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Education : Innovation + Job News

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Innovative writing program focuses on K-5th grade

WriteSteps is a common core writing program focused on K-5 students. It was founded in 2007 by Suzanne Klein, a former elementary school teacher who discovered she had a gift for teaching young children how to write -- and a gift for entrepreneurship.

The educational company provides a proven curriculum and training for teachers through its website http://writestepswriting.com/. Services that are available included daily lesson plans, online classroom demonstration videos, and coaching for teachers who want to become better at teaching writing.

Klein says the "game-changer" for WriteSteps came in 2010 when Common Core State Standards where introduced and provided students, teachers and parents with new benchmarks for what students were expected to learn. She says her business helps teachers solve some of the biggest pain points in teaching writing at the elementary level: time, materials and training. "When we ask elementary teachers what are the issues they face, they always say  'time'." Klein says the two other issues are quality materials (curriculum and lesson plans) and adequate training. "There are not any writing courses being taught."

Although the company was founded in Ann Arbor, it recently moved its headquarters to Grandville, MI and employs 20 team members, many of whom are teachers or former teachers. 

Klein says her business is in growth mode. She is working to create programming for students to directly access that would complement the teacher material. She does add that there are no plans, at least for now, to expand the writing instruction beyond K-5th grade, preferring to focus on what they do best, saying, "We are elementary school teachers."

To learn more about WriteSteps, you can visit their site here or follow them on Facebook here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

New creative firm transforms ideas into images

Andrew Montpetit's new venture is aptly named Thoughts You Can See, as Montpetit specializes in helping clients visualize their ideas and notes through images, videos and infographics.

The concept of visual note-taking has been gaining popularity. There are a multitude of books, websites and even conferences that are devoted to promoting this form of communication.

Although there was no "aha" moment for Montpetit, he says the inspiration for him to start his business came from his exposure to entrepreneurship and ongoing encouragement by members while working at The Factory as an office manager.

"I started Thoughts You Can See because I saw people doing and creating amazing things, but having a very hard time explaining what exactly it is that they were doing and creating. I wanted to help these people and others tell their story in ways that were memorable and interesting. I don't necessarily make the next amazing thing, but want to help the people who do share it with the world," says Montpetit.

After starting his LLC, Montpetit soon had his first client and project, creating an "explainer video" for GR Current

Besides videos, Montpetit says another service he provides is a novel approach to providing notes from a meeting. "I sit in a meeting, listen to brainstorming sessions and collect the main ideas with images. I then create a take-away for the organizers to use as a follow-up."  

The benefits? Montpetit says it can be powerful. "'Visuals are very powerful instruments if used correctly. They are fairly universal for the most part, they can say far more than words can and, when done right, they can create a powerful experience that really reaches people."

To learn more about Thoughts You Can See, you can visit his site here or his Facebook page here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Wege Prize designed to find collaborative solutions to complex problems

Kendall College of Art and Design (KCAD) and the Wege Foundation have announced the creation of the Wege Prize, a new collegiate competition for teams of five students from five different areas of study who will work across disciplines to solve "wicked" problems.

"Wicked" problems are challenges that the organizations deems as being highly complex -  problems that need to be approached from multiple perspectives in order for solutions not to have unintended, negative consequences.

Wege Foundation CEO Ellen Satterlee says the partnership between the two organizations is based on mutually shared values surrounding education. "We had been involved with the renovation of the Federal Building, providing one of the lead gifts. In working with David Rosen from Kendall, they knew of our mission for environmental education and they wanted to build a program around the principles that would engage the students and capture the essence of 'Economicology' (education, environment, empathy, ecology, economy, and ethics). They came up with the competition and we really liked it."

Once the "wicked" problem is defined, the cross-disciplinary student teams will approach the solution through the design thinking process. The best solution will earn each member of the winning team a $3000 scholarship, and each member of the second and third place teams $2000 and $1000 scholarships, respectively. According to Kendall administration, this program is designed to be scalable and, within three years, it could be become an international competition.

