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Crowdsourcing aims to give Hall teachers best ways to instruct students
Ley Hathcock, digital convergence specialist for Hall County schools, describes the online resources for math teachers created by “crowdsourcing” during the last school year. Hathcock is the principal for Martin Technology Academy for 2016-17. - photo by RON BRIDGEMAN

“Crowdsourcing” could be — eventually — the impetus for teachers to routinely share information about how best to teach material to students. That is the goal of Ley Hathcock, digital convergence specialist for Hall County Schools, who has, in some ways, been inventing the program.

The effort — creating a database of online teaching resources for teachers — is a way to put “some of the best ways we know of to teach within arm’s reach of teachers,” Hathcock said.

The district started its work with the math curriculum, working on it for the 2015-16 year.

It is not a program to provide specific lessons plans or a way to get away from textbooks, he explained.

“This was not intended to replace textbooks, but in reality that’s often what’s happening,” Hathcock said.

“My great hope is that it will become less of a district-driven initiative as time goes on and more of a ‘this is the way we do things,’” he said.

He said crowdsourcing participation could “just naturally become part of what a teacher does.”

While that is Hathcock’s “hope,” the work is concrete and specific. Three full-time “content specialists” spent the 2015-16 school year developing “a framework” for teachers.

A major part of the work last year was “training on the use of crowdsourcing,” Hathcock said. Because that was started, he said he believes this year’s work will garner more participation.

He explained the concept is to provide a lot of specific information about math, in this case, to teachers for use in classrooms. The database includes specific links to information about specific parts of math, he said.

Part of the “crowd” is contributions from teachers, Hathcock explained. He said teachers contributed 150-160 sources for the content specialists to check and include.

Another large part of the work was visiting schools to talk with teachers and administrators about the work. The content specialists sifted through the “massive, massive job” of checking various online resources and organizing responses from county teachers.

Hathcock said a teacher might Google a particular math concept — dividing by decimals, for example — and find far more “hits” than he or she could check.

The content specialists might take the internet and teacher resources and “format it in a digitally engaging format,” he said.

“We also went to our schools and looked at what teachers are actually doing,” he said.

Hathcock said if teachers are asked, “what’s the one thing I can do for you? The No. 1 answer is give me the time to go see what another teacher is doing.”

Learning what is being done by veteran teachers is as valuable as filtering internet sources, he said.

The focus for last year was analytic geometry and coordinate algebra.

For the 2016-17 year, different content specialists will work on science courses. That will start Monday. The district may have four people working on the subject, he said, one each for elementary and middle school and two for high school.

One of their first jobs, he explained, will be “to put together a ‘skeleton’ inside Canvas,” the software the system uses for a host of functions teachers need. That “skeleton” will explain “how this thing’s going to be organized,” Hathcock said.

The district also will maintain one content specialist who will continue to work on math — “fleshing out some of the high school courses,” he said.

Because so much of the work is internet-based, Hathcock said the content specialists work closely with the district’s “eLearning” specialists.

The district has created the Canvas Catalogue, which is a suite of professional learning for teachers.

The district seeks to take a variety of resources — internet, teacher contributions, state standards — and make it manageable for a day’s lesson.

He explained a state standard “may be a 21-page document for one day’s activity.” The district takes the document and formats “in a way that’s really easy to use.”

Hathcock, a former co-owner of an engineering company, and a self-described “science guy,” said, “I could not be more excited about this (science). I wish we had started with this one.”

He said when the program is “progressing from a novelty to a norm,” it will be successful. If teachers naturally participate in the program, he said,that’s where the really, really good stuff’s going to happen.”

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