How to Connect Your Classroom: Case Study with Andrew Cohen of @Brainscape

Start-ups are good for our country. Most students don't know what they are. I want to infuse a start-up mentality in my classroom as I help students understand innovation. Creation is good. Inventing is hard. If you're an independent thinker: hire yourself and create a start-up. Recently my ninth graders connected via Google Hangout with the CEO of Brainscape, Andrew Cohen.

What is Brainscape?

Brainscape is a scientifically-based flashcard tool that lets students learn faster than traditional flashcard services. (Learn more in the video.) My classes have Brainscape study groups.

Connect Your Classroom: Steps to Success

As discussed in Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds, students don't want to talk about the world – they want to talk with the world. Effective 21st century educators connect their students.

After Andrew and I set the interview appointment, here is how I prepped my students. (Adapt this to use with politicians, scientists, and any type of job.)

Step 1: Introduce the Person's Job with a Bellringer Activity (10-15 minutes)

The day before the interview, we completed a bell ringer asking:

  • What is a start-up?
  • What is the job title of a person who creates a start-up?
  • What are the benefits of creating a start-up?
  • Are there risks of creating a start-up?
  • With your team come up with 3 questions to ask of a person who created a technology start-up?

Time taken: 5 minutes in their groups and 10 minutes of discussion

Ask questions introducing the topic and role without having a specific company or person named. If they can get their arms around who this person is, they'll be more excited when you say — we will interview one. (If you tell students who you're interviewing first — nervousness may stifle the learning.)

Step 2: Plan the Interview: Split Students into Questioners and Evaluators

After we completed the bell ringer, they discussed their answers. Then, I introduced what they'd be doing today. They split into 2 teams: question creators and evaluators.

Good Questions Make a Great Interview

The question group worked to formulate questions to ask Andrew based upon what they learned. They looked up information about Andrew (like reading his Twitter) and Brainscape.

Give Feedback

The other team evaluated Brainscape and compared it to other apps and services they use. This group's purpose was to offer feedback from real students to Andrew. Students must learn to evaluate websites and apps with an eye for improvement and suggestions.

Evaluating is useful for the company you're connecting to because they are getting feedback on their product. If you take this approach, don't film or record this segment of the interaction because you want an honest exchange beneficial for both groups. (Students can see how successful people respond to suggestions. I've found this fosters a growth mindset of ongoing improvement. Suggestions are not the enemy– they are how we improve.)

How Students Planned

Students drafted their plan on a Google Document. I provided feedback via commenting. Each team had a PM (project manager) and APM (assistant project manager). They were ready to go by the end of class. Not everyone spoke but everyone had to be involved in  planning.

Step 3: The Interview

We set aside 30 minutes for the interview. Plan on 10-15 minutes for you to connect with your guest.

Technical Aspects of the Interview

Can you record?

I used Google Hangout linked with my personal account (Google Plus is not enabled with my school account right now.) We live streamed the session and recorded it to YouTube. You don't have to share it live (although I did). I think recording is important to use the video with other classes. You can't recreate a magic moment so prepare to capture moments where magic might happen. 

For example, I have 2 preps for 9th grade. I don't want the other class left out. They will watch this recording and take notes. The next time, the other class will conduct the live interview.

Note Google Hangout is NOT a video call, if you want to record, you have to set up a live event and create a hangout. I've found it to be tricky. (If you can't find a tutorial, let me know in the comments and I'll take time to write one.)

Check your mic setup

You have to check mics and make sure you can hear one another. You'll notice me sitting near the computer. We turn the mic off an on to prevent feedback from the speakers when Andrew replied to the message.

Setup the lower thirds

We use the Google Hangout toolbox and do the lower third to show the name and the class information. The recording becomes a permanent part of our class library that other students can access later.

Invite parents

I invited parents via the school Facebook page and over email. After the interview, I shared the recording.

Great Start!

Besides a few nerves, (who doesn't get uptight?) it was a marvelous start! I'm proud of my students!

While this was their first interview of the year and many of them were nervous — they did a great job overcoming their nerves. They'll be pros by the end of the year.  I hope this helps you plan for and integrate this into your classroom. Flatten those walls! Connect and collaborate.

Thank you Andrew Cohen from Brainscape for taking the time to connect with my students today. Tip for start-ups: what a great way to interact with students! Thanks Andrew! If you're creating products they use, give them a voice. 

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