Byline: BRANDON LARRABEE, The Times-Union
ATLANTA -- When it came to teaching her fourth-grade students about American Indians several years ago, Lissa Pijanowski was full of ideas for activities she could use in her lessons.
"We made teepees, we did wigwams, we dressed like Native Americans did," Pijanowski remembered Friday.
That was the way Pijanowski, now director of school improvement at the Georgia Department of Education, read the state requirement that she teach her students about American Indians. But another teacher, she admitted, might have taught the same subject very differently.
That's not likely to happen anymore as the state rolls out its new curriculum, the Georgia Performance Standards. But even before the first portion of the standards takes hold in the classroom, the department faces the daunting task of training tens of thousands of teachers across the state's 181 school systems how to make sure their students learn the new benchmarks. Educators say teacher training is perhaps the most critical element when it comes to implementing the new standards.
To illustrate the point during a presentation to the state Board of Education, Pijanowski and her colleagues gave each board member a toy car and modeled their slides after the popular Web site Mapquest.
"Not having quality professional learning is like building a state of the art car and leaving it at the factory and not rolling it out," said Eloise Barron, the department's curriculum director.
Part of the reason for the emphasis on teacher training is the nature of the change facing Georgia's education system. The old Quality Core Curriculum was criticized for being "a mile wide and an inch deep," and while it listed what educators say were vague objectives for students, it left a lot of room for individual teachers to define how to translate those benchmarks to the classroom.
The roll-out of the new curriculum -- accompanied by sample classroom work and a Web site where teachers can go to see sample lesson plans -- is meant to make the difference between what students learn in different classrooms smaller.
"I feel it will solve the problem of having a mixed presentation of lessons throughout the state due to different interpretations of the curriculum by teachers," said Pat Biggerstaff, a former elementary school teacher who represents the 9th Congressional District on the state Board of Education.
But that will require new thinking by Georgia teachers and those who train them. The proposed standards, which the board will vote on next month, include some radical departures in both subject matter and the method for teaching students.
Teachers might have to give up some of the material they considered critical to their subject. High school math teachers face an entirely new structure for their courses, which will no longer be algebra, geometry and so on but will instead carry titles like Math I, Math II, Math III and Math IV. Students will be expected to read 25 books or a million words each year.
The new middle school math standards -- which include a requirement that all students take Algebra I by the end of eighth grade -- are particularly concerning to educators. …