I confess when I started teaching, even in math, if I had a book I based most of my curriculum on the book. The individual lessons were often modified, but I allowed the book publisher to dictate most of what was taught. During my first year of teaching it even dictated the order in which I taught.
During my second year I was actually given a curriculum book for Science, but I didn’t have the resources to follow it so I ignored it.
In my third year of teaching I picked and choose what chapters/lessons to teach from my textbook. I would add in self-created unit and lessons. I still had no idea what anyone else in my district actually taught in their classrooms.
My 5th and 6th year I moved to a middle school and taught from the Connected Math curriculum. I loved these books, because it was like teaching Science in math. The “experiments” were sometimes hokey or contrived, but in the end they did “show” math instead of telling.
My second year there I was asked to align the books to the state standards. I was asked to choose what parts of the books were essential to meeting state standards and what if any extra we had to add. Connected Math was designed to meet state standards in most states so I didn’t add anything. I did emphasis some areas over others. Some people questioned me, but in the end I was right.
The rub here is after 6 years of teaching, and one year of aligning curriculum I still haven’t really read a curriculum guide. I’ve discussed how I can integrate subjects with other teachers. As an elementary teacher I did integrate subjects all the time. But at the end of the day I never really got down to the brass tacks of planning what I was doing for the entire year.
For the first time I sat down and read carefully through all the curriculum materials in our district. It occurs to me that if most teachers are like me they probably skipped over reading the support materials that came with textbook.
Skipping the support material when I first taught Connected Math didn’t bother me because it is almost exactly what I would have written if I were an expert on curriculum. All student-centeredness and cooperative groups, constructing concepts, and multiple representations. In short it is a nice out of the box “discovery” based math curriculum. I think we could do a lot worse than starting with the first book and working straight through to the last book.
On the other hand I think many teachers dislike the curriculum simply because they don’t understand it. Without spending the time to learn the philosophy behind the text I think it might look a bit disconnected and random. Worst of all students just don’t seem to learn things.
I think, I hope, that if teachers got together and discussed subjects such as our philosophy of mathematics education, our purpose for teaching, or our ultimate goals; in the end we might have a better idea of what we actually want to teach. If we studied, not just wrote, our curriculum guide together we might come to a common vision of our curriculum in our district.
So how do we motivate teachers to better understand curriculum guides? The same way we build a district vision. We get together and find common ground and use that to guide our curriculum discussion. We don’t throw out the baby with the bath water, we mold our guide to fit our common vision. So what would you do?