Joel Klein, Corporate Executives and Top Middle Schoolers Headline Unprecedented Education Event

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The Teaching Garage Organizes Cross-Industry Conference in NYC to Promote Innovation in the Classroom

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There’s something about education that resists innovation, and if we cannot wrap our heads around that, then we cannot begin to fix the problem

Teaching Garage—the creators of the first and only digital engineering curriculum for elementary school teachers—aimed to move closer in overcoming the large hurdles in implementing innovation in the classroom by holding its first Innovation in Education Conference sponsored and hosted by the venerable Latham & Watkins LLP in the heart of New York City. The conference featured some of the most creative minds in education, business, teaching and even leading middle school students who were all eager to engage in cross-industry conversations about what it means to be an innovator.

“There’s something about education that resists innovation, and if we cannot wrap our heads around that, then we cannot begin to fix the problem,” said education visionary Joel Klein, former Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education and current CEO of Amplify. One of the largest problems for educators is the lack of lateral conversations between those who set education policy, those who innovate various education solutions, and employers hiring the next generation.

The tone of the conference was set by Teaching Garage founder and CEO Janice Chong. "There is power in collective action, in bringing together diverse stakeholders to exchange creative ideas, resources, and passions to yield results."

The event was kicked off by welcoming remarks from Vice President of Business Development Edwina Tom (Teaching Garage), who handed the event over to a proven leader for education reform, Joel Klein, for his keynote, saying, “Shift your lens, and don’t look at this about being about technology and education, look at it as being about teaching and learning, because that is what education is all about.”

There were three panels of leading experts, including the first panel of industry experts discussing investing in a better future, including Richard Achee, Strategic Partner Manager at Google for Education. “The typical way of making improvements is by incremental improvements… I want to make something ten times better, improving the seatbelt isn’t going to work, let's make the car drive itself.”

The next panel focused on the future classroom with policy experts. “We are empowering kids to break down the walls of the classroom and interact with the world, which is something that could never happen with paper,” said Lisa Nielsen, Director of Digital Engagement and Professional Learning, Division of Instructional and Information Technology at NYC Department of Education.

During the last panel, which focused on developing impactful ideas to transform the future, Teaching Garage CEO Janice Chong stating the following: “What keeps me going is that I’m heartbroken all the time but in a great way… There’s no way I can walk away when there’s such a need for the curriculum.”

The special evening was made possible thanks to the generosity of Latham & Watkins LLP team, most especially Alexander Lazar, leading corporate attorney dealing with the technology, internet, digital media and life sciences industries. Jae Gardner, Founder & CEO of The Ivy Key, had the following to say about the event: "The Innovation in Education Conference held by Teaching Garage was a great event that brought together dynamic industry leaders and sparked robust dialogue around innovative technology in 21st century education."

The Innovation in Education Conference event not only fostered deep conversation around innovation in the classroom, but featured sixteen budding middle school entrepreneurs (ages 10-12) all attending St Elizabeth Catholic Academy. The two teams of middle school students, who hail from underserved communities in Brooklyn and Queens NY, pitched their own social entrepreneurship initiatives and hoped to meet potential mentors to join their social enterprises.

Scott Kinney, a Senior Vice President at Discovery Education stated, “It really is about can you learn new things and apply that in a novel and innovative way.”

A presenting student organization comprised of 5th graders, titled At My Business Bank, did just that, who early this year had learned about personal and business finance, and our now on a mission to promote financial literacy to kids and teens via the development of an app. The students were previously featured during an event during NBA All Star Weekend that aimed to promote financial literacy to professional athletes and kids, with leading speakers featured including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The students were also featured this past Spring at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA at Harvard Ventures E^2: Entrepreneurship and Empowerment event.

A brilliant and insightful 5th grade student, Isabella Rozon, discussed her favorite part of developing an app to promote financial literacy. "What I enjoy most is knowing that people can learn about finance and will not get bored, as my teammates and I are confident we can really change how kids and teens look at finance in a fun and engaging new light."

Kobi Yamada, a best-selling author, had the following advice for the audience: “The best ideas are the ones that move from your head to your heart, the ones that you really fall in love with.”

This was readily apparent with second and last middle school student presentation, Stress Press Inc. whose team members all exuded enthusiasm for their social cause. Working in collaboration with the MiddyFund, a nonprofit founded by award-winning entrepreneur Savera Weerasinghe, is dedicated to empowering next generation of entrepreneurs through high school mentors. The students are tackling the big issue of stress among kids and teens by building a holistic social medial platform to help youth handle stress and conflict, by getting advice from an online community of peers.

A standout high school student from the Middy Fund, fifteen year old Kohen Rahman, discussed the many benefits when mentoring kids. "Working with the Middle School students to design a venture around a social problem is rewarding not only because you get to empower and guide kids younger than you, but you also grow in leaps and bounds and empower yourself!"

The audience of roughly 125 people gained invaluable advice from the insightful and thoughtful speakers. The first panel was moderated by Ellen Bialo, the Founder & President of Interactive Educational Systems Design, and featured Richard Achee (Strategic Partner Manager at Google for Education), Scott Kinney (Senior Vice President at Discovery Education), and Kobi Yamada (best-selling author and CEO of Compendium). The second panel was moderated by Andrew Arenge, NBC Education Nation, and featured Adam Fried (Superintendent of Harrington Park School District, NJ), Christopher Lohse, (Vice President of Government Affairs at Renaissance Learning), Lisa Nielsen (Director of Digital Engagement and Professional Learning, Division of Instructional and Information Technology at NYC Department of Education) and Alex Torpey (Former Mayor of South Orange, NJ). The last panel was moderated by Stephanie Lo, Director of Programs at TED-Ed, and featured Janice Chong (Founder and CEO of Teaching Garage), Jeanette Duffy (Cause Platforms Manager at UNICEF Ventures), and Jae Gardner (Founder and CEO of The Ivy Key).

St Elizabeth Catholic Academy board chair and financial entrepreneur Joseph Sawe summed up the conference, saying, “Everything went so well because of the incredibly well organized team at the Teaching Garage, the kind hospitality of Latham &Watkins LLP, the thoroughly interesting speakers and the well-moderated panels. It was wonderful and heartwarming to see the passion, creativity and maturity of the middle school students presenting their social causes." The evening ended with Kobi Yamada kindly giving away free signed copies of his best seller What Do You Do With an Idea? to the very happy middle schoolers.

About Teaching Garage:

Teaching Garage partners with industry leaders from school districts, publishing companies, and private, government, non-profit agencies to transform the classroom and educate the students of tomorrow. For more information, please visit

About St. Elizabeth Catholic Academy:

Throughout its nearly 130 year history, Saint Elizabeth Catholic Academy—serving students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade—has provided a foundation where a love for learning, a desire for self-reliance, and a passion to lead in Jesus Christ’s community is championed. For more information, please visit

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