The End Of A School Year

The number of times I hear from people that having the summers off is the best part of teaching is innumerable. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a perk. The thing is there is a certain melancholy associated with the end of a school year that is indescribable to people who don’t work in a school. It starts for me after AP Exams are finished, because the academic energy is sucked right out of the juniors and seniors, and believe it or not, this trickles down to the underclassmen and the teachers as well. While passion for learning is something that doesn’t actually leave the building, it transforms into new knowledge about material not covered in a syllabus. Like many facets of teaching, it’s not something you can quantify, you just have to feel it.

Our school’s art department does something called “Spring Into Art” where students from the whole school are invited to come to the art wing and participate/demo some of the activities they would do in a typical art class at GHS. I participate every year in this event, and today is no different. When I tell my students that we will be attending as a special treat for the approaching end of year, they are ecstatic, even though they do thoroughly enjoy learning about space. On the way down, we have conversations about their summer plans, which consist of camps for some and hanging out with friends for others. When we arrive to the art wing, the temperature is immaculate. I notice this because in our science wing, it is always freezing cold, no matter how many times we ask the maintenance crew to give us a livable temperature. One of the first things that jumps out is that all of the work that students have been pouring hours into throughout the year is displayed on every wall and in every nook and cranny you see. When I arrive, my students staffing the event are always so eager to show me their work in photography, clay, painting, or drawing. They are eager to paint my face. I sit down and ask for a creepy insect so that I could sneak up behind my fiancee and scare her, since she hates bugs.

The student at the face painting station sits me down and gets right to it. I show the students in my class my painting and (jokingly) offer extra credit for painting a water molecule on them. They all ask me what a water molecule is. I place my palm on my face, and then draw one for them. About six of them take me up on the offer, and now I actually do have to give them something. That’s well worth it, because a group of students who never would speak with each other are now part of the water gang and give each other high fives. They’re pretty slick.

Students joining the water molecule gang.

Students joining the water molecule gang.

I then pop into the henna tattoo room where there are at least six students furiously drawing henna designs on students hands and arms. They struggle to keep up with the demand for the unique body painting, but happily do it anyway. The are photography students having their class in this room too, editing their photos and listening to music in the back, acting as if such commotion was completely normal. I ask if I could get a henna tattoo, and my students let out an audible giggle and quickly suggest designs I should get on my hand. I choose one, and another students gets to work squeezing the substance with the consistency of cake frosting from a tube onto my hand. I ask her how long I should let it dry, and she says that it’s darker if I let it dry for a longer period of time. It’s still on my hand now.

I say hi to one of my former students in the photography class and proceed to the next room, where the electronic music teacher is playing her students’ work for people to hear. She excitedly takes me aside and shows me the new arduino kit she got for building a synthesizer. She then shows me how one of my programming students helped fix the code in one of her wordpress themes on her website in “like three seconds. It was amazing.”

As I walk into the photography room I begin a conversation with the photo teacher who hurriedly shows me all of her students’ work over the course of twenty minutes. I am always awestruck by the things kids choose to photograph before and after instruction. Whereas before a class they will shoot pictures of whatever they see, after a class they will begin to shoot pictures of what other people see through a different perspective. I vote for my favorite and walk away to begin collecting my students, as class is almost over.

As I walk back towards the science wing, I hear the band rehearsing the song they play at every graduation. There’s something always nostalgic about hearing Pomp and Circumstance, no matter when or where I am.

I proceed to my next class which involves tutorial with out AVID students, who present me with a signed thank-you flyer for my efforts all year. I love the AVID students who are always so grateful for the attention given to them. Humility and grace are great qualities to leave high school with and these students have them in spades.

My lunch block programming class begins by looking at web design fundamentals. On a beautiful sunny day before lunch, getting students excited about learning anything is basically impossible, however with these new programming classes, it’s easy. Before five minutes we’re having a vivid discussion about why newspapers are printed in columns, where to find free photography and graphics for their new websites, and how to look at other designers’ work and incorporate pieces into their own projects. The block flies by.

