This article was originally published by Oliver Quinlan on his blog.
[Last] weekend I spent 54 hours in one room with 5 people I had never met before, building an educational product as part of ‘Startup Weekend London Edu‘. The weekend was all about building a business around learning, but for the team I worked with it came to equally be about learning from the process of building a business.
Our product was ‘The Night Zookeeper‘; a website for children to create and write for a real audience and help each other to develop their ideas. From pitching initial ideas to the whole event, we formed teams of educators, business people and developers, and were supported and challenged by experienced mentors to develop our product for a pitch to real investors by the end of the weekend. I was inspired by so many great ideas, but ecstatic when the judges announced that our team had won the event.
As we sat in the pub afterwards, tired but still buzzing from the intense experience of taking an idea to a pitch in 54 hours, all everyone was talking about was how much they had learnt. Early in the process we felt disheartened that we had not managed to get any developers to permanently join our team, yet as an educator I am so pleased that the team that was built around teachers, with a product fundamentally premised on learning, managed to win the ‘Startup Weekend’.
Originally I was going to sit outside of a team at this event, sure I pitched an idea, but that was more for the experience as I wanted to blog about the process and what we might learn from it as educators. As it went, I got sucked in by the passion and child centred focus of the Night Zookeeper team. What really spoke to me about their pitch was the fact they started with children, and set up structures to inspire their creativity and make it feed in to their learning.
During the final pitches, my colleague Peter Yeomans tweeted “you can’t teach creativity — only set up conditions for it to take place”. I think we saw that with Startup Weekend; what the organisers did was set up the conditions and structures needed to hothouse our creativity, raised the stakes, and then left us to get on with it. The product we ended up winning with aims to do that as well, providing a framework for children’s creativity, a spark to get it going, but enough space for them to really make it their own, and the stakes of knowing they can share it with their friends, family, and the world.
What will I take from this weekend? Firstly an involvement in a great product, and a huge sense of pride in what we achieved, both in terms of development of the ideas and the win. Secondly some great friendships from working with people in these intense 54 hours. In such an intense, outcomes focused environment I expected egos to clash, and arguments to ensue. I never saw that once, either in our group or any of the teams. At different times, members of our team were off helping others develop their ideas, as our ‘competitors’ were coming to give their input and help to us. Everyone was supporting each other to come to the best creative and business outcomes, and the ethos of collaboration led to some amazing connections being made.
However, what I will also take is the notion that in terms of fostering learning, there is much educators can learn from the world of business. The structures we were given, the environment that was set up, and the mixture of vastly different people with different skill sets and interests, led to a powerful experience of learning, and one I am keen to replicate in a purely educational setting.
It will never be purely educational though; that’s the point. That real, authentic element is so key, and I have seen how when you aim for a real outcome then amazing motivation and learning can happen, and great things can be achieved. Perhaps what we need to bring education to life, is to bring real life into education.