Monday, July 20, 2009

Easy Ed Reform I: Lesson Database

Lest I seem only interested in tearing down the same solution (ahem, charters *cough*), I'd like to offer some ideas for "easy education reform" over this summer, and the first one is a complete no-brainer.

It starts from the fact that every public school student in Massachusetts needs to learn the same material. This material is written up in somewhat penetrable documents called the curriculum frameworks. All the tools that teachers have, textbooks, guides, et cetera, are designed and should be used to help teach the frameworks, not be used for their own sake. If you have a teacher who is plodding through the textbook because all students have the textbook, said teacher is using that resource incorrectly.

Anyway, these frameworks are used to that any given piece of the framework is taught by hundreds, if not thousands of teachers across the Commonwealth to students approximately the same age. For example, every student is expected to be taught how to "WHII.4 Summarize the major effects of the French Revolution -- its contribution to modern nationalism and its relationship to totalitarianism". This will happen in ninth grade, usually.

The fact that while this is required of nearly every teacher, the state government provides little resource in doing so. Every textbook comes with lesson plans, and many are available online, and almost all are of the "read the article and answer the questions underneath" variety. That is to say, most are written by people with doctorates in education who haven't spent significant time in a classroom in years.

So, my first easy ed reform -- create and promote a Massachusetts lesson plan database.
As part of accruing the professional development points (PDPs) that teachers need to constantly acquire in order to maintain their license, teachers could upload, say, 2 lesson plans every year to this publicly, freely available database.

The value of the lesson contributed in these "points" could be determined by number of downloads, ratings from fellow professionals (hey -- real accountability!), and filling areas of need in the database. Let's face it, it doesn't take a genius to make the Black Death interesting, but there's a paucity of lessons out there that would make students care about Japanese feudalism. If you fill that niche, you're rewarded.

Somewhere in the Commonwealth, a teacher has a great, interactive, exciting lesson to teach students how the French Revolution contributed to modern nationalism. And elsewhere in the Commonwealth is a teacher who has no idea how to start on that. Facilitating the communication between one professional and the other only would spread good ideas and help all students quickly. Can you imagine two sectors of Microsoft working on the same problem year after year, with the company not facilitating communication between the two?

There is already Lesson Planet, a pay site with many of these widgets. Given how general it is, and that it asks for money outlay for a site of questionable worth, it is not the best choice for a Massachusetts teacher.

If the Commonwealth laid out the money for the online infrastructure on this, added a line or two to a couple forms teachers need to fill out for retaining their license, we could have freely available online the "best of the best" lesson ideas from teachers across the state. These lessons would be in lockstep with state requirements and available as open-source inspiration. Use isn't mandatory, but it would help the teaching of all professionals in Massachusetts evolve.

A lesson database: it's quick, it's smart, it's cheap, and it's right. It's easy education reform, which means it'll probably never happen.


GGW said...

Hi Sab,

The infrastructure exists.

For free you can use

It allows you to set up a "group" (like MA standards-based teachers...or if you wanted to pilot something specific, MA 7th grade history teachers, or whatever)

Quriltai said...

Precisely...the infrastructure exists, but it is not promoted, nor tied to our frameworks. I didn't mean to imply that the technology isn't out there, rather that there is no real effort underway to take advantage of it in an institutional manner.