Last block of the day involves my advanced computer programming class, who make a proposal for playing frisbee outside that I couldn’t refuse: “since computer programmers are a. not athletic and b. always inside, I propose that we spend today outside in the beautiful weather throwing this frisbee around the field.” As he says this and whip out the frisbee, I admit that I was already thinking it was a good idea, and I spend the rest of the hour throwing a frisbee with the students I’ve spent an hour per day for a year with, debating senior prank ideas, what they’re looking forward to most about graduating high school, and how the younger students in that class should carry the torch next year. Students are always told to go outside and play when they go home, even in high school, when they arrive and attempt to spend their afternoons with video games. For some, playing outside is associated with bad memories. It’s important to put good ones into their heads.

As the day, week, and year comes to a close, you take solace as a teacher in knowing that these memories and conversations are your doing. When a student is in college and is asked by a new group of friends to go play Frisbee, perhaps that one student on the fence will deliberate. Their inner voice will argue with itself until their brain stumbles across the memory of that one Friday afternoon in which they convinced their teacher to take them outside and play just because it was a particularly beautiful day. They will agree to meet with this new group of friends, and you’ll know that somehow, in that moment, they give you a quiet mental fist bump before turning and confronting the newest phase of their lives.

Some Questions People Ask During a 1:1 Rollout

This past Wednesday was a big day in the history of my school. In an enormous rollout of Lenovo Yoga Chromebooks, all 285 teachers in the building were provided their device and training on it for the first time. For many, this created a large amount of anxiety and stress, for some, it created an opportunity to innovate in their classrooms that may have been starving for it, and for the select few of us who have been struggling with the implementation, deployment, and PR behind this event, it was a time to sit back, relax, and watch the results of several years of labor and meetings. Normally, I’d post a reflection on the day’s events, the training session I ran, and the feedback from the staff. I decided it would be more prudent to list some of the questions I heard throughout the day from staff members at varying levels of tech readiness. This is not meant as a shaming exercise, and in fact some of the questions were quite good. It is meant simply as a profile of what kinds of knowledge teachers have of the use of computers in their classrooms. Also, keep in mind that these were asked directly to me, a colleague of the questioners, who was leading a training session.

It’s not connected to WiFi already; why are you making us do this if it’s not already going to be connected to the Internet?

What is the difference between an App and an Extension?

What does the “mute” button do?

Should I turn it off at the end of the day?

If it starts to work slowly is it the Internet’s fault or the computer’s fault? What should I do to try to make it run fast for as long as possible?

How do I double click on the track pad?

What is the difference between backspace and delete?

Why did we spend so much money (~$430ea) on these?

It doesn’t have ____some app name____ so it’s useless. When will they put it on here?

What does the school cover in regards to theft?

Do we have to use these? Why would the school spend so much money on a device for students who don’t want one? Why couldn’t they just spend that money buying a better device for students who need it?

Can I watch Netflix on this?

That’s the list I have. It’s most interesting to me that many of these questions are quite insightful without intention. Many people don’t actually know the difference between backspace and delete as well as some other “somewhat obvious” technology pieces, and a lot of teachers have a lot of great ideas about how to efficiently deploy such a large quantity of devices. Any thoughts from your 1:1 deployment? I’d love to hear!



Could Brand New Just Have Unearthed the Next Big Educational Trend?

“Start your own band,” cries Jesse Lacey at the end of every recent Brand New concert. Here’s how crazy this is: unbeknownst to him I am a 28 year old teacher who has been a fan of his since he started his own band, who went to school near the band’s hometown, and who grew up chanting the angry yet eerily poetic lyrics of songs such as “Seventy Times Seven” and “Jude Law and a Semester Abroad”. I, like every other fan of Brand New as well, have been anxiously awaiting the release of their newest album in six years, and I’ve been closely following all the recent action with the release of the band’s first new songs since then, “Mene” and “Sealed to Me.” So, I’m watching set videos of Jesse singing these songs for the first time at the band’s recent shows, and hear it once: “start your own band.” I hear this phrase once and realize that this simple phrase encapsulates the entirety of what I’m trying to do with my educational career, and what I believe every school in the country should begin focusing on helping students achieve.

