Educelerate!

I love that word.  If you think innovation in education, then think Educelerate Twin Cities!  This is a community of 125+ to support education entrepreneurs and start-ups in the Midwest.  They work through social media networking and a monthly MeetUp.

I was pleased to be part of their June 3 Monthly MeetUp panel, “Transforming Education Through Entrepreneurship” at Venture Academy with several other charter school founders.  Moderated by attorney Steve Wellvang, founder of Educelerate Twin Cities, the discussion got my juices flowing.  Innovation in education is a key component of chartering, and is a core value of all the charter schools represented on the panel.

  Bill Kelley, MinnPost

Bill Kelley, MinnPost

Jon Bacal is CEO and Founder of Venture Academy, the state’s first grant recipient of Gates Foundation Next Generation Learning Challenges. Serving 115 6th and 7th graders near the University of Minnesota campus, Venture blends personalized digital and entrepreneurship learning. In a highly-innovative model, the students are in charge of their learning.  Teachers are “coaches” and students are “trailblazers.”  According to Head Coach (Chief Learning Officer) Kerry Muse,  students create their individual learning plans and individual projects to showcase their research or skills,  and with the help of technology, work their plans with guidance from teachers in an open learning space without walls.  The coach’s role is creating a menu of options and managing the process.  The outcome for students is learning how to navigate their day—and their future.   Some call it “disruptive innovation” because it is so different from traditional school. That’s what I love about it!  Read more about Venture Academy here.

As board chair of a charter school to open in 2015 called Level Up Academy, I was delighted to share our vision for innovation.  The founder of our school is Ananth Pai, currently a third grade teacher at a suburban school district, who engages his students in personalized learning through gaming.  Over seven years, his students have consistently shown significant gains in reading and math, exceeding gains of their peers in the district.

Mr. Pai’s classroom has attracted visitors from around the world.  But last year, the district superintendent told him he could no longer have classroom visitors. When he asked why, the supt. replied, “It makes the other teachers feel awkward.”  Really?  Shouldn’t we encourage the sharing of successful learning?   After hearing Mr. Pai’s story and seeing the gaming technology in action, I signed up for the board.   Want to see a little more “disruptive innovation?”  Check out this video of Ananth’s classroom.

Nora Whalen, another panelist,  is a program coordinator at Avalon Charter school in St. Paul, with a project-based learning model, student-directed culture, and teacher-led governance.  Avalon is described in my previous post on the International Conference on Education, where her colleague Carrie Bakken presented the successful results of teacher autonomy and teacher-led schools.  See my blogpost here.

Finally, Ben Whitney, the former ambassador to Norway, joined usas board chair of MinnCAN.  He has been working for innovation and school improvement for years.  Check out the MinnCAN educational agenda here.

Educelerate hosts monthly meetings and robust discussions like this one about K-12 and higher education in Minnesota.  If you wish to join, send a message to the group manager of Educelerate group on LinkedIn.   Over time, they will launch Educelerate Labs, a differentiated and education industry-focused accelerator program for entrepreneurs and start-ups drawn from major centers of education entrepreneurial activity in the Midwest, namely Chicago, Minneapolis, and Indianapolis.