How the Crowd is Helping with Problems in the Classroom

Published Jan-21-12

Open innovation contest searches for the best ideas to tackle problem issues in class.

National Education Association Foundation & US Department of Education, United States

The Story:

How the Crowd is Helping with Problems in the Classroom Teacher needed a little help in the classroom to solve some of education’s most pressing challenges and so the U.S. Department of Education and the NEA (National Education Association) Foundation launched an open innovation contest to generate creative and innovative solutions.

Challenge to Innovate (C2i) was an opportunity for educators in the US to collaborate with colleagues in their schools, local areas and across the country, and to get their ideas seen on a bigger stage.

“Educators are innovating every day. The solutions to many of today’s classroom-based problems have been solved by teachers in classrooms throughout the country,” said James Shelton the Ass.Dep. Secretary of Innovation and Improvement at the US Department of Education.

The contest also recognised that school education itself needs to change, away from the old broadcast teacher model to a climate where the student is more engaged in the learning process.

Strong Interest

During the first phase participants were asked to identify and then share their most urgent classroom challenges. More than 160 submissions were received and they were reviewed, voted and commented on by the Department of Education’s open innovation portal community.

The four top issues identified were:

• How educators can better incorporate student voices into decision making
• How educators can help students with basic literacy skills to achieve reading
• How educators can help students use fractions, ratios and proportions
• How teachers and schools can best facilitate positive parental involvement
in a child’s education

The next phase of the open innovation contest built on the first by brainstorming possible solutions. The criteria for these were that they had to be implementable over a three to four month period and cost less than $500.

Four winning solutions were selected and they each picked up $2500 in prize money. They were:

• Erin Bassham of Syringa Middle School in Caldwell, Idaho - a solution
focused on building 3-D scale models of houses to teach math concepts

• Scott D. Farver of Indian Hills Elementary School of Gallup, N.M. -
development of new-teacher orientation materials created through student
focus groups

• Ouita Bingham of Manor Middle School in Manor, Texas - a librarian-led book
club/technologyroundup program

• Jae Goodwin of the Charlotte A. Dunning School of Framingham, Mass. -
creating a “dialogue journals” to prompt discussion of reading between
students and parents

Teaching: A Creative Profession

Teaching is often an underrated and undervalued profession, with many outside it not understanding what exactly is involved. Many are surprised to hear that it is one of the most creative professions around as teachers have to continually come up with new ways to inspire, encourage, motivate and educate their charges.

The C2i competition aimed to be 1) a conduit for conversation, 2) a way of empowering innovative educators, and 3) a means of developing new ways for teachers to teach and students to learn.

The winning solutions were posted on the website of Donors Choose, an organization that encourages the public to make donations for worthy school projects. Requests are made by school teachers, and members of the public browse project requests and donate funds to the projects that inspire them.

Once a project reaches its funding goal, Donors Choose delivers the materials to the requesting school.

“Smart innovation will help dramatically accelerate achievement and attainment,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “Without it, we will surely fall short of our goals to prepare all of America’s students for success in the global economy.”

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