Alachua County Public Schools has been using OnCourse Lesson Planner for several years to speed planning and improve its curriculum, but the Web-based product has become more valuable than ever now that Florida is one of 10 states eligible to participate in the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top initiative.
One of the goals of the federal program is to improve teacher quality, and OnCourse Lesson Planner's analytics give school administrators a set of powerful tools to evaluate how teachers incorporate state standards and content goals into classroom instruction, according to Chauncey Freeman, a district technology coordinator.
Alachua began piloting OnCourse Lesson Planner in the 2004-2005 school year, and offered it districtwide the following year. It quickly gained favor among teachers. Freeman, a teacher at the time, was already putting his lesson plans on Google Pages, so he didn't explore OnCourse until he was named a technology coach two years later.
"After training myself, I said, 'I should have used this when I had the opportunity'," Freeman said.
The OnCourse Lesson Planner, part of a suite of products developed by New Jersey-based OnCourse Systems for Education, allows teachers to create, share and manage lesson plans online. Users are guided through automated steps, and the software is preloaded with state curriculum standards to ensure plans are aligned with teaching mandates. Teachers still have leeway for individual flair in instruction, but OnCourse Lesson Planner encourages a more collaborative approach and uniform goals.
"Teachers were spending hours and hours developing weekly lesson plans," Freeman said. "We had the state come in and do observations. One thing they mentioned in feedback was they'd like teachers to use a template."
OnCourse Lesson Planner makes templates easy to set up and disseminate, which saves time, reduces repetitive typing and makes sure standards are met.
In addition to ensuring that all lesson plans are consistent and complete, OnCourse Lesson Planner enables every teacher to easily create and maintain a Web page for posting assignments and class news. Those Web pages are updated automatically from the lesson plans, and teachers can post additional information to keep parents up-to-date.
Freeman said the district also has realized the product is not just a boon for teachers, but for principals, too. School administrators can run analytics for Title I initiative reports and pull up lesson plans for review. They can comment any time from any Internet-enabled computer? even to mobile devices such as a smartphone or iPad. That makes it easy for principals to check first-hand how a teacher's in-class instruction aligns with the school's curricular guidelines.
In addition, administrators can flag selected state standards with high importance, so teachers get a recurring reminder to address those so-called "power standards" in their weekly lesson plans.
Freeman said he was impressed with OnCourse's technology, but another important selling point for the company was its approach to the education market. It is obvious that the company's product designers have classroom experience, he said, and that they really strive to improve the product.
"I did not expect that," Freeman said. "It's an unexpected relationship that has been awesome. They have an open ear toward what's working, what's not working and what we can do to make it better."
To find out more about OnCourse Lesson Planner and the company's other products, visit www.OnCourseSystems.com or call 1.800.899.7204, Ext. 100.