Future of Curriculum

RT @LearnBoost: Is the Khan Academy the future of education? http://cot.ag/dLstON Don’t be too quick to dismiss the possibility.

If a computer can do it better why not let it http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_shows_how_kids_teach_themselves.html

Math Wars http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Math_wars

May you live in interesting times. < Chinese blessing and curse.

The pressure on teachers to cover content to prepare students for THE TEST, (in my case the ISAT), is enormous. I’m an intervention teacher so I don’t actually teach one single class. I support teachers, I am a co-teacher in several classes. I continually push to have more interactive problem-based lessons.

The teachers I work with however, are continually trying to tighten up the “rigor”. The Buckle Down books come out. Students spend the entire 84 minute block working on practice problems.

We didn’t cover this content I have to show it to them. They need to see what the problems look like on the test. I have to do what the other teachers are doing. I have to keep up.


Flipped classroom.

Why don’t we give out the content for homework and do real learning in class?

There are two ways to do this and your choice will likely be based on your philosophy.

First option, explore math.

Grab a good old fashioned constructivist textbook. (I know an oxymoron but there are some that are pretty good to get you started) Let the students explore and discover. Then follow up with a content video to help the students formalize what they learned. (the knock on constructivist education is students are not allowed to use procedures to solve problems. The truth is they aren’t given the procedures, but if they discover or invent them they are welcome to use them)

Second option, show then play.

Have the students watch the video, or flash animation, or whatever media you want them to learn from and get the basics down. Then use classroom time to play and explore the various ways to use that knowledge in real world situations.

I find many of these content videos boring, almost as boring as watching a teacher stand at the chalkboard and “teach”. However they are generally less than ten minutes and the teacher can’t get sidetracked. The big plus is the students can watch over and over again if they want. (not that they ever do)

So, what if the students don’t do the homework? What if they are completely unprepared for doing the classroom work?

Isn’t that the same problem you have today?

Shoot you can do what you want. I know what a few strategies I would try, but the real question is what would you do?

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Thoughts on Curriculum

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Ok how many different social media outlets can I post this too in one day.
At least I had fun creating it.

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How do we motivate teachers to better understand curriculum guides?

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?

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Curriculum Narrative Summary

My summary of our discussion during the week.

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Curriculum and Instruction

New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, N...
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Some days I’m just amazed by the people I go to school with. This the first week back after a month off and everyone jumps out of the gate running. These cohorts literally wrote hundreds of individual posts on 3 different discussions. Here are just the links from two of those discussions.

Common Core Standards Discussion


Evaluation of current PA standards to Common Core Standards



Common Core Standards and special education




Implementing Common Core Standards




Virginia and the common core standards.



School reform by Arne Duncan



Implementing curriculum



Actual alignments being done in schools




Suggestions of leaders in the field to read http://www.aft.org/newspubs/periodicals/ae/index.cfm

Marilyn Jager Adams, Diana Senechal, David K. Cohen, Laura S. Hamiliton, E.D. Hirsch Jr (one of my all times faves), Linda Darling-Hammond


More articles about Md and DC aligning to the Common Core Standards.



Education Trust


The Education Trust PowerPoint lists the failings of the United States Educational System when compared with other nations on common standardized tests.


Dan Pink ted talk.


Our Maryland website www.mdk-12.org explains what AYP and the report card are.


One elementary supervisor that I work with takes quick digital snapshots during his walkthroughs and will leave the staff with a PhotoStory sharing his observations.


“learning walks,”  5 minute intervals observing examples of the district’s mission, vision, and learning principles in action using a note-taking scaffold.  At the end of the afternoon, we engage in a protocol, where teachers can choose to sit on the outside of a circle and administrators on the inside and we share evidence of the preceding (no names).


I’ve read in a couple of places that when we adjust for poverty rates it turns out that the U.S. has much better scores than any other country. I think this blog has the most clearly explained tables.


What I love most about Kati Haycock’s work is the way she so clearly exposes our overall mediocrity worldwide and then juxtaposes it with the extraordinary hope seen in places like Ware Elementary School in Fort Riley, KS and Elmont Junior-Senior High, also showcased in Karin Chenoweth’s It’s Being Done (2007) and How It’s Being Done (2009).

