PopTech Blog

Winter in Camden

Editor’s note: Beth Cohen is PopTech’s Director of Media Production. She made the below video to give everyone a taste of winter in Camden, Maine, where PopTech holds its annual ideas summit and where one of the PopTech offices is located. Here’s how she describes the weather yesterday.

First snow day of the year. All the local schools were closed, and many businesses closed early.

First it snowed, then it got really windy, then it started pouring rain. Winter is finally here.

VIDEO: Steve Barr, Ashley Merryman, Dennis Littky on Educational Approaches

This week in PopTech 2009 video releases, find out the difference fifteen minutes can make to a child’s cognitive performance in parenting guru Ashley Merryman’s presentation, why school turnaround visionary Steve Barr thinks private school should be outlawed, and the way legendary teacher Dennis Littky has transformed student performance through personalized curriculae.

Watch Steve Barr on fixing failing schools:

According to Steve Barr, the fastest way to fix education in America would be to make private schools illegal. As the founder of Green Dot Public Schools, Barr is devoted to improving public education in blighted cities. His efforts have transformed high schools across Los Angeles into charter schools that send nearly 80% of students to college.

Go Deeper:

- Read the May 2009 New Yorker piece, “Steve Barr’s crusade to remake failing schools”
- Attend the Green Schools Benefit, February 11, 2010 in Venice, CA
- Find out about the recent Gates Foundation grant to Green Dot Schools

Watch Ashley Merryman on parenting:

Ashley Merryman has co-authored numerous articles about parenthood. Over the past two years, she and journalist Po Bronson have collaborated on an award-winning series of articles in New York Magazine. Their most recent work, a book titled NurtureShock, explores cutting edge research that challenges many familiar myths about how to best parent kids.

Go Deeper:

- Follow the NurtureShock blog and on Twitter @NurtureShock
- Read an excerpt from NurtureShock
- See what the NurtureShock authors think about emotional intelligence

Watch Dennis Littky on Big Picture Education:

The co-founder and co-director of Big Picture Learning, Dennis Littky believes that cookie-cutter teaching fails too many students. So Littky works to make alternative, non-standardized curriculums the new standard. Big Picture now has more than 70 schools nationwide.

Go Deeper:

- Start a Big Picture School and become a staff member or volunteer
- Attend an event with Big Picture Learning
- Read an April 2009 Education Week article on five faulty assumptions in education policy

B is for B Corps

Last week, Lucy Bernholtz, president of philanthropic consulting firm Blueprint Research & Design, spoke with Marketplace (download the audio from the link) on “Philanthropy’s Big Buzzwords of 2009.”

Between impact investing and mergers, Bernholtz talked about B Corps, the designation for businesses holding a social good certification (think LEED for social enterprise) from a group called B Lab.

B Corps screenshot

Of the 240 businesses are certified in the U.S. as B Corps, nine in Philadelphia have an additional reason to pay a tenth of 1% of their net sale to hold the certification. Last Thursday, Philadelphia’s City Council unanimously approved a bill to give a sustainable business tax credit to certified sustainable businesses in the city. The first financial incentive for sustainable businesses in law in the U.S., the new bill allows twenty-five companies in Philadelphia to receive the tax break.

Co-founder of B Corporation, Jay Coen Gilbert describes amending a company’s articles of incorporation to include B Corps “changing the DNA of a company.”

Individually, each certified company is a B Corp—together, they are B Corps.

As the “corps” entry in the online dictionary Wordnik (watch Wordnik Founder Erin McKean’s 2006 PopTech talk) aggregates definitions, synonyms, images, tweets, tags, and etymologies about different meanings and content around the term, we hope that sustainable businesses for social good will continue to find new reasons to become, as the American Heritage Dictionary defines “corps”: “a body of persons acting together or associated under common direction.”

DARPA Balloons and #scoutsforgood

To mark the 40th anniversary of the Internet, today DARPA released ten balloons for the DARPA Network Challenge, a competition in online and social network cooperation with a $40,000 prize.

“The Network Challenge winner will be the first individual to submit the locations of 10 8-foot balloons moored at 10 fixed locations in the continental United States. The balloons will be in readily accessible locations and visible from nearby roads.”

The contest end at 12:00 PM EST on December 14, 2009, and one team has another motive for the prize money.

