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Peer Review

Active Learning Practice for Schools (ALPS)



Overall Rating:

4 stars
Content Quality: 3.5 stars
Effectiveness: 3.7 stars
Ease of Use: 4.5 stars
Reviewed: Aug 17, 2005 by Teacher Education
Overview: ALPS, Active Learning Practice for Schools, is an electronic community dedicated to the improvement and advancement of educational instruction and practice.

The ALPS site is as wide as it is deep. Each of the regions within the ALPS site has it own resources for cultivating active learning practice in schools. The site is unified in its educational philosophy and vision: that students must be active, engaged, and thoughtful participants in their own education.

The ALPS website that contains six sections: Look, Reflect, Explore, Build,Connect, and Learn. The sections are for all subject areas pertaining to K-12 professional teacher development. Some sections have interactive dialogue boxes for reflection on teacher practices, learning regions for exploring ideas and research performed by the Harvard Project Zero, collaborative curriculum design tool, website meeting room, and online professional development courses for educators.
Learning Goals: This website is for K-12 educators who are interested in learning about:
  • View exemplary curriculum with a number of approaches to cultivate understanding in your classroom
  • Improve teaching practice
  • Collaborate with other educators in designing curriculum on-line
  • Online discussion about classroom design
  • Provide and receive feedback on ideas, lessons, activities
  • Create a portfolio of projects and lessons
  • Publish your own materials and tools
  • Create interdisciplinary projects across subjects or across grade level, or
Target Student Population: K-12 educators (teachers and administrators) who are beginning or have been teaching for a period of time. The tools promote collaborative education reform.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills: The website is user friendly and no prerequisite knowledge or skills are
necessary except for being comfortable using the Internet.
Type of Material: There are some interactive sections where educators can collaborate for reflections about teaching practice. A reflection tool is designed for the user to reflect on aspects of
their teaching and thinking. The first question of each series, or question set, is listed. When you click on the question, you are taken into a series of four or five questions, the first of which is the question you clicked on. The intent of the exercise is to help bring what
you care most about into your work thoughtfully and with understanding.
Recommended Uses: This material is recommended for professional development of K-12 educators
along with individual teachers using this website to improve their curriculum
and teaching practice.
Technical Requirements: For those interested in what kinds of hardware and software are used to run this site:

Server Software: Microsoft Windows NT4, SP5, IIS3, SQL Server 7

Server hardware: Compaq Proliant 3000 Dual Pentium Pro 333/300MHz, 256 MB RAM, mirrored 9.1/4.3 GB HD 10MB Ethernet connection

Evaluation and Observation

Content Quality

Rating: 3.5 stars
Strengths: For those looking for a place to visit, chat and share ideas as an educator, this would be a good place to start. There is ample opportunity to interact with others as you design, implement and reflect on lessons, curricula, and ideas.

This website contains many useful sites for educators to collaborate with other
teachers in exploring new ideas and examining research from the Harvard Project
Zero. This section is very interesting since it contains subsections such as:
The Thinking Classroom, Teaching for Understanding, and Education with New
Technologies. The website is useful for many disciplines where educators can
"meet" with other professionals about their ideas pertaining to classroom
design. The online tool can used by educators to plan their curriculum in conjunction
with other schools, districts, and states.
Concerns: For many of the sections of this website you have to register. When you first
log onto the website you find in the Look section with Pictures of Practice profiles very limited in number. There were only 6 profiles with their accompanying lesson ideas. This is one of the first areas that a new user sees.

