3 Teaching Tips I Learned At SXSWEdu

Written by Gerson Ribeiro, an Education Entrepreneurs Community Leader in Recife, Brazil.

My first time at SXSWedu in Austin, TX was simply mind-blowing! I had the honor of being there and even better, I got a chance to stay at the HQ of Education Entrepreneurs with five other amazing people that were focused on engaging around the topic of education.

The keynotes, panels, and after-parties were both fun and informative. SXSWEdu is the perfect event for learning more about edtech, education innovation, and the trends that will change how we learn and teach.

Here are three key things I learned there that I’m excited to share with you:

1) Kids must learn how to code

One trend that is not exactly new, but everybody is talking about, is the importance to teach kids how to code. I believe that coding is being emphasized for two reasons: 1) the computing industry is growing and we need to prepare our kids for these jobs, and 2) programming makes the brain connect things better and more systematically.

At SXSWEdu there was a presentation by Matt Venn and his presentation focused on three topics:

  • How to teach computing without a computer
  • How to teach programming without code
  • How to teach computing without being boring

I was really impressed by his titles and was amazed by the time he finished the presentation. As a university programming student, I thought it would never be possible to teach computing without a computer or without coding. Matt’s presentation showed me that it’s very simple to do all of that with kids by using different approaches to programming besides just going to the keyboard and typing everything.

First, he made us understand that coding is really about the logics behind it. Logics and parameters are easy to understand and are applicable for everything in our world. His example was to ask for a blindfolded person to move from one place to the other.

Of course this is difficult with obstacles, so we had to devise some basic instructions, like walk a limited number of steps, define the size of each step, turn right or left 90 degrees and stop. This may sound silly but basic programming could be something like that:

  • define step = size of your foot;
  • start:
  • walk straight ahead for 20 steps;
  • turn left_90_degrees;
  • walk straight ahead for 5 steps;
  • turn right_90_degrees;
  • stop

Kids would easily understand these basic concepts and then you would go further into coding by introducing other real-life activities to teach them more about the logics behind it.

That was a lot of fun to do! If you are a teacher you should try it!

2) Bring Hollywood to class

New research and different experiments show us that we can’t just teach kids in a passive way. We need to motivate them to be curious, active and go learn by themselves. One very interesting approach was shown at SXSWEdu by using different aspects from Hollywood, video games, and storytelling.

At the Playground Talks & Hands-On (an awesome place where you learn by doing), we had the privilege to engage in an activity hosted by Allan Staker. There, around 10 adults were on a quest to find a missing researcher that was solving a very important mystery.

By using different elements, like Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, we were involved in solving the whole mystery behind the story by learning trigonometry, geography, history, and other things. We also got a free compass! Yay!!!

The main idea is to bring the students to a journey that has mystery, drama, and action. A journey where they are active characters, and their job is to solve whatever the mission requests of them. This is an interesting approach, but also a little tricky, because the teacher must find new ways to teach the same curriculum but embedded inside the context of the story.

Storytelling is very important, and structuring an exciting story is key to success.

Maybe very soon we are going to be seeing some RPG games with quests that include some math problem solving and biology research embedded in it. We’ll see!

3) We don’t know (yet) which model is the best: Old vs New

I’ve been working to innovate education for a while now and meeting Brian Greenberg from Silicon Schools was simply an honor. The guy is amazing. So amazing, in fact, that I could not have imagined that there would be somebody willing to confront him on a public panel, fervently defending traditional schooling. (For those of you who don’t know, Brian is an advocate for new school models). That was before I met Anthony Kim, the super smart CEO of Education Elements. They were in a battle to defend their points of view during the panel School Models: Tried and True vs. Shiny and New.

Heather Staker was responsible for mediating the conversation and made it even more rich by asking very difficult questions.

While Brian was defending how we can develop new and innovative schools by using different methods, Anthony brought the traditional point of view for solutions in education.

For us in the audience, it was really interesting to see these two points of view being discussed at the same time. Is the old school model so bad after all? Are these brand new learning methods going to really work in the long run?

One thing’s for sure, this is a debate that will go on for a long time.


More about Education Entrepreneurs

Education Entrepreneurs is the largest initiative in the world focused on helping people use entrepreneurship to improve education. Its suite of offerings include Startup Weekend Education, Startup Digest Education, Workshops, online resources, and a global network of Community Leaders. Spanning six continents, Education Entrepreneurs has created an unprecedented opportunity for anyone, anywhere to shape the future of education.

Contextualizing Education: Literary Devices In Rap

As an educator, your students won’t patiently raise their hands to state that your classroom lacks ‘innovative pedagogical practices.’ Instead, students will blurt out, mid seventeenth-century-factoid, that they are bored.


Why do we need to know this?” they will whine.

Innovative education begins with two principals: to address systemic shortcomings on behalf of the student; and, to develop a personal interest and curiosity in each student. It is upon these principals that the popular aspects of student culture can be incorporated into the context of innovative teaching.

There are plenty of educational resources out there (i.e. http://www.enotes.com, www.edutopia.org) to help teachers fight the “bored” response. From poster-board graffiti, to fishbowl Socratic seminar, to structured academic controversy, these resources provide student-centric lesson plans and strategies. And as educators already know, strategy is as important as content within the classroom.

So, how does an educator relate literary devices relate to twelfth-grade students­ who are at risk for not graduating?

Picture the following scenario:

Students walk in the door, boxes of milk and Corn Flakes in hand, puffy-eyed and half-asleep; it’s 8:30 A.M and you’re about to ask them to care about the simile as a literary device.


By the time the announcements finish, you have dimmed the lights, and queued the correct YouTube url. You know the moments of the song to call special attention to, and you hit play.

Within the first few notes of the eerie avant-garde rap song, Gas Pedal by Sage the Gemini (ft. Iamsu,) students are already miming the “Gas Pedal” dance move, and have forgotten about their Corn Flakes. YouTube is the hook– the contextual attention-getter– and a quick way to create interest when introducing new content; it is a medium they pay great attention to.

The next point is crucial, as this exercise could become a distraction if mismanaged: choose the specific instances of literary device usage in Gas Pedal, and begin dissecting:

She a trick for a dollar bill (Metaphor)

And her boyfriend a b****, call him Tyler Perry (Metaphor and allusion)

Eugh, I’m in a black bat lookin’ scary (allusion)

Finding contextually relevant educational pathways can help students give meaning to otherwise painful learning. When this kind of process is possible (within otherwise traditional curriculum,) an exciting methodology for encouraging students to be interested in content emerges. This interest in content is connective with a students’ motivation and willingness to learn– and with time and trust-gained– can serve as a classroom management tool, as well.

Innovation begins with curiosity, and grows through a willingness to change. Be curious about the students’ collective environment, and be willing to change “best” practices for those that are contextually meaningful.