When Robbie Earle was a Baltimore City Public Schools middle school teacher, he often collaborated with two colleagues while planning. It wasn’t fancy.
“Our system was: email me your lesson plans,” Earle said.
He quickly found the documents running up into the hundreds. When you factor in multiple classes, the tally ran into the thousands. Even with Google Docs, the files piled up.
Earle reasons that a lot of teachers lose the desire to collaborate because of all the files involved. But instead of chalking it up as another hurdle in the long list of challenges that teachers face, Earle has shifted from classroom instruction to creating a tool that can help teachers plan together.
That’s why Earle and Scott Messinger launched Common Curriculum in 2012.
Since then, the Baltimore-based edtech startup has sought to move from an app-based lesson planner to a tool that gets teachers — and even administrators — working together on how to teach kids.
In its initial form, the web app featured a weekly calendar, with text boxes that could be moved around to different days as lesson plans changed. In a third version of the app released in 2014, plans can move around between teachers. The app also allows teachers to plan beyond a week, whether the time is a unit, a semester or something else.
“You can go pretty wild with long-range planning in Common Curriculum,” Earle said.
As Earle put it, the teachers who work together now have “direct access into each other’s brains because they’ve used Common Curriculum for themselves.” If teachers grant it, administrators can also have access.
Earle said the user base has grown to about 90,000 teachers. Locally, the free app has been used in City Springs School and River Hill High School in Clarksville. He said the company has also gotten a lot of response in the midwest.
The app is run by a team of four people. Earle said they collaborate on all company issues as much as they hope teachers will, whether there’s a decision to be made about design or customer support.
The company raised an initial $420,000 investment to get going. But they haven’t raised any money since, and plan to run on revenue going forward. The app is free for individual teachers, but the cost comes in with the group collaboration. It’s $90 per teacher per school year for a school that’s interested.
With the app in place, Earle doesn’t believe the lesson plans have to stay within a single school. From the start, the idea behind the company has been to get the best lesson plans to teachers.
“The next step is how do you create collaboration between schools, then between districts,” he said.