Start Your Own

It’s not completely based on music. “Start Your Own Band” is really just a call to this generation’s attraction to starting one’s own anything. It doesn’t actually matter what it is. The only rules are it has to be real, and it has to be scary. I like to tell my students, “if something you’re starting isn’t scary to you, then you’re not thinking big enough.” We built the entire computer science program around this concept. The goal from day one is to prepare students to build their own internet companies out of their garages, like so many of the stories we hear. The reason these stories are told is because they’re true, and if students were just helped towards a skill set needed to develop these products, then they could join in the action. Our model in computer science works, and in just the second year of study for students we’ve had products collect over 100,000 hits per month.

This phrase is a call to action for a young person. The purpose doesn’t have to be academic for the lessons a student learns in the process of “starting their own” to be deeply rooted in academia. The goal doesn’t have to be complicated, buzzword filled, and composed of edu-babble to have deep reaching effects and provide a rich and valuable learning experience. I find it ironic that most of the standards we write into things like Common Core and Vision of the Graduate-type documents are in language that students don’t relate to, considering that they’re the people who these documents are directed at. There’s a reason young people relate to “start your own band” much more than “students will demonstrate critical thinking skills while reading a persuasive essay.” It’s because of the language used to write it, and the appeal it has to something everyone wants to do.

Measuring this is easy as well. Did the student make a valuable contribution to their product’s targeted community? If the answer to this question is yes, then the merit of an exercise such as starting your own anything is proven. Many students will graduate high schools without ever accomplishing this task. How could we possibly say that we have provided students with a good education if they leave high school without ever starting something that has a positive impact on someone else?

A Framework for #StartYourOwn

If I were to implement this in a school, here’s the framework I would use. The goal is simple. Start your own anything: band, company, app, small business, service, anything. The rules are also simple:

  • You must finish what you start
  • You must advertise what you start to your peers
  • You must make money by either selling your product/service or by writing for a grant for your product/service
  • You must blog weekly about your journey and what you do on your product each week
  • You must create a website for your product/service
  • You must present your findings at an end of year expo
  • Your product must have a positive effect on its targeted community

That’s it. So many projects involve having students design analogs for real products in class, and you know what? Kids are sick of that. Kids don’t want to hear, “in the real world, it’s not actually done like this, but it’s pretty close.” Young people want to impact the real world. They don’t want to feel important, they want to be important. I think it’s about time our schools gave them a chance to, instead of preparing them for college with increasing futility.

Have a #StartYourOwn story to share? Tweet us @SlateAndTablets or reply in the comments! I’d love to hear insights about how you’ve guided students through creation of their own products.


Success Academy’s “Success”

Success_Academy_Charter_Schools_logoIn case you missed it, the NYT was granted a rare but fantastic look into the Success Academy Charter School environment, one that has publicly toted its high test scores and is perhaps the most successful charter school network in the country, certainly the state. This article is an unbiased (rare) look at the environment that produces these test scores, and provides a lot of meat to chew on for any person remotely interested in the cost-benefit analysis of high stakes testing. I’d like to offer some of my thoughts.

I first need to underscore that there should be nothing but positive vibes flung towards this charter school network. Look; I disagree wholeheartedly with the teaching philosophy at this school, and would never work there, and am still unsure where I stand on the whole charter vs. public school battle. However, objectively speaking, you must congratulate them for setting a goal, planning a pathway to achieving that goal, and then executing what is a difficult and unpleasant strategy. Creating a school culture as strict and regimented as Success Academy’s takes a lot of effort, nobody likes doing it, and it requires courage to execute it in the face of harsh criticism and backlash from students, parents, and teachers alike. This deserves congratulations.

There’s also something to be said about high exam scores. We’re lying to ourselves if we think that exam scores don’t matter. They do. Do they matter to the extreme that Success Academy takes them? Both intuition and science proves that this is not true for the general population, but then again, Success Academy does not serve the general population. SA serves the minority population, who are often left out of the practices that enrich a student’s experience beyond the classroom. It serves students who typically are not tended to by their parents after school, who typically do not read, and who typically are not held accountable for their grades and actions. Perhaps that last sentence should be changed to “It serves families,” because with many of these students, it’s their whole family that needs lessons in academic accountability, regiment, and discipline. By providing this rigorous structure at any cost, SA is able to boast rigorous exam scores.

