Crowdsourcing Curriculum: Eric Appleton


  • Eric, I had participated in parts of your crowd sourcing and I enjoyed watching it become a whole lesson. I wonder if some teachers are thinking that this is more time consuming to crowd source, when I think that this call-to-action can actually save us time. When I was teaching on my adult education island, before I met so many other teachers in other programs through local professional development and other states through ANN, it took me several semesters to refine a lesson and make it any good. I feel sorry for the experience many of my first students had in my class!
    This summer I’ve been working with another teacher, Sarah, to develop take-home practice sheets to support lessons we were already teaching. Sarah developed some of the practice sheets and I’ve tried them myself and had my family try them (no classes for summer) and given her feedback. I developed some of the assignments and she’s given me feedback. Another perspective is so valuable. We consider each other’s sheets with a fresh perspective we can’t get on our own work. Even tweaking directions (similar to Mark’s suggestion about leaving out the time stamp) can change what a student will get out of an assignment. We can make careful decisions about scaffolding and carefully consider the narrow math goal of this particular practice and ways to take it deeper.
    Years ago I began doing some sort of collaborative project every year and it started to become a purposeful part of my work. At this point, I can’t imagine doing things any other way. Yet still, you had a way of going about this that I hadn’t thought about before. I felt like I could participate easily – with less time invested than the kinds of emails I have often sent a few targeted people asking for feedback. Will you please share here more of the logistics of how you made this work?

  • Hi Connie,

    Yes, I agree on many points. First of all, as I said in my talk, I was really lucky to be hired into a collaborative environment with experienced teachers when I was first starting out as a volunteer in adult literacy. Meeting formally and informally to develop curriculum was considered a valued part of our job. We had full-time work and other than supporting students outside the classroom, entering attendance data (and actually a ton of other work), we were supposed to be working together to build materials for the classroom. Even so, I wasn’t always very efficient and didn’t usually make the best use of other people’s time.

    Currently, I think there are a few ways to get feedback from other teachers that can be useful and not too taxing.

    – The first thing I like to do is put teachers in the position of students. I think it’s fun to work on problems and guess that other teachers do as well. We don’t often have the opportunity to be students. So, my first request is just be a student for this activity (like you did with your family). Follow my directions. Let me see if things make sense by seeing how you respond. If I get something back that isn’t what I want, then I know that something’s not quite right.

    – The second thing I’ve done, which wasn’t necessarily planned out in advance, was ask only a couple questions: What do you notice? What do you wonder? Comments? So the first two are questions to answer as students and the last one allows people to respond as teachers, and they can let me know what worked, what didn’t, make suggestions, think of extensions, etc. I don’t really need to ask all those questions, though. Comments? seems to be enough.

    – And I’ve used Google Docs. I create a doc with the problem or task at the top, insert a couple tables below with room for answers to my three questions. Then I go to sharing and get a link with edit privileges that I can send to the world. I sometimes will take that crazy URL that Google spits out over to to get a shorter URL to send to colleagues. My email to colleagues will usually be pretty simple: “Hi all, I’m trying out ideas for a new lesson. Could you take a couple minutes and try it out? [link]” I’ll often tweet it out as well. I haven’t had a problem with edit privileges and the anonymity is interesting. I get feedback from people and have no idea who said what.

    Google example doc 1:

    – Sometimes, I’ll put a second version of the problem in the same Google doc and send it out again. There tend to be diminishing returns since most people don’t have the energy to keep returning to a task, but I’ve been surprised by how much time people will put into it. Part of the contract here, I think, is sharing the results so that other teachers can use the materials that are developed. That’s where things get exciting. The Bacteria Problem and the Paycheck Problem are examples of tasks that started with sharing and feedback and now have been taught by a number of teachers, with different innovations.

    Scatterplot example: (Hasn’t become a lesson yet.)
    The Bacteria Problem:
    The Paycheck Problem:

    Is the Google Doc thing something that people feel comfortable with, or should I go through a step-by-step on how I do that?


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