Daily Curriculum Diet

A few weeks ago, Dan Meyer spoke to a group of Atlanta educators during his week of PD with math teachers at two neighboring schools. While the majority of his work  revolves around the math-world, it’s certainly applicable and a good-kind-of-challenging for all educators. (A quick sidenote: I was especially impressed to have one of Trinity’s music teachers attend Dan’s presentation and then engage him for a good five minutes about how his work directly connects to the music eduction.)

During his formal presentation, Dan advocated for all of us to think about cutting “things” out of the routine curriculum diet. Heidi Hayes Jacobs, when she visited Trinity last year, prescribed similar action, encouraging us to think of upgrading to our curriculum (cutting being an obvious step in the “upgrade” process).

Interestingly, as I shared some of Dan’s words and challenges via Twitter, a ninth grade student at a neighboring school responded:

Instead of answering the question (and most certainly boring her), I did what any adult who didn’t know the answer to her own question teacher would do and asked her the same question…”Cut what?”

Within a few days, I received an email from @TaraSubmarine’s which contained incredibly thoughtful, mature, and detailed insight. I have shared her ideas below. It’s amazing what we can learn from those who must “do school” every day…and then head home for a second shift. As we debate endlessly about school reform, I do wonder why do we ignore the most important voices in the room?

I’d love to hear your thoughts about curriculum and how to empower students through deep, authentic learning experiences. I certainly believe that content and skills are important…but I do wonder what content we should cut in favor of meaningful learning opportunities (whatever those may be. 

@TaraSubmarine’s thoughts are below:

When you say “deep authentic learning experiences”, the first thought that comes to mind, is incorporating more practical (real life) or personal applications for what we learn. The practical bit relates more to math and science but could apply to other subjects as well*, which I’m sure you know. The personal application criteria stems from something my dad read once. It said that people retain information better when it forms a connection to something they are already familiar with. Basically, this to me means using already solid blocks of knowledge/information as starting points or diving boards for learning new material. Having both practical and personal applications in a course would make the learning experience more empowering.

I also have some course specific ideas of what to cut and what to replace it with, for the “major” courses.
  • In science, I would use the required reading to tie in with a hands-on experiment and a connection to how it would the concept would appear/be used outside the classroom, thus fostering maximum retention. I would also either cut any extraneous info that wasn’t connected like I mentioned above, or find a way to connect the info and then incorporate it into the curriculum.
  • In math, I would cut the unrealistic problems (pseudo something I think they’re called) and replace them with fun, hands-on problems which after exposure and practice, the students could start developing themselves. Also,  I’ve always heard that if you could teach someone else on a concept then you can know how well you grasp the concept.  The students could see a one unit teaching model, where the teacher incorporates visuals, realistic problems and class participation. Then, they could split up to work alone or in pairs with the goal of teaching a class on their chapter. This could be possibly duplicated for an assessment at the end, in lieu of an exam/test.
  • In the foreign language classes, I like how Trinity uses Rosetta which enables the students to choose from a multitude of different languages. Also, I think a pen pal program, via the Internet to make it easier, should replace random essay writing. And, I feel like the subject material should not consist solely of vocab but also show how this vocab would be used in daily life. Some modules provide videos, but I know that students write these off as cheesy. So I think that the students should have a city of that country, research their customs and incorporate practical applications for the vocab per each lesson. Each student group would be assigned a lesson and teach the rest of the class. This would accomplish the same goals that I mentioned in the math section.

Pretty powerful stuff. And I’ll ask the question again…As we debate endlessly about school reform, why do we ignore the most important voices in the room?

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