Friday, December 1, 2000

Georgia Learning Connections: Serving Georgia Schools

By Sara Pitts

Do you know how to best demonstrate cellular mitosis to your students? What about explaining the election rules for the District of Columbia? Teachers who use Georgia Learning Connections do; they know to just log onto, perform a search for "cell" or the "Constitution," and the results pop right up on the computer screen. But teachers using a regular search engine... well, who knows how long it may take? With the advent of the Information Age, the world of education has become a much easier and much more exciting place to work. Distance learning has opened an array of opportunities, educational sites are showing up all over the World Wide Web, and teachers are able to access an incredible amount of information to use in the classroom through the Internet - but only if they have the patience to sift through all the results most search engines (such as Yahoo and Excite) retrieve.

About three years ago the Georgia Department of Education recognized the need to minimize time-consuming research work for teachers in order to free up their time for students. Georgia Learning Connections (GLC) was created, and in October 1999 the GLC web site,, made its debut on the Internet with over 8,000 curriculum standards, links to 18,000 educational web sites, a database of lesson plans, and a bulletin board as big as the state.

Quality Core Curriculum (QCC) standards are the guidelines Georgia teachers use in the classroom and are the foundation upon which GLC has been built. GLC was first conceived as an online repository for these QCC standards, making them instantly available to all teachers in Georgia. And in order for the standards to be most effective, the GLC staff attached teaching tools such as web links and lesson plans, so teachers can easily access resources when they teach specific standards. As a result, the GLC web site became a showcase for both the best educational sites on the Internet and the best lesson plans in Georgia. Now, English teachers looking for a new way to explain the impact culture has on literature can bypass a lengthy search at an online search engine. Instead, the teacher can go directly to the GLC web site, pull up the QCC standards for American Literature and Composition, and find 14 web links attached to Standard 33 to teach this concept to students. And, not only can teachers find web links, but they can also find lesson plans written by Georgia teachers, teacher-recommended assessments for ideas on how to test students, and assessment correlations matching that standard to standardized tests such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.

Teacher Resource Center (TRC) is another major component of the GLC site, and the material found here is a supplement to the QCC standards. The TRC is organized into Curriculum Resources and Educational Resources. While the web links found in the QCC standards are very specific, Curriculum Resources is a listing of broad, general web sites for each subject area and are not connected to any one QCC standard. With the links in the TRC, a geography teacher can research facts about all of the 50 states at once with her students, instead of focusing on just one state. Educational Resources has a wide array of material with subheadings such as Georgia Treasures and Teacher Tools. Georgia Treasures is just what it sounds like - links to information about Georgia's museums, parks, libraries, government agencies, and historical sites and figures. Teacher Tools is a database of activity sheets, like calendars and rubrics, and software resources, like mini-manuals to guide new users in the basics of computer applications such as Microsoft PowerPoint or Netscape Navigator.

Finally, Bulletin Board is the last of the three original modules on GLC and is a listing of education announcements from all over the state. It is organized into seven categories such as Conferences, GLC Highlights, and Celebrating this Month plus an archive of past announcements. The postings on the Bulletin Board range from announcing the revised QCC math standards to the Atlanta Journal and Constitution's Honor Teacher Awards to instructions on how to use GLC itself.

With the constantly changing face of education and technology, the staff knows that the site will never be finished, that it will only keep expanding and improving to serve Georgia's teachers and students for years. With that in mind, GLC has added two more features this year to the big blue arrow that is the hallmark of the GLC home page. The additions are Georgia Education Initiatives and Lesson Plan Builder.

Georgia Education Initiatives is a showcase of educational programs in Georgia that work with the GLC staff to correlate their educational material with QCC standards. One example is Junior Achievement, a group that teaches children about the intricacies of the business world while they are still in grade school. Gifted Education, a division of the Georgia Department of Education, will have a module featuring a virtual library, a teacher's forum, and a bank of educational resources all geared toward teachers and parents of gifted children.

All of the lesson plans on GLC have been written and tested in the classroom by Georgia teachers - none were bought or gathered from an outside or commercial source. To continue this standard of excellence and consistency, GLC created the Lesson Plan Builder, an online tool for teachers to build effective lesson plans. Teachers are invited to use this step-by-step guide to write lessons for their classroom and to submit for possible inclusion on GLC. As they write these lesson plans, teachers can add worksheets, answer keys and web resources right into the lesson. Once the lesson is finished the author can submit it to GLC to be reviewed by GLC staff and possibly be posted to a specific standard on the web site. This feature is an important aspect not only for the builder but also for education in Georgia; because of the builder, teachers are using GLC to share their expertise with every other educator in Georgia.

The GLC staff has spent the past year spreading the word about the web site to teachers across the state, spending time doing hands-on training sessions, and sending out informational material to superintendents and principals. The GLC staff wants the Internet to be useful, not an unwieldy research tool that is eventually abandoned because it's too time consuming. The resources should benefit all teachers: Whether they choose to use the resources word for word in the classroom, modify them for their class's needs, or just use them for new ideas, the ultimate goal should be to improve student achievement in Georgia.