DARPA balloons

Stan Wiechers and Carlos J. Gómez de Llarena’s team, @ballooncharity, wants to give 100% of the prize money to the Aga Khan Foundation to support programs that may help rebuild Afghanistan.

Balloon Charity tweet

From the Balloon Charity site,

DARPA is betting on people’s self-interest to motivate them during this giant crowdsourced guinea pig test. We want to bet on crowdsourced altruism. One of these motivations will emerge as the driving force behind the winning team.”

The team is always using the hashtag #scoutsforgood to mobilize team members.

Want to play? You can find the rules on the DARPA Network Challenge site.

The best way to follow or join the Balloon Charity team is through their @ballooncharity Twitter account.

VIDEO: Gideon Obarzanek, Neri Oxman, and Reuben Margolin

Where does design meet nature, technology meet dance, and kinetics meet sculpture?

This week, new PopTech videos are on interactions: biomimicry architect Neri Oxman shares her favorite natural form, sculptor Reuben Margolin creates sparkling waves of light, and choreographer Gideon Obarzanek outlines ways dancers move with each other and the spaces inbetween. And, we’re pleased to share an opportunity for PopTech Friends to see Gideon Obarzanek’s latest dance performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

We’re going to see Chunky Move on December 9th at BAM, and we hope to see you there.

Watch Gideon Obarzanek on digital moves:

Hailed by The Australian as the country’s best modern dance company, choreographer Gideon Obarzanek’s Chunky Move dazzles audiences with its use of site-specific installations and interactive sound and light technologies. Obarzanek’s avant-garde performances explore the tensions between the rational world we live in and richness of our imagination.

Special Offer for PopTech Friends: 15% Discount for Mortal Engine, Dec 9 – 12
Dec 9—12, BAM, Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Ave, Brooklyn, New York

Mortal Engine uses a spectacular mix of space-slashing choreography and hyper technology to transform the stage into a cosmic force field. As the dancers morph into light, image, and sound, this work portrays a shimmering, ever-shifting world—never predictable and always changing.

Offer valid for all performances. May not be combined with other offers and not valid for prior purchases. Subject to handling and facility fees and availability. Maximum of 4 discounted tickets per household. Offer expires Tue, Dec 8. Use promotional code 11027.

More info, video, and tickets on the BAM page.

Go Deeper:

Become a Fan of Chunky Move on Facebook

See more dance videos of Gideon’s choreography for Chunky Move

Watch Neri Oxman on designing form:

Architect Neri Oxman is the founder of MATERIALECOLOGY, an interdisciplinary design initiative expanding the boundaries of computational form-generation and material engineering. Named one of Fast Company’s “100 Most Creative People in Business,” Oxman investigates the material and performance of nature in an effort to define form itself.

Go Deeper:

Read Neri’s blog

Watch 2009 video of Neri from Fast Company

Read Surface Magazine’s recent profile of Neri’s work (.pdf)

Watch Reuben Margolin on kinetic art:

First inspired by the mysterious and mathematical qualities of a caterpillar’s crawl, artist Reuben Margolin creates large-scale kinetic sculptures that use pulleys and motors to create the complex movements and structures we see in nature. Margolin takes to the PopTech stage to share some of his extraordinary mechanical installations.

Go Deeper:

Find more videos about Reuben’s waves

Watch a MAKE.tv profile of Reuben in his studio

See where Reuben’s work has been exhibited

World AIDS Day 2009: An Update on PopTech's Project Masiluleke

Editor’s note: Leetha Filderman is the Director of the PopTech Accelerator. For World AIDS day today, she gives an update on Project Masiluleke, the collaborative PopTech mobile health project. More details in these Project Masiluleke videos and look for more updates on this blog in coming months.

Project Masiluleke, a signature program of the PopTech Accelerator, has been sending HIV/AIDS awareness messaging in South Africa since October 1, 2008. Designed as a large-scale mobile health initiative, the project has been making steady strides since its launch at PopTech 2008.

Today, and every day, the project sends about 1 million Please Call Messages (PCMs) throughout South Africa, directing citizens to the National AIDS Helpline for advice, support, counseling and referral to HIV/AIDS services in their community.

Project Masiluleke

In partnership with African-based mobile service provider, MTN, Project Masiluleke has tagged 329,362,518 PCMs since its launch at PopTech 2008. These PCMs have been instrumental in driving over 1.2 Million calls to the National Aids Helpline over the past 13 months.

