Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Building Our Curriculum House: Determining Program Values

At a MENA Teachers Conference in Dubai in November 2016, there was a school improvement session by Bryan Goodwin where he stated that you needed to "get your curriculum house in order" before many changes could take place at a school.   Our school is trying to implement new standards and framework changes in every single discipline, so this statement is particularly relevant.  The task is quite overwhelming, and it is though we are building our "curriculum house" from the ground up.


In order to get our curriculum house in order, it was necessary to almost begin from scratch because of the new standards and frameworks.  The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) is a new science framework in the United States.  It is specifically a curriculum framework and provides schools and teachers with performance expectations and not set curriculum.  Schools must build their units, knowledge, skills, assessments, and resources over the years before a set curriculum can be refined.  This task seems daunting; but luckily, there are some resources that help with this process.  One such resource is a book entitled quite appropriately Introducing Teachers and Administrators to the NGSS: A Professional Development Facilitator's Guide.  It is a handy guide of activities that a facilitator or administrator can do to help train their staff of many aspects of the NGSS.  One initial activity involved developing the values of the science program.  

The facilitator would guide the team into completing two different tasks: writing a newspaper headline and creating an elevator speech highlighting the school's science program.  For the newspaper headline, the staff was to imagine a news reporter visiting the school for a story five years after adoption of the new NGSS framework.  Using Padlet, teachers wrote their newspaper headlines.  The purpose of this was for teachers to begin to think five years into the future and the possible successes of the program.  We found the creativity of the teachers truly encouraging, and the headlines initiated the discussion of what they most valued in a science program. One clever headline read:

The Number of Engineers from DHS has skyrocketed over the past 5 years

The first round of values began as teachers silently brainstormed on the white board key values that were inspired by the newspaper headlines.  Next, they were asked to imagine going up in an elevator with Bill Gates who in turn was hoping to send his grandson to a school with a top performing science program.  The teachers' job was to use the Padlet again to write up how they would respond to Bill Gates.  Since the elevator would soon stop, they could only highlight the successes of the program within a few sentences.  One of the elevators speeches read:

Our students are highly engaged, investigative, self-sustaining problem solvers. Last semester, they engineered an artificial leaf in order to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in an effort to explore solutions to the climate crisis. We are presenting our prototype today at the National Presidential Science Fair, which is why we are in this hotel. Would you like to join the presentation today at 2?

What was most intriguing was that it was difficult to tell the difference between the speeches of the elementary from those of the middle and high school teachers.  This shows that the program as a whole shares similar values.

The next round of brainstorming values on the whiteboard was inspired by the reading of each elevator speech.  The teachers silently added additional values, drew lines to make connections, or edited as needed.  When all was finished, each teacher was able to place a star next to the 4 values that they deemed most important for a science education program.  For our school, the results were:

Problem Solving

Since this worked so well for our science teachers and we needed to build up our curriculum in every subject, we decided to complete a similar protocol of program values for every subject in the school. A notable exception was mathematics and English language arts, who had went through several rounds of surveys to narrow down the choices of their values.  In addition, since a vision statement had recently been written for Professional Learning and Technology that used a similar process, it was decided to just use the key words from those vision statements to include as values in those areas.

After completing the values for all of the subjects, a free online program called Tagul, currently WordArt, was used to create a customized word cloud for each subject and its values. The new word cloud graphics were then placed in a Google Slides presentation to show the values of our "curriculum house."  

What was left for each subject was to then write up a description of the highlights of their program and subject beliefs.  Various teachers in the school were called upon to write these descriptions.  Once completed, the word cloud graphic and brief description will become an easy way for students, parents, and stakeholders to easily see what each subject valued in their program as well as a glimpse into the curriculum. 

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