Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Shared Tools for Teachers? There's an App for That!

August 03, 2011

There are few times in life when we are fortunate enough to be part of something amazing. I believe this is one of those times, and I am especially excited because the “something amazing” is being led by states.

As a former state chief, it has been a pleasure to see states take the lead on issues that will make such a difference for students and teachers, first on the Common Core State Standards and now on the Shared Learning Collaborative. 

So what is the Shared Learning Collaborative? 

The Shared Learning Collaborative is a new, state-led project the foundation is helping to fund. Think of it as a huge app store—just for teachers—with the Netflix and Facebook capabilities we love the most. It’s something that enables teachers to communicate with each other, to share applications and tools, and to give their students differentiated instruction—all aligned to the Common Core State Standards. 

 
Education in America can be really complex, but in some ways it’s quite simple. Just listen to teachers and put children first. Then, give them both the tools they need to succeed.

Vicki Phillips

Imagine being a ninth-grade math teacher with a student struggling in Algebra I. Now, imagine that you could get your hands on a tool to understand exactly which concept is giving the student such a hard time. Then imagine you had several options of specialized online tools, at your disposal, that have been proven to help students like him who may struggle with, for example, polynomials. 

What if you could communicate with other Algebra I teachers in other states who have the same challenges, and share the lessons you’ve learned? And what if the student enjoyed polynomials now because the tool was a game-based learning application that’s actually fun? Pretty cool, huh? 

Well, we think so, too.

That’s just one example of the cool things that can happen with the Shared Learning Collaborative, and it’s why the foundation is willing to fund a significant portion of the project. The Council of Chief State School Officers mobilized a consortium of nine states that see the value in having a shared system like this for their teachers. The first five states will begin their pilot next fall. So, right now, we’re watching the magic happen.

As part of our contribution, the foundation took an important first step a few weeks ago and selected a vendor to build the open software that will allow states to access a shared, performance-driven marketplace of free and premium tools and content. That vendor, Wireless Generation, will create the software, but it will be owned by an independent nonprofit, so that any school, school district, curriculum developer, or tool builder can contribute to the collaborative. 

In the end, teachers will get the tools they have asked for—and desperately need. And students from all over will have equal access to a great set of cutting-edge instructional supports.

Education in America can be really complex, but in some ways it’s quite simple. Just listen to teachers and put children first. Then, give them both the tools they need to succeed. We’re excited to see how the rest will fall in place.

 
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