TeacherSpark brings teachers together to share ideas and set off classroom innovation

A small cohort of North Dakota teachers are hoping to foster education innovation with an app that marries the structure of dating apps to a professional development focus.

The app, TeacherSpark, will connect teachers to other teachers, giving them the opportunity to exchange ideas and resources and to support each other in their careers. Sara Medalen, one of the teachers involved in the project, will present at 1 Million Cups Fargo on Wednesday, November 1.

“Our idea was that you can’t have innovation in isolation,” Medalen said.

TeacherSpark can be a potential help to teachers in departments with small staffs. An art teacher in a smaller community or district, Medalen pointed out, might not have anyone else to collaborate with or bounce ideas for classroom activities and teaching techniques off of.

“When teachers teach in rural communities, they often feel isolated,” she said.

Teachers who use the TeacherSpark app might be matched by the grade level they teach, the subject(s), or other factors like their interests in certain ideas.

“It would be a more cohesive way and a more intentional way,” Medalen said, for teachers to connect with each other.

One already well-received idea the group of teachers working on the project has is for TeacherSpark to feature a calendar listing professional development opportunities for educators. While Medalen notes plenty of these opportunities exist, they aren’t always well-advertised or easy for teachers to find out about.

The roots of TeacherSpark lay in the 2018 Governor’s Summit on Innovative Education held by North Dakota governor Doug Burgum. Simultaneous with the summit, a 30-hour challenge was held where groups pitched solutions to problems in education, similar to a start-up weekend but specifically geared toward education.

The pitch that became TeacherSpark took second place in the challenge. Later, What School Could Be author Ted Dintersmith heard the TeacherSpark pitch and awarded the group working on it $10,000.

Susan Reinhiller and Erika Dyke had the idea of connecting teachers digitally in a similar format to popular dating apps. Tracy Hsu, Amber Sluke, Sara Tezel and Medalen collaborated with Reinhiller and Dyke at the challenge promoting the concept of “TeacherTinder” which the group changed to TeacherSpark; there is no actual dating component to the app.)

The concept is currently in the development stage. The group of teachers working on TeacherSpark are brainstorming what components they would like to see in an app, and they are in the market for app developers to collaborate with.

Medalen has already changed her classroom approach after digital inspiration.

“My life as a teacher changed when I started following the right people on Twitter,” she said. Her kids introduced her to the social media site, and she began following global education leaders.

The six teachers working on the app project meet periodically via Google Hangouts. Ironically, Medalen noted their work pace has slowed a little since the school year began. “Our number one job is to teach kids,” she said.

This conviction, of course, fuels the work on the app too.

“We can’t keep teaching our kids the same way,” Medalen said. The jobs available to them have changed or will change, which means they need to be prepared differently.

1 Million Cups Fargo takes place each Wednesday from 9:15-10:15 a.m. at The Stage at Island Park.