In addition to the “call to action” PCM phase of Project Masiluleke, we are expanding TxtAlert, a text message-based appointment reminder system that reminds patients of clinic appointments and other types of treatment reminders. Based on the early success of pilot projects using Txt Alert, Edendale Hospital – one of the largest public hospitals in South Africa – will implement TxtAlert in the HIV Antiretroviral and TB clinics in the early part of next year.

While mass messaging and treatment reminders have made an impact, the AIDS epidemic continues to cause enormous suffering and premature loss of life throughout South Africa and many other parts of the world. Globally, the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS prevents millions from learning their HIV status or connecting to treatment early in the course of infection.

In the coming year, project partners will continue to actively explore and test a breakthrough distributed diagnostics model: low cost HIV self-testing backed by mobile counseling support. The concept of self-testing has been greeted with enthusiasm by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health, the South African HIV Clinicians Society, and other leaders in global healthcare. And the most important endorsement of our work comes from those facing the realities and challenges of AIDS on a daily basis. Feedback from focus groups of high-risk men consistently confirm that individuals are eager to have access to HIV self-test kits, prefer mobile interactions over face-to-face counseling and feel empowered by the ability to test privately. We will keep all of you posted as this work progresses!

The work of Project Masiluleke exemplifies PopTech’s commitment to creating impact through highly collaborative, cross-sector partnerships. For over three years our core partners – iTeach, Praekelt Foundation and frog design – have worked with us to explore and create innovative approaches in response to the challenges of HIV/AIDS and TB. We are also grateful for the support of MTN South Africa for extending their commitment to the Project Masiluleke for a second year.

To learn more about Project Masiluleke please visit the Project Masiluleke section of the PopTech site.

PopTech 2009: Ashley Merryman: Stop praising kids and put them to bed

Editor’s note: In all the excitement of liveblogging PopTech 2009, this post was written and wasn’t published. We apologize for the oversight, and extend our congratulations to Ashley and Po on their book, Nurtureshock: New Thinking About Children, being included on SEED Magazine’s “Books to Read (and Give) Now” list published today. Below is Ethan’s liveblogging of Ashley’s PopTech talk; video of her talk will be available in 2010.

Ashley Merryman

has been a litigation attorney, a speechwriter for the Clinton administration and director of a school tutoring project. And she’s a journalist, with work in the Washington Post and the National Catholic Reporter. Two years ago, she began collaborating with journalist Po Bronson on an award-winning series of articles, blogposts and a book titled
Nurture Shock. The series challenges thinking about the best ways to raise and nurture children, challenging preconceptions with emerging science. Andrew Zolli discovered her work through an influential article in New York Magazine.

Merryman tells us that the article she and Po were supposed to write for New York Magazine was on ambition. Interviewing architects and other overachievers, they told her, “I’ve always known I was ambitious – I had two part time jobs when I was two years old!” They embraced the folklore version of ambition.

She wondered, what if they were right? What’s the key to motivating a kid? Her breakthrough was finding, and sharing with Po, a study by Carol Dweck, a social scientist then based at Columbia on the effects of praise and motivation on kids. The study examined a group of randomly assigned fifth graders. They were given an intelligence test. At the end of the test, half were told they’d done really well and were told " you must be really smart." The other set were praised and told, “you must have worked really hard.”

Then the kids were given a choice between two puzzles – an easy and a hard one. The majority of the kids praised for intelligence picked the easy one, while the majority of the ones praised for effort chose the hard one, the one they were told they’d learn from. Kids were then given a hard test, one designed for seventh graders. The kids who had been praised for intelligence were sweating and anxious as they bombed it, while the kids praised for hard work also bombed, but enjoyed the experience. A final test was the same difficulty as the initial test. The kids praised for intelligence had their scores drop 20% from the initial exam. Kids praised for hard work had a 30% increase. This effect was clearly demonstrated and linked to a single sentence of feedback.

Merryman wasn’t excited when she read this study. She was “terrified and angry”. The study was published in 1988. “If I’d known this, I would have done some things differently.” Merryman has been tutoring kids in LA for years, and “knew” that the right thing to do was to praise and reward these kids who’d have tough lives.

