Building EducatorHQ (EHQ) is, by far, the most ambitious journey I have ever embarked on. EHQ is why I founded Education Without Limits. I’m that optimistic about its ability to transform public education.
So…what is it?
Throughout the journey, describing the vision for EducatorHQ to the public has remained one the biggest hurdles. What we want educators to accomplish with the tool is clear, quantifiable, and beneficial to entire communities, not just the educators we serve directly: reduce their planning time while improving both academic and social-emotional outcomes for their students.
But how will EducatorHQ’s design features achieve this lofty goal? By centering not just inclusive User-Experience Design principles from the world of product design, but also centering best practices from the latest research into pedagogy.
I spent most of last year working on an EducatorHQ prototype that could demonstrate how these design philosophies merge. In April, we successfully completed an initial prototype of EducatorHQ’s user dashboard, followed by an initial round of user testing. Educators gave us positive feedback, saying things like “this would be useful!” and “I would love to have all of my resources in one place.”
Now, we’re ready to build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP): one that can be used in a classroom to efficiently plan, and re-plan, meaningful learning experiences for students.
Creating the prototype has shed some light on why I found it so challenging to explain the vision for EducatorHQ to my colleagues who work in the mainstream tech world. In their world, it is important to start with a small, yet scalable MVP. So, when I came to them talking about a program housing materials for teaching K-12 academic standards, it was not clear to them where I wanted them to start.
However, my commitment to housing such comprehensive resources reflects my two core curriculum design frameworks: Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Understanding by Design (UbD). Both are data-driven, proven curriculum design frameworks taught in graduate level programs for future educators throughout the country, and they were taught to me by my most trusted mentors.
More on UDL
UDL is a framework that “guides the design of instructional goals, assessments, methods, and materials that can be customized and adjusted to meet individual needs,” with the ultimate goal of planning learning experiences that will be meaningful to all students in a given classroom. In the absence of tools supporting the implementation of UDL, educators are left independently revising materials that have not considered the unique needs of their students. Disabled students, BIPOC students, gender-nonconforming students, and other historically marginalized students in particular benefit when educators use the UDL framework to consider their needs from the get-go.
In order for EducatorHQ to facilitate the UDL approach, it will need to house a broad array of resources to meet the diverse array of classrooms found throughout The United States. While we cannot launch with every possible resource available in our database, we must ensure that our prototype is not so scaled down that we are no longer staying true to the UDL framework. In particular, we must commit to housing resources that will support historically marginalized students.
More on UbD
(UbD) is the title of a book written by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe that offers a framework for designing courses and content units called “Backward Design.” Within this framework, educators start with a teaching target for their students, and then work backwards to see what skills or knowledge they will need to share with students in order to reach that teaching target. In my professional experience, it can be difficult to implement this framework with traditional resources like textbooks. If they only cover one grade level, they likely do not have comprehensive enough materials to facilitate a UbD approach.
To prepare to use UbD in EducatorHQ, EWL collaborators have been designing ecosystem maps of academic standards. We began with the Common Core State Standards because they are the most commonly used. These maps connect teaching targets across grade levels and disciplines. Using our maps, no matter what teaching target our educators start with, we can guide educators backwards to the skills and knowledge they will need to introduce in order for their students to reach that teaching target.
Reconciling UDL and UbD in our MVP
While the final vision for EducatorHQ utilizes curricular resources relevant to all grade levels and subjects, our (MVP) target users will be middle school (grades 6-8) science classroom educators. We chose middle school science because scientific experiments and reporting require reading, writing, arithmetic, and observational/reasoning skills that would have been introduced in elementary English Language Arts and Mathematics lessons. This context highlights the importance of a unifying planning tool that will allow a middle school science educator to quickly integrate lessons from earlier grade levels.
To demonstrate the design philosophies behind EducatorHQ, our MVP for middle school teachers will house resources relevant to grades 3 through 9, not just the traditional 6 through 8. Additionally, it will house resources designed for all core 4 subjects, not just science.
Over the next few months, I’m excited to share more behind-the-scenes looks into the development of EducatorHQ! You will have a bird-eye view into the creation of a demonstration middle school science unit, “Facts are Facts…Right?” which centers the teaching of critical thinking skills to facilitate the creation of custom thematic units by middle school science educators.
If you would like to contribute to the development of this exciting planning tool, please visit our donation page HERE.