We must be careful in evaluation of this model, however, because this approach, designed to narrow the achievement gap, may not actually do anything. There’s a reason the highly regimented method of schooling has fallen out of favor in the last two decades: it’s because it doesn’t prepare students for the world they grow into. As I wrote in my piece for 1776, the job market today requires technical skill and critical thinking, none of which are capably evaluated by standardized testing. SA’s model won’t work on students who can receive education in these important skills elsewhere, however we must again remember the target market. The other option for SA students is the NYC public school system, which in many of the areas served by SA is woefully ineffective at educating these types of students in anything. That’s not a knock on the NYC DOE; most of these families don’t have the capability or knowledge of how to usher a child through school without the immense structure SA provides, and the public school system simply doesn’t have the resources. For these students, academic discipline and rigor will, at the very least, prepare them for a chance at success in higher education. This is, again, something to be praised, not criticized as harshly as it is.

Perhaps there are also lessons to be learned from SA’s model in executing a plan in a school. I think the most important facet of their system is the amount of administrative involvement from the principals and department heads of the school. Since the school’s executive branch takes care of most administration, the administrators at school are free for far more frequent observation. While I don’t agree with the style of observation portrayed in the article at all, I do think it’s critically important for the administrators at a school to be as involved as SA’s administrators are. Teachers associate administration in their classroom with evaluation far too much, and it’s detrimental to the process of creating a school culture. To do their job, administrators must be present in the halls and classrooms so they know what actually goes on in these places. When they’re stuck in an office, they don’t know.

There’s also the link between student behavior to parent accountability. Parents are required to serve in school suspensions with their children at SA. This may seem barbaric, and I think might be a little too extreme, but it certainly bangs home the point that parents are responsible for what this child does in school just as much as schools are, which is 100% true.

I could not possibly teach at an SA school, and do not agree with many of their teaching practices. As a results-based individual, however, you simply cannot argue with their relentlessness. They set out to achieve high test scores, and accomplished this goal, which is a feat that many schools have a lot to learn from. Before we brush off their barbaric practices as ineffective, it’s important to examine which of these practices offer lessons for our own schools, because whether or not we agree with what they’re doing, as their name implies, they’re certainly successful at doing it.

The “Game of Thrones” Metaphor

I am a little bit behind pop culture. Case in point: I only just started watching Game of Thrones a few weeks ago, but I am hooked. I am not usually one for patience in my entertainment, but the characters are so well developed and interesting that I don’t care. As my brother commented on my Facebook earlier last week after I expressed my excitement for the story, I am like the pop culture god of 3 years ago. Jokes aside, I love the series for its bravery in letting the bad guys win and patience in allowing the story to bloom, and on a serious note, I see a lot of interesting tidbits regarding education in the new phenomenon of on-demand internet TV series.

Let’s rewind a few years ago. Netflix was making waves as a provider of movies online so you didn’t have to rent them from the video store. This coincided with, and some argued sparked, a monumental shift in the entertainment industry to an on-demand streaming model. TV Shows have only recently engaged with this model, and have had great success. While the model of consumption remains the same, the content couldn’t be more drastically different, since TV series are often marathons of hour or half-hour episodes that require a viewer’s attention to plot and story points. Does this sound familiar? That’s because it’s a lot like school. We expect students to attend half hour to one hour long sessions of course content that they have to pay attention to.

But here’s where the metaphor shines. While watching Game of Thrones, the consequence for missing a plot detail in a previous episode is that you don’t understand the story in a future episode. In school, you simply get the question wrong on that detail and lose points, then move on like nothing happened. In Game of Thrones, you can go back and re-watch any scene or episode you missed or wanted to see again. In school, no such ability is available and you have to even make an appointment to see a teacher for “extra help”. There have been many attempts to implant this feature in schooling, such as with the flipped model or MOOCs, and these have mixed successes for many reasons. I find the main reason why such “revolutionary new classroom models” are unsuccessful can ALSO be extracted from our Game of Thrones metaphor, and it lies within my brother’s Facebook comment just a few days ago.

“You’re a pop culture god of 3 years ago.”