Details are in the process of being finalized. To learn more about the program you can visit www.wegeprize.org for more information.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Kickstarter and Start Garden alumnus shifting into high gear

After two successful Kickstarter campaigns and funding through Start Garden, Marie-Claire Camp has been able to move from the design phase to the growth phase for her concept of Children's Wallet Cards (profiled in Rapid Growth in September, 2012).  

Camp says she has raised a total of $41,790 through two campaigns on Kickstarter and $10,000 through two different Start Garden grants, which has allowed her to move from one educational deck of cards to five decks and also develop a complimentary interactive iPhone app.

At the same time, she has moved from selling her products only online to having a presence in multiple brick and mortar retailers. "I'm in several retail locations in West Michigan: 6.25 Paper, Beyond Paper, Pooh's Corner, HopScotch, Minds in Motion in Grand Rapids Children's Museum, and Sand Castle for Kids," says Camp.

Besides developing new products, Camp has been building the online community to support her customers. "My mom, Lisa Ann Camp, was a Montessori teacher for over 25 years, with a Masters in Education from Harvard. She has been consulting on the resource area on the site for parents, teachers and small children. The area includes activities for small children to encourage early learning at home."

Next up for Camp: more growth. "After fulfilling all of the Kickstarter rewards and pre-orders, my goal is to expand into 30 more retail stores in the U.S. and 20 international shops. I'm also working on organizing my next Kickstarter campaign; it's on schedule to launch in summer 2014 as well. I can't disclose what I'm working on quite yet, but it's about twice the size [of] my last campaign".

To learn more about Children's Wallet Cards you can visit Camp's website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Holiday gift program gets a makeover and investment through Start Garden

There is a personal backstory to the Elf Factory's tag line: "a handmade holiday school program specializing in gifts that parents don't have to pretend to like!"  

Kirsten Field, founder of the Elf Factory, explains the inspiration behind her new venture. "I volunteered at my kids' schools and I was disgusted at the products for the holiday workshop. I knew there had to be something better."

Describing herself as a "stay-at-home-mom getting back into the workforce," Field submitted her idea to Start Garden and received $5,000 in funding after she ran one pilot program with an elementary school. Field says she will use the Start Garden funding for  customer development experiments with five new schools and ultimately try to determine if the idea is scalable. "Our goal is to get a 75 percent participation rate at the schools."

Operationally, Field says that once a school decides to go ahead with the Elf Factory program, she partners with a parent organization and then provides all the craft materials  order forms, timelines, online training videos, and other tools they would need to run an Elf Factory at their school. The concept is designed to for simplicity (approximately four minutes to make a present), affordability, and a much higher quality product than existing holiday programs.

Currently, Field is the only full-time employee but she has four part-time staff that help with assembling the craft boxes.

To learn more, you can follow on Facebook for Elf Factory updates or check out their website at www.elffactory.com.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Grand Rapids web developer launches WordPress tutorial classes

Brian Richards, co-founder of the popular WordPress Grand Rapids Meetup group, was having difficulty finding someone to help him with a very technical WordPress issue. As he researched the problem, he started thinking about others who have had the same the issue, especially the more technical aspects of working with the software.  

"I then started thinking, 'what if I could hire some real smart guys to teach about WordPress and then make the sessions available be watched freely from your own home?'"

His solution is WPSessions, an online platform that provides both live and recorded sessions made by WordPress experts, which are then made available for purchase. Each session will typically cost $25, but Richards also plans to make the courses available for free after a three to four month period.
Richard says he has hired 27 speakers to give sessions over the next nine months. Featured topics include business development, theme design, security, and optimization. The first live session was June 22 and featured Topher Derosia, Daniel Espinoza, and Pippin Williamson discussing building WordPress plugins.

Richard acknowledges his project is in the very early stages of development and he is still fine-tuning the business model, but knows that with the popularity of WordPress and the feedback he gets from WordPress Grand Rapids members, "it could grow into something bigger, especially if it catches on with the greater WordPress community."

