean that they will be appropriate for every learner. Teachers must be skeptical! Teachers should test out new technologies in their classrooms with each student and be sure to stay vigilant to catch the students for which the tech tool does not support. I am pro-technology. I am pro-books. I am pro-paper. But most importantly, I am pro-learning, and there is not one tool that will speak to every learner in a class of 20 or 30 so we must remember that teaching is an art and human contact is at the core of it.

Share This:

Read more

SxSWedu Day 2 and 3: Greatest Hits

Session of the Day:

Tia Lendo’s Presentation: Using Free Google Tools to Make Learning Magical This session did not have a strong impact on me because the information was new, but rather because of the medium Tia chose for presentation. I did not attend every session by any means, but this was the most creative approach I experienced. Tia  used video-conferencing to let us hear opinions of teachers and students who are using Google tools for teaching and learning. It was the only session where I felt truly focused and engaged. More sessions should include teacher and student AND PARENT perspectives.

Great Conversations of the Day: (In no particular order)

Lora Ma: Executive Producer of Edutopia (Lora Ma is doing some incredible work over at Edutopia and had such a positive energy about her. I am so glad we got a chance to meet and chat about the importance of parent/teacher involvement. Hoping to see her again soon.)

Jennifer Vollmann: Executive Director of New Global Citizens (Jennifer is so inspiring. She is doing really important work with middle and high school students around the concept of promoting social change. Her project New Global Citizens gives our youth a chance to create change and take ownership over making a difference. Can’t wait until she comes to New York.)

Robert McLellan: Executive Producer of Brooklyn Castle (Robert wins biggest heart of the day. I had such an important and inspiring conversation about children, education and social change. I checked out his trailer for Brooklyn Castle and was so moved by the characters. Perhaps it’s the fact that it takes place so close to home but I absolutely cannot wait until the film heads to New York. If you are hanging around in Austin for the week, make sure to see this film!)

Tony Wan: EdSurge (I was over the moon to meet Tony from EdSurge. I am not an avid newsletter reader. I lose focus after a few minutes. EdSurge is the only newsletter I get that I set aside a substantial amount of time to read. When I get this newsletter, I turn off the rest of my life to click through each link and really delve into the text. I’m so impressed by the depth of this site. I hope that EdSurge moves into the parent space in the future.)

Din Heiman: COO of BrainPOP (Having used BrainPOP videos at the start of every math lesson with my sixth graders last year, I was so excited to meet some members of the New York-based team. COO Din Heinman was really great and I particularly enjoyed pondering the relationship between BrainPOP and students with Autism. Looking forward to thinking more about how BrainPOP can support students with special needs.)

Brennan Knotts: COO of Kindertown (I thoroughly enjoyed Brennan’s pitch at LaunchEDU. Working with parents so much of the time, I can vouch that a common question is “How can I search for apps that will ACTUALLY help my child learn?” I so appreciate Kindertown for diving into this issue and trying to find a solution. Looking forward to learning more about Kindertown in the future.)

Valerie Sakimura of NewSchools Venture Fund and Amy Lin of Notedly (Special shout out to these two amazing young women. This week felt male-dominated (specifically in the arena of edtech, startups and funders) and it was so refreshing to meet two female change makers. Valerie and Amy make the top of my list for awesome “meets” of the day.

Day 3: Highlight

I’m sitting in the Ed-Tech Reporting: Why It Sucks and How to Fix It session with Frank Catalano, Lisa Wolfe, Betsy Corcoran, Audrey Watters. I’ve been waiting for this session for the past three days and the panelists are living up to the expectations. Take-away: More tech companies and reporters need to be talking to teachers. Educators have such a unique and important perspective to the work that is happening – the fact that they are often a forgotten resource is quite detrimental to the movement.

Feeling exhausted yet re-energized all at the same time. Excuse any typos – operating on very little sleep. Later…reflections on SxSWedu and feedback for next year.

Share This:

Read more

Families and Teachers: Check this Out!