Parents believe it’s important to praise children for intelligence. California developed a task force on self-esteem, believing that we can “boost self-esteem and the confidence and intelligence will come along for the ride.” But the academic research is weak. A researcher examined may of the 15,000 studies on self esteem and intelligence conducted since the 1970s. He concluded that only 200 represented real science – the rest had interviewed people with high self estreem, who were happy to tell researchers that they were great people. The other studies asked their roommates and friends. And they concluded that self-esteem does not encourage achievement – it may retard it, because if you tell someone they’re great, they don’t improve.

“Kids wrapped in bubble wrap of praise and support.” But this isn’t always the right thing to do. Kids want people to care about them, not always to praise them.

What can we do? Merryman suggests we focus on a different, but related problem: sleep. 60% of high school students report extreme daytime sleepiness. One third of kids admit to sleeping in class once a week. Technology and media have an effect, but so does school busing – we send kids long distances to school on the 7am bus. As a result, 5% of kids get 8 hours of sleep. And growing teens need 9.25 hours. Below 8 hours of sleep, kids suffer double the mean level of clinical depression. And they perform more poorly – a study that asked kids to get half an hour of sleep less for three nights showed that sixth graders performed as fourth graders based on that very modest change in sleep schedules. On the average, A students get 15 minutes more sleep than B students – “every fifteen minutes counts”.

A study that encouraged college kids to go without sleep discovered that sleep is directly connected to emotion. Sleep deprived kids remembered 80% of depressing words in a list of words to memorize and only 30% of neutral ones. Sleep deprivation hits the memory more heavily than the parts of the brain that govern fight or flight – teen moodiness may actually be sleep deprivation.

Letting kids sleep more can work. Edina, MN moved its start time an hour later – the top 10% of graduating class went up 200 SAT points on a 1600 point scale. Furthermore, students reported that their quality of life improved. In Kentucky, a similar effort led to a major reduction in car accidents. “Sleep is a health issue. We can change kids’ lives – do we have the political force to make it happen?”

An Ohio Thanksgiving: Food Needs as Opportunities

Mark Rembert and Taylor Stuckert are 2009 PopTech Social Innovation Fellows working on the Energize Clinton County project. You can watch their PopTech presentation video here; donate to the Grow Food, Grow Hope project detailed below and follow their work on Twitter @growfoodandhope.

Mark Rembert and Taylor Stuckert
Authors of this post, Fellows Mark Rembert and Taylor Stuckert, speaking at PopTech 2009.

As we celebrated our first Thanksgiving in Clinton County since the departure of DHL, the community was brought together around a deep sense of gratitude for each other and this place we call home. Thanksgiving also brought with it a reminder of the fragility of our community and economy. With the unemployment rate in Clinton County reaching 15% this month, and with winter approaching, the community’s focus has been fixed on confronting the unfamiliar challenges of serving victims of a severe economic downturn.

There is little doubt that these difficulties will persist locally, and across the country, as the economic downturn worsens in communities of all shapes and sizes. Aside from the obvious economic redevelopment challenges, the deepness of this recession has brought forth deep questions about our pre-conceived notions of us as people, families, and a community.

The most challenging of these questions—which we now confront regularly—are those related to our ability to meet basic needs. For most, providing food for one’s family has always been a given, but as the face of economic distress dramatically shifts, we increasingly encounter individuals and families who must weigh difficult decisions between keeping up with rent or mortgage payments, paying bills, and eating.

This weekend, the New York Times published an extensive article on the rising rate of food stamp use across the country, told from Martinsville, Ohio—a small village, just minutes down the road from Wilmington in Clinton County. The story, written by Jason DeParle with photographs by Robert Gebeloff, features our stark reality: nearly one in eight Americans and one in four children— 36 million Americans, in total— rely on the federal benefits to put food on their table, and that number continues to balloon. An unprecedented number of Americans— about 20,000 — become eligible every day for the benefits.

What the story did not tell is that the challenge of increasing access to food to those under economic distress in Clinton County has been embraced as an opportunity. As Michael Pollan so powerfully shared last month at PopTech in Camden, we are in desperate need of rethinking our relationship to food. In Clinton County, we have heeded this call by making the most of our rich agricultural heritage to reshape the way we think about food while meeting local needs.

Earlier this year, Wilmington College—a Quaker, liberal arts college in Wilmington—launched a program with AmeriCorps VISTA to increase access to fresh, local food for low-income families and individuals. The program—Grow Food, Grow Hope—has, in its very short history, asserted itself as a shining model for meeting food needs while building capacity for local food development.

