Imagine coming up with a new way to distribute curriculum to more than 2,000 teachers at 52 campuses? That's what Dirk Funk, instructional technology facilitator for the Amarillo (Texas) Independent School District, was charged with two years ago. Luckily for Amarillo, Funk successfully rose to the challenge.
Using Blackboard's e-learning and collaboration tools (which the district also uses to run its online school), Funk and his four core curriculum specialists worked with more than 650 teachers to develop a Web-based curriculum standards platform.
Teachers use the platform to view, update, expand and revise the curriculum and resources whenever they need. They can click on any of the standards and get prerequisites, instructional guidelines and sample questions from previous state tests. Even better, they can begin a lesson plan at school and continue working on it from home. Parents can log in and see, in six-week blocks, what skills their children are learning.
Privacy in place:
"We had to make some parts open to everyone while protecting copyrighted material, and we wanted to share the wonderful things the teachers create," says Devia Cearlock, core studies curriculum specialist for social studies.
Bye bye, binders:
"In the past, we distributed big binders filled with resources that basically sat on teachers' shelves," says Funk. "We'd publish them once and send out new pages to replace the old ones. It wasn't an ideal method."
Now, teachers can get to curriculum documents anywhere they have Internet access. Because the system is so easy to use, Funk's team is continually developing new ways to collaborate. A recent innovation is tying staff development to curriculum standards with online book studies and discussion groups. Other new projects include publishing teacher and student writing, distributing conference notes and associating curriculum objectives with external resources like unitedstreaming videos.
Next-generation staff development:
For her book studies project, Cearlock asks teachers to attend one face-to-face meeting. She provides the books and everyone reads a chapter each week and participates in online discussions. "It all ties in with curriculum and is part of their staff development," says Cearlock. "We've done 1776, Founding Mothers and Freakonomics. From the online discussions, teachers develop lesson plans."
Slow going, at first:
Teacher adoption took time, admits Funk. As he gave more assessment and benchmark data on student performance, they began picking it up faster and using the resources. Long term, he says he believes the platform will make everyone more responsive to students' needs.
Ellen Ullman is features editor.