Did I really just spend my weekend on a just-for-fun group project?: HIVE HackED

I chose HGSE in part for exposure to different ways of thinking about education than the small district, public high school perspective I’ve spent the last six years with. Being able to approach challenges in different ways is powerful, and I wanted a graduate program that had breadth as well as depth. HGSE’s range of cohorts and position within a larger university gives access to both, but in the day-to-day of pursuing your own priorities and completing assignments, I can sometimes forget about that.

That’s why the HIVE HackED event of last weekend was so cool (plus they fed me two lunches and a dinner, not to be discounted). Until this, the word “hackathon” conjured up a dark room and code for me. While technology is a part of it, it’s really more a compressed group project. Our challenge was to design something that would address some problem within education and be ready to pitch our solution and its business model to a panel of judges — in about six hours of work. They gave awards for most innovative, best business prospects, and largest impact. As a teacher, thinking about words like “market research” and “B2B” (a Business that sells TO a Business, which is different than business-to-consumer, or business-to-education) is completely foreign. 

This all took place at the Harvard iLab, which exists as a gathering place for innovators and entrepreneurs and is located on the Harvard Business School campus. It’s a magical place full of snacks and whiteboards and moveable furniture.

Here’s a look at the process:

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We started the by brainstorming every possible problem of education on a post-it. Then we grouped the post-its by category and had speed-dating time to find people who were concerned about the same issues as we were and form groups. I hadn’t met anybody I worked with before the weekend.

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Our group found a meeting room and wrote all over the walls about our problems, customer (or “use case”), and vision. Our idea looked to help high school students explore different career pathways outside of school. After laying out the big picture, we broke apart into a “business” group that tried to build a case for our product, and a “design” group that worked on developing what this looked like more closely. There was a lot of coffee, tea, and M&Ms in this process.

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There were also speakers the first night about design thinking and the second day about educational entrepreneurship. More tea.

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After about seven hours of work on Saturday (plus the panels), we came back together on Sunday to make our pitches. This isn’t my group, but these guys did win “Best Business Model.”

Our group didn’t win anything, but it was more about the process (though obviously I’d be saying something different if we had gotten a prize, made by the 3D printer at the iLab). Even though I didn’t get around to grocery shopping or laundry this weekend, I’m glad I did this because:

  • I learned a ton about the realities of entrepreneurship. I like certainty waaay too much for that to be a career path for me, but I have a better understanding of the people and process behind some of the tools I use and the pitches I’ll hear in the future (and now I’ll look less longingly at ping-pong playing start-ups).
  • Specifically, I went in thinking this would be about designing the best possible idea. While that mattered, I underestimated the importance of market research. After building our own presentation and hearing the judges ask questions, I even found myself asking “But what’s the business model? How is this going to make money?” during the last few presentations. I’ve literally never said those words before. New mindsets!
  • This was a great practice in working through something with a team, a skill I didn’t develop as a classroom teacher.
  • I thought big, creative thoughts about education problems. Schools are bureaucracies, and I’m used to being bound by reality and practicality. It was refreshing to be pushed outside the box.
  • I really got to know people I hadn’t had the chance to interact with, both from HGSE and from other schools.

I’m looking forward to relaxing and socializing (and reading) this weekend,  but this was a fantastic way to emerge from the quotidian by going deep into something new, and the experience really showcased some of the compelling reasons for me for choosing HGSE, including the snacks and post-its.

Becca Schouvieller is in the Instructional Leadership strand for experienced teachers within the Learning & Teaching program. She taught social studies in Maine for six years and is excited about civic education, rural education, college access and preparation, working within existing schools to improve teaching quality, and finding the best breakfast sandwich in Cambridge.

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