Donna Murdoch, an Adjunct Professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and co-organizer of the Philly EdTech Meetup, recounted what teachers have repeatedly told her at Philly EdTech events over the past few years as the community has grown:
We didn’t know there were other people like us. We’re told by so many people that what you do in the classroom is your own thing, but we want to learn from other teachers and be better at what we do.
Mary Beth Hertz, who teaches technology and art at the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) is also a co-organizer of the EdTech Meetup.
A community that started as six teachers talking together in a room in 2011, now boasts over 800 members. Sunday evening’s Philly EdTech Expo at the Oxford Mills in Fishtown received 120 RSVPs before the organizers were forced to start a wait list.
Eight education-oriented projects had tables at the Expo, ranging from programs to teach students about technology to funded, incubated startups to sites that will be launching soon.
The edtech startups
ProfessorWord, a tool to help students look up vocabulary words easily on websites, has been a success story of the Philly EdTech world. A self-described “word nerd,” Betty Hsu teamed up with web developer Ivan Chang to start ProfessorWord. Hsu started the company while an MBA student at the University of Pennsylvania; after she graduated, they went through the Good Company Accelerator program and currently work out of the Project Liberty Incubator. Originally from Boston, Hsu is now a big fan of Philadelphia.
Andy Saberioon, cofounder of classroom crowd-funding site PledgeCents, cited the EdTech community as a major reason for their moving to Philadelphia from Houston. PledgeCents was likely the most mature startup in the room, having been profiled in TechCrunch in 2013. According to Saberioon, teachers spend $1.6 billion out of their own pockets every year to support technology in the classroom. His site aims to help crowdsource some of that cost. PledgeCents is partnering with several schools in the Philadelphia School District.
Choosito is also a fully fledged startup that benefited from the community and is rolling out in the Philadelphia School District. The tool is a search engine that elevates results from educational sources and lets users search by reading level.
The classroom projects
Manny Hoffman, a 5th grader from Green Street Friends School, demonstrated a game he designed through the programming language Scratch. Hoffman’s teacher, Chris Rogers, leads the GSFS Tech Club and also has a startup to get people thinking about social justice, called JustMaybeCo.
Anne Leaness, an English teacher at SLA, showed the many ways her class uses social media tools (including Vine, Twitter and Facebook) to discuss and engage with literature.
The coming soons
How I Decide uses online storytelling and guides to help kids think long term about their futures. Because of the way the School District is organized, founder Dave Lenowitz emphasizes the need to get middle school students to start thinking about high school applications in a strategic way.
The goal of Connect Forward is also long-term thinking for students. Through the site, professionals will be able to create detailed profiles about their day-to-day working lives and personal missions. Students can read through to better understand what each career path entails. Founder Jake Puzycki plans to offer the tool free to low-income schools.
Alone among the featured startups, Curious Bee addresses the adult learning market. When it launches, the guide will contain everything from classes at hackerspaces to courses at universities.
Sunday’s event was hosted in partnership with Innovation@PennGSE, The Education Design Studio and PhilaSoup.
On the way out, attendees were asked to vote for two startups and make a donation that would be given to the project with the most votes. While there are a lot of great ideas in Philadelphia’s edtech community, money always helps.