Kindertown just pitched at LaunchEDU for their project which supports parents in becoming teachers at home: An app store for parents (but teachers can use it too.) They review, curate and organize apps by genres that will be helpful for parents. Check it out, i’m pretty excited about it.

Share This:

Read more

SxSWedu Day 1: Greatest Hits

Top 3 Moments of the Day:

1. Meeting Cindy Johanson of Edutopia. She was super inspiring and a great conversationalist (as expected) and I really hope I bump into her again tomorrow.

2. Listening to Ian Needham, Jac de Haan and Ash Bhoopathy discuss data. I loved Jac’s example of collecting social data on middle schoolers by asking them to write a list of people they wouldn’t mind bunking with on a camping trip. He used the data to draw connections and make observations about social interactions in his classroom. What a strong example of teacherly data.

3.  This definitely constitutes as more than a moment, but having dinner with a group of innovative entrepreneurs (including SnappSchool, Kickboard, Kinobi, Dojo) definitely makes the cut! A strong end to a great day!

Session of the Day:

I went to some great sessions today…sessions with speakers who were quite quotable. My session of the day is TheirSpace: Educating Digitally Ethical Teens because it was the only session that managed to change my mind about something today. I have had mixed feelings on the use of social media in the classroom for a long time. Last year, many of my sixth graders were dealing with cyberbullying on Facebook and I was often a shoulder to cry on or a sounding board for families. I have had multiple controversial experiences with social media for teens. I know that must sound like blasphemy at this conference, but it is the truth. This session made me stop and think about treating the development of a digital identity as a sort of content area if you will. I have long been intrigued by CommonSense Media’s curriculum on Digital Literacy and Citizenship and this session, paired with my research into CommonSense Media’s curriculum has swayed my views. Like anything else, this area of learning will take modeling, conversation and mentorship.

My Favorite Thing About SxSWedu So Far…

Number one on my list is meeting new friends, I could not be more excited about the connections I made today! This may sound odd but my absolute favorite thing about attending educational conferences is that I am reminded of the role of the student. Throughout a day like today, I go through the motions of being a student again – feeling:

  • So inspired that I feel like I can do anything
  • Like I have no idea what the teacher is talking about
  • Like I already know what the teacher is teaching, so I’m bored
  • Like I need to take a walk because I’ve been sitting for too long
  • Like I wish I could speak more
  • Nervous to ask a question

As teachers, we need to remember the feelings we go through while in the position of learner. Reflecting on these feelings, I am reminded of the importance of differentiation, hands on learning, student-centered learning and high engagement.

I am over the moon about the events of the day and although I’m exhausted, I am looking forward to another full day of learning. If you had a favorite moment, session or quote of the day, share it by posting a comment below. Off to bed…

Share This:

Read more

Quotes of the Day: A Running List

Its early in the day but there have already been quite a few inspiring words. I figured I’d start a running list of quotes that make me feel inspired and quotes that make me stop and think. I’m only one person so please, if you have been to other sessions and heard important words, share them here by leaving a comment below.

“Everyone thinks school should be like it was for them…” -Carolyn Foote (Schools 2.0: Teachers and the Future of Education)

“It can be very isolating to be an innovator in a school.” -Carolyn Foote (Schools 2.0: Teachers and the Future of Education)

“They will disengage and opt out of what we’re offering.” -Stephanie Sandifer on what will happen if we dont take parent and student engagemenent seriously. (Schools 2.0: Teachers and the Future of Education)

“Mentorship is a student-engaged position.” -Ted Kalmus on the difference between management and mentorship  (Theirspace: Educating Digitally Ethical Teens)

Thanks for tweeting Cindy: “We have 21st century kids walking into 20th century classrooms. It’s a cultural disconnect.”

Have you been to any SxSWedu sessions and heard an inspiring quote or one that makes you stop and think? Share it here!

