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This Is Uncomfortable
Learning Curve

Who created that app? A teacher

Adriene Hill Aug 20, 2014
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Laura Fenn was teaching fifth grade in North Carolina when her school cut back on physical education and recess. “They actually started to count time walking from the classroom to the cafeteria as physical activity time,” Fenn says.

That gave her an idea:  create podcasts that students can listen to, and learn from, while they walk. You can find audio samples here.

Fenn’s nonprofit, The Walking Classroom Institute, is now her full-time job.

She’s one of many current and former teachers developing digital classroom tools.  

NoRedInk, BetterLesson, SmarterCookie are just a handful of education tech companies founded by teachers.

“It’s not until you’re in the classroom until you realize and really understand the pain points,” says Benjamin Levy. He was teaching eighth graders in California and got frustrated that educational videos weren’t more interactive.  Now he’s CEO of eduCanon, which lets teachers add questions to online videos.

High school physics teacher Peter Bohacek was stymied by teaching physics from a book. “Physics is about the analysis of an event, not an abstract, contrived text description,” he says. So he and Dr. Matthew Vonk created “Direct Measurement Videos,”which allow teachers to illustrate the basics of physics from the speed of sound to Newton’s Second Law.

Bohacek’s videos are free online. He wants to keep them that way.

But others see the booming market for education technology and want a piece of it. It’s an $8 billion industry.

There’s also a new distribution model that bypasses administrators and school districts.

“As a teacherpreneur it can be easy to get it in the hand of teachers, especially if it’s free, which appears to be the most teachers will pay for an app these days,” said Frank Catalano, an edtech industry consultant.

He says the challenge for teachers is the challenge for most educational tech start-ups: how to turn a good idea into a sustainable business.

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