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FIRST ANNUAL FEDERAL FOCUS ED-MENTOR SYMPOSIUM
Kirk Winters works in the Department of Education, Washington, DC in the Office of the Deputy Secretary as a Policy Analyst. He helps create Internet-based customer services for the U.S. Department of Education. His team has developed EDInfo, an email update that tells 13,000 individuals about new reports and grant opportunities from the Department. The team-which includes Peter Kickbush, Keith Stubbs, and others-has also created FREE, a website that makes hundreds of teaching and learning resources from across the federal government available-and searchable-at one website (www.thegateway.org). Before coming to the Department in 1986, he taught high school English in Shawnee Mission, Kansas.
There are three brochures out by the U.S. Department of Education that I will be referring to throughout my talk. Funding Opportunities is a really popular one. Finding Tools Across the Top . . . if you go to "search", you can actually search across approximately 150 to 200 technical assistance organizations in education across the country. Then Headlines, so people can get news. This site is a combination of an online library and a newsstand; that is how we think of it.
We decided four years ago that a website is just not enough. One has to remember to go to a website, like your library down the street. It is great, but a lot of people, like me, prefer for information that they consider important to come to them. So we launched an experiment. We agreed to send out three e-mail messages per week announcing new grants, new reports from the department, new initiatives. This is called EdInfo. We have about 14,000 direct subscribers across the country and around the world. We announce new things like dozens of fun learning activities, math or Internet use by teachers. We announce Secretary Reillys annual back-to-school speech the day after it was given. Over the last four years, we have announced about 400 reports and grant opportunities. We invite you to subscribe if you are interested.
The second thing I want to tell you about is that two years ago, President Clinton asked the Department of Education to chair a working group or to put together a website or something that would make federally supported teaching and learning resources easier to find, as well as make them better. So, I was given the responsibility of pulling together a working group of about 87 individuals at that time from 40 agencies. We were all in a room, we did not know what we were going to do, but like any working group, we decided to create a website. A year later, the website was unveiled.
It is easily the most popular webpage on the department's site because of what other agencies are doing.
These are just a few of the things that can be found at the FREE website:
- Here is the National Endowment for the Humanities supportive website that looks at two communities during the Civil War. It provides soldiers' letters home, religious church records, newspaper accounts, military records, etc. so that students can look at what was happening at the time to compare what people from a Northern community were thinking with that of what people from a Southern community were thinking.
- The National Science Foundation supports the math forum, one of my favorite sites, which provides a Problem of the Week for students at different grade levels to do, a teacher's chat room and lesson plans for teachers.
- The National Archives partnered with about a dozen teachers through its summer institute to create lesson plans and instructional materials around National Archives images and documents. They call this the Constitution Community.
- The National Science Foundation also supports something called Find Out Why, where you can find out why baseballs burst off the bat of Mark McGwire or what makes a playground slide slippery.
- The National Gallery of Art offers a walking tour of a sequence of paintings led by a gentleman with a British accent on tape.
- The Library of Congress, NASA, Smithsonian, The Peace Corps, Department of Energy, and more than 75 children's websites can be accessed through the FREE website, as well.
It is easy to put up a website, but we are committed to maintaining and improving it. We add approximately 20 new resources per month to it. We also feature a new Great Resource on the homepage each day. Well that is great for finding federal resources for teaching and learning, but what about all the other resources that are not federally supported? Back when there was a furlough about three-and-one-half years ago, Keith Stubbs and I were thinking . . . I actually took a laptop home and, having been a teacher, I thought the Internet would be a great place to find lesson plans. That is what I would want. What we have learned is that one of the most popular things with teachers is lesson ideas and teaching materials. But teachers need to know where to find them. They are scattered across websites. So, about 3 years ago, we launched a project, actually Keith Stubbs did, called the Gateway to Educational Materials (GEM) - to make it possible one day for teachers to type in a topic and a grade level, a search goes out to multiple participating websites and brings back lesson plans and instructional materials. There are today about 7,000 lesson plans and other kinds of instructional materials in GEM. There are 100 organizations participating. GEM is featured on the homepage of the National Education Association, so it is already very popular, and we still have yet to announce it. I still have to find time to write a press release. Those are the main four services I wanted to tell you about.
Lastly, we are experimenting. Most of these started as experiments. One experiment we are doing currently is Teachers Discuss. We have had a listserve of 300 award-winning teachers across the country for about six years. I read that for the first three years and said, "This is a crime," because it is a private listserve that only these 150 teachers (at that time) can read. It was part of our National Teacher Forum. So, we paid ten of the teachers to take all the messages on that listserve on class size, or how to get kids to do homework, or other topics, and distill all of those messages into a sort of introduction to what teachers think about a topic. Then we put that distillation up on this site, and invited other teachers and others to come and share their views on those challenges. You are welcome to visit that as well.
Another experiment we are currently doing is called Ask EdInfo. We invited 13,000 readers (at that time) to send in a question on an education challenge that they faced. We distilled the questions so that they were crystal clear, put them on our web board and invited the 13,000 readers to share their solutions and ideas on those challenges. Both of these experiments are going through growing pains. Some of the challenges that Judy just put her finger on we are experiencing as well. Everything online, in my book, is about four times as hard as we think it will be at the beginning; but if it succeeds, it is worth it. About half of the things we do succeed. I would be happy to answer any questions or hear any thoughts about any of these services or about what you think the Department of Education ought to be doing.