With the click of a mouse, elementary school teachers in Indian Prairie Unit District 204 can pull up the district's new math curriculum along with a host of lessons, videos, web links and other support materials.
Before this year, they were given 18-inch-thick binders full of curriculum materials. Then, they would replace certain pages as material was updated. Some material also was available by computer, but not in the interactive, easily accessed way it is in the new system.
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"I think it will change the way our teachers do their day-to-day work," said Kathy Duncan, chief academic officer.
The new, interactive, web-based curriculum platform was designed specifically for District 204 through a partnership with a private company called School Town. The company's work has been done for free with the understanding that District 204 will endorse the product. The venture may turn out to be a moneymaker for the district because it is considering the possibility of selling its new curriculum to other districts across the country.
Last year, more than 100 teachers and administrators in District 204 revamped the district's math curriculum to meet federal Common Core education standards, a nationwide effort to beef up America's education system. By 2015, students throughout Illinois will be tested on new standards in math, language arts and science.
"I hear about so many other districts in our country and reading about where they are at, and I don't know how they are going to make it," board member Susan Rasmus said.
Next year, District 204 plans to unveil a new language arts curriculum, which also will be on the web-based platform. The following year, the science curriculum will be changed.
Once students' test results come back following the 2015 assessment, the curriculum easily can be tweaked to better prepare students for future assessments.
"Curriculum is an ongoing process," Duncan said. Gone are the days of a curriculum undergoing a summer rewrite and then staying the same for many years, she said.
"That's the old system and it doesn't work well, particularly in an ever-changing world," Duncan said.
The new system also will give teachers many options to be creative in their classrooms, Superintendent Kathy Birkett said.
"This gives them all these options and ways to get there. That's the whole key to education. That will make us stronger," she said.
Teachers will be able to share best practices and successful lessons with their peers through the platform once district officials have vetted suggestions to make sure they meet Common Core objectives. Also, teachers can access materials from other grades to easily see what their future students have been taught or to see concepts their students will be learning in the future. Once the system has been used for a while, teachers will be able to rate lessons as well.
School Town CEO Mike Kritzman said that recent demonstrations of the curriculum platform have made it his company's "hottest product" right now. He thinks many districts are in denial that they will have to implement the more stringent Common Core standards.
"You guys have completely re-imagined how it could work," he said. "If you just think about that there are just going to be no more binders here and everything will be searchable on an online mode with videos for quick tips. It is revolutionary, and there's really nothing else like it in the market."