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?



      I’m thinking maybe some folks might benefit from a little intro to using Google docs for collaboration. It was in following your lead that I was able to recently take a favorite activity I use and make it better via Google docs and collaborating with some great math minds:)

      The activity I’m referring to is the Painted Cube. I first solved the problem myself, with my student hat on, during a NYSEDTL (New York State Education Department Teacher Leader) Mathematics Institute and was excited about the potential directions the problem could go in. I went on to use the problem for numeracy adventures at workshops that I facilitated at the local, regional, and national levels. And, of course, used it in my classroom over and over again. But in using it often, I saw that some students needed additional support while other students needed to dig deeper into the problem. So, I decided that I wanted to created Push and Support cards, similar to what is in The Paycheck Problem that you refer to.

      I created a Google Doc with some Push and Support questions and sent it out to our NYSEDTL group and got some really great feedback that helped me to see the problem and the way I was thinking about it in a new light. I made most of the suggested changes and tried it out in my class and it was a big success! It’s still a great problem but made better, in the way it’s providing support for students. I’m really excited about the changes and plan to post the new version at

      Meantime, if anyone would like to see the new version or leave some additional feedback, you can access the problem at:

      I am still working on getting a color image into the doc and having a bit of a problem with that…


    Hi Eric,

    I enjoyed listening again to your ANN under 10 talk. Unlike most teachers, I felt isolated when I taught K-12 as there was little collaboration but when I stated in adult education, there were several math teachers in my department and we did work collaboratively. For me that was the turning point in my education of transforming how I taught. However that is not the case for many adult education teachers who are the ONLY math person in their program. I love your idea of reaching out but I would suggest keeping the group small as to not overwhelm. When you tried this with some of us with the graph that kept changing, I enjoyed participating but found there were too many comments to go through each time. I do, however, LOVE the I wonder and I notice aspect for the inquiry. I have started using this approach with participants in workshops I give and am delighted by the responses I get. Some “I wonder” help me see some misunderstandings participants might have while other responses get me and the participants thinking deeper. It is so easy to incorporate but yields such fantastic results. I have a bacteria worksheet that I used but yours is so much richer and ties both the science and the math together. Thank you for sharing.


    Thanks so much for watching and sharing your thoughts. It’s interesting that your experience didn’t correspond to my assumptions, though we both know many teachers who are isolated.

    I think you’re absolutely right about keeping the group small. That hadn’t occurred to me, but I think you’re right about what happened with the Scatterplot graph activity. Lots of people participated, but I didn’t really think about the experience of each individual. I was probably a little selfish in seeing what was useful for me, all that feedback! However, I would guess that small groups of teachers collaborating tends to be more productive, even online.

    I’m happy to hear that you’re using notice and wonder. I’d love to hear about when you use it and what kinds of activities you find it most useful for. (By the way, can I see your bacteria worksheet? Could it work alongside what we already have?)


    Hello Eric,
    I enjoyed your ANN under 10 talk and was inspired! I might use this idea for introducing graphing and the quadratic equation. I am new to adult education and a former Environmental Scientist. I like giving math lessons that are contextualized and often use my own experience in the field , which always excites the students. Thank you again 🙂

    Hi Rankin Rankin!

    It’s so cool that you’re teaching in adult education with your background as a scientist. Your students are lucky to have you. Thank you for the feedback on the talk. I’d love to hear more about what you’re planning with graphing and quadratics. Please include me if you send around materials for feedback.


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