You can learn a bit more about the concept in Richard's first blog post here. and a bit more about the first session here.  You can also follow WPSessions on twitter @WP_Sessions.

Source: Brian Richards, WPSessions
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

We're getting the band back together

Triumph Music Academy, a Grand Rapids-based music school, has grown from four teachers to eight and from 80 students to over 200. The school has also doubled its space in just two years. James Hughes, owner, says this is just the beginning.

Originally, Triumph only offered guitar lessons. "It was me and three guitar instructors," he says.

However, to paraphrase an oft-cited quote, "no plan survives the first contact with customers," Hughes and his team quickly learned that the need for quality music education went far beyond guitar lessons. "We got a lot of interest in our services, but our clients wanted more," he says. "We've added drums, voice, piano, ukulele, bass guitar, song writing, and composition."

Besides adding more variety, Hughes says they have learned something else. "People get excited about playing with other people. No one locally is helping people form bands."

With that insight, Triumph has also become a business incubator for several bands with a focus on not only helping them become better musicians, but also better business people. "We can help bridge the gap from taking lessons to playing real gigs," he says.

Hughes says one of the bands recently had their first show and learned how to do everything working musicians need to do.

"They first came up with own name (There Goes the Neighborhood), and then they were selling tickets, collecting money, putting on wrist bands -- everything. This is how music works."

Hughes says he has several bands working through the academy in multiple genres including punk, modern folk, rock, '80s hair metal, and covers.  

"Our school is for people interested in learning music as a hobby or going all out and making music as a career," he says. "Everyone who teaches here is a full-time musician -- the real deal. We can tell them, 'this how you can make it happen.' This is how to fill out self-employment tax (forms). You do not learn that in music school."

To learn more about Triumph Music Academy, you can visit their site here or their Facebook page here.

Source:  James Hughes, Triumph Music Academy
Writer; John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

New business aims to decrease costs of high school graduation ceremonies

Seth Yon was convinced there had to be a better way for high school students to buy their caps and gowns for their graduation ceremony.

So, he launched Michigan Grads, a service that provides everything needed for students and their families to celebrate high school graduation.

Yon says it is not uncommon within the graduation industry for prices to vary widely between schools and come with unreasonable price pressure to order early.

"When graduates would have to purchase a cap and gown, we found the price would vary depending on when and where it was ordered. That shouldn't matter. Everyone should expect to pay the exact same price, no matter what school district they are in," he says. "The industry would also pressure for orders in fall and early winter. Families (were) not ready to purchase at that time, but were penalized for waiting to order closer to graduation."

With Michigan Grads, Yon says he has created a program where there is one set price, regardless of where and when it is ordered, and he also has eliminated shipping and storage costs for high schools by handling those services through his business. The end result, according to Yon, is lower costs for both students and schools.

The firm was launched in August of 2012 and currently employs 12 people. It  services the high school industry within the state of Michigan, but has plans to expand to other states in the near future. Besides caps and gowns, Michigan Grads also provides other products, such as custom invitations and branded merchandise for participating schools.

Michigan Grads is located at 678 Front Ave. NW, Grand Rapids. To learn more about the business, you can visit their site here.

Source: Seth Yon, Michigan Grads
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Workforce demands for high tech skills highlighted at statewide competition

In order to bring awareness to the increased demands for more technical skills across the workplace, the SkillsUSA championship competitions are taking place at Grand Rapids Community College and DeVos Place on April 20, 2013.

Over 1,100 career and technical education students from across the state will be competing in the event. Students will work against the clock and each other, proving their expertise in occupations such as welding, computer-aided drafting, precision machining, automotive service, culinary arts, cosmetology, and criminal justice. All contests are run with the help of industry experts, trade associations, and labor organizations. Test competencies are set by professional industry standards.

