LearnZillion: Dreaming Big About Collaborative PD

When Eric Westendorf was principal of well known E.L. Haynes Charter School in Washington D.C. he started creating instructional math videos with his staff—it caught on.  Other schools started using the videos.  There was enough demand that Eric figured he was onto something.  He launched LearnZillion in 2011, and raised some money to create more videos.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation thought the videos illustrating best practices were a pretty interesting idea too.  They gave Eric a grant to host a “Dream Team” of 120 teachers in Atlanta the summer of 2012.  The Dream Team created 2000 videos–and piloted a collaborative learning experience that proved to be as valuable as the videos.

Eric and the LearnZillion team hosted another Dream Team this summer and they just released an additional 1700 new lessons, with another 800 to follow in the next few weeks. Almost every Common Core State Standard will be covered, some multiple times, from 2nd-12th grade in math and ELA.

The videos, originally designed for professional development, are also frequently used for instruction. Moorseville, NC uses them in a flipped classroom model.  Some teachers use them at the beginning of class.  The free product is already used by 200,000 teachers, and the community of enthusiasts is growing by thousands each week.

Dream Team Delaware.  “We brought together the Dream Team to develop content that makes teachers lives better,” said Westendorf, “and discovered that the process itself is actually powerful for the teachers involved.”  Realizing this, LearnZillion decided to enable outside parties to access their internal collaboration platform so that more teachers could experience the the Dream Team process.

A few months ago, Eric described the process to Michael Watson, the CAO in Delaware, and found immediate interest. LearnZillion recently won Delaware’s contract for Common Core professional development, and will be live with them before the end of 2013.   (See the press release describing the partnership.)

Historically, most PD has been the low engagement top-down model.  PLCs have benefits of teacher-owned collaboration.  The LearnZillion approach “combines the  rigor and consistency of the top-down approach with the benefits of teacher collaboration,” said Westendorf.

“Allowing teachers to come together in a blended environment forms powerful PLCs,” added Eric.  Anyone on the premium platform can create a PLC.  LearnZillion provides the scaffolding for teachers helping them to build a powerful workshop experiences.

The blended PD workshop can be anchored by student work or teacher work product.  Teams work together on the product, “polishing the stone.”  When they reach the desired threshold of quality, they can publish to larger audience. “The experience helps to get teachers, coaches, and principals on the same page,” said Westendorf.

The Dream Team buzz—the satisfaction of deep collaboration on quality products—is “an exciting example of technology that brings out our humanness and builds connections,” said Westendorf.  The PLCs yield connections and a web of support that reduces isolation and improves practice.

Other states have taken notice.  Eric has three appointments with east coast states in the next month.

For more see:

LearnZillion is a portfolio company of Learn Capital where Tom is a partner

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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