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InvestMaryland Challenge: Q&A with Common Curriculum

Check back for Q&A profiles on all the competition finalists.

The first-ever InvestMaryland Challenge is down to its final round with just 33 companies competing for more than $300,000 in grants and business services. The final winners will be announced during the Governor’s Cup Awards Ceremony on April 15.

One of the companies, selected out of more than 250 applicants, is Baltimore-based Common Curriculum, founded in 2009. To find out a little more about this innovative education company, we spoke with co-founder Robbie Earle.

Q. What does Common Curriculum do, and how would you explain it to the average person?

A. Common Curriculum is like the Google Docs of lesson planning. The average teacher has to manage between 800 and 5,000 word documents per year. Most teachers create all of those lesson plans and worksheets and calendars by hand or using Microsoft Word, and the tools they have currently are just not good enough. The complexity of lesson planning really gets in the way of a teacher’s long-term vision, so they lose sight of where they’re taking their kids, because they’re so focused on “What am I doing next week?” The kids gets confused and their teaching suffers. On top of that, it’s impossible to share ideas or pull courses from people who can help improve the teacher’s method. Common Curriculum, on the other hand, offers really elegant lesson planning designed to help not just teachers, but also schools, mentors and teaching coaches. Everyone gets to share in that vision and design the curriculum together.

We were founded four years ago by Scott Messinger. He was a curriculum writer for Baltimore City and for Maryland, and it became very difficult for him to find out if anyone was actually using the curriculum he was writing for them, and as a former classroom instructor, that was frustrating for him. He’s a phenomenal programmer. He built the first version of Common Curriculum which we now call Curriculum Creator, which is used by a number of programs. Then, 18 months ago, he met me at a hackathon in downtown Baltimore, and we realized that there is an even bigger problem with managing all of a teacher’s lesson planning materials, and that’s when we started building the current version of Common Curriculum.

Q. Has the company had much success so far?

A. We launched a private beta in August and then opened it up to the public in October. With zero press releases or marketing, we’ve gone to 7,800 accounts—that’s all organic adoption from teachers. That number does not even include all of the teachers who are using the earlier version.

Q. Tell us more about the unique and innovative things your company is doing. How is it moving the industry forward?

A. There have been programs existing for years that claimed to do what Common Curriculum does, but often times, they’re built for district administrators and don’t take into account the workflows of individual teachers or mentor teachers who all have different needs. So what’s most innovative about Common Curriculum is that it’s designed with everyone in mind to be as simple and as malleable as possible. We don’t believe in clicking the save button over and over and over. It saves your history like Gmail does. We don’t believe in filling out endless forms, or in telling teachers what template they have to use. There is one source for materials on Common Curriculum. You’re not going back and forth for the calendar and for the lesson outline.

Q. If Common Curriculum were to win prize money in the contest, how would it use the money to further its goals?

A. In about two and half months, we’re going to release an updated version of Common Curriculum with everything, including outlining, calendaring, and the ability for educators and administrators to collaborate together in real time. If we win that money, we’ll be able to reinvest it in development talent and marketing and outreach to schools across the country. We’ve gotten a lot of really strong leads so far, but with the added capital, we would be able to expand that process and really grow.

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