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It’s no secret that the United States needs a serious education face lift. Good thing this country was founded by entrepreneurs. (I wish people still wore powdered wigs, breeches and waistcoats.)


Startup Weekend has a unique program which supports entrepreneurial thinking around education. Startup Weekend Education brings together educators, business leaders and technologists to pitch ideas, join teams, and develop new ways of thinking to influence all aspects of education.

The next Startup Weekend Education event is an exciting one! Next Gen Schools will be taking place the weekend of May 16, 2014 in San Francisco (yes, there are spots still open, and no you don’t have to be a teacher). The teams at this event will be focusing on developing new school models to better personalize education for students.

Last year’s winning team went on to found a real school, win $600,000 of startup funding, and are opening in Oakland Unified this September.  Get a glimpse of the experience here and sign up at http://sfedu.startupweekend.org/ before the event sells out!

Also from last year’s Next Gen Startup Education is Reina S. Cabezas story. She goes on to explain what it was like being a new teacher and how her team used gamification to develop a new kind of Charter School curriculum. Read on!


The butterflies of a 4th grader on the first day of school fluttered around in my stomach walking into the building where Startup Weekend Education was taking place. I’d been to a couple of hackathons focusing on education before, but here I was the expert, the almighty educator. I’m actually a newbie teacher with only 3 years of experience in a classroom and passionate about creating solid school culture and academics through gamification. So this Startup Weekend Education was perfect for me.


I jumped right in, nervously wondering what I had to offer my new team of “fully-stacked” and innovative teachers. However, as soon as we began ideating and bouncing ideas off one another, my nerves settled and I realized, “I’m with teachers for crying out loud!” Who else to better understand a newbie teacher and gamer like me? What a more quintessential marker of a master teacher than meeting a learner where they’re at and raising them up to reach a learning goal. Thank goodness for teachers.

My personal learning goal for the weekend was to be able to mentally assemble all the pieces of game mechanics and apply them to school design.

What does that mean? Think of all of the mechanics that make up your favorite game. For example:  having a persona or character you might adopt, passing through levels with the help of your team, taking turns, scoring points, special abilities you get from scoring points – the list goes on and on! Now, apply these mechanics to inspiring education and self worth for young adults… not an easy task, right? Cue, Startup Education.

Game Designer, Jane McGonigal, asks in her Ted Talk:

“Games like World of Warcraft give players the means to save worlds, and incentive to learn the habits of heroes. What if we could harness this gamer power to solve real-world problems?”


Well, our problem was and still is education. How do we possibly narrow down all of the principles that give a game structure and purpose, and apply them to education? How do we authentically gamify education, using the latest technologies and current trends to our advantage?

My team decided to create EPIC Charter School – a physical brick and mortar school that will apply a flex blended learning model.

Here’s a short list of where we snuck in game mechanics to build the philosophy of EPIC Charter School:

  • Hero’s journey – Michael Hatcher, principal of EPIC, and lifelong gamer understood that a game is as good as the narrative, the alternate reality that it creates, and whether it inspires the player to invest their time and energy to tackle hard challenges. For this reason, EPIC Charter School is constructed as a journey and not just a school that students undertake. It’s the journey of using their time at EPIC to develop their own inner hero/heroine modeled through Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth (see chart below).

  • Guilds – Teammate and history teacher, Christopher Chiang, loves games and graphics. He added on to Michael’s idea of a narrative by suggesting we have a graphic novel that tells the history of EPIC. The novel serves as a guild that students can reference to learn about heroes/heroines of EPIC that have come before them.


  • Quests/Missions – Hae Sin Thomas, CEO of Education for Change, kept pushing us to discover how we were going to assess the students. At EPIC students will go through learning cycles that will culminate in a quest. These quests will test their level of mastery across content areas.

  • Levels – For this gaming principle, most of the team was familiar with how leveling up and down engages and motivates students in video games. We knew that in the classroom, learning levels represent a wide spectrum just like in video games.  For this concept we had to support one another, give permission to really think outside the box, and dare to break down the confines of traditional education. Once we did, we knew that EPIC couldn’t give students traditional grades.

Those are just some examples of how we, as a team, came together to construct cohesive meaning out of gaming, technology and education. By the end of the weekend, I could not only assemble that mental map of game mechanics in education, but was dreaming vividly of students thriving at EPIC Charter School opening this fall.


Reina S. Cabezas is helping to organize the May 16th Next Gen event and is a graduate of the University of San Francisco. She was a bilingual advocate for survivors of domestic violence for 10 years before becoming an elementary and middle school teacher.

Reina is also a teacherprenuer giving voice to the needs of teachers in the edtech space.  She incorporated sleek-geek inc and is currently working on the content and marketing for the award-winning reading fluency app Read With Me on both the web and the iTunes store. Most recently, Reina and sleek-geek inc. are working hard to push out Yoop.ly, a digitized student referral system where administrators, teachers, students, and parents can follow student conduct in real time.

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