NYC Teachers and Students Take the Lead in Design of Innovative Education Solutions

A New York student, parent and software developer look at a laptop to view data on high school choice available through the School Choice Design Challenge.

A New York student, parent and software developer view data on high school choice available through the School Choice Design Challenge. Photo credit: Innovate NYC Schools

Innovate NYC Schools, a 2011 i3 Development grantee, is working to validate a different approach to achieve innovative answers to longstanding needs of students and teachers.  This approach emphasizes using technology to increase the degree of alignment between classroom needs and innovative solutions, and making students and teachers integral to the change process.

For example, in one undertaking for Innovate NYC Schools last year, the challenge was to develop apps and games to enhance math learning and engagement for middle school students. They invited developers to work directly with teachers and students to develop prototypes — a design-inspired, iterative process of refining ideas in order to end up with products that truly meet classroom needs. Surprisingly, nearly 200 software developers responded to the challenge, from which 39 were chosen to work with teachers and students who volunteered to be part of the product-development, prototyping process.

It is radically different from the typical procurement process in school systems, notes Steven Hodas, executive director of Innovate NYC Schools, and energizes potential “lead users” of new products and services in the schools — the teachers who volunteered their classrooms — to come “off the sidelines“ to contribute their ideas and be a part of developing the answers to their own needs. It gives them the “context and cover,” Hodas contends, to get involved and invested as opposed to staying outside the solution-finding process and assuming that whatever eventually arrives will be of minimal or no use to them.

The project is furthering the development and evaluation of the “Education Innovation Ecosystem,” a network of NYC schools, partner districts, solution developers, and investors that is helping to meet the STEM-related learning challenges of middle and high school students.  And the potential for scaling up an ecosystem approach that better aligns classroom needs with innovative solutions holds great promise for other urban school systems.

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