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Introducing Ellen Brandenberger: A New Teacher Voice at Gradeable

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In her time in the classroom, Ellen, or Ms. Ellen as she was known by her 5th grade students, experienced the challenge that grading presented to many teachers. After long days of actively engaging our students, fellow teachers still needed to spend hours grading student work in order to provide timely feedback and instructional adjustments for students. Now a graduate student at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, Ellen joined Gradeable committed to helping teachers like herself overcome this challenge and be another (and continuing!) teacher voice in Gradeable product development and design. Ellen will be blogging about her time at Harvard, thoughts on the field of education, stories of superstar teachers, and new information surrounding the Gradeable product.

My first two weeks at Gradeable have been an incredible joy. It is fantastic to be part of a working community that is so passionate about helping my fellow teachers streamline their workflow so that instruction can truly be the central focus of teachers’ time and efforts. As an educator, I am passionate about helping other teachers be the best they can be, as I believe that teachers are at the center of successful education for students everywhere, and undervalued for the incredible amount of work that they do for their students. In the classroom, I often felt that what we needed most as educators was not an increase in effort, but rather a need for stakeholders to remember that teachers efforts, every single one, should be directed towards improving instruction and student learning opportunities.

I also bring a strong passion for personal learning, and am constantly delighted to learn new things, and discover new opportunities. This passion brought me to Harvard, where I am pursuing a Masters of Education with a focus on technologies and innovation for education. I come to this program with a fair amount of skepticism, but full of optimism: in my time in the classroom, I saw the incredible impact that technologies had on my students’ learning, yet would hesitate to say that this was the best or only way that they achieved new knowledge and skills. Instead, I believe that technology informs new opportunities for us as educators to focus on what matters most: deep and constructive student learning.

My work at Gradeable will be directly informed by this background. My role will be to support teachers and their use of the Gradeable product. This will mean responding to teacher inquiries and problems, integrating teacher feedback into the product, and being a voice for teacher needs and opinion at Gradeable, both online through social media and in person. My hope is that my role will become a portal for you to interact with Gradeable, and the each and every one of you will be comfortable reaching out to me as both a resource and a fellow educator, who, like you, understands the struggles and challenges that go along with teaching and learning. All the best.

Ellen can be reached  directly by email at Ellen@gradeable.com. Please reach out with concerns, feedback, inquires, or of course, successes with the product.

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#LearnLaunch14: Boston is the Hub of EdTech

Over the weekend, we were at the LearnLaunch Conference at Harvard which hosted educators, entrepreneurs, and edtech advocates from around the country. Boston, home to leaders in technology, education, medicine, (and sports of course!), seems to be bringing all that together in their move forward in edtech. In the midst of a packed house of intellectuals, movers, and shakers, here’s what we learned from the LearnLaunch Conference of 2014.

Boston Public Schools makes moves

On Saturday morning, Marty Walsh’s chief of staff Daniel Arrigg Koh surprised conference goers with the announcement that Boston Public Schools is buying 10,000 Chromebooks for their schools. In addition, they announced a pilot with Learn Launch to get new technologies into classrooms. As you may remember, we had the pleasure of meeting Mayor Walsh earlier this month where he announced his ambitions to move Boston forward with technology in education.

Super-connected superintendents

The superintendent hot seat panel on Saturday featured the superintendent from Revere, Burlington, and Natick along with Boston Public School Chief of Staff Melissa Dodd. The first thing Parul and I noticed was that each of them had a Twitter handle, the first symptom of twenty-first century connectivity. Our suspicions were confirmed as the session went on:

Dr. Eric Conti, Burlington: The people of my district are much more tech savvy than I am. My job is to stay out of their way.
It was encouraging to hear the leader of a district speak so humbly and simultaneously exude such forward thinking.

Dr. Peter Sanchioni, Natick: Technology can be a $1,000 pencil if the teachers can’t use it.
This speaks to one of our favorite battle cries that teachers matter, not just the technology. Unless  teachers are on board, technology isn’t going to get off the ground, no matter how powerful or well-designed it is. Mr. Sanchioni spoke about the importance of professional development and teacher buy-in when rolling out technology.

Dr. Paul Dakin, Revere: Focus on internet access.
In the district of Revere, more than ¾ of students come from low-income families and 11% are English Language Learners. So while most districts are working on which tablets to buy, Dr. Dakin is extended school days so students can have access to the necessary resources like internet. Even more, Dr. Dakin is working with broadband internet companies to bring affordable internet to the homes of students, so that they have access to online resources and lessons at home.

A bright future

At one of the last panels of the day, high school students shared their view of technology in their classrooms. Overall, these students were well-aware of the role technology plays in their education. From the ability to collaborate with others, to better feedback from teachers, to new ways to express and prove their learning, the high school students told us that they were learning the skills that would greet them when they stepped into the real world.

