Basecamp is an online project management tool built for collaboration. It’s been around in various forms for the better part of two decades, and it brings discussions, to-do lists, due dates and calendars into one place.

I had looked to use Basecamp for use in a couple of school projects, but kept putting it off because of the price. I came around after using it on a side project with a close friend who paid for it, and promptly started the 60 day free trial to see if it would fit for my work at school.

I was elated when on Day 55 of the trial I noticed that Basecamp had announced a free plan for teachers. I would have happily paid when the trial ended, but I was excited I no longer needed to. When I e-mailed to get on the teacher plan, they gave me 100 simultaneous projects, normally $100/month. Thank you Basecamp!

How do I use Basecamp as a teacher?

Collaborative course planning.

I work with other teachers in the district and state to collaborate on outlines, discussions, activities, and projects. We outline the semester, discuss how things went as we teach them, and we can look back at the archived project to review how it all went when we are planning again.

Student collaborative group discussions.

Each group in my Teen Entrepreneurship class gets their own Basecamp project where they can collaborate. They discuss their projects, assign each other to-dos, and build their businesses using Basecamp. All the while, I can monitor and participate in their progress, without standing over their shoulders. This is HUGE for young teenagers who can’t drive yet. And it makes me look like a true pro when parents can take a look at all of the work their students do for my class.

Plan conferences, service projects, and other events.

I run a chapter of FBLA at the junior high, and we use the heck out of Basecamp. We use it to plan and document regular meetings, service projects, our regional and state leadership conferences, and our business plan competitions. Each committee uses it to plan business tours, socials, and more.

Assign roles and responsibilities for our student store.

My Intro to Business class runs a student store at the school. We sell candy, drinks, t-shirts, etc. There are a lot of moving pieces. I assign weekly jobs using the Project Templates feature, and students get reminded the day before that they’re due to work the next day. The manager uses his Basecamp account to make sure the cashier and other employees get everything done. The cashier submits daily cash counts on Basecamp. I’ve run the store with and without Basecamp, and I definitely don’t want to go back.

Organize basketball practice.

I am the assistant coach for the 9th grade basketball team. The head coach works in real estate, and isn’t at the school during the day. So we plan practice, review games, and send announcements using Basecamp. Most of this could be done over the phone, e-mail, or text message. But it’s nice to have a home for all of our discussions, practice plans, and gameplans. It’s cool to look back at how much we did all season. We just used Basecamp to pull off our end of year banquet as well.

Work with TAs.

I have 3 TAs that help me get everything done at the school. They help prepare lessons, grade projects, and even teach some sections of class. We use Basecamp to keep track of what’s been done, and what still needs to get done. Indispensable.

When I started writing writing this post, I didn’t even realize how many different things I use Basecamp for. But I can definitely say that it’s become an essential part of balancing all of the different things we try and do at the school. I’m 100% confident in recommending Basecamp to all teachers. And with the new way that Basecamp is offering free plans to us in the profession, it’s an absolute no-brainer.

Local news organization KSL reports on the controversy surrounding the UDOT commercial that played during the super bowl:

Despite the intended message urging people to use their seat belts every time they get into a car, a number of people have criticized the commercial, saying it is not appropriate for children to see.

Pushing you to have a tough discussion about the realities of seat belt use with your 4 and 7 year olds is exactly what this commercial was designed to do. If your child is upset about it, have the discussion, and decide as a family that this isn’t going to happen to you.

I had 2 good friends die from car accidents while I was in elementary school. Children dying in accidents without seat belts1 is a harsh reality, and I applaud anything that increases dialogue and awareness, especially if it ends up saving a life.

We really wanted to spark some conversation between families and maybe inspire someone who hasn’t worn their seat belt to start doing so.

Brilliant. Mission accomplished.

  1. Either the child himself, or other people in the vehicle, as this commercial discusses

No talk, all action. Launch a startup in 54 hours.

That’s the mission of Startup Weekend, a global event focused on building communities of entrepreneurs.

My Startup Weekend Experience

I went to my first Startup Weekend in November hosted at the beautiful Weber State Startup Ogden extension. I worked with an awesome team, including Joshua Howland, Adam Harris, Corey Woodcox, and many of the great people at HQ. We worked on Statiq, helping people build beautiful, ridiculously fast websites using static blogging engines.

In one weekend we were able to build our first two themes, a beta web interface for managing your site, an iOS app for the same purpose, and a syncing engine for hosting your static HTML blog on AWS using nothing more than text files inside of a Dropbox folder.

And, in an eye-opening launch1, we sold over $1000 worth of memberships our last evening of the weekend.

