How Great Minds Kept Learning a Priority
Like nearly all businesses, national education leader Great Minds faced a crossroads at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. The country was all but closed in late March, as federal, state and local government officials and medical experts struggled to deal with health and safety concerns for the population. The government shutdown forced school systems to move instruction online, leaving teachers at a loss.How would they provide curriculum without the use of physical materials and in-person contact? The answer is an innovation success story and involves a local management consulting company, called Think.
Great Minds, developer of curriculum and instructional materials in math (pre-kindergarten to 12th grade), English language arts (kindergarten to grade 8) and science (levels 3-5) and books for early literacy (kindergarten to grade 2), was deep in the production process for many of its educational offerings. Math department officials were gearing up for a 20% increase in new Eureka Math adoptions for the next school year. Humanities experts were completing a new collection of books for early readers, Geodes, and making arrangements to support 150 new adoptions of the Wit & Wisdom English language arts curriculum. The operations department was preparing to open a new warehouse in Las Vegas, Nevada, to distribute some of the 25 million books the company ships each year to school systems all over the country.
Instead of proceeding as usual with these and other crucial functions, Great Minds pivoted its efforts to help teachers and students who were forced to continue with schooling – but away from the school building – during the pandemic. Great Minds rallied many of the organization’s 900-member staff, comprised mostly of educators who live around the country, to create and produce Knowledge on the Go, a series of online videos providing math, English and science instruction. Knowledge on the Go was offered free of charge for school system use and offered online and on television, through public access channels or in partnership with local PBS stations. Baltimore City Public Schools sent packets home for students to connect to videos shown on its public access channels. Students watched the videos independently and teachers used student or class meetings to discuss the lessons. A total of 1,315 lessons, 1,363 videos and 568 hours of content were produced. Online page views were recorded from 186 countries, according to All Hands on Deck: Serving Students During the Pandemic, a comprehensive white paper produced for Great Minds in June.
The success of this pivot was due in part to the work of the operational consulting arm of Think, who successfully managed a video production project for Great Minds prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. Think is a privately owned technology and operations advisory firm established in 2004 in Baltimore. Think provides consultancy services, strategic hiring and executive advisory to mid-market clients in broadcast, educational technology, financial services, publishing, health and health science, legal, government and other sectors.
The Great Minds-Think collaboration spans back several years. When Great Minds won the contracts for EngageNY they called Think to manage the effort, and this was the beginning of a long friendship and partnership. Since that initial engagement Think has managed a series of successful strategic initiatives for Great Minds in both the operations and marketing space.
Early in 2019, Great Minds turned to Think to initiate the development of live action and animated video content to support its printed curriculum in a scalable format. According to Erica McQuiston, director of operational consulting for Think, this comprised gathering information from curriculum developers and translating the information into “problems” for presentation in live action or animation, in part to make the content more interesting for students. It involved developing a complete process from original inception through delivery to students. It took about a year to create the repeatable process and develop an organizational chart for Great Minds to enable the process to continue indefinitely for all of their materials, according to McQuiston. The effort also included the formation of a media production department, one that would enable the development of videos and digital materials in house.
“We wanted to have asynchronous videos that support the curriculum and developed the process to create those videos,” says David Blair, chief business operations officer for Great Minds.
Fast forward to March 2020 and the havoc of the coronavirus. As the production arm had already come to fruition, Great Minds simply altered its efforts to bring curriculum lessons for the remainder of the school year fully on camera. Between 30 and 40 video lessons, 20 to 45 minutes in duration, were produced each day and packaged as Knowledge on the Go, which delivered daily consistent and coherent Eureka Math, Wit & Wisdom, and PhD Science video lessons, organized by grade and module and presented by Great Minds teachers.
“We had the basics of how we wanted to do the videos, knowledge on video production and a lot of the storyboarding and process development components in place,” Blair explains. “We were able to use that from just a generalized asynchronous video production strategy over to rapid video production for Knowledge on the Go.”
“Basically, all of the work that we had done in our prototyping and setting this up all year really made it perfect,” McQuiston adds. “It was like a perfect storm for them. They already had everything they needed to move over and start producing online content for teachers and for students.”
The idea to launch during COVID-19 was “hatched” during a Great Minds senior leadership meeting over a weekend, and most of the company’s employees were asked to drop their regular responsibilities to focus on producing videos in an extremely short window of time.
“The timely reaction to what was needed was something that was incredibly responded to because no one had a place to turn. Great Minds had the curriculum,” says Kurt Dutra, a consultant who joined Great Minds in June as associate director for digital media, helping the team understand file formats, video recording equipment and ideal teacher settings for recording. He collaborated on the editing process with Michael O’Hara, the company’s senior program manager, who was previously in charge of program management for operations projects and pivoted to oversee all final video editing for Knowledge on the Go.
The offering was well received, especially with the speed at which the initial videos were posted.
“It’s part of our mission to provide the right resources at the right time,” Blair explains. “We did this free of charge to any school district at a lot of expense to Great Minds, but we were happy to do that given the circumstances.”
Knowledge on the Go has evolved into a new product offering called Great Minds in Sync, designed for the hybrid model – providing full curriculum through class instruction and video lessons, available in several languages, plus other deliverables – homework, tip sheets, calendars that support the video instruction.
“When we put up Knowledge on the Go, we knew it was not enough. Some schools were just broadcasting it on their local PBS station,” notes Blair. “You got an hour per day of a particular grade of math, as an example, that’s certainly not sufficient to be a complete solution for hybrid learning environments. We knew that when we produced it, but an immediate response was required.
“In Sync was an intentional evolution of Knowledge on the Go to provide a more complete solution for the hybrid classroom.”
Some school systems continue using Knowledge on the Go, although no new content has been added as of early June. The intention is to have In Sync as “the” solution for hybrid learning, according to Blair. The timeline for the new product coincided with a new school year, notes O’Hara.
Think is not part of the new endeavor, but McQuiston noted that company officials are pleased to have laid the groundwork in helping their client support education during the pandemic and continue to expand its presence in the educational sector.
“That’s what we do as a company,” McQuiston explains. “We come in, solve tough problems … and we teach them all these great things that they can keep doing that once we leave, and then we step away.
“We keep the relationship. We know them well. We support them fully. And we’re always here to help when they need us.” I95 Content Marketing