Education is a busy space for startups right now. With e-learning tools like Codecademy and Udemy gaining momentum, and tools for educators like Coursekit raising millions of dollars in funding, technology startups are enriching the learning experience in and outside of the classroom. Startup Planboard is adding another tool to the mix with the launch of their application that streamlines the lesson planning process for elementary and high school teachers.
Co-founder David Kim says he and co-founders William Zhou, Suraj Srinivas, Tony Cui and Ryan McKay-Fleming were inspired to build the tool while they were in high school. They noticed that their teachers were recording lesson plans on a sheet of paper and placing them in their agenda book at the end of the day, and wanted to streamline the process using technology. “Teachers have no standard way of creating and organizing their lesson plans,” Kim said in an interview. “Creating their plans takes an extremely long time. Editing their plans based on content already taught and adjusting plans to handle contingencies is next to impossible without re-writing the plan. The whole process take an unnecessarily long time to execute.” And, Kim notes, if a teacher forgets their lesson plan on the kitchen table there’s not much recourse other than going home to get it; and if they need a substitute teacher for the day they have to scan and email plans.
Planboard helps teachers organize their day through a web and mobile lesson planning app. Teachers can create lesson plans, search through existing plans, and easily share with substitute teachers. The app is $29.95 per year per teacher with a 14-day free trial, with volume pricing available for schools or districts. “Individual teachers and school boards are being treated at separate markets,” Kim said. “We will focus on both since their needs from the product beyond lesson planning are different.”
While Coursekit offers tools to post-secondary educators to help them manage their courses and interact with students, Planboard isn’t trying to replace a course, grade or system. Kim says that’s not possible in the traditional elementary and high school market because most schools have a set system for marks and management. But he says many teachers still use physical agenda books or Microsoft Word to keep track of lesson plans.
Planboard creators Vetica Interactive were one of four startups selected to receive startup incubator VeloCity’s $25,000 Venture Fund prize to launch their company. “Education has been a major market investigating how it can effectively use technology to improve the effectiveness of the significant amounts of money invested,” said VeloCity director Mike Kirkup in an interview. “With Planboard, Vetica Interactive hopes to help teachers improve the effectiveness of the time spent planning, reduce the overall amount of planning time and have access to their plans on any platform.” The VeloCity grant means Planboard will receive space at the Communitech Hub and will have access to a variety of resources as they continue to develop the idea.
Planboard’s biggest hurdle will likely be convincing teachers they should pay $29.95 for something they can do for free using Google Docs, Google Calendar and Dropbox. Kim says that while teachers can use those tools to create their lesson plans, Planboard provides a centralized solution. “Planboard helps keeps things super simple by keeping everything in one place,” he said. “Teachers like to go onto one website and have all the necessary information and files ready to go. Figuring out how to navigate Dropbox or logging into multiple Google applications to us seems unnecessary.”
The app launched in January and there are currently over 100 beta users on extended free trials. Kim said the feedback so far has been positive. “They are very excited to be part of making Planboard a one stop lesson planning and organization tool for teachers,” he said. The team is planning to add the ability to include state, province or city curriculum in lesson plans; collaborative lesson planning; and a student portal to view assignments and hand-outs. They’re also planning versions of the app that are compatible with the iPad, BlackBerry Playbook and smartphones. With companies like Coursekit and Apple’s iTunes U cornering the post-secondary market thus far in terms of tools for teachers, Planboard is hoping they can create a niche following in the K-12 market, and simplify the daily routine of teachers at the same time.