Teach Better, Together
 

Proposal for Boston Innovation Incubator 
 

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  teach better, together 
 
 

By

Cliff Lee, Darryl Yang, Hao Chen, Michael Delman (and You!) 

May 2009 
 

Executive Overview

Education reform often takes a top-down, mandated approach, providing lofty objectives but void of pragmatic tools for teachers to achieve them.

 
For example, education reform has led to the development of state curriculum standards which provide a set of teaching objectives for the teachers. The learning objectives of the standards are largely the same, but their taxonomy differs by state. Educational content from publishers are generally not mapped to any particular state’s standards. Teachers also augment published content and tailor it to their target audiences. As a result, teachers spend tremendous time customizing and/or developing their own lesson content as individuals or in small teams in isolation; and then mapping their lesson content to their respective state curriculum standards. These redundant efforts to find, filter, customize, develop and then map content are happening in every school, in every district and in every state. Since learning objectives are often similar across the country, a great lesson plan from one state should be applicable to other states.
 

Our innovative web application continuously correlates all of the state standards from across the country. For example, a lesson plan by a Massachusetts 4th grade math teacher to meet Massachusett’s standard "4.G.4 Identify angles as acute, right, or obtuse" could be used for New York's standard "4.G.8 Classify angles as acute, obtuse, right, and straight," Washington DC's standard "4.G.3. Know the definitions of a right angle, an acute angle, and an obtuse angle" and Indiana's standard "4.4.1 Identify and describe triangles that are right, acute, obtuse, scalene, isosceles, equilateral, and equiangular."  

By correlating the nation's curricula standards, one teacher's content can be leveraged by other teachers in the same state as well as by other teachers from other states simply by searching their respective state standards. This approach will save time and money, allowing teachers to focus more on individualizing and delivering content. 

Additionally, by providing easy discovery of the higher quality lesson plans, we provide a solution to eliminate the variance in lesson plan quality. Teachers who are unable to spend time finding, filtering and creating content – and thus end up unfairly “teaching from the book” – can now leverage high quality content created by their colleagues from anywhere in the country. 

Finally, this solution also provides parents and students with the ability to reinforce learning outside of the classroom. With lesson content indexed and correlated by local standards, parents, students and teachers are now talking the “same language.” Parents and students can quickly find a treasure trove of quality extension material by their local state standards. 

Our solution empowers teachers, parents and students to help one another in a way that was not possible before, to improve education performance. 
 

Background

Currently, there are many existing websites that provide educators with lesson material, some for free and some for a fee. There are also sites available that allow educators to upload and share their lesson plans. The main problem with these sites is that they are disjointed and lack depth. Further, the content is often stale and it is not mapped to specific curriculum standards. As a result teachers spend their time going from site to site, in search of something that they can describe quite succintly with a curriculum standard. Imagine the internet without eBay, the popular auction site. Instead, imagine looking for a very particular item from among thousands of small auction sites, with each site having a different interface and terms of use. This is the current situation for teachers trying to find lesson content.  
  
As a result, lesson planning prep time is lengthy. It is an understatement to say educators lack the time to do this. However, some educators make the time to it. Some differentiate their content for their students. Some tailor material to their pedagogy. Some incorporate skills development (e.g., critical thinking, problem solving, and teamwork) into the content-based materials. Some create formative assessments. Some continuously refine their lessons to keep them current, engaging and relevant. Those educators are considered exceptional. Others, unfairly pressed for time, find themselves teaching straight from the book.  
   
There have been many attempts at education reform. Much of the problem is that policy makers develop top-down mandates, without real solutions for execution. As such, teachers have been left on their own to figure it out. 

Solution Description

SharedSchool is a web application that will enable K12 educators to non-intrusively share and discover lesson content which authors' have mapped to their state curriculum standards. This unique solution enables content that has been uploaded by a user from one state to be cross automatically referenced to the relevant standards from other states. This will save time and money by eliminating the need for teachers to “reinvent the wheel.” We will minimize the time teachers need to hunt for content, adapt and map content to their state standards. The time savings is magnified when you consider that many teachers are searching, filtering and mapping content within every school, every district, across every state. There are approximately 3 million K-12 teachers in the US. If every teacher saved 3 hours per week doing this, we can save over 300 million hours per school year; or over $11 billion annually, based on the average teacher's salary. 
  