These TV series become a part of pop culture. We talk about it with our friends, our families, and ourselves sometimes. Our discussions enrich our knowledge of the stories, their meanings, and their inspirations. When a child attends school, that is their pop culture, and the discussions they have about their courses, their teachers, and their classmates, both bad and good, also enriches their experience and is a vital part of the academic endeavor. As anyone who has ever participated in an online discussion can tell you, there is simply no substitute for in-person discourse. If communication was solely about the words we craft, then we wouldn’t need body language, inflection, and emotion.

The problem herein, then, is that the MOOC movement has not transformed the education industry because it is only capable of solving one portion of what makes schooling important, and in fact exacerbates another. The flipped classroom model fails in a similar way, in that it worsens one issue while improving another. With the Flipped model, the content is worse because the production value necessary for a teacher to create a high quality and interesting video is generally beyond the means of most educators. Not to mention, the organization and platform on which to build an on-demand offering of whatever course content you need takes far too long to build teacher-by-teacher for any revolutions to happen in the near future. The Flipped model does get the discussion part right, however, using technology to free up valuable in-person class time for discussion that is more logistically difficult to execute at home.

Could it be possible that a new classroom model which improves both of these crucial aspects to schooling emerges? I think that should a tool emerge which provides a teacher with superior production abilities to make more varied, high quality content to provide via the flipped model, then that really has legs. Unfortunately, there are too many tools that accomplish singular tasks right now, and they’re not helping the cause.

Slate & Tablets Announces a New Branch Dedicated to Educational Research

Slate & Tablets announced a new facet of their company today dedicated to educational research on the impact of various aspects of technology and community engagement on student achievement. With a unique combination of actual classroom insight and technical expertise, the company is poised to discover new and unforeseen impacts on student achievement. “We do extensive research on every one of our products anyway,” CEO John Raffaeli said. “Not only is it valuable from a business perspective to do cutting edge educational research within the bounds of our company, but it is also beneficial for schools everywhere.” The company plans to provide their findings and reports at no cost to the public.

The first report by the research arm, entitled “Theory of Change” was also released today. This paper explores the impact of community engagement on student achievement, and the challenges faced by schools to provide sufficient opportunity for parent communication. It can be downloaded for free through this link.


There and Back Again: The Epic Road Trip to Nashville

When I started Slate & Tablets, there were a few milestones I had been dreaming about from day one. Getting our first app accepted to the app store, launching Planner in front of my colleagues at Greenwich High School, and exhibiting for the first time at a conference were some examples. There was just something so exciting about interfacing with potential users and as an educator, I knew I wanted to learn more about all of the different schools in the country and how I could help solve their problems. Since the National School Boards Association was an ideal audience for the debut of Spotlight, we decided to take the jump and sign up for the conference. We booked our place in Cutting Edge AveNEW (thanks Karen Miller and Susan Clubb!), our plane tickets, and our hotel rooms several weeks in advance, and excitedly prepared our booth experience in the approaching weeks.


There was one problem with our plan, and it was my previously known travel curse. I cannot go anywhere without something happening to my travel plans. Now this sounds like craziness, but the list of travel issues is eerily long and I don’t have a list of trips that didn’t have a travel issue. Every time I go anywhere I write a blog post about it, and of course, the curse shows up on every one of those trips. The issue this time? It decided to snow on the first day of spring hard enough to cancel flights between 6PM – 10PM, the exact four hour block we were scheduled to fly out of LaGuardia in. Normally, our rebooked flights the next morning would have been no problem, except we needed to arrive to the exhibit hall before it opened at 10AM to set up.


The curse strikes again.


So with no possible flights to hop on, the travel curse flaring up again, and a Slate & Tablets milestone hanging in the balance, the three of us scheduled to go to the conference had only one option…


It’s only 915 miles guys. No problem.


