A Startup Story

Lessons learned from an edtech company founder and teacherpreneur.

GUEST COLUMN | by Zak Ringelstein

CREDIT Renaissance LearningTrue, some of the greatest companies started in a garage. Mine, however, began at my dining room table with me frustrated and fatigued, hunched over a stack of ungraded homework assignments, staring at a dauntingly blank Microsoft Word file. After a full day of teaching, I would begin my lesson planning just around 5 pm each day. As much as I loved my job, I did not love this particular part of it. Knowingly planning lessons that had been designed thousands–if not millions–of times before me, I emerged with uninspired plans on more occasions than I would like to admit.

To add to the frustrations, teachers are continuously required to juggle new developments in both standards and technology. It’s driving teachers absolutely insane!

The average teacher spends 2.5 hours planning lessons per day. With 30 million teachers in world, that’s 75 million hours of planning. Teachers spend so much time re-planning the same overlapping curriculum and it’s a gross misuse of time and energy. As mobile technology has become increasingly ubiquitous, we have embraced its collaborative functionalities from sharing status updates on Facebook to sharing housing on Airbnb. Unfortunately, the education industry has remained one of the slowest adopters for this.

Consequently, with a lack of quality resources available, educators spend less time honing effective instruction, which inevitably takes a toll on student learning outcomes. To add to the frustrations, teachers are continuously required to juggle new developments in both standards and technology. It’s driving teachers absolutely insane! We know. We’ve interviewed them.

With millions of inaccessible, quality resources floating around on personal desktops, forgotten in lost flash drives, and tucked away in dusty file cabinets, what if there was a comprehensive mean teachers to locate great material and construct their own lessons? The current landscape does very little to support communication and active collaboration amongst teachers. Energy otherwise allocated toward content creation needs to be optimized. Districts need a way to maximize creative talent and exchange high quality resources.

Since recognizing this shortcoming in the education industry, I have founded my solution to this and developed a content management system that not only offers teachers a portable workspace to craft their lessons, but also empowers them with choice. Our resource exchange feature offers three primary benefits:

District-wide collaboration

Teachers can easily search resources uploaded by other teachers within their own district or school and rest assured knowing that the materials come from a reliable source. Our platform takes the district’s best resources and makes them instantly accessible on the system’s portable cloud. Pooling content allows teachers to pull inspiration Useful files can also be emailed to other educators in or out of the district network directly from the platform.

Administrator curriculum distribution

Our solution opens an avenue of communication between teachers and administrators. A centralized content system allows administrators a seamless mean for distributing district-purchased or curated curriculum to teacher. Narrowing the disconnect between the two entities, administrators also have a higher-level view of what great content in their own district looks like and can, from there, analyze how to make improvements.

Millions of resources

In addition to sourcing files from their district network, teachers can also access materials from the platform’s pre-uploaded resource repository. Our platform is equipped with 17 million Common Core-tagged resources, vetted by master teachers.

Compatible with all file types, our personal file management system is a tag-enabled tool optimized for K12 curriculum planning. It’s a portable space to find, store, and compile resources that we designed to make teachers’ work days a little less exhausting and instruction a whole lot more effective for students.

Zak Ringelstein is CEO of UClass, which was recently acquired by Renaissance Learning. UClass is a leading K-12 content management solution that enables districts to flexibly distribute core curriculum to staff, facilitate collaboration across schools and measure the efficacy of its resources. Founded by public school teachers, their mission is to increase opportunities for all students by providing schools the tools they need to ensure they use the most relevant content for the personalized needs of teachers and students.

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