Sunday, January 15, 2012

Schooling: The Curriculum

Alright. This one will be much shorter as idea for education reform. I just want to focus on an idea I have revolving around the access of curriculums and lessons which, planning and prepping for, is one of the most significant work endeavors of a teacher. 

With all the state and federal standards that have been developed, why is their not more excellent and evolving curriculum that is easily accessible, downloadable and usable for teachers? Why has this not been done? This baffles me. 

Part of the answer is there are... sometimes. The American Chemistry Society, an organization that I would be more than happy to kiss, put out this gem that I was lucky enough to find once. This was a full curriculum that was freely available. More importantly, it was good; being inquiry based, and guided by other modern teaching methods and state standards (from what I could tell). It was extensive and comprehensive, including all relevant handouts, relevant activity sheets, clearly listing materials needed, including videos that you could not only use, but download and background information for the teacher. This was great. 

A student squeezes a drop of water out of a dropper.  Illustrated water molecules are shown to comprise the drop through a zoom-in efect

If we're serious about education reform, this wonderful curriculum should be the norm. As a new teacher, you're told often not to "reinvent the wheel" when doing your planning, and to "beg, borrow, and steal" when planning. The lesson being, that it is very costly in time (which is a precious resource as an educator) to come up with a good plan, make a good worksheet, gather all the materials, find relevant reading materials, and engage in the other nuances one can do when they plan. The whole time you're doing all this work, there is probably something out there somewhere that you could and should use that is better then what you'll come up with and there for you to use for the betterment of you're students. 

So to be quick. I don't get why this is more available. Part of the issue is the nature of capitalism. There are curriculum writing organizations that expect to generate income. There is also the issue that often what us teachers will find on line doesn't quite fit with exactly what we want to do. At one point I wanted to conduct a fungus dissection and found a lab for one, but this lab involved all these questions and terms that I had to cross out or reformat to fit the needs of my kids. A partial solution for this might be for these on line curriculums to be malleable. A teacher should be able to find a lab, and be able to download it and edit things in and out (like a word file), but also be able to easily place diagrams and images (like a graphics program). 

A similar example to this idea is in the field of agriculture. Farmer's are strapped for time, and rarely spend time breeding their own seeds for growing a crops. They get, what are usually, a good sampling of seeds (usually) that they can plant. If expected to design their own seeds, and spend the time selecting from the best breeds of crops, this would be too costly for this in terms of time. There are issues with this in having a mono culture that is kind getting us as a society to put all our eggs in one basket, but generally, this is an important practice for farmers to free up some of their workload. They don't have the time to design their crops like teachers should be supported and freed of at least some of the time needed for them to generate their own lessons. 

The curriculum and tools for learning that are available for students. If you can freely teacher yourself German over the Internet for no cost, then teachers should freely have easy access to great lessons. Mind you, this curriculum should not be rigidly forced through the throats of a teacher, but excellent  tools for a successful delivery on instruction should be readily and easily available. 

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