Want to See How Spotlight Will Change Your School Community? Visit Us at NSBA!


It’s happening in Nashville!

We are thrilled to announce our exhibition plans for the NSBA National Conference in Nashville. We are fortunate enough to be 1/6 companies in Cutting Edge AveNEW, a space reserved exclusively for startups exhibiting for the first time. Aside from being in a totally awesome city, the National School Boards Association has put together an outstanding conference. I for one am thrilled to see David Pogue speak, as I have been using his videos in my classes for three years now, and Hunting the Elements is my favorite of all time!

Slate & Tablets has put together an unforgettable conference experience. We’ll be debuting our new app, Spotlight, which is a crowdsourced community building platform designed specifically for schools. Information on it is not public – it’s restricted only to users in your school’s network. We’re offering conference attendees the first chance to participate and interact with the product, before it’s released to the rest of the world! Here’s how it works:


  1. Come visit us at Booth 1611 in Cutting Edge AveNEW. If you have any school clothing, like a sweatshirt or jacket, bring it with you!
  2. We’ll ask you to write your hometown on a small chalkboard.
  3. One of our staff will take your name, one thing your schools do well, and your picture in our photo booth. We’ll upload it to our Conference Spotlight, which can only be seen by attendees!
  4. We’ll then show you how to download the app and connect with fellow participants.

We’re so excited to share our work with you before anyone else gets to see it, and can’t wait to meet you in Nashville!

Book Club: Smartcuts, By Shane Snow

This week was an exciting week. I had been planning my proposal to my girlfriend for several months now, and it finally all came together this past Tuesday. After sending her for a manicure in the morning, proposing after she got back, taking her to a surprise lunch with both of our families, and then throwing in a surprise trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which is awesome by the way, one of the fortunate side effects is that I finally had enough time to read a book. My brother had given me Smartcuts as a christmas present, which is written by the Chief Creative Officer at his new job, Contently. Shane Snow is an interesting character because he’s a design guy with a cutting intellect on the business and financial side of his trade as well. There aren’t too many people who see all of those angles.


Buy it on Amazon.com

What is Smartcuts? It’s a book that critically examines the ways that people become immensely successful in a short period of time. The book examines the ways that these people have bucked the trend of working up the corporate ladder and “hacked” the systems traditionally in place for work lives. It does this in an entertaining fashion, and I personally thoroughly enjoyed the alternate histories of popular icons such as Skrillex, Twitter, Buzzfeed, and others. Strictly as a group of case studies, it was fascinating, and even though I may question the science behind the conclusions drawn by the author, I can’t discredit the intrigue of the selected cases, as they all had me at the edge of my seat trying to figure out how these people earned their success so quickly. The educator in me can’t help but be drawn to the education section, where I was both surprised and excited about Snow’s comments on teaching these.

Smartcuts ultimately come from pattern recognition, and while that won’t tell the whole story, I think it accounts for at least 60%ish of the stories highlighted in the book. Snow touches on disappointment in the fact that these aren’t taught in school, and while I share the sentiment that there is a disturbing lack of life skills taught in schools, pattern recognition, if anything, is something taught in droves. English teachers encourage students to analyze continuous trends in literature and story, science teachers instruct students how to write conclusions based on data they’ve collected in a lab, art teachers show students how to translate their own unique perspectives in the world to artistic expression, and math teachers constantly teacher pattern application to problems. Schools are always emphasizing pattern recognition, and I would love to hear how others are handling it in their classrooms, but the point here is that it underlines a problem with education reform. The author of this book hasn’t spent a day of his life inside a classroom unless he was a student, and yet he has written an otherwise informed and well researched book. This book is going to be far more received than any teacher’s innovative and otherwise successful series of pattern recognition lessons, but I would venture a guess that other people will be convinced of the author’s point after reading.

