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Willmar teacher's business lets educators create own textbooks

Tyler Gehrking formed EDGEtech to help teachers innovate inside the classroom by using technology and the skills the teachers have. Shelby Lindrud / Tribune

WILLMAR — Teachers have a lot of ideas on how to make education better, but with a packed nine-month schedule of standards, tests and classes, they don't always have the time to take those ideas and implement them into the classroom.

"They have tons of skills and talent, but sometimes they're not given the opportunity," said Tyler Gehrking, founder of EDGEtech, an education startup that helps teachers create educational technology solutions.

"Have teachers make things with their talents," Gehrking said.

Gehrking is a social studies teacher at Willmar Public Schools, and serves as the high school's technology integrationist and library media specialist. He is also the instructor for the Kandiyohi Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities program for high school students to learn about business and entrepreneurship.

Partly through his work with the CEO program, Gehrking began to think about the untapped talents of teachers and how technology can be used to bring those talents out.

"It changed my perspective on education and the roles of teachers. It gave me a will to give it a shot," Gehrking said.

EDGEtech was formed in 2014, and for the first few months Gehrking consulted with several school districts, helping them integrate new technology into the classroom. He soon realized if he really wanted to make a difference, he would somehow have to bring teachers together to share and create their ideas. He saw the value in networking and having teachers from different school districts working on a project together.

"Have our front-line people be our research and development department," Gehrking said.

Gehrking now helps small groups of teachers, from districts around the area, to pool their talents and produce something both intrinsically and educationally valuable to the students, classrooms and districts.

"Actually creating the product that has value to the schools," Gehrking said.

The first summer in the program, the teachers and Gehrking will meet to not only get to know each other, but to learn technology and work skills to help them in many aspects of their careers. The educators will also focus on why they are doing the program and what they hope to get out of it.

"It is a lot of philosophy discussion they usually don't get to do," Gehrking said.

Before school starts in the fall, the teachers will develop the scope and format of what they want to create.

During the school year, Gehrking asks the teachers to meet up at least once a month, just to keep in touch. They also gather the resources they will use while putting together their project.

The second summer is when the teachers sit down and create. Teachers will also be able to earn six graduate credits from Minnesota State University Moorhead, something Gehrking calls a big deal.

Taking part in the EDGEtech program to create a digital textbook and the like could cost districts around $3,000, which includes the work EDGEtech and its contractors do during the process, and for the final product.

That is much less than what even one class of traditional textbooks could cost a district.

"You can easily spend $15,000 to $20,000 on one class of textbooks," Gehrking said.

He said it sometimes has been difficult to find districts willing to try something new.

"The hardest part is explaining the why of it. I want to make teachers as valuable to their organization as possible," Gehrking said.

District administration can see the value of what EDGEtech offers, but can sometimes be wary of failure, especially when using taxpayers' money. This is something Gehrking does understand. However, if districts really want to bring education into the future, going the safe way won't work.

"Real innovation requires mistake making. That is how we want our kids to learn," Gehrking said.

In October, Gehrking presented at 1 Million Cups Willmar, a networking group for entrepreneurs. After that presentation Gehrking said he has fielded dozens of calls from teachers around the area interested in what EDGEtech offers.

"I hope that it works," Gehrking said.

EDGEtech has success stories already. Gehrking worked with science teachers from BOLD and Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, and helped them create a ninth-grade science textbook. Not only did they produce a good book, but also changed the way the teachers thought of themselves and what they could achieve.

"The realized how valuable they could be. Now those two teachers are more invested than anyone," Gehrking said.

The business can be reached by email at edge.tech.edsolutions@gmail.com or phone at 320-262-1396.

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