Web Site Brings Teachers Together

Maine's teachers are teaching each other this year as part of a $3.5 million campaign to move lessons from the classroom to cyberspace.

The "Electronic Learning Marketplace" allows teachers to explore each other's classroom techniques by connecting to an Internet site (www.ee.usm. maine.edu/smp).

The goal of the five-year initiative, which is now being field tested after a year of development, is to break down the traditional isolation of classroom teachers, organizers say.

It is part of the US Department of Education's Challenge Grant Program, which is designed to improve student performance through the innovative use of technology.

"We often assume that schools are coherent organizations when, in fact, they are a group of one-room schoolhouses run under the same roof," says Debra Smith, managing director of the Electronic Learning Marketplace. "We don't have a history in education of sharing practice."

That traditional lack of sharing means that each teacher has to create ways of doing things from scratch. They don't learn from each other's mistakes and successes, and that hurts students, educators say.

"It's critical that people be talking with each other and finding better ways of doing things," says Jay Bartner, superintendent of schools in Old Orchard Beach, where the effectiveness of the marketplace campaign will be tested on an annual basis through standardized tests and teacher journals.

One of the first teachers to be featured on the Web site is Denise Heffernan Stearns, who teaches second grade at Old Orchard's Jameson School.

Visitors to the site can see reproductions of art that the children drew for their science projects.

The site also describes the teacher's struggle to teach the children, the difference between scientific observation and opinion, how she assessed their knowledge with reports, drawings, and discussions, and her grading scale.

"It's going to make an enormous impact in the classroom," Ms. Stearns says of the program. The site eventually will include projects from each core subject area, for all the grades from kindergarten through high school. It will offer online forums for teachers interested in discussing educational issues, such as the statewide effort to ensure certain learning standards are achieved by all Maine students.

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