"Everyone has to get a job," says SkillsUSA State Director Tammy Brown. "Back in the day, vocational education programs were for the students where you couldn't figure where to put them. Today's employers need highly skilled, smart workers... The students need to know so much more – math science language skills, communication skills, and how to present themselves in business situations. Michigan has an aging workforce, and we need jobs and skills that can't be outsourced."

The complete schedule of the events can be viewed here. The winners will go on to compete in the National Championships this June in Kansas City, MO.

Source: Tammy Brown, SkillsUSA
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Literacy Center of West Michigan adds new position

Thanks to a grant from the Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation, the Literacy Center of West Michigan will be adding a new position that will be responsible for strengthening existing ESL (English as a Second Language) programs and developing new, clergy-focused ESL programs.

According to Shay Kraley, coordinator of the Family Literacy Program, the Iglesias de Esperanza Coordinator position will have two main purposes.  "First, the individual will be overseeing and providing support to existing ESL programs. The second part will be actual instruction to Hispanic clergy."

Kraley explains that this new position will eventually help the clergy in the Hispanic churches to extend their influence and connect to the greater community.

Among the requirements are experience in teaching ESL for adults and being bi-lingual in Spanish. Equally important will be relationship building skills.

To learn more about the open position, you can visit the site here.

Source: Shay Kraley, Literacy Center of West Michigan
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Job News Editor

West Michigan Aviation Academy takes off with huge expansion

What do astronauts and high school students have in common? A great deal in West Michigan after today. Dignitaries, staff, supporters and students of the West Michigan Aviation Academy braved cold, rainy February weather to attend the groundbreaking ceremonies for a massive expansion to this aviation-themed charter school near Gerald R Ford International Airport. The event also featured a guest appearance by former astronaut Mark Kelly, who talked to the students about what it takes to be leaders in the aviation world.

The newest phase of the Aviation Academy, and its largest yet, will create a new two-story, 47,000-square-foot addition and a new entrance. The addition on the West end of the building will give the academy the ability to add Junior and Senior classes and house a new gymnasium, fitness area, high-tech classrooms, science labs, administrative offices, food service and a commons area. At least five new hires are planned when the expansion opens, as well as the capacity for approximately 450 new students.

The groundbreaking ceremony featured remarks from the founder of the academy, Dick Devos; CEO Pat Cwayna; Joe Tomaselli, Chairman of the Gerald R Ford International Airport Board; Lennox Ramsey, student and President of the Student Council and former Congressman Vern Ehlers.

With a focus on aviation and aerospace, the school opened in the Fall of 2010 with the goal of 60 freshman students and quickly grew to 145 students. The expansion will allow the school to accommodate up to 600 students in four high school grades.

Source: Jenny Waugh, Rockford Construction
Writer: Jeff Hill

The pedagogy of experimentation

It's a foregone conclusion for many that geeks will inherit the earth. What is less understood, however, is the process of this inheritance.

Recently profiled in Rapid Growth Media, The Geek Group's Chris Boden offers a glimpse into the process and it begins with two robots, Jeff and Heather.

Like three of the protagonists in the Wizard of Oz, the robots are lacking one thing. In Jeff and Heather's case, it is a permanent mount. "Mounting the robots requires a small concrete project," says Boden, hopeful that  a local contractor will donate their services.

"We need a 12" x 12" x 12" reinforced concrete pad to mount the robots," Boden says. Once mounted and operational, Boden says this will be a unique learning opportunity for those interested in robotics and advanced manufacturing. "The robots cost more than a house. We're the only place in the world where someone can play with one and not get killed."

In exchange for the contractors' time, Boden says the entire process will be documented as they will shoot an instructional video on how to mount robots, which will then be part of The Geek Group's growing video network.

Once the robots are in place, other projects waiting to be finished off (and an old building on Grand Rapids' West side) will be one step closer to becoming a Mecca for innovators, explorers and entrepreneurs who prefer to learn through doing and experimentation.

To learn more about The Geek Group or to contact Boden with leads on local contractors, you can visit their website here.

