Teams of teachers and state education department staff are working together this year on pairing digital resources with Common Core State Standards, an effort to align grade-level goals and learning expectations in clear, plain language.
With an open-source digital resource portal called M.O.R.E. that the Michigan Education Department created five years ago, both Michigan and South Dakota are finding resources and digging deep into the Common Core.
In South Dakota, Gov. Dennis Daugaard committed to spending $15 million on an "Investing in Teachers" package. This package includes $8.4 million in training over the next three years on Common Core for teachers, science academies counselor, workshops and administrator leadership training.
"I think one of the things that teachers need is the content to help students get to those higher levels of learning," said Julie Mathiesen, director of TIE, a state contractor that runs the curriculum curation project. "This investment will free up a lot of resources that might have been spent on worksheets and textbooks, and static information that gets old and outdated."
South Dakota and Michigan are paying teachers to spend time this summer and during the school year finding English language arts and math resources to place into their separate versions of the portal. Michigan would like to see more states join the effort.
If one state finds 3,000 resources, and another state finds 3,000 resources, that's twice the resources than working solo. Officials would like to see a multiplier effect.
"We're hoping other states want to take an instance of this portal, and we can split up the alignment work," said Barbara Fardell, manager of educational technology at the Michigan Education Department.
After presenting at this year's South by Southwest Conference in Austin, Texas, a number of states expressed interest. But because things move so slowly at the state level, they're not usually ready to start something like this until six months have gone by, Fardell said.
Michigan originally had a rich database of teacher-created resources for the time period between 1995 and about 2002. When money dried up the state needed to look for other options.
The Library of Michigan was already using a portal to organize different databases. So the Education Department hired a few programmers to make it work for them. The portal currently holds close to 60,000 digital resources.
Until recently, teachers aligned resources with the Michigan Content Expectations. Once Common Core came along, the teacher teams started matching the math resources to the Common Core. Next, they'll focus on English language arts.
South Dakota is using Michigan's open-source website code and South Dakota re-branded the website to look like its state portal . In the portal, they might choose a standard and attach the digital resource to it. The South Dakota teachers are looking at the math resources in the Michigan portal and adding some of them to South Dakota's portal.
Because Michigan already had a good deal of work done on math, South Dakota is starting in on the English language art digital resources this summer. By selecting grade-level teams of teachers who are tech-minded, South Dakota hopes to use the work of 100 teachers to benefit the approximately 10,000 teachers statewide.
"The resource alone isn't going to move mountains, but I think it's a good first step for teachers to have those resources and think about them in new ways related to the Common Core," Mathiesen said.
The south Dakota teachers are concentrating on finding open educational resources and attaching them to a standard. They might choose 10 digital learning objects to go with one standard instead of finding a textbook that would come close.
"Frankly, with the economic situation — even if textbooks were a great idea — schools don't have the funds to suddenly retrofit all their schools with materials that meet the Common Core," Mathiesen said.
The teams are meeting for five days in July. Then, the South Dakota Education Department will pay them to test out the resources in the classroom between August and October. They'll do the same thing in the spring and come back together for three days in June 2013.
Before teachers in South Dakota and Michigan started this work, they spent a year in various professional development opportunities related to the Common Core. And they're now understanding the standards better as a result of their resource-discovery project.
"They're finding that in doing the work for us for the portal, they're learning a lot more about the Common Core and digital resources," Fardell said.