Grow Food, Grow Hope

Last summer, the initiative hosted 20 small-plot gardens for economically distressed families, and provided mentoring and education on growing and cooking fresh produce. The college also grew more than 10,000 lbs of produce on its college farm which was delivered to local food pantries.

Grow Food, Grow Hope

In the coming year, our friends at Grow Food, Grow Hope will continue working to bring Electronic Benefit Transfers (EBT) to the Clinton County Farmers’ Market, increase the scale of its community garden project, and develop home gardens through a backyard gardening program.

Grow Food, Grow Hope

There is little doubt that the statistics that draw the outline of poverty in our community will continue to worsen. Yet, as we have already experienced in Clinton County, these challenges provide us with new opportunities to think about innovative solutions that meet our most basic human needs and lay a foundation for a new economic future.

Support the PopTech Social Innovation Fellows

In the U.S., today is known as “Black Friday,” a day of shopping. Many are also spending time today supporting projects and organizations doing important work.

We hope you will consider supporting the amazing PopTech Social Innovation Fellows this season.

Ways to support their projects are below, and leave us a comment if you have questions—we’ll help you find ways to help the Fellows!

2009 PopTech Fellows
2009 PopTech Social Innovation Fellows, cc photo by whiteafrican.

Hope Phones

HopePhones.org supporters can donate via the Web site and request phone drive supplies.


For those who’d like to be involved in FrontlineSMS:Medic (e.g. software development, hardware, funding), please use their site contact page.

Catapult Design

Catapult Design is running a “Startup Campaign” for seed funding.

And, Catapult has just received a matching grant from ASME/Engineering For Change for contributions received — so donations will be doubled! (Start here.)

Also, Catapult has two private events in the Bay Area in December for individuals who’d like to play a role in building Catapult. For more information on those, contact Heather directly heather [at] catapultdesign [dot] org.


Vittana’s lending page has in-depth student profiles.

You can purchase student loans as gifts for friends and family during the holiday season.

You can donate directly using the links below:

Donate to I-MAK

Donate to Project H Design

Donate to Komaza

Donate to Energize Clinton County

To be involved with Movirtu, send an email to info [at] movirtu [dot[ com.

To be involved with Re:char, use their contact form.

Let us know if you have questions in the comments.

Thanks for supporting the excellent work of the 2008 and 2009 PopTech Social Innovation Fellows.

Contagious Gratitude: What are you thankful for?

Editor’s note: This guest post was originally scheduled to be posted yesterday—we are thankful for Frank’s post below, and hope everyone celebrating Thanksgiving had a lovely holiday. Read more below about ways we, as a community, can create ripples of thanks.

With Thanksgiving and the holiday season fast approaching, it is a time for reflection and gratitude for many. If this year was tougher than usual due to illness, physical or mental pain or financial struggle, it’s even more important to focus on what you have.

thankful for

Studies by thought leaders Robert Emmons at University of California Davis and Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami have shown that gratitude is the “forgotten factor” in happiness. Through highly focused studies they shed some scientific light on the nature of gratitude, its causes, and its potential consequences for human health and well-being.

As a co-founder of Shiny Heart Ventures, I recently launched Thankfulfor.com, a social online gratitude journal providing a forum for expressing gratitude routinely as a foundation for happiness and well-being. People come to the site and post what they are thankful for to their personal journal of thanks. People can also choose to send each Thankfulfor post to their social network on Twitter, extending the good vibes far and wide.

We believe that through the use of social networks we can help spread more positive feelings and in some way, help improve many people’s daily lives. This approach has been validated by 2009 PopTech speaker James Fowler, professor at University of California San Diego, who studies the intersection of social and natural sciences and referred to this phenomena as “emotional stampedes”.

Emotional states like happy, unhappy and neutral spread through online networks despite location. For instance, an overseas friend who shares their thanks for a delicious home cooked meal can inspire you to experience similar feelings of joy after reading their post and reflect on things in your own life. Through Thankfulfor.com and its growing community, we hope to inspire waves of contagious gratitude moving through people’s personal networks.

For the holiday months of November and December, Thankfulfor.com is hosting a Gratitude Challenge inviting everyone to try Thankfulfor routinely and then report back with stories of how the experience may have impacted their lives. We’ve already received this thoughtful story of the use of Thankfulfor in a preschool by a teacher in Boca Raton, Florida.

We invite you to give it a try and send us your unique experiences of Thankfulfor in your life.