Teacher Trailblazer

David Lowe

Seattle Public Schools
2014 Winner for Teacher Trailblazer Award
About Teacher Trailblazer Award

Employs an audacious idea in order to empower students with the opportunity to learn.

Provide an overview of the project, practice or product that your video represents, and how your work encompasses the principles and ideals of the award that you're applying for.

Like many teachers, I believe in data-driven, small group instruction as a means for meeting the academic needs of students. In my classroom, I took daily notes on student progress so I could deliver small group instruction that was tailored to my students' specific needs. However, none of the paper notetaking systems I used worked well enough. They were too cumbersome to sustain and too static to provide trend data and other insights across students. I knew the data needed to be collected electronically so it could be sorted and analyzed, but there were no tools designed for that. So, I decided to build the tool myself.

While earning my National Boards, I taught myself iOS development and built a notetaking app called Confer. Confer separates notes into custom fields like "Strength," "Teaching Point" and "Next Step." Then, it can sort students based on the comments in those fields. For example, after taking notes on individual students throughout my class, I would use Confer to sort by "Next Step." This showed me a list of all the issues I had recorded as next steps, with each student that shared an issue grouped beneath it. This gave me accurate, small group data that I could act on right away.

Because I could enter notes with just a few taps, my daily notetaking became quick and sustainable. And because Confer made it easy to sort the data in all the ways I needed to, I was able to plan and deliver consistent small group instruction that was highly targeted to individual students' needs. Confer has helped me, and the thousands of other teachers now using it, leverage mobile technology to dramatically increase the amount of data-driven, small group instruction we can provide.

Explain the long-lasting impact of what you've presented in this video, and provide any qualitative or quantitative data that supports this impact.

Confer had a transformative effect on what I was able to do as a classroom teacher. But its impact has moved well beyond the walls of my own classroom. The goals I had regarding data-driven instruction were by no means unique. Teachers all around the world are engaged in the rigorous work of collecting formative data on their students and then using that data to inform and improve their instruction. Like me, many of these teachers were searching for better tools to support their work. Since releasing Confer, I have been discovering just how many of those teachers there are.

Currently, Confer has been downloaded by over 20,000 teachers worldwide. These downloads are spread across 45 different countries. I've received emails from teachers and administrators throughout the US and from all over the world who are using Confer to change how they are teaching in their schools. And I'm seeing dozens of new users each day. All of this has happened almost completely by word-of-mouth. While this dramatic response has been a humbling and gratifying indication of the value Confer is providing teachers, I believe it also demonstrates something much more important.

Teachers have long used any technology they can to support their instruction. The tools have ranged from Excel to Evernote. However, teachers have rarely had access to high quality tools designed specifically for classroom instruction by other teachers. In short, they have not had tools built by insiders. I believe the response to Confer is setting a new precedent. It shows that tech solutions being proposed to teachers can no longer come from the technology industry. They must come from other teachers. They must be designed from the inside out, and when they are, they will have the potential to dramatically impact teaching and learning.