Monday, December 14, 2009

My hope for PA's SAS Portal

I'm in recovery mode right now after about six weeks of intense work with the PA Department of Education and the PATIMS (Intermediate Unit representatives) and the Classrooms for the Future Mentors (now known as the 21st Century Teaching and Learning Program) as we put together a four day Institute designed to unveil the Standards Aligned Systems and the SAS Portal. It was a wonderful, albeit exhausting, experience and I'm very excited about the potential that this brings to Pennsylvania. This SAS system is unique to PA in many ways, and I really believe that it has the potential to put PA on the global map for Education.

One aspect of the portal will be a section containing lesson plans that have been submitted by PA teachers, vetted, and arranged by topic and standard. That will mean that any teacher can go to the portal to find quality lesson plans that focus on a given PA Standard and, soon, down to the Anchor level. Imagine a time when we can say to businesses that every child in PA is being taught to these standards.

There is one part of this process that I'm hoping will change just a bit, however. That is, the way that lesson plans make their way onto the Portal. Right now, lessons are submitted and reviewed by a small group of people who make the determination as to whether or not that lesson makes the grade and gets published. But, I'm hoping that YOU can help to make that determination.

Here's the vision: Teachers submit lesson and Unit plans to the Portal. Those plans must identify which standards and anchors are addressed in the lesson, etc. But then you - we - have a chance to rate it. There could be several categories for rating. One rating for how high it reaches on Bloom's New Taxonomy, maybe, and one rating for how it ranges in terms of its approach (didactic to constructivist, etc), another for its appropriate use of technology, another for its inclusion of "21st Century Skills", etc. And, there would be a field in which we could add a comment about the lesson. We could use that field, perhaps, to suggest an alternative website or to suggest another activity for the lesson. There would be a check box there, as well, so that we could flag those comments as being inappropriate - in case that's a concern. You get the idea. YOU/WE do the vetting.

The pluses to this kind of system, in my opinion, are many. First of all, instead of a small handful of people (who have the experience and subject matter knowledge of just a few) deciding on what qualifies as excellent, it's teachers from around the state - even from around the world who are making that determination. Subject matter experts with Masters degrees in their fields, and possibly many years of classroom experience. If you're familiar with the book, The Wisdom of Crowds, then you are aware of how powerful it is to have many people involved in making a decision like this. Instead of someone with limited science background judging the lesson, it's perhaps hundreds of science teachers deciding.

Another plus is that the vetting/rating process is continuous instead of occurring just once - a snapshot in time of what someone thought qualified as a good lesson. The world around that lesson could have changed drastically, but the lesson plan and its rating might not have. But, in a system that allows us to rate the lesson, that rating, as well as the comments to the lesson, change all the time to include better resources, better strategies, etc. One of our mentors, Ralph Maltese, a former Teacher of the Year in PA, commented to me recently that he had gone to the IMDB website to check on an old actor who was a member of his family. He was surprised to see that the actor's popularity had dropped by 6%. But, the guy has been dead for years! The point is that perceptions change over time, so what once was considered to be an outstanding lesson might one day be outdated.

In a system where we're asking for the professional opinions of our teachers to determine what is good and what could be better, we're providing constant professional development. Teachers visit the site, look at a lesson, read the discussions about the lesson, join in on those discussions, and thereby make the lesson better. Everyone benefits. And, how cool would it be to have the world be able to watch the growth of our teaches through their dialogs with other teachers? And, how cool would it be if a teacher in another country were to also suggest ways to make the lesson reach globally.

Yes, it's true that some teachers might refrain from submitting a lesson plan for fear of criticism. True. But, if I submit a lesson and it's not rated a 5 out of 5, I'm going to find out why not and adjust it accordingly. Everyone learns. Everyone - including the students - WINS!

I had a chance to talk with one of the developers of the portal and, as it turns out, this idea was already presented to the Department but was rejected. The thought was that they didn't want anything on the portal that wasn't excellent to begin with. Not a criticism of those who rejected the idea; that was just their thinking, I'm told. But, I think that when they start to REALLY think about it, they'll change their minds. I'm SURE of it.

So, keep your eye on PA, folks. "Something is going to happen. Something wonderful!"
(UPDATE 12-15-2009)
I just heard that the decision has been made to include many (if not all) of the ideas expressed here. VERY VERY GOOD NEWS, INDEED!!!


Jim Gates said...

This comment was actually posted to the wrong post, so I'm pasting it in here on his behalf.
Jim Gates’ proposal for adapting the ed hub portal to address educational needs conjures up a number of issues essential to the modern classroom. Imagine an online grocery store that showcases only carrots, onions, and potatoes. Each of the vegetables is of high quality, and the accompanying recipes that use those foods are tried and true. Certainly this resource has value, and numerous cooks will take advantage of this online offering. But imagine if someone wants to add a recipe to the online grocery store, a recipe that includes squash. We could have a small committee research the squash, although we run the risk of having no one on the committee with squash expertise, and the committee could apply its rigorous vegetable standards to the squash offering, but if the criteria were originally limited to carrots, onions, and potatoes, or if the monitoring committee’s expertise was limited, the squash recipe may never be vetted.
Imagine, on the other hand, dozens of vegetables and hundreds of recipes submitted to the online vegetable showcase. The quality of the vegetables and the recipes are constantly reviewed and revised by the cooks who are using them. A recipe’s value and usage are updated on an almost daily basis, and chefs from around the world contribute their expertise to the online vegetable showcase.
Teachers know that the classroom is not a static entity….what worked yesterday in period 1 will not necessarily work today in period 4. To claim that this lesson plan will work every time in this situation is to ignore the fluidity of the learning dynamic. Students are not paper clips, massed produced on the assembly line. As educators we must consider the benefits of sameness with its concomitant liabilities. The contributions from a diverse and talented aggregate of teachers from around the globe might impair the sense of security that arises from total control, but the possibilities of a resource that grows and changes as the world changes far outweigh, in my opinion, the abdication of total control. Onion soup is delicious, and it may even be a staple. But there are so many good recipes one can glean from a shallot. Ralph Maltese

JohnBr said...

Jim, another analogy that I believe supports your vision is the story of Nupedia. Nupedia was developed by Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia. Wales' original vision was to create an online encyclopedia that was written by experts and extensively peer reviewed. Unfortunately, Nupedia died on the vine in 2003 because the lengthy approval process delayed content being added to the site in a quick and efficient manner.

Wikipedia grew out of the ashes of Nupedia and became one of the most highly-used resources on the Internet. As Tapscott, Howe and others have observed, we live in a participatory culture. While Wikipedia and other crowdsourcing-type sites may have their drawbacks, they do encourage participation and use.

hagemannj said...

Will all teachers everywhere be able to see these lessons or will they be on a secure site?