We drove to Tennessee in the most epic road trip of my life. I called John at 10am after realizing that there was no way we were flying to Nashville to break the news. We got Sarah’s car (which will now be referred to as The Chariot) a much needed oil change, picked up some sandwiches and an overly large bag of snacks, and hit the road at 1PM. The general consensus about road trips is that they’ll be like this:




In reality, this is how road trips generally go:


zzz – road trip – zzz


Let’s be honest here, 14 hours is a stupidly long drive, and my iPod is not really that stacked, Sarah listens to dance music which is counterproductive in a situation where moving your legs too much will result in an accident, and we kept forgetting to hook John’s phone up to the Bluetooth in the car when we stopped for gas all three times on the way down. After we made it through 30 minutes of 20MPH driving stuck behind a pair of snowplows blocking the whole highway for no reason, and after the sun went down blocking out much of the beautiful scenery and cow-counting games that could have possibly ensued, we didn’t have much to do. I did my best to not look at the odometer or the GPS since driving to Nashville doesn’t really require directions, but it was quite a journey. Frodo would be proud.

We finally arrived at 3AM, dropped John off at the wrong hotel, picked him back up and brought him to the right hotel, and then were able to finally go to sleep for around 4 hours before we needed to wake up and get to the Music City Center to setup the booth.

Setting up a booth is no easy task, but we are extremely good at planning when we are forced to fit our entire setup into one additional suitcase to avoid extraneous baggage fees (thanks Delta), so it didn’t take that long. I did get irrationally frustrated at our banner, however, which did not want to hang correctly. This was mostly due to the fact that we forgot a pair of scissors to cut the string I brought, so we were trying to hang it like a curtain along one piece of string. Disaster. I finally worked up the nerve to speak to other humans after being trapped in a car for fourteen hours, and the Pizza Kit booth was kind enough to lend us a pair. After Sarah worked her magic on the table, we were finally able to breathe and admire our work.


The booth!


Choking back the happy tears that come with achieving any milestone in life, the exhibit opened and we finally got to speak with the people we drove 14 hours through rain, sleet, and snow to be with. We launched Spotlight at the conference to overwhelmingly positive response, and you can see the community of attendees that were kind enough to take their pictures with us if you download our demo and login with our PIN, “banjo”. The most excitement about Spotlight came with its exclusivity. Schools use Facebook and Twitter to interact with their communities but frequently that gets lost in the other noise inherent to these products. Almost every school board member was excited about the prospect of having an exclusive venue with which their schools could connect with their towns. We’re so happy that this feature shone through, because it’s the most important reason we made Spotlight to begin with!

We had a lot of great conversations with some memorable people; a new board president who is an army veteran, a district in Texas with almost 100 miles separating their four middle schools, and the nation’s second largest school district, to name a few. As a company, we’re committed to unparalleled attention to detail and our customers’ needs, and we’ll be following up on each and every one of those conversations in the next few weeks. We’ll also be announcing the winner of the free year of Spotlight we raffled away at the conference. I know a lot about Slate & Tablets will change over the next year, but our passion for meeting student needs never will.

After the exhibit hall closed and we had a few additional meetings, it was time to enjoy Music City. It certainly lived up to the name. Broadway in particular has country Bourbon Street feel: every place has multiple artists playing live music with great food. Saturday was crazily busy to the point where we couldn’t actually sit in one of these places, but Sunday was much nicer. We watched an acoustic country trio sing awesome renditions of all the classics, ate some barbeque ribs, which were awesome, and relaxed the night away. There was of course time for some shopping as well, and I picked up a Nashville branded leather guitar strap for back home, among other souvenirs.


Can you guess who was more excited about shopping?


We woke up early (7AM) to hit the road on Monday, and after driving everyone crazy with my cow counting (437, at the time of writing) we finally made it home after another 14 hours. It’s 10PM and I get to go to school tomorrow to tell the story again to all of my students. Most people I know have already asked me if this was worth it, and told me that they probably would not have made the trip if they were in our shoes.


West Virginia, take me home.


It was worth every one of the 2,000 miles we drove.

Until next time~

Four More Days!

I’ve spent the whole weekend getting the final few pieces ready for Nashville, and boy are we excited! We have an unforgettable conference experience prepared for Nashville, and you can follow it all here. I’m also pleased to announce that you can be amongst the first to download and experience Spotlight. Download it here and login as a community member using “banjo” as the school PIN. Notice that this is the demo version of the app: the commercial version is available for every platform, but we’re not quite ready to show you that yet.

In the meantime, here’s a picture of me with our DIY chalkboard signs for the conference! Can’t wait to see you there!IMG_0486

Spotlight Design Blog: What is Social Media?