Startup Weekend Provo

I met so many cool people and had such a great time at my first Startup Weekend, I decided I wouldn’t miss another one if it were nearby. So, even though my (for another 72ish hours) unborn son will be only 3 weeks old, my wife has graciously given me permission to head to Provo for the event.

If you’re interested in meeting other awesome people in the Utah technology or startup communities, you can do much worse than Startup Weekend Provo. I’ll be there. A couple of my students will be there. And so will a hundred or more other really stellar people from around the state.

My Personal Invitation

I’m going to pitch my first idea this time around. Everyone that attends gets the opportunity to invite people to their project, and the top 10 or so projects continue working through the weekend. I don’t know if my idea will be one of those 10 that get selected, and if not, I’ll find something else cool to work on.

I’ll be pitching my idea for an education tipline. You know those banners at football games that say ‘Text 55555 for assistance or to report an incident’? That, but for middle and high schools. I live in this world every day, and while it’s not the next billion dollar darling, I am confident that there is a problem worth solving here, and I have all of the connections to local prospects so that we can build the right solution.

If you’re into, or interested in learning about any of the following, I’d love to see you at Startup Weekend:

  1. Backend development (Rails, Django, Node, whatever)
  2. Frontend design (Photoshop, Bootstrap, jQuery, HTML5, CSS3, etc)
  3. Twilio
  4. Stripe

And even if you aren’t, or you want to work on something else, you should come out to Startup Weekend just for the experience. It’s a great time with great people. And if you’re into tech or startups, I can guarantee an experience you won’t forget2.

Early Bird registration ends today. It’s $49. It goes up to $75 up until the event begins on February 20th. Find out more details or get your ticket at EventBrite.

If you’re going, interested in going, or have any questions before registering, shoot me a message on Twitter. I love hearing from and working with other tech and startup people in Utah.

  1. Build something, launch it to the world, and have over 100 people from New Zealand to Japan give you money for it. This was my first hands-on experience watching this happen in one evening.

  2. Not affiliated, just a fan.

I have a volunteer helping out a couple of days each week in my classroom. We are working with students to prepare for FBLA’s Desktop Publishing competition, and she was demonstrating Photoshop to create a menu for our school store.

As she walked through the tools, I kept wondering why she was doing things in her specific way. For example, filling marquee rectangles instead of the rectangle tool. But when she finished, she had created something much better than I would have. And even more important, so had many of the students she was teaching.

Technique, skill, and experience are great. They are multipliers. But work is the multiplicand. When you have work and talent, magic happens. But if you can only have one, take the work. The novice who shows up and puts in work will trump the lazy guru.

We just completed our $5 Weekend activity in my Teen Entrepreneurship class. The students are given $5 seed money and 48 hours to make as much money as they can 1. Students sold candy, cleaned homes, baked cookies, even sold thrift shop finds on eBay. During our breakdown discussion, I asked the students what they learned:

If I need money, I can make it. But I have to go and do something.

Yep.

  1. This assignment is one of the highlights of each semester. It’s modified from Tina Seelig’s similar project she gives to her classes in her Innovation course at Stanford. The project is described in greater detail in her book.

I taught my students about how to brainstorm business ideas today. We focused on looking for problems in need of a solution, and that great entrepreneurs are always looking for problems to solve.

We first talked about solutions that seem obvious now, but weren’t when they were first introduced - the car, the cell phone, breakfast cereal. We talked about primary and secondary ‘problems’ that products can solve. For example, how the car can be much more than a transportation solution; a pastime, a butt warmer, a status symbol.

But then we started to get into more contemporary ideas. We looked at social media: Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter1.

Helping college kids with an easier way to connect online? Letting you send self-destructing photos to others? 140 character microblogs?

A student raised his hand.

Aren’t these super first-world problems?

Yes, they are. Not every business has to solve problems for the second or third worlds. In fact, most businesses don’t. People will happily pay for something that solves a minor annoyance. Here are the tips I gave to the class, from a post by Chris Guillebeau in April of last year:

  1. A solution to a problem
  2. A response to a clear need
  3. Something that makes people happier
  4. Something that removes a negative

It’s awesome if you can solve world hunger, cure disease, or dig wells for clean water. These missions for humanity need our world’s brightest minds. But most businesses today are solving first world problems. For better or worse, it’s a natural result of people with first world incomes being able to pay for solutions to first world problems.

Don’t shy away from solving ‘first world problems’. People are happy to pay for the right solution.

  1. Because they monetize eyeballs and impressions, they aren’t exactly models of monetizing first world problems directly, but great examples of building multibillion dollar businesses around first world problems.