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Feb. 4, 2013 10:00 am

EdTech Smackdown: Teacher Com, ProfessorWord and Slate at startup demo night

The technology access, the need and the interest for classroom innovation in recent years has resulted in the explosion of interest in solutions to what is lacking in classrooms across the country. Launched in December 2011, the Philadelphia EdTech Meetup group, too, has picked up its niche focus on highlighting trends locally and nationally on […]

The technology access, the need and the interest for classroom innovation in recent years has resulted in the explosion of interest in solutions to what is lacking in classrooms across the country.

Launched in December 2011, the Philadelphia EdTech Meetup group, too, has picked up its niche focus on highlighting trends locally and nationally on how the number of tools available to teachers is rapidly increasing. Helped in part by a popular April 2012 Philly Tech Week, the group has brought on new co-organizers, found new focus and is walking into the intersection that its industry is growing.

More than 30 attendees met at Center City incubator Seed Philly Thursday for the first EdTech Smackdown, featuring a series of 6 rapid-fire two-minute educational start-up pitches.

Hosted by K-8 technology teacher Mary Beth Hertz and online educator and group founder Donna Murdoch, the event welcomed pitches on products at any development stage, by entrepreneurs seeking to disrupt a variety of old models, from the way schools share data to the nature of parent-teacher communication.

Here are three of the best of the event pitches:

TEACHER COM

Teacher Com is an app that allows teachers to send mass automated calls/texts to all of their students’ parents at once, while logging the time and duration of each call.

Dan Lopez – now the CTO at Northern Liberties web development company Defined Clarity—started the app at Random Hacks of Kindness with inspiration from his former profession. “I used to be a teacher – had 50 kids fail a test at once. Even if you’re the best teacher in the world, no one has time to make 50 phone calls a day.”

Professor Word

Professor Word cofounders Betty Shu and Ivan Chang

PROFESSORWORD

Betty Hsu and Ivan Chang are working full-time on Professor Word, a free application that allows users to click on webtext and pull up definitions for individual words, catering specifically to students studying for standardized testing.

A common iPhone is capable of similar functionality, but Professor Word differentiates itself from competitors by working cross-browser. Chang sees this as a pathway to creating account functionality, which would allow users to save words, highlight text, and share documents across devices.

Christian Kunkel

Slate business development lead Christian Kunkel

SLATE

Slate.is is a product of Jarv.us, developed by CTO Chris Alfano four year years ago at Science Leadership Academy, while on the school’s staff running their network and laptop program. It soft-launched February 2012.

The platform pulls in data from systems across a school’s network – including Google, Moodle, SchoolNet, and attendance records – to make school-wide data accessible to teachers through a single log-in.

“The students at SLA do a lot of the break fixes on a lot of the laptops and run a lot of the network. Our long-term hope is that students will be building on the system,” says Christian Kunkel, who is working on Slate.is on the business development side and was a cofounder of high school entrepreneurship program Startup Corps. The platform has also been adopted by Abington Friends
School.

“At Jarv.us we have hired SLA grads as developers right out of high school,” he said.

“This guy’s talking my language. I just heard ‘students’ and ‘hiring’,” interrupted event co- organizer Hertz.

Hertz is also helping organize a new version of Give Camp, a nonprofit-focused hackathon that she’ll hold for students May 10 and 11 at New Foundations Charter School, and she’s looking for technologists and developers to come mentor the kids and help them build a prototype.

She says that for technology to succeed in schools, teachers need to encourage students to experiment with technology they themselves may not completely understand.

“I’m mentoring five computer programming projects at school right now. Stop animation, web design, app development, logo project: point being, I only know a little of all of these things,” she said. “I have a kid who writes Javascript like it’s his job. I’m like, ‘what are you working on?’ He says ‘I’m doing
the CSS on my button.’ So I’m like, ‘okay, go for it.’”

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Cary Betagole is a freelance writer whose fascination with using civic engagement technology to build community is expressed through a web platform he cofounded, Possible City, which reimagines uses for vacant space in our city. The Boston University graduate and Technical.ly contributor has previously focused on music writing and SEO consulting. Find him on Linkedin here.

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