It’s also stunning to think that today’s students are not better educated than their parents.  Her statement that college readiness and workplace readiness are the same was a focus of the ACT study Ready for College and Ready For Work:  Same or Different? (2006).


“A highly qualified teacher for the 21st century is a designer, guide, and co-learner who reaches out to all students and strives to build a true learning community within and beyond the classroom.”



Looking at research from more than a dozen years of teachers’ experiences with Teach for America,  Farr, Kopp, and Kamras (2010), discovered that given two equally inexperienced teachers, one could be three times more effective than the other.  They set about figuring out exactly what was different.  This article tells the story.



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Educational Philosophy

My rewritten philosophy of education, cross posted at my personal blog. Comments welcome.

Educational Philosophy

Schools can and do influence most aspects of their students. To effectively educate students schools must reflect the attitude of the local community and build a vision derived from these values. At the same time not compromising on the needs and expectations of a larger community.

It is the responsibility of the school to teach the curriculum, but more importantly schools must engage students in becoming life-long learners.   Schools should be safe places for students to experiment and take chances, to follow their interests, and learn independently beyond the normal scope of the curriculum.

With the curriculum as a concrete foundation to build on, teachers can guide students as individuals in learning the basic skills of deconstructing problems and creating solutions. With patience and care students will learn the skills necessary for independent critical thinking through the standard curriculum.

The ultimate goal of a school is to produce a graduate who is a life-long learner with the ability to think with an open mind and consider different points of view.

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Philosophy of Education

I was not as happy with my final in Supervision as I was in the leadership course. I’d like to make some excuses, but I won’t. Being a leader is important, but without the ability to help a staff learn and grow can be useless. I’ll mark it as an area ready for growth.

It has been nice having the month of December off, but it isn’t completely free. We have a few assignments due before the beginning of the next class. One of which is a rewrite of our Educational Philosophy. Below is my original philosophy written about 10 years ago. I did do a short rewrite about a year ago while searching for a job, but now is the moment to really get into thinking about what and how my thoughts on education have changed over the years.

The most important part, cut it down to one page. that will be tough. As you can see I’ve highlighted my key thoughts in red (yellow highlight wasn’t an option). I’ll post my finished product next month.


Philosophy of Education

Schools are a major influence on the lives of almost everyone, whether they like it or not. Many of our basic notions of good and bad are in part formed by our early education. Take for example “All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” One of the reasons this book was so popular was because so many people can identify with the premise. In our early years we learned that good people share, wash their hands, put away toys, etc… From the very beginning we learn some of our most basic mores in school. Are our school trying to teach this? Should we be teaching this as educators? Do we have a choice?

The average American spends 6 hours a day, 180 days a year, for 13 years in school. Whether we like it or not that is a large chunk of the social live of most children. This is not the greatest time influence on our children, but it is just behind family and peers. During this time schools and teachers will have a large impact on the lives of our students. We as teachers will educate the minds as well as spirits of our students. To be effective education needs to have certain goals to strive for as well as a plan to achieve these goals. As a part of society these goals must be acceptable to the parents of the children we are education.

Schools were originally build to teach specific intellectual goals. However, schools do influence children in ways other than just concrete curriculum subjects. School can, but don’t always have influences on the morals and values of their students. If we had a concrete goal such as all students will have good morals how would we teach that? Who would be the final authority on what good morals are? Is it the teacher, the principal, the PTA? The problem is that the definition of morals would be different for each person asked. Schools should be aware of the effect they have on students orally and intellectually, school need to prepare students intellectually but also be aware of the effects on students morally and at least not do any harm.

So how do we teach this? After all we will have an effect on this whether we want to or not. We teach this by not teaching it at all. We must teach our students the skills to think and reason critically, by learning to use critical thinking building skills in more concrete subject like math or science the student will learn to use critical thinking in other areas of their life. Critical thinking is taught through the vehicle of other subjects when we ask students to solve problems rather than memorize answers. Students are given time to explore concrete areas until they discover regular patterns on their own. As these patterns are discovered the teacher gently pushes towards formalizing the rules. For example students are given blocks to count with; the physical presence of the blocks is something they are familiar with and they learn to add by putting blocks into a pile one at a time. The blocks are concrete and easily understandable to the children. As they become more familiar with the results they move into adding with fingers and eventually to doing it in their head. As higher levels of math are taught we can again go back to the blocks that are easily understood and build form there. The students are taught that when they don’t understand they try to break down the problem to parts they do understand and build form there.

