It's an age-old question asked by students: Why do I have to learn this?
The answer may become clearer, thanks to a program being piloted by eight area school districts.
The program, developed by the Consortium for Public Education, is called MAPS, for My Action Plan for Success. The consortium highlighted the program at a news conference Thursday.
The personalized approach includes a Web-based tool called eMAPS in which students can explore their career goals and interests and see how what they learn in school and out of school can help them reach their goals.
The program is used in concert with teachers or school counselors who help to guide students. What students write about interests, activities and academics is available to other teachers as well, who can then make their lessons more relevant to the students.
"Everybody knows personalization and quality teaching and learning are a great combination," said Linda Croushore, executive director of the consortium.
About $600,000 from three foundations -- The Heinz Endowments, Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and The Buhl Foundation -- have helped to pay for the effort.
Those that have started using it -- or will use it -- this school year in some middle or high school grades are Chartiers Valley, Clairton, McKeesport Area and Pittsburgh Public Schools, for some ninth-graders at Pittsburgh Allderdice and Carrick.
Others are Albert Gallatin Area and Laurel Highlands, Fayette County; Greensburg-Salem, Westmoreland County; and Sharon, Mercer County.
Greensburg Salem Superintendent Eileen Amato said MAPS is being used in ninth- and 10th-grade English classes. She said it has helped to trigger more meaningful conversations and has changed the focus from teachers telling students what careers might be good to students discovering their voices.
"That's been really powerful," she said.
At Clairton Middle and High School, principal Tom McCloskey said middle school students already had written career exploration papers, but the Web tool will keep everything in one place year to year.
With the format, he said, "I think it makes dialogue between the students and the teachers a lot easier."
The online tool has a place where teachers can comment and where students can post an electronic portfolio of their work.
The students can write about, for example, their work on the school play and how it helped them to develop collaborative skills. They will be encouraged to research admission requirements of colleges while there is still time to build a record to meet them.
The idea is to help students develop a viable action plan so they will have the skills they need when they leave high school for higher education or careers.
Eleanor Chute: email@example.com or 412-263-1955.