Share This:

Read more

Top 10 Things I Can’t Wait For at SxSwedu

Getting on a plane in a few hours and I am ecstatic! I feel so fortunate that I get to be surrounded by inspiring leaders and entrepreneurs in the field that matters most for the next four days. Scanning through the sessions, I can hardly choose – there are so many incredible people who will be speaking at SxSWedu that I’m guessing it will be hard for me to stay in one place for too long. What’s worse, some of the superstars are speaking at the same time, so I’ll need to be on the move all week. Here are the top ten things I’m looking forward to for the next few days (In order of event time/date)

1. Educators Engaging in Curriculum Content Curation: Yancy Unger – Recently I have been dabbling in the art of curation and I can’t wait to hear what Unger has to say about educators as curators.

2. Teaching and Learning: There are Apps for That: Storm Gloor – I love “There’s an app for that” style sessions because they move quickly and you walk out with a TON of information.

3. Redefining “Data Driven”: Ash Bhoopathy, Ian Needham, Jac de Haan, Marilee Bowles-Carey – To be honest, data in this era just intrigues me and the speakers seem great.

4. LaunchEDU K-12 Lightning Round – Seriously looking forward to the energy at the Launch events and particularly excited by the K-12 session!

5. Think “Out of the Box” Assistive Technology: Kelli Hodges of Dell – Having worked in classrooms with students with speech, motor and physical needs, I am always inspired by new assistive technologies.

6. Bay Area Edtech is in Austin Ya’ll: Join us for Cocktails @ Hangar Lounge! – This event will have so many innovative/awesome people in one space. It could get interesting…

7. Keynote: Marjorie Scardino – I can’t wait to hear Scardino for many reasons, including the fact that oddly enough I feel some sense of “Girl Power” around women who have achieved greatness in a specific field.

8. Ed Tech Reporting: Why it Sucks and How to Fix It: Audrey Watters, Betsy Corcoran, Frank Catalano, Lisa Wolfe – The speakers are going to be ridiculous, enough said! Hoping I get to meet them to pick their brains after:)

9. Creating Global Citizens: Jennifer Vollmann of New Global Citizens speaks about the importance of supporting our youth in becoming responsible global citizens. This just looks like an incredible project.

10. Keynote Speaker Arne Duncan – Not much needs to be said here!

Special Note 1: I am also so excited that Michael Bernstein of PenPal News just got a last minute ticket and will be heading to Austin this week. If you haven’t checked out PenPal News, do it now!

Special Note 2: I am pretty amped to meet Stew Stout of Kickboard in NOLA. He is awesome via email:)

Most of All…

What I am looking forward to most of all is meeting new friends in the field so if you’re going to be at SxSWedu and want to meet up, email or tweet at me. Hope to see you there.

Okay readers, stay tuned…off we go!

Share This:

Read more


I could not be more excited to attend SxSWedu next week! You should be pretty excited too because I will be blogging from the conference all week to keep you up to speed. What is SxSWedu? Read on…

SxSWedu: (Straight from their site) “Like other SXSW festivals, SXSWedu seeks to converge the wide variety of stakeholders who share an interest in 21st Century innovation and best practices. Our attendees represent not only education professionals including teachers, administrators and university professors, but also business, industry and policy leaders who all share a keen interest in modernizing teaching and learning.”

Who Will Be There? Everyone! What I am most excited about is that there is such an extensive span of people who will be speaking at SxSWedu. It’s not just educators and administrators, this conference includes business professionals, gamers, designers, policy makers, and more! Just browsing through the keynotes and distinguished speakers, I already feel inspired. In fact, I recommend that you check out the Concurrent Sessions tab to see what its all about! Browsing through these speakers will give you a good idea of what is happening in education today.

What Will Next Week Look Like on EdGeeks? Next week I will stray from the usual. Tuesday-Thursday you can check out EdGeeks to see a series of posts on the happenings at SxSWedu. From policy sessions, to technology sessions, to educational startups, I am hoping to be able to expose readers to the best of the best in education today. Stay tuned…

Share This:

Read more