As announced a few days ago, we’ll be making our exhibition debut by unveiling Spotlight at the National School Boards Association conference in Nashville in just two short weeks! This is a riveting time for Slate & Tablets, as it’s our first time presenting at a conference and we have put together what I think is quite the experience for attendees. Most demo products at education conferences are just that: demo products that emulate what it would be like to use in a school. Everyone attending the conference who downloads Spotlight is not only going to get the real product, but most importantly the real experience of what social media can do.

What is Social Media?

That’s an internet 101 question, isn’t it? Actually, no, it’s one of the most often misunderstood questions, misinterpreted answers, and terribly skewed concept on the Internet today. It only gets worse in schools as well. When we do our social media projects in computer programming, we have to tackle this important question and define just what social media should be able to do. I usually show this video from one of the guys who made Reddit, arguably the most important social media site on the internet today.

Ohanian makes an important point about the nature of social media, in that it must be genuine. It’s not a competition. Many people use their social media statistics as evidence of their influence online, and they make a lot of money doing so. Derek Thompson presents evidence that these statistics are essentially meaningless anyway, since they can’t actually be leveraged for any purpose by an individual. But notice the diction: by an individual. This is where I observe people going wrong on social media. It is impossible to make a splash online alone. Ohanian argues that when groups of genuine people get together online for the same purpose, that’s when they are able to accomplish internet sensations like every meme that’s come out of Reddit, crowdfunding campaigns, and language phenomena born on the Web. There are negative possibilities too, the worst of which is cyberbullying, but awareness about that issue has been quickly spreading and the Internet is even fighting back. Check out this story of a man who was dancing at a party in Europe but was humiliated online by a group of who-cares-who-they-ares. The web caught wind and decided that his attitude was gold, so they threw him a huge dance party in Vegas. While not everyone bullied on line gets such attention, the fact is that there is far more being done against negative outcomes of social media, ironically enough by people who are just being genuine and standing up for what they believe in.

If you had to put it in a sentence, it would probably look like this: social media is any tool that lets a group of individuals smile, laugh, and/or support shared interests. The big question is, why hasn’t it caught on at schools yet, which are perfect candidates for the community building power that these tools give?

The Platform

Social media is a non-unique computer skill in that it requires both a piece of technology and someone with the skill to utilize it. Schools don’t have the money to put someone on social media duty full time, let alone someone with the requisite skills or relevant content to post. Look at the legendary twitter account of Taco Bell, which has been the subject of emulation for the past two or three years by Pizza Hut, Dominos, and others. It takes someone with an innate understanding of the internet to stand out from the noise with humor, cheekiness, and craft. But remember our lesson from the previous section: social media is a tool for groups of individuals. Taco Bell pays someone to speak online for their corporation. Schools don’t have this luxury. This is why platforms such a Facebook, Twitter, and every other social media product has not yet caught on. They were designed for individuals with the opportunity for smaller groups to spawn from them.

With Spotlight, we’ve designed the product completely around this notion: that schools need a social media product that represents the whole school, not individual posters inside it. Every approved editor (default: all teachers in a building) posts to the same central location, which is searchable, of course. We’ve taken Ohanian’s advice that it’s not a competition, as well as several other works about the impact of social media on relationships surrounding the negatives associated with online narcissism and removed the statistics from the platform entirely. There are no retweets, likes, upvotes, downvotes, and other imaginary internet points. The goal is not to make content go viral across the internet. The goal is to provide a novel platform for a school to represent itself, along with all of its triumphs and successes. There are no complicated privacy settings, which is another huge hurdle for schools online concerned with what they share. Every school has a PIN associated with their network. You can’t get in without the PIN. Finally, as with many of life moments, there are some you remember, and some you forget. Spotlight allows users to remember their favorite moments in an unprecedented way: we have a full service print shop for various kinds of photo gifts at our disposal. We’re aiming at a whole new way to post your students’ achievements on your refrigerator at home.

We’re so excited to share more about Spotlight with you, and look for the tech specs for the product next time. Remember, we’ll be debuting at the National School Boards Association conference in Nashville in just two weeks, and we can’ wait to see you there!

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!

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