The magic CD - an elegant way to improve the quality of education


In short, the promise of a chance to win a dream vacation gets teachers to submit their favorite lesson plans and give up copyright, then a group of retired teachers sorts through the submissions and the really good ones get transferred to a CD with a search engine. Then, the CD's get sent back out to the teachers who entered. In this way, teachers who are scrambing the night before for something to teach (i.e. the majority), can quickly & easily get access to free, excellent materials, and what happens in the classroom the next day is of superior quailty. The whole scheme is paid for by someone looking to piggyback educational software demos on the CD's. (It's CD's rather than just an internet site, as most teachers I worked with had CD Rom drives, but no www internet access at home, which is where a lot of last minute prepping occurs).

The Essay

the nature of life as a teacher

I've met some extremely organized and dedicated teachers who almost always have wonderful lesson plans, have spent the time investigating many potential curriculum resources, and have their lessons all planned out and ready to go weeks ahead of time. However, these are the minority. Most teachers I've met are surviving on a daily basis - they're putting together lessons the day or night before they teach it, and scrambling to come up with something at the last minute. I certainly was. So, a lot of teachers end up teaching from whatever is handy (textbook, worksheet someone else had) because they are scrambling the day or night before (or the hour before class) to come up with something.

the need for free, convenient, reliably good teaching materials

If there were a free, convenient, and reliable source of good lesson plans and materials, photocopy-ready, this majority would use them. The problem is that this source does not exist. There are free lesson plans, but often they are a jumbo bunch, poorly indexed, and finding the good ones requires sorting through many poor or average ones. There are good and convenient sources of materials (programs and kits), but these are often expensive and require pre-ordering months in advance (you have to be a master at budget-wrangling to get the school to buy even a few).

So, where does the free, convenient, and reliable source of good lesson plans and materials come from? That's where my idea comes in. (It's rather low tech, but most teachers I've met are low tech sorts).

the June doledrums

Most teachers have lots of time during summer vacation, but little money, and so find the idea of travelling appealing but unaffordable. When I was teaching, there was always a peculiar period sometime in June when no one really did anything. The exams were marked, the marks turned in, but teachers still had to be in school to fulfill some contract number of days. So people try to do lesson planning, or prepare their rooms for fall, but have no sense of urgency, and end up sitting around shooting the breeze (and then end cutting their summer vacation two weeks short in August when they get all this done before school starts in September).

the irresistible contest

My idea is to have mail arrive in teachers inboxes all across the US just at the start of this period, offering teachers a chance to win an all-paid dream vacation expense trip for themselves and their family to some exotic locale like Europe or Asia or Africa for the entire summer if they simply send in their favorite lesson plan on a floppy disk and agree to waive copyright. Now since everyone is sitting around shooting the breeze anyway, and thinking about summer vacation, the idea of winning the trip will take hold and people will discuss how cool it would be to win (contest details include a nice pamphlet with the classic hook about all the cool places you'll go if you win, the cool things you'll to see, the luxious accommodations, and what you could buy with the free spending money to get teachers excited so they'll talk to other teachers about the contest).

the favorite lesson plans gathered

Since there is nothing else really urgent to do, people will tranfer their favorite lesson plans to disk and send it in. (I surveyed my co-workers once, when we were shooting the breeze and June and everyone said the idea appealed to them and they'd do it). There is only one entry per person, regardless of how many lesson plan they send in, to encourage them to send one good lesson plan rather than spamming the contest.

the retired teachers make a comeback

So, for a relatively small cost (mailing costs, plus the cost of the vacation), you get a ton of at least ok teaching materials from all across the US. Next, you need to make sure the materials are reliable (all excellent and workable). You hire a small team of excellent retired teachers (go talk to principals at good schools and find out who were their best teachers, now retired), and get them to ruthlessly prune the entries.

The reason you're hiring retired teachers is that

  1. They've got a ton of teaching experience
  2. It's easy to hire the best teachers (they can't work anymore, so there's no competition to hire them, and you can get a principal to recommend the best few from over the last ten years or so)
  3. You're looking to hire people who love being in the classroom, not planning curriculum. If you hired people who hadn't passed retirement age, you'd end up with some who preferred curriculum planning to being in the classroom (which is why they took your job instead of a teaching position).

the ruthless pruning

So the retired teachers sort and sort to find the really good ones they feel will work in the classroom and that only call for commonly available materials (more like stuff you can buy the night before at the local grocery store or get off the internet, rather than requiring star maps ordered months in advance from NASA say). Say 10% of the entries make it.

the CD

Next you transfer all the entries that made it onto a CD. One CD gets sent to every teacher that entered the contest originally. This CD needs the material organized cross-referenced really well. (Maybe you also have an internet version and use a search engine on both the CD and the website). There needs to be a CD for every teacher rather than just a website because most teachers I've met don't have world wide web access at home or have insufficent www access at work, so they need a medium they can use at home or at work at the last minute to plan and print tomorrow's lessons from. You can save on mailing costs though by sending one big box (with individual name labels on each CD, to make sure people who submitted entries are rewarded and will submit again the following June) to a schoolboard for distribution.

the new teacher finally gets to sleep on time

And, now, the night before, a teacher at home or at work can quickly find an appropriate & surefire lesson plan and materials on the CD, for free, and the next day's class will be of higher quality than it might have been.


This whole idea seems a bit quaint as I reread in in 2005, but if you change "CD" to website and pay for it via website advertising, but the basic idea still holds...

Sulan Dun