On a Mission- FETC 2023 Roundup

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FETC 2023 broke some new ground this year! After 40 years in Florida FETC hosted a packed exhibit hall and breakout rooms filled with professional development opportunities in New Orleans. It’s a busy season for education conferences, with TCEA and TASA just weeks away, and FETC kicked it off with leading educators, technologists, and solution providers sharing their perspectives on how to serve the ever evolving world of education.

When I tour exhibit halls I’m often struck by the aggressive nature of many vendors… I understand that. The reps on the floor are often evaluated on how many “leads” they can capture from an event, and that drives behavior. At FETC this year, though, I was able to connect with a number of companies and non-profits who were clearly motivated by something greater than ‘collecting leads.”  These mission-driven organizations are interested in supporting educators, students, and parents with solutions that address some fundamental needs in the system. What was refreshing was that each of these organizations opened their conversations with their Mission, and only then got into details about their services or solutions that directly manifest those missions in meaningful ways.

Eradicating Illiteracy- Reading Horizons

I was able to spend some time speaking with Matthew Laamanen, a former AP English teacher, who recently joined Reading Horizons to support their mission to “Eradicate Illiteracy.”  Reading Horizons provides reading and writing instruction programs that are primarily used in K-12 education, though they can also be used in adult education and ELL programs.  Reading Horizons is based on the groundbreaking work of Charlotte Lockhart, who started Reading Horizons in 1984 as a small business in her home, and since then, it has grown into a leading provider of reading instruction programs for schools, teachers, and parents.

While there are a number of literacy programs on the market, Reading Horizons’ focuses on the Orton-Gillingham approach, which, while originally designed to support dyslexic students, has been extremely effective for all learners. The program is designed to improve reading fluency, comprehension, and spelling through a multi-sensory, explicit phonics approach. Reading Horizons is supporting over 20,000 classrooms, including those in Miami-Dade.

Along with their commercial solutions, such as Reading Horizons Discovery, and Reading Horizons Elevate, they offer a free resource library, The Science of Reading Collective.

Eradicating Suicide- The Cook Center for Human Connection

The Cook Center for Human Connection is a non-profit organization that focuses on mental health and suicide prevention, specifically for youth. Led by another experienced K12 educator-turned-executive, Anne Brown, they provide a variety of methods for achieving this goal, including direct giving, where they fund different programs that go into schools, and direct support through their program called ParentGuidance.org, which helps parents navigate difficult mental health issues their children may be facing, such as depression, anxiety, and cutting. The organization has been providing these services for three years and has been able to reach over 2 million families in about 1500 schools and 300 districts around the country. Primary funding comes from the Cook family, who have designated suicide prevention as one of the pillars of giving for their family foundation. While supporting the organization over the last three years, they started with a $10 million gift to a children’s hospital. The mission of The Cook Center is to provide scalable and technological solutions that are free to families and schools and to empower parents and caregivers to support their children in navigating difficult mental health issues.

Audio Matters- AVID Products

It’s not often that I come across a product company that does a deep-dive on how their offerings impact learning, but that’s just what AVID Products is doing by exploring how audio affects both learning and growth. Building on 70 years of experience developing audio solutions for aerospace and healthcare, AVID has gone in hard on addressing the needs of K12, higher-ed, and lifelong learning. While hinting at some pending technology designed to specifically create more effective learning environments, AVID currently has some of the highest-value head-sets and headphones on the market.

And they’re doing their research on how to better serve education. In a recent white paper, they cite 5 reasons personal audio is an essential component of digital learning plans including- attention and focus, lost academic meaning, testing disparities, diagnostic truth, and function inequality. 

Addressing the STEM Participation Gap- Kinderlab Robotics

Robotics was well represented on the exhibit floor at FETC 2023. Many of the solutions focused on the “battle bot” model, and middle-school and older students. It was all very cool stuff, and focused on fun competitions, robotics clubs, and collaborative problem solving, but I only heard about closing the STEM participation gap from one solution provider.

Kinderlab is focusing on much younger learners, and trying to blend creativity with an accessible (and durable) robotics kit designed to engage early-learners before any socialized behaviors begin to dissuade young girls from being interested in technical subjects. Their main product is KIBO, a screen-free robot that children use with wooden blocks to create a sequence of actions for the robot to take. The robot is designed to support coding education, computer science, engineering, and small group collaboration. Kinderlab believes that young children learn better with concrete manipulatives rather than screens. The curriculum is designed to teach children to take responsibility for technology equipment, recognize their peers, and help others. The company also offers add-ons that give the robot additional capabilities and ways to interact with its surroundings. Kinderlab also offers a range of professional development options, including remote professional development, and 2 hours of live professional development with every classroom package they sell.

Wrapping up the Roundup

I’m encouraged by the trend we’re seeing towards more mission-driven solutions. It’s clear that, especially post-covid, educators need organizations that are committed to partnering with their schools and districts to find the resources and innovations educators struggle to develop while focused on the students in front of them. What about you? Where do you see the need for a strong partner in your practice? 




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  1. Thanks for your thoughts. I , too, felt a change on the exhibit hall floor. I am wondering if it was due to smaller numbers or something else?