teachernexus

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Inauguration

It frustrates me that of all the thousands of great data pools on the world wide web I have yet to find a good exchange of quality educational materials for secondary school teachers. Type in 'high school curriculum' into google or yahoo - you get a few distance learning sites and several random projects that teachers have posted on the web for their students. Try worksheets - the worksheet generators and libraries are a vey nice gesture, but the html never looks very nice when printed and the libraries never quite match exactly what you need. Assessments? - if you subscribe to the International Bacchalaureate Program for several thousand dollars a year you can have a fantastic set of assessments. The multiple choice question engines that come with textbook subscriptions are an excellent supplement, but rarely hit your target audience at their level. Where is the colaboration? It should be easy. Teachers readily share their work.

Those that have attempted to respond to the dearth of online resources for teachers were unfortunately, not teachers. The EPA put out a free environmental studies curriulum for various ages a few years ago. The project produced a few good activities, but most of their grant was wasted on writing lesson plans. Teachers do not want lesson plans. Giving a teacher a lesson plan is like giving a baseball player a new glove before the game. Just as the glove is oiled and worked to form to the player's hand, so the teacher's lesson plan is crafted to fit the particular teaching context.

Don't get me wrong. The web is full of great multimedia resources for the teaching context. You can find radio shows on npr.org, or instructional flash videos on brainpop.com, images of just about anything you want from a google image search, and even first person accounts from holocaust survivors. With the exception of the latter, most of what is to be found on the web must be experienced on the computer. In the classroom environment the computer experience still counts as the equivalent of watching a video; an important resource, but not the mainstay of your lesson structure. What's missing are downloadable, edit-capable text files for activities that make up the bulk of your class. And not just singular activities but a series of activities designed for a specific unit, like the civil war or the greenhouse effect.

Teachers organize their instruction into two to five week blocks of time for a given topic. Each day some subset of topics will be covered within the larger topic. To engage students with the skills and ideas of these subtopics teachers use myriad instructional techniques: lectures, worksheets, vocabulary lists and quizzes, each one teach one, poster creation, skit development and performance, laboratory expermentation, writing prompts, partner editing, tests. If a new teacher is lucky s(he) will inherit a binder of such activities from a senior teacher who taught the same subject. My experience of new teachers is that most never find that senior teacher and they end up creating all of the curriculum on their own.

The internet provides an opportunity for what seems like such a simple solution to the sharing problem. A teacher collaboration website seems like a no brainer. It wouldn't have to be complex. A little space on the web where teachers could post their units. Teachers are collaborative by nature and are already doing this in a disorganized fashion. We need someone or some group to take responsibility for organizing such an effort. There is one guy out there trying to do this, but it looks like he doesn't have any takers yet. Peter Hutnick has a site called Free Curriculum. He even enlisted the Gnu guru himself Richard Stallman to help him. He's got the right idea, but nobody seems to be taking him up on his offer. I think the problem is that he's not a teacher and he doesn't have the inside scoop. I'll keep my eyes on the project and see what comes of it.

In the meantime I will keep searching for that well of teacher resources on the net. If you come across anything let me know. I am a high school teacher and a teacher mentor in Redwood City, California. Such a resource would make a lot of teachers I know very happy.