Source: Chris Boden, The Geek Group
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

East Hills is alive with the sound of music

Life is good at Triumph Music Academy, which opened in April of 2011 and has had enough business to expand their facility and branch out into additional lessons for drums and voice.

Explaining the interest in their services, James Forrester Hughes, one of the owners, starts with their business model.

"It was always constructed to help musicians to succeed, regardless of age and skill level. There are no auditions (with the exception of the college-based programs). It is not every day you find folks working together around their passion."

Timing and location are two other factors Forrester points out.

"Grand Rapids is turning out to be a big art town," he says. "Art and music are synonymous."

The Academy is located on the corner of Wealthy and Diamond in a building and neighborhood that Forrester describes as "forward thinking," which he feels also is critical to their success.

As for future plans, Forrester wryly observes that as a musician, "you get used to things not going according to the plan," but the Academy is looking into offering training in recording technology -- a skill set he believes every working musician needs. 

To celebrate the expansion and the addition of new instructors Sarah Idema, voice and piano, Zachary James Kolkman, piano and composition, and Brian Kops, drums, the academy will be hosting an open house on Friday, Sept. 23.

To learn more about Triumph Music Academy, you can visit their site here.

Source: James Hughes Forrester, Triumph Music Academy
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor

Keller Futures Center working to produce innovative curriculum

The Keller Futures Center followed up its spring research into career pathways with its third program exploring how West Michigan might best encourage alternative forms of transportation within the region using a process known as human-centered design.  

The transportation program was sponsored by Amway's Innovation Team and was co-facilitated by the Luma Institute.

According to Liz McCormick, director of innovation at GRCC, the Futures Center is designed "to provide fuel for the region's innovation engine through diverse perspectives. The insights then can be used by the people doing the work. If an entrepreneurial member in the community sees an opportunity, go for it."

"I'm a huge fan of human-centered design," states Luisa Schumacher, executive director of WMCAT, after participating in the career pathways program. "It was my first exposure to solving community issues using this process and I found it a great way to educate. The ideas that came out of the program are truly relevant." Schumacher adds that their organization will be implementing several of the ideas at WMCAT for career services.

With another program in the works surrounding the health care sector scheduled for later this year, a longer-term goal of the Futures Center will be the introduction of a formal curriculum, focused on human-centered design and experiential learning that will begin in January 2012.  

For a recap of the transportation event and to learn more about human-centered design, you can visit a series of articles published by a local journalist who blogged during the event here.

Results of the transportation exploration will also be available on the Keller Futures Center site.  

(Full Disclosure: the author of this article has been an active participant in two of the Futures Center's projects and is an adjunct instructor at GRCC)

Sources: Liz McCormick, GRCC and Luisa Schumacher, WMCAT
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor.

Passion a key ingredient in Kissing Rock Kitchens recipe for success

Advance preparation is the key to many a great recipe. For Chef Tina Marie, when considering starting her own business centered around her passion for cooking, it  meant "very purposeful research" into what would be a viable business model.

After years of market research, world travel and studying food traditions, Marie launched Kissing Rock Kitchens in January of 2011.  

"I love food, love people, and love travel," she says. "I've always been cooking for people. Friends encouraged me and I began taking cooking classes (and) baking and selling breads, which led to Kissing Rock Kitchens."

Marie describes her core business, based between Lowell and Ada on Kissing Rock Rd., as "primarily cooking classes for non-chefs and foodies." She also features personal chef services for corporate and special events, dinner parties and catering.

With a cooking philosophy that's "very much into farm-to-plate, eating fresh and healthy," Marie indicates her business is going well but needs to focus more on marketing.

"I am continuing to do market research and (I am) honing my skills," she says, referencing a recent trip to France where she studied more cooking techniques.  

Marie is very active with social media, including Facebook and Twitter accounts where she posts recipes, tips and pictures of her work. To learn more about Kissing Rock Kitchens, you can visit the site here.

Source: Tina Marie, Kissing Rock Kitchens
Writer: John Rumery, Jobs and Innovation Editor
67 Education Articles | Page: | Show All
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