As an example of the limits, consider the example (life) science lessons.
The Overarching Goal was for students to use sixth sense. i.e. emotions in making
(scientific) observations. Questions asked in closed form would have been better re-phrased to engender open-ended discussion. The site is purported to focus on teaching for understanding, but these lessons began with vocabulary exercises, a lecture, a quiz, and video. Students were not asked to draw (visually encode) their own observations, but were provided with textbook illustrations to label, draw directional arrows or color code
types of blood. In general, it seems unprofessional for the teacher to use handwritten, cut and paste instructional materials in the examples of student work provided. Examples of the problems include use of breath for breathe and diaphragm spelled as diaphram. The teacher did not appear to consider why a student would misinterpret his/her
results on the breathing lab relative to their percent change in respiration
from resting to active states. Teacher comments about student work did not include much mention of student conceptual understanding (deep meaning of the content), but rather more about student attitudes and what they liked or considered to be fun.

It was unclear whether or not additional profiles would be added in the future or whether there was even a mechanism for doing
this. Since this would have provided a strong link for valuable sharing of
information, we find this to be a very weak area.

Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool

Rating: 3.7 stars
Strengths: One of the major strengths of this website is the supportive nature in the
sections; Connect which is a meeting place for educators; the Collaborative
Curriculum Design Tool (CCDT); and the Learn section that has online
professional development courses through the Project Zero Classroom.

ALPS has its own on-line chat room. Here you can talk, live, with other ALPS
users from anywhere in the world . During the hours of 9am to 5pm Eastern
Standard Time in the USA there is usually someone from the ALPS development team
to answer any of your questions.

They currently have 18831 registered members using ALPS. You are encouraged to
use their member services to connect with other members who have the same
interests. Connectivity to an extended world of educators is always conducive
to lively interactions and rich dialogue.

As the ALPS site grows they will be adding a number of on-line tools and
activities that will help you think through and develop curriculum. The current
tools for designing curriculum units are excellent.
Concerns: The example of a middle school science teacher working with middle school English teacher in sharing and grading of essays is a strength. However, the rubric used by the 8th grade was a simple rubric in wide use for holistic scoring of essays written in elementary school (grades K-6). At the middle school level, one would expect to see more meaningful criteria based description, analysis, and reflection rather than on the # of facts or # of correct sequences listed for the scientific content. Regarding language proficiency, criteria could relate to expository genre in addition to engagement and mechanical errors.

Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

Rating: 4.5 stars
Strengths: A very good example of how teachers can share their lessons and student work
samples with others interested in the same content. A design tool could be effectively used to teach backward design. Emphases on lifelong learning goals: teaching for underst anding, critical thinking and learning transfer, and technology integration. The site is user friendly. It is easy to move from section to section and to find the different sections that are highlighted at the top of the webpage. A Site map listing all of the components of ALPS is a very helpful tool. There
was also a navigation bar that made the content of the site clearly visible.
Each navigation button had a description of what could be found there.
Navigation buttons were also found at the bottom of each page. Each item was
clearly labeled and was easy to find. Numerous links to other pages in the site
were also usually only one click away. Search functions within the site worked
quickly and accurately.
Concerns: Some sections require registration such as the CCDT online tool, the chatroom in
the Connect section and the Networked Learning Communities. Member registration was a potential drawback to ease of use. Additionally, it
was noted that there might be a fee for access in the future.

Other Issues and Comments: We hope these comments will be taken in context, with this review written by science teacher educators. Teachers and administrators throughout the nation are at various levels of systemic education reform, and structures to support the process are urgently needed. More highly qualified science teachers in grades K-12 will result from mechanisms to support the transition from novice to competent to expert in teaching science for understanding working with students who have little or no experience with science being taught in the way that scientists work. It takes practice to probe mental models students begin with, assessing how elaborate these models are, how generalizable, whether they refer to observations or to theory. It is necessary to constantly judge whether the discussion is moving the students toward a scientific way of thinking about the phenomena. Scaffolding of student thinking and assessing progress occurs on a moment-by-moment basis. The degree of involvement, puzzlement, or frustration of individual students is monitored. Many types of knowledge are crucial to the success of science instruction when the aim is for students to do the intellectual work. Teacher professional development can benefit from the opportunity to examine instructional practice even when the model provided is not exemplary. We put this resource in the top 10 of a list of websites for educators.