How to Create a Classroom Tech Tool While Teaching

This is Part 3 of a multi-part account chronicling eduCanon’s history and the startup journey. For Part 2, click here.

As teachers, we experience many of the pain points of our education system. We’re at a fulcrum, with exposure to parents, administrators, and students on top of our own insights around creating an exceptional learning experience. Teachers have so many of those “It would be so nice if…” moments.

So, what’s the next step if you want to take pursue an idea? Below, I’ve outlined my steps in creating eduCanon as a classroom teacher.

 

Bounce your idea off of every teacher you know.

Maybe it already exists. Maybe there is a perspective or use-case you aren’t aware of. Feedback is invaluable and every entrepreneur wishes they were the ideal customer and truly understood the pain point their product is seeking to solve. You, as a teacher, are perfect for that! Read up on teachers turned entrepreneurs here.

Since starting eduCanon, I’ve mentored a number of teacherpreneurs and every one is hesitant to share their idea. I can’t provide any protection guarantee (of course), but I really truly believe that the success of a product comes down to execution and determination—the idea itself is not at risk of being stolen or Facebook’ed. Even if it is at the slightest risk, the value of discussing your idea with people in the space is essential to creating an impactful and scalable product. In fact, after bouncing it around with peers, you’ll find the idea evolving and taking a new shape.

 

Pick a language, any language.

I could go on about this process forever. When you are settling down to begin coding, you’ll need to pick a programming language. From someone who had never programmed before, here was my experience: It’s hard and reminds me of the doldrums.

There are so many languages and the truth is there is no “perfect” choice. Or, if there is, you cannot predict it until you’re much further along. The best thing to do is pick a language, learn it, and trust that your experience will translate to other languages.

For example, I started with Python because it is easy to create a development environment on your computer, many universities teach it, and there are high-quality free resources online: MITx.

Then, when it came to building eduCanon, I chose PHP as our server-side language because it is used by 82% of websites. I found all of the logic from Python translated nicely to PHP.

That said, it seems like a lot of people are enjoying Ruby on Rails for quick prototyping. Whatever you’re building, it can be created successfully with any of these. Even if you’re going mobile, these languages can work through a PhoneGap-like solution.

 

Jerry-Rig! MacGyver it.

I wasn’t a pro when I started coding (obviously), so I looked to the world of open-source GitHub repositories to find pieces that can fit together to build something novel and functional. The key to this process is refining your idea down to its simplest core. For eduCanon, that was a video with questions that appeared at certain times during the video. I found video players online, I found question creator environments, and then I pasted them together with programming logic to determine when a question should appear during the video. It was rudimentary and by no means extremely impressive, but it allowed me to begin testing. And as hard or frustrating as these first steps are, nothing is more motivating in the learning and coding process than working on your own novel idea.

It’s worth mentioning that I validated eduCanon’s core idea even before learning any code through an amalgam of Google Forms and locally-stored videos on my students’ computers. Your goal is to build enough of a test to provide the insight and motivation to carry on to the next test.

 

Iterate. Iterate. Repeat.

I began testing by using it with my own students, having them both take lessons on eduCanon and build their own lessons for higher-order Bloom’s Taxonomy rigor. I also shared it with my colleagues. Observing their use cases and user experience provided the knowledge to go back and tinker with the code.

It wasn’t until a year and a half later (and 70+ of iterations and tweaks) that we went back to the drawing board to rebuild eduCanon from scratch, based on all we had learned, and transform it into the powerful system it is today.

 

Bonus: Build a team.

If you want to take the first step towards transforming your technology into a viable company, I recommend building a tight-knit team. It doesn’t have to be huge—eduCanon started with two people—but it can help broaden your expertise. Many teachers seek to collaborate with somebody technical. Even then, I really believe that a basic understanding of how programming works will accelerate your progress; no one wants to move forward faster than you.


Finally, eduCanon would not have been built without the tireless support of my more technical friends, who were critical throughout the development and decision making process—don’t do it alone 🙂

Follow us on Twitter: @educanon123

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