Can Digital Tools Help Educators Share Their Good Ideas?

Why the Sprout Fund is encouraging educators to share their best recipes for learning.

We know great things are happening in classrooms and out-of-school learning spaces here in Pittsburgh. Members of the Kids+ Creativity Network run classes where kids build their own robots, workshops where teens invent (and code) their own apps, pop-up programs where elementary school students record family histories, solve math puzzles, paint murals, or play around with video cameras for the first time. We’ve seen innovative experiments where caring adults connect one on one with the hardest to reach students.

We also know that for every successful program there is often a sharp leader or a great teacher who had the initial vision and keeps that vision alive—think Steve Jobs of Apple or Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children’s Zone. Visionaries, whether in tech or education, are the necessary spark that lights the fire. But far too often, when the spark fades, the fire burns out. Apple Maps anyone?

So how do you bottle those visions and talent and spread them around so more can benefit from it? How do we ensure that great learning innovations live beyond the charismatic leader?  How do we make sure educators are learning from and building on one another’s ideas?

As we wrote in a prior story, going to scale with an idea or program is a difficult but necessary step in education if we’re to have a real impact on all children and youth. In Pittsburgh, the Kids+Creativity Network is looking at scale in a different way. Rather than trying to replicate a successful program or two, they’re looking at scale as an accumulated mass of programs linked together, creating an ecosystem of learning opportunities for kids. It’s not about “scale” as much as “spread.”

But the question remains—how do ideas spread among networks or people? And what happens after people contribute ideas—what motivates them to blend their ideas with others’ and share the new iteration?  How did the flipped classroom spread so fast, for example? Was it just good marketing or was there another other element to it that made it take hold so quickly and widely?

These are some of the questions that The Sprout Fund is asking through a request for proposals that will offer funding to organizations interested in sharing and remixing existing learning activities. The goal is to create online instruction kits that will be free and openly available for the benefit of teachers and learners alike.

The Sprout Fund will provide grants to Pittsburgh’s learning innovators both in and out of school to compile their best recipes for learning into a “digital cookbook” that will help educators remake learning in the Pittsburgh region—and across the world.

“We’ve been able to support a lot of really exciting learning experiences in informal and out-of-school programs,” Sprout Program Officer Mac Howison said. “But by their very nature, a lot of these are small, custom-built programs that are limited in their scope. The Recipes RFP is about getting these programs down on paper, seeing how they connect to learning standards, and helping to turn these one-of-a-kind experiences into lessons and activities that are easy to share, easy to use, and easy to remix for any given context.”

The Sprout Fund is betting that sharing and remixing these ideas in an online cookbook will do for eager educators what “Joy of Cooking” did for aspiring foodies—present the ingredients and directions for tried-and-true learning programs, and inspire users to cook up a few innovations of their own.

“It’s a different approach to ‘going to scale.’ Instead of trying to replicate carbon copies of a single program, we’re trying to create a resource that educators can use more like a sourcebook.”

And by following how the participants use and remix the recipes, we can maybe learn something about how good ideas grow into something even bigger.

Full details about the Recipes for Remarkable Learning RFP funding opportunity are available here.

Interested in applying? Learn more about the opportunity at a special Happy Hour and Presentation on November 4th at Harvard & Highland.

Published October 21, 2013