Free Platform Lets Teachers Find and Share Their Favorite Resources
It was a bittersweet moment for Ashley Lamb-Sinclair as she walked away from her middle-school classroom for the final time last year, flicked the light switch off and locked the door behind her. On one hand, she was sad to leave the classroom, where she’d spent years 12 years working as an English teacher. But on the other, she was excited at the prospects of taking that experience and using it in her new venture, Curio Learning.
And with that, Lamb-Sinclair donned her entrepreneurial hat and started an online space where educators can go to discover, curate and collaborate. “I’m still in school as an instructional coach, but I do miss working with the kids,” says Lamb-Sinclair, CEO and founder, who landed on her business idea after receiving an email concerning a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation opportunity. Coined a “Redesign Challenge,” it invited teachers to submit proposals for solutions to educational problems. In this case, the challenge centered on professional development.
“I had zero interest and deleted the email,” says Lamb-Sinclair, who had a “spark” that night as she pondered the low points of current PD approaches in K-12. “The reason PD sucks so much is because teachers are already working really, really hard to become better,” she says, “and many times that additional work takes place at 11 p.m. when we’re sitting on our living room couches. Then we have to hit ‘pause,’ go back to school, jump through some hoop, or sit though some workshop to prove it.”
That got Lamb-Sinclair thinking about an online space where the best PD resources were compiled on one platform where multiple teachers could come to collaborate, share and learn. In her mind, that platform would not only be a place for instructors to discover new ideas, but also keep those ideas there. “As a teacher, when I found something cool online I’d put it in a Dropbox file or on Google Drive, but that happened in isolation,” says Lamb-Sinclair. “It was all very piecemeal, and kind of like DIY hacking your way through professional development.”
Ready for Prime Time
By 2016, Lamb-Sinclair’s idea of a central repository for online PD for teachers—and compiled by teachers—was ready for prime time. After submitting her idea to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, she participated in an “Innovator’s Weekend,” in D.C., where she and about a dozen other educators walked through the design-thinking process with a group of technology, nonprofit and design professionals from various industries.
It was a pivotal moment in Lamb-Sinclair’s career. “That was the first time in a decade of teaching where I felt like I was the expert in the room. It just changed everything for me,” says Lamb-Sinclair, who during the same year was named Kentucky Teacher of the Year and received an Education First scholarship to study the education system in Finland.
“A lightbulb went on that made me stop and think, ‘Hey, why does it feel like as a classroom teacher I’m always at the bottom of the totem pole?’” she continues. “Education is a hierarchy and I was at the bottom of it and always beholden to other people—even though I was the one who was doing most of the work.”
For the next three months, Lamb-Sinclair did discovery testing for her new online platform with Gates Foundation support. She then met Tarik Nally, a designer who would not only help her create a working prototype for Curio, but that would go on to become the firm’s president and co-founder. “Working together, we started to get grant funding that, over the course of last year, would help us development the app and create our brand,” Lamb-Sinclair says.
Teaching Like a Rebel
Lamb-Sinclair likes to think of herself as someone who “teaches like a rebel,” and she’s sharing that message with K-12 instructors through the Curio platform, which launched in March. A visual organizer designed for teacher professional development and idea-sharing, Curio is similar to GitHub, Pinterest and Dribbble in that it provides creative spaces for niche communities.
Teachers can curate things like YouTube videos, images and lesson plans and discover what other educators have created. They can comment on others’ work and collaborate on everything from big conceptual ideas to materials for individual lessons. Free for educators (though premium features are offered), the platform is also available via subscription to organizations, individual schools and districts.
“My hope is that this space will become a place for all of the rebellious, creative, innovative teachers to come and share ideas with one another, and to become ‘experts’ for one another,” says Lamb-Sinclair, who for the rest of 2018 plans to continue building out Curio’s teacher community (which was initially invitation-only, but has since been opened up to allow all educators to apply to join). “We’re getting new users every day and looking forward to presenting at the ASU + GSV Summit in April; we’re hoping that will be our big debut.”