From the Back of a Napkin to a Product: How Putnam City Schools Helped Create Something Sold Around the World

09.18.2017 2:03 PM

When people come up with the beginnings of a great idea, one of the first things they do is get it on paper. Any sheet or scrap of paper, or even a napkin, will do.

Thus it was that Cory Boggs, Putnam City’s executive director of technology, found himself between sessions at a conference in February 2016, sitting at a table and sketching on a napkin something his schools needed.

Rattling around in his mind was a solution to the problem of how best to store and charge iPads so they were always ready for teachers to use them for student instruction. The current solution – large charging carts full of iPads that could easily be moved from room to room as teachers and students needed them – was not going to work well much longer. For the 2017-2018 school year, the district planned to put iPads into the hands of each and every middle school student, who would then carry the devices to each class during the day before leaving them to recharge overnight. No large carts would be needed.

It wasn’t just that the carts took up way too much classroom space. Without investigation, a teacher couldn’t tell if the cart had power, if the iPads where charging or even if all the iPads were there. And because students sometimes borrowed charging cords from the carts and then forgot to return them, some carts couldn’t even fully do the device charging they were designed to do. In addition, the cart doors were not designed to open with a master key, so technology department personnel couldn’t always get into the cart to do what needed to be done with the iPads. Boggs sketched a new and different kind of storage and charging unit that would fix those problems.

Boggs, who spent four years in the classroom as a 5th-grade teacher, knew that for teachers to make the best use of technology in the classroom, they need to be able to jump straight into instruction without worrying each day whether all the devices are present, charged and ready to go. He took his napkin drawing back to the district’s technology staff, some of whom are also former teachers, and turned it into a group project. They talked about needs. They brainstormed improvements. New drawings were created with new features. When they felt they had a better solution than any product they’d seen on the market, Boggs got on the phone.

A call was made to James Symons, the CEO of LocknCharge, an Australian company that defines itself as the leading global manufacturer and supplier of mobile deployment solutions. Boggs was acquainted with Symons because the district in the past had purchased charging carts from his company. Now, Boggs pitched a new idea to Symons, and Symons did what successful businesspeople do: he listened.

“There aren’t many vendors that would want to take the time to really listen to our vision and allow us to create a solution that perfectly meets the needs of our teachers,” said Cory Boggs, executive director of information technology at Putnam City Schools.

After additional phone calls, a meeting and the production of several prototypes, the design for the new storage and charging unit was finalized. Manufacturing then began in China, and this summer the company began marketing them in the U.S. and Canada. Sales will soon start in Europe, and target markets in all locales include education, retail, hospitality, healthcare and small business.

And the product name all those customers and potential customers will see? The Putnam 16 Charging Station.

Charri Stratton, director of instructional technology at Putnam City Schools, says the Putnam Charging Station meets the district’s current needs.

“Putnam City is in the process of creating its own digital curriculum, so students will increasingly use mobile devices as their textbooks, and this year all of our middle school students will do so. We didn’t find any charging stations that fit our needs for this initiative. We wanted a charging station that didn’t take up classroom space and allowed teachers to look and easily see if all the iPads were put away and charging. LocknCharge provided that,” she says.

The LocknCharge website extols the features of the Putnam Charging Station. The steel cabinet is about 27 inches high and 12 inches wide, suitable for standing on a desk or shelf, and much smaller than the carts that are roughly 4 foot x 4 foot x 4 foot cubes. There are 16 slots in the charging station, each capable of holding an iPad or other device. That means 16 devices can charge at one time – or 32, if two charging stations are used -- and with a color-coded LED charging status display for each slot, it’s easy to know if devices are charging (red) or ready to use (green). Teachers may set and use the combination lock on the front door of the charging station to get access to the devices, but technology administrators can gain access by using a master key.

For Boggs, the experience has been rewarding.

“The best thing is that teachers and students have something that lets them spend more time on teaching and learning and less time managing technology. But on a personal level, there is a lot of enjoyment and excitement to see something I envisioned come to life,” he says.

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To learn more about the Putnam Charging Station, visit www.lockncharge.com/products/putnam-charging-station. To see the brochure on the product, go to https://www.lockncharge.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/LNC_US_Putnam_16_Charging_Station_Web.pdf