We are not attempting to standardize lesson content; rather we want to index, by state curriculum standards, the existing efforts of teachers, so their work can be leveraged by teachers from within state as well as from other states. We recognize teaching is more art than science. Teachers have different teaching styles and often prefer to emphasize certain lesson aspects as they see fit. Furthermore, teachers are faced with the challenge of adapting content to their students' varied learning styles. As a result, education delivery cannot truly be standardized.

Educators are often the best content producers because they possess real-life, diverse, daily experiences from the classrooms. They see the diversity among their students. They deal with the different learning styles. They are the ones best prepared to develop content and delivery strategies. Using SharedSchool, they can manage their material and choose to collaborate with like-minded colleagues. They can update their content in real-time to reflect classroom feedback and current real-world events. This process of continuous refinement will lead to high quality lesson plans that evolve. Furthermore, ambitious students, parents, homeschool and extended day educators can also contribute and discover content to be used as extension material. These contributors will be recognized as innovators and leaders.

SharedSchool provides users with total control over their content. Folders and documents can be made public, private or team based. Sensitive documents, such as answer keys, may be kept private or shared only with your team. 

Technology Description

Our unique solution leverages the community to help align our nation’s standards. Our algorithms present like-pairs of standards and the users’ votes ultimately determine the likelihood of match. These votes are aggregated and used by our search engine to retrieve content based on direct matches and correlated matches.

Users are able to create content online and/or upload content from their laptops. Users map their content to one or more of their local state standards. The correlation engine does the rest.

In addition to finding other users’ content via the correlated search feature, the search results are also sorted by peer-acknowledged value. Users can “thank” other users for good content. A mathematical formula using the number “thank you” acknowledgements is used to rank the search results.

In social science, there is a phenomenon known as the network effect. The more “nodes” that are added to a network, the more valuable that network becomes. Our correlation engine amplifies every node exponentially with our correlation data. For example, when a teacher adds one lesson plan to the network, we make it relevent to the other states, thus amplifying this single node ~50 times. If the lesson plan was mapped to 2 standards, then the amplification is ~100 times.

Mission, Features, Benefits

SharedSchool Mission:

  1. To organize educators' user-generated content
  2. To enable easy content management and fast leverage of high value content
  3. To improve K-12 education performance on a national scale
 

 

SharedSchool Features:

  1. Users can upload and manage their lesson content online
  2. Users can mark content as private, public or team-only
  3. Users can find other users' public content by their local curriculum standards
 

  
SharedSchool Goals/Benefits:

  1. Close the Delivery Gap – There are effective teachers and ineffective teachers. Leveraging good lesson content and best practices will help close the delivery gap.
  2. Save Time and Money – Discover others’ content and avoid “re-inventing the wheel.” Reduce spending on third party published materials.
  3. Enable Parent Accountability – Provide a pathway for parents/students to easily find material to reinforcing learning outside of the classroom.

Conclusion

This is an innovative and simple solution with broad and powerful impact on our nation’s education performance. The solution addresses several broad issues including lack of time, cost of educational content, and absence of pragmatic tools for teachers.

The solution does not require major funding or legistlative changes. It is free of charge. The application’s content and intelligence is a product of the community. We take seemingly minor user contributions and apply these individual contributions in ways that magnify their individual value. This type of approach is often referred to as “crowdsourcing” and its network effect can be self sustaining (e.g., Google pagerank, blogosphere, Wikipedia).

The solution is expected to improve our nation’s education performance by leveraging the best lesson materials from across the country and reducing the quality variance between good lesson plans and bad lesson plans.This variance can be reduced when teachers collaborate with other like-minded teachers or when teachers upgrade their lesson materials by leveraging the best practices from others.

It represents our teachers as thought leaders rather than monolithic delivery agents. It provides teachers with a peer network, opportunities for informal learning and professional development. It provides parents and students with a pathway to get involved and share in the overall accountability.

All of these benefits are applicable to Boston teachers and students. We want to work with Boston teachers to build something of high and immediate value and set the bar for the rest of the nation. 

We are thankful for this opportunity and your consideration. To learn more, please visit www.sharedschool.com or contact cliff@sharedschool.com.