Why do we constantly embrace solutions and problems offered by everyone but educators? This is why common core is having so much trouble growing after planting its roots; it’s because it stems from problems like the one presented in this book, by people like the author of this book. Teachers are many things. Design of national curricula and assessment is maybe not something everyone is good at, but it doesn’t take a highly effective teacher to tell you what will and what won’t work in their classroom. For this particular problem, it’s not that students aren’t taught pattern recognition, it’s that it’s deeply embedded into everything they do and incredibly boring. They probably don’t even realize when it’s happening, and I would bet that some teachers don’t even realize when it’s happening. That doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Before launching our computer science program, our principal asked me if we could really get this program rolling at the school. This simple act is the difference between our successful program and many other unsuccessful programs across the country. Asking a teacher, “can this work?”, and then allowing them to mold their course to fit the goals of a program is far more effective than saying, “here, make this work”. Unfortunately, the latter is the shape taken by many educational reforms, and it’s not going anywhere without the buy-in of its soldiers, the teachers.

Negative tangent aside, this book was thoroughly entertaining and, if not scientific, it was certainly thought provoking. I’d suggest it to anyone who wants to have their eyes opened to many unknown stories of today’s hyper successful people.

A Little Challenge Cup For Your Classroom

We had the honor of participating in the Challenge Cup in NYC this past November. You can read the recap here. The entrepreneur inside me was extremely happy with the event, but the teacher inside me thought about the fun competitive nature of the event and how to incorporate it into future school projects. A nice thing is that, provided you had a suitable project with which students could pitch, it’s already a nicely packaged activity for class. Presentations? Check. Artifact for assessment purposes? Check. Actually, the hardest part is finding a project it’s suitable for. Luckily, with a new quarter comes a new project in my new programming class, and students are currently ramping up to create a social media project that hooks into one of the major APIs (Twitter or Facebook). So I gave it a shot.

Students really bought in. There’s an additional facet of this in my programming class, in that the students know they are in fact creating authentic products that will be launched, however we’ve had similar projects in our integrated science class, where students spend the whole quarter working on similarly framed work. Once that frame is presented though, there’s something really exciting about idea competitions. There’s no risk associated with the presentations. Students only invested a week in preparing their ideas and slideshows for their respective talks. I also added a fun prize for the competition, crucially not grade related, because the meat of this project is the exercise it forces students to go through in order to prepare for the second round should they be selected by their peers to present in it. The prize was that I would work for the winner for two hours of programming time. So they spent the entirety of the snow-clipped week prepping for their presentations Friday, and I was blown away by the quality of student ideas.

Students don’t normally have to think about things like product markets, revenue models, demographically appealing design, and appeal of their pitch. If they do, it’s in a business class, and what’s fun about the programming class is that they actually have to go and build the products they’re pitching: a truly unique experience to school. I’m not sure why we don’t ask students to do this more: they will have to in the real world in almost any job they acquire, and especially if they start their own businesses. If it’s because we don’t think they can handle it, I assure you, you’re dead wrong. The winning project this year was called Satellite, a social media platform by artists, for artists. It’s a place where artists can grow their following, sell their work, and interact with their fans in once place. The girl who won the competition this year had not only come up with a great revenue model, but it was complete with diversified sources of income and multi-tiered freemium entry. Essentially, her artists would set a tiered support system on their pages, where fans could donate $20 for a shirt, $50 for a print, and $100 for a canvas, for example. If it sounds like Kickstarter, that’s good, because Kickstarter has been one of the internet’s sensations over the past few years.

Social media sites aren’t the only projects that could be used for this purpose. Here are some other ones:

  • Convince the local town to incorporate more green practices into your schools
  • Create an instruction manual for a spaceship you designed
  • Create a website using an editor such as Wix for a scientifically-backed sports product
  • Start a blog that has a viewership of 300 per week
  • Develop an advertisement for the super bowl for your favorite non-profit organization
  • Design the new museum exhibit on any history topic you’re currently studying

Can you think of any more? Let me know in the comments and I’ll add them to this list!

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