State business and education leaders to create new tool for teachers

Second-year chemistry teacher Mark Wilcox has never had a lot of colleagues at Patterson High School who could help him think up lesson plans or new approaches to a topic.

But he has imagined the benefits of reaching across the city and state to those who might have created a better way to teach a chemistry concept.

State education officials and business leaders put Wilcox and 29 other teachers in a room and asked them to dream up an online network that would help them be better teachers. The result will be STEMnet Teachers Hub, an initiative announced Wednesday, the same day a major new report revealed that the U.S. ranks 31st out of 56 countries in the percentage of high school graduates who have advanced math skills.

Using $2 million in federal Race to the Top money and more than $300,000 in contributions from AT&T, Citigroup Inc., Northrop Grumman and IBM, the Maryland State Department of Education and the Maryland Business Roundtable on Education are collaborating on an Internet resource for teachers in math, science engineering and technology.

The initiative is scheduled to begin with biology and will debut in the spring in either Baltimore County or Baltimore City, and plans call for an expansion next fall to other districts, said June Streckfus, executive director at the Roundtable. "It allows all the classrooms in the state to have equal access" to the best research, she said.

The site will allow teachers to drop a lesson plan that other teachers could upload and use. Wilcox hopes that teachers who use the lesson might leave their comments or suggest changes, in much the way Wikipedia is updated or cooks leave their comments about ways they adjusted ingredients in a recipe posted online.

The network will also allow teachers to connect with top researchers in the field to answer questions about cutting-edge research on a particular topic. So a Garrett County teacher might be able to use the web to communicate with a Northrop Grumman engineer or a scientist at the Applied Physics Laboratory on a Sunday night.

Teachers will also be linked with researchers in the state from NASA, Johns Hopkins, the University of Maryland or numerous businesses with scientists and engineers.

Some are describing the venture as a dating site for teachers and scientists: STEMnet will allow a teacher to go on line and ask for a volunteer in the field come to his classroom to describe to students the work of their field. IBM will work on software that links volunteers with schools.

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