The idea is that as children are focused with the less concrete problems of morals and values they can break down the problems to a way they understand and build from there they can make and use their own rules. These rules don’t become formalized by the teacher saying they are right or wrong but how the students discover how their actions make it easier or harder to get along with their peers.

With concrete goals in regular subjects schools have a solid curriculum to show that students are being educated well. The way we teach can either help students to become more independent or can foster a dependence on getting answers from “experts”.

The teachers’ role is very intensive in the education of children. Teachers must be expert enough to lead the students as they need it, but be patient enough to allow the students to learn within the development stage they are currently in.

Children especially younger children tend to be more concrete. As we get older we develop the ability to think more abstractly. With students especially elementary students it is helpful to introduce concepts as concretely as possible. Using manipulatives or other hands-on work to illustrate the concepts. Eventually moving to the abstract by generalizing over different variations of the same theme.

Not all students will be at the same ability or developmental stage at the same time. At times it may even seem that individual students change from hour to hour, or subject to subject. It is important that as teachers our lessons give the students the opportunity to learn and demonstrate knowledge in a variety of ways. As long as students are moving toward the ability to demonstrate mastery to independent objective measures. This will give students who do not learn in the traditional teacher directed method the chance to develop their knowledge in their own ways.

The teachers role in education is not simply to impart information to students, but rather to guide students in the discovery of their learning. This sometimes means presenting the same concept to students more than once, but in different formats. Often each concept will touch on or relate to more than one skill so this often becomes a natural part of planning a curriculum.

Schools have always had and will always have a large impact on their students. It is the responsibility of the teacher to not only teach the subject matter at hand, but to give the students in his or her charge the tools to continue learning after leaving the school. To that end the school should be a comfortable place for students to experiment and take chances. Students should be encouraged to follow their interests and learn independently beyond the scope of the single class.

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Charity Begins At Home

I read this blog a while ago and was struck by his 3rd point about schools raising money. I sent it to my sons’ principal.

I am not against schools raising money. I think our schools in general are underfunded.

Median income Johnsburg Illinois $79,918 – Where I live.

Median income Waukegan Illinois $46,614 – Where I work.

I found it interesting that the school I work at seems to do a lot of charity fund-raising while the school district I’m in seems to do more school fund-raising. This is an opinion that may be influenced by my position in each district, parents are asked for money while teachers are asked to organize charity drives.

Where I work we do Market Days which raises a bit of money for the school. We held the almost obligatory canned food drive for Thanksgiving. We collect box-tops for education. We occasionally hold “jeans” days to collect money sometimes for charity and sometimes for ourselves. At the end of the year the entire district will hold a St. Baldricks event to raise money for cancer research.

Where I live we also do Market Days. We collected canned food for Veterans Day. We sold knick-knacks from a fund raising company. We hosted a casino night.

My home district is not wrong for raising more money for itself. I would like to see us collect more money for outside causes. (Is this a valuable use of educational time?) But that want is an individual opinion.

My work district is not wrong is not wrong in raising so much money for charity. I would like to see them raise money and buy more resources for themselves. (Should students even have to do this?)

It bothers me sometimes that we talk about failing schools and they are usually in the type of district that I work in. Yet, the differences are stark.

The median property taxes for homes where I live are $287,910 while the median property values for the district where I work are $141,291. In Illinois where the majority of school funding comes from property taxes we are starting with a huge disparity in money.

The next source of funding, after taxes, is I assume parents. With the median income where I work being about 53% of the income where I live it is easy to assume that the parents in my home neighborhood are going to have a lot more cash to donate to the school.

Is the school failing our students or are we failing our schools? Questions to think about during the budgeting class this year.

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Leadership Supervision Podcast

Yesterday November 22, 2010 was the final day to turn in work for the Supervision class. I had a few extra thoughts rolling around in my head during my drive to work. I thought I would try creating a podcast. I know there is a better way to do this than to make you download the file. I’ll figure it out, but if you want to give me some clues feel free to put them into the comments.

Leadership and Supervision

An idea I got from listening to Budtheteacher’s brain dumps. Just record your thoughts into your phone while driving and instant podcast. It wasn’t quite that easy, but it is a start.

Thank you cell phone, thank you online file converter, thank you google docs for hosting the file.

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