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New grant program seeks solutions to toughest classroom challenges


Educators are invited to share ideas for solving classroom challenges, with the chance to win grants to implement their ideas.
Educators are invited to share ideas for solving classroom challenges, with the chance to win grants to implement their ideas.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has partnered with the nation’s largest teachers union and its charitable foundation to launch a grant program encouraging public school educators to identify and solve K-12 education’s most pressing classroom challenges.

The new “Challenge to Innovate” (C2i) program leverages ED’s Open Innovation Portal to solicit ideas in a process known as “crowdsourcing,” in which officials tap the collective wisdom of a large group of people through the power of the internet.

“Smart innovation will help dramatically accelerate achievement and attainment,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “Without it, we will surely fall short of our goals to prepare all of America’s students for success in the global economy.”

In the new partnership, ED’s Open Innovation Portal will host the C2i program, a three-phase challenge from the National Education Association’s NEA Foundation.

The first phase of the challenge, from Sept. 7 through Oct. 19, asks educators to share their most pressing classroom challenges that can be solved with $500 or less. The five ideas with the most online votes, as judged by the Open Innovation Portal community, each will receive $1,000 from the NEA Foundation.

In the second phase, from Nov. 16 through Jan. 14, educators will post their best solutions to the winning challenges. Up to 10 of these proposed solutions each will receive a $2,500 grant from the NEA Foundation for the teachers who suggested these ideas to implement the solutions in their schools.

In the final phase of the program, from Jan. 17 through Feb. 4, the NEA Foundation will select and post up to three top solutions to receive a $5,000 planning grant and technical support. These winning solutions also will be posted on the Donors Choose web site, where teachers nationwide will be invited to submit requests to receive up to $500 to help implement the ideas. The NEA Foundation, in partnership with citizen philanthropists from the Donors Choose community, will provide funding for teachers to implement and test the innovative solutions.

Educators can take part in the C2i program by joining ED’s Open Innovation Portal community. Once they register for the portal (which is free of charge), they can post, review, comment, and vote on the most pressing classroom challenges and their solutions.

C2i “is a powerful tool for educators with three components,” said NEA Foundation President Harriet Sanford. “First, it is a social network for educators to trade opinions and information. Second, it is an open invitation for public school educators to share the issues that keep them up at night and the solutions they believe will make a difference. Third, C2i is a challenge to educators to formalize those ideas and be considered for funding and implementation.”

ED, the NEA Foundation, and Donors Choose are using the innovation portal to collect ideas from teachers as part of a new government-wide initiative to solicit ideas for solving the nation’s challenges from ordinary citizens. Another component of this initiative, Challenge.gov, is a new online site where “entrepreneurs, innovators, and citizen solvers can compete for prestige and prizes by providing novel solutions to tough national problems, large and small,” federal officials say.

In February, ED’s Office of Innovation and Improvement launched the Open Innovation Portal as a collaborative web community where education stakeholders can highlight areas of need, propose solutions, and fund, implement, and improve these solutions in and outside of the classroom.

Since then, more than 5,000 members have joined the portal, created more than 1,000 connections, and posted more than 250 ideas to improve education, officials say.

Among these many ideas are…

• A collaboration involving the Denver Public Schools and local universities to boost the achievement of English language learners through a process called “collaborative strategic reading”;

• An inquiry-based approach to teaching and learning, called Enquiring Minds, that takes students’ ideas, interests, and experiences as its starting point and gives them more responsibility for the direction and content of their learning; and

• An invitation for local businesses and individuals to sponsor classes and team-teach subjects with highly qualified teachers, in an effort to bring real-world experiences into the classroom, solve the challenge of doing more with fewer resources, and forge stronger relationships with the community.

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