Why We're Putting Kids at the Center of the Education Innovation Process

This post was written by Catherine Uong, Co-Founder of Doozey Game, Operations Intern at DevBootcamp, and Program Coordinator of USC Stevens Center for Innovation.


On April 11, Startup Weekend Education Mountain View will be turning the spotlight on the people who know most about schools – the kids! New York City launched this youth-centered format earlier this year, but for the first time, the Bay Area will be creating a space for both middle school kids and adults to collaborate and bring kid-centric ideas about education to life!

Curious as to why it’s important to involve kids in the education innovation process, I went ahead and interviewed Chris Chiang, the Lead Organizer for the event, a history teacher and technologist at Sacred Heart Middle School, and a School Board Trustee for the Mountain View Whisman School District.



Why is it important to give middle school kids the opportunity to play a leading role in the 54-hour event?

After my experience at participating in Startup Weekend Education, I wanted students to get involved too. Students often find startups and technology intimidating. So I felt it was the right time to get kids introduced to the space. Many kids have lived around these tech companies their whole lives but have no idea how they work. By letting them participate in a Startup Weekend Education, we can give kids a window into this world.

I think it’s important to have youth at the center of this event, because the student-teacher relationship is a reciprocal relationship. We can help introduce kids to STEM and entrepreneurship, but also help introduce adults to what kids know about schools.

Also, it’s more clear than ever that kids want to do something like this. For our event, we capped our student tickets at 60, but we sold out of those tickets in less than 48 hours. It’s a sign that kids want to get actively involved in building solutions for education!

In startups, we often talk about the user and user validation. Who knows schools better than students? I think the tech community can really benefit from having the student voice present to answer the question: “What would kids do?” By having the kids create the educational solutions that they would use, I think it will be a meaningful learning experience for everyone involved.


How were middle schoolers recruited for the event? And why middle schoolers, instead of high schoolers?

2010 CeBIT Technology Fair Many of our principals and educators reached out to kids at their schools to participate in the event. We wanted to get the kids that didn’t put limits on themselves yet. High schoolers often times have pre-existing notions, as many adults do, that may inhibit how “out-of-the-box” they’re willing to think. So we decided to reach out to middle schoolers, an age group we thought would be more apt to really thinking creatively.


What is your vision for how your event will impact the greater Startup Weekend Education community?

A model has not yet been created for getting kids involved at Startup Weekend Education, so we would like to test things out and see what works for both kids and adults. Eventually, I would love to see the educational community outside of Mountain View utilize this model that we create.

Find Out How It Goes

You can get play-by-play updates on Chris’s kid-focused Startup Weekend Education event taking place this weekend by following the action on Twitter.


Lessons Learned From Startup Weekend EDU for Teens

This post is written by Preeti and was originally published here.

The InnovateNYC Schools team uses “lean methodology to create catalytic models for how people can do things and think differently in a bureaucracy.” As we apply this to our own work, we are also seeking to engage students in opportunities to learn and apply the same methodology through events like Startup Weekend EDU for Teens. There were numerous takeaways from planning and executing this first-ever event that I hope to share with the community.

With lean methods in mind, our guiding principle for designing our first iteration was to reduce as many barriers to student participation as possible: financial, infrastructure, and prerequisite knowledge. Reducing barriers enables change and innovation. We adopted Startup Weekend’s framework, which is recognized as a “gold standard” in lean methodology. They highlight key entrepreneurial activities including: customer validation, business model, marketing, and execution. Because we wanted to make this event accessible to a wide range of NYC High School students, there were numerous steps to ensuring enabling conditions for success. Here is a look at some of these steps:

1. Seek feedback from experts in the trenches

2. Modify the programming with feedback

3. Leverage our personal network to recruit mentors and coaches to support programming

What did the weekend look like? The Design Gym held the weekend’s kickoff Idea Explosion Workshop on Friday where students explored their ideas for improving education. The goal of the night was to also prepare students for 60-second pitches which informed which ideas were hacked over the weekend. The workshop was so successful that 14 out of 35 students were confident enough to pitch in front of nearly 50 people Saturday morning. The students then formed six teams made up of 8th-12th grade students representing over 23 schools. Guiding them Saturday and Sunday were 25+ coaches and mentors. All six teams made final presentations on Sunday evening covering such topics as teen jobs and internships, learning about opportunities to gain skills applicable to careers, embracing diversity, and a website for discovering afterschool programs (check it out here!).

So, how do we validate a successful engagement? Here is one of the several emails I received after the event:

After three days at the first teen StartUp Weekend program my son came home and told me he learned more there than he has learned in two years at his accelerated high school. I don’t think I have ever seen him as energized, enthusiastic or stimulated by any single activity. Coming from a 10th grader that I had to coerce into attending, that is really saying something.” 

Designing, organizing and executing the first-ever Startup Weekend EDU for Teens has been a highlight of my career with the NYCDOE iZone. Though I faced many challenges and failures through the planning process – it was all worth it to tangibly experience impact on increasing access to educational opportunities from within the bureaucracy.

A very special thanks to partners at NYU SteinhardtThe Google+ Education, and Design Gym for making this event possible.