At the end of the day, Parul pitched Gradeable to the conference as one of the finalists in the pitch competition. We ended up losing to our friends at EdTrips, but it was a great to hear from the convention goers and receive their support. Overall, the LearnLaunch Conference was a well-planned event and a reminder of the big things on the edtech horizon in Boston.

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Boston Mayor Walsh Visits LearnLaunch and Gradeable

L to R: Mark Racine, Melissa Dodd, Major Marty Walsh, and John Barros

L to R: Mark Racine, Melissa Dodd, Major Marty Walsh, and John Barros

On February 12, Boston Mayor Walsh visited our home co-working space, LearnLaunch, to learn more about us, our edtech neighbors, and to encourage sustainability of technology in this space and city. He was joined by officials from Boston Public Schools including Chief of Staff Melissa Dodd, Chief Information Officer Mark Racine, and new Chief of Economic Development, John Barros.

Mayor Walsh’s visit, in pictures:

The Gradeable team was ready to talk to Mayor Walsh about how we can help impact student learning in Boston Public Schools—and all students everywhere!

Gradeable power dresses

Here we are in our power dresses

While some of us chatted with guests of LearnLaunch while the mayor was in a LearnLaunch presentation…

Parul with McGraw Hill ed-tech representatives

Parul with McGraw Hill ed-tech representatives

Others couldn’t wait to catch a glimpse!

The mayor!

The mayor!

Parul gives Mayor Walsh the “elevator pitch” of Gradeable. The mayor responded saying that the nuns who graded his work in grade school with red pen definitely didn’t have something like Gradeable.

Gradeable founder Parul Singh explains our grading tool to Mayor Walsh

Gradeable founder Parul Singh explains our grading tool to Mayor Walsh

In his address to LearnLaunch, Mayor Walsh urged technology innovators in this very space to sustain their ideas and business in the city of Boston. He stated that the future of Boston’s growth lay within this very room.

The Boston mayor with LearnLaunch founders

The Boston mayor with LearnLaunch founders

Blog Master Bon personally meets Mayor Walsh.

So excited, she just can't hide it

So excited, she just can’t hide it

Our friend and Listen Edition founder Monica Brady-Myerov poses with the Gradeable apples.

Cool shirt, Monica!

Cool shirt, Monica!

Aaand back to work we go.

This is the startup life

This is the startup life

For more on Mayor Walsh’s visit, see EdTech Times.

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EdVestors Education Headliners Breakfast

Last Tuesday, Kattie went to an Education Headliners Breakfast hosted by EdVestors, a philanthropic organization which identifies important practices and brands themselves as a catalyst for change. The Edvestors tagline is “Driving Change in Urban schools” and the breakfast they hosted was to discuss the landscape of edtech challenges of true edtech success in the boston community – specific to boston is the high and diverse ELL (English Language Learning) population.

The setting of the breakfast was informal and was for educators who are already experimenting with technology. The meat of the discussion was affirming what most of us know: Technology is here to stay and many are working to make it more efficient, more effective, more useful—something teachers can actually see themselves buying into and using. In addition, the panel identified the complexities of delivering effective instruction as an effect of increasing diversity in the district. Because of the high ELL population, the district isn’t prepared well enough to deliver an instruction to overcome both traditional education obstacles and technology integration.

The Q&A session was when they started speaking our language. Jordan Meranus, CEO of Ellevation memorably said that apps are supplemental.  His key message was that no piece of technology is going to teach your students algebra, but technology can help in other ways. Another takeaway was that to be effective, a whole school system has to buy in. Technology works best when administration supports the teachers and teachers can get students to engage.

Mary Skipper, Network Superintendent of Boston Public Schools, discussed another very important reality: interfacing between new solutions and the current system can be difficult. Not everyone likes change. Situations may arise where technology is chosen and purchased by stakeholders who are NOT the ones using that technology day-to-day.  It’s wildly frustrating for both parties when they don’t see eye-to-eye.

To those people, you have my empathy. I’ve helped install systems before for bosses who didn’t care about the employee experience. Their mentality was “just learn it.” But like I said, technology isn’t going anywhere and Kattie put it well:

Ed tech is not supposed to overturn the system and render teachers and traditional systems useless—there is tons of merit in the traditional system, but there holes that tech can mesh together. Someone described it to me as having cracks in a sidewalk and technology as the gel to puts it back together.

My overall takeaway is that there are gaps in the current structure. From the Gradeable point of view, teachers spend a lot of time grading, analyzing, and reporting that we can help with. The gap is the amount of work that needs grading and the time and energy that teachers have to do it. For those teachers, and others looking to fill gaps in the classrooms, they look to apps. The developers who can work to fulfill teachers’ needs will succeed. No app will succeed without there first being an actual, teacher-voiced need. There are definitely some bumps in the adoption process — especially when technology is implemented hastily or without having the right planning or people at the table — but we’re on the right track!