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Bellevue schools using Gates grant to make lessons available online
Seattle Times Eastside bureau
Bellevue School District will use a $1.9 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to put its curriculum for every subject and every grade online.
The grant, announced Thursday, will develop the district Web site to help teachers build and share lesson plans and ideas and help parents stay on top of what their children are being taught.
The Web site could serve as a model for other school districts in the state and across the nation, said Marie Groark, spokeswoman for Gates Foundation.
"We looked across the country at school districts doing this kind of work," Groark said. "And we're excited that some of the best work in the country is being done right here in Bellevue. Some districts are working on similar projects, but no one else is doing the breadth and the depth that Bellevue is doing."
With the help of previous grants, the school district started working on "Curriculum Web" during the last two years, with an emphasis on developing the K-12 math curriculum, said Eric McDowell, math-curriculum developer for Bellevue School District.
The Gates Foundation grant will allow the district to expand and "flesh out" the Web site to include all subjects and all grades, and more information within each area, he said
The site allows teachers to post lesson plans and ideas for each school day, and allows other teachers to rate how well they thought the lesson plans worked, similar to rating a book on Amazon.com, McDowell said.
Students and parents can also access the site and see what is being taught, and even watch video clips of a teacher giving the lesson.
The goal in the next two years is to have other school districts and teachers from across the region, and even the country, clicking on the Web site to look for lesson-plan ideas and to offer their own suggestions, McDowell said.
"Our goal is to turn Curriculum Web into a site as Wikipedia-like as possible," said McDowell, referring to the free, online encyclopedia that allows most articles to be changed by almost anyone with access.
"We literally want every teacher with access to the Web to add their thought, hints, suggestions and reflections in teaching. We hope it becomes this organic thing so that it can become an incredibly rich resource."
This is also the next step in creating a unified curriculum across all of the district's k-12 schools, and to ensure that day-by-day and year-by-year, students are being taught what they need to learn to graduate with the knowledge they need to succeed in college or the work place, McDowell said.
It will also be a good tool for parents to use, said Sherry Ladd, Bellevue Schools Foundation's executive director. The grant was given to the foundation, a nonprofit group that works in partnership with and raises money for the school district.
A parent who has a child who comes home baffled about a lesson plan can log on to the site and look to see what the student was supposed to learn that day, Ladd said.
The child can even watch the lesson again on the Web, to glean information not gotten the first time around, she said.
The Web site has been a long-time vision of Bellevue district Superintendent Mike Riley, Ladd said.
"He has this vision to have all kids of all different backgrounds equally prepared for success in college," Ladd said. "To have the Gates Foundation step up and say, 'We believe in you,' is so amazing."
Ronna Weltman, a mother with children in the district, said she is looking forward to having the Web site completed so she can see what her ninth-grade son is supposed to be learning in school.
Her son is in a gifted program at Interlake High School, she said.
"I ask him now, 'Are you studying enough?' but if I could see exactly what he is learning, then I could say, 'Do you understand the Peloponnesian War? Do you understand the big things you're supposed to know about the war?' " Weltman said.
Rachel Tuinstra: 206-515-5637 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company