Category: EDCI 532

To Me Curriculum Is: An Updated Reflection

Originally, I thought of curriculum as a straitjacket, comforting yet restricting.  Curriculum to me as an educator is comforting, it gives me clear structure and guidelines and supports my decisions in the classroom. Curriculum continues (and will continue) to provide me with justification of the content I choose to put in my classroom.  Furthermore, I still see curriculum as restricting. Despite the recent improvement in B.C.’s curriculum, I think there is still more to do. For example, indigenous content is included, but the sense of colonial ties is still very strong (especially in the academic courses.) Additionally, curriculum can become a sort of check list, where teachers (myself included) fall back into old habits and teach to cover content rather than to develop skills and understanding. True to my original comparison, I still believe that curriculum has the potential to be magically creative and transformative, despite the comfort and restriction.

Although I dream of amazing classes, with well-integrated curriculum and active learning opportunities, I find it challenging to revolutionize my teaching pedagogy in practice. As of now, I lack the skills, time, and resources to make significant change in my curriculum and have had to settle with small changes over time. Not to say this is an invalid way of learning, it’s just frustratingly slow. I have found that the more I learn about teaching, the more I want to change, learn, and grow my pedagogy.

To me curriculum is (still) like a straitjacket, maybe it is because I have not taken ownership of the curriculum or I just cannot get the simile out of my brain. Either way, curriculum is still comforting and restricting. What has changed is my outlook on the opportunity curriculum provides. Included in my original simile, I discussed how curriculum can ignite curiosity, increase exploration, entertain, and create a space for learning. And although I believed this to be true at the time, I have learned how integral this inventiveness is to education and curriculum.

Curriculum documents can only take you so far. It is up to educators to develop lessons and create a learning environment.  What I have learned is that teachers (myself) need to take ownership of the curriculum. Yes, it is important that the government provided “guidelines” include decolonization and digitization in the document. But that does not mean the teachers (again, I am talking to myself here) cannot include it on their own.  I have been stuck in this idea that the content in the curriculum document should be included first, and then IF there is time, I can include things that are important to me. But I have been completely wrong. I do not need to wait for the curriculum to catch up to the times, but rather I can make changes in my own classroom when I see fit.

I have come to realize that the curriculum as presented in the document is much different than the lived curriculum experienced by my students. Student learning is far more reliant on the educational experience created by the teacher, than by the curriculum documents. I have full control over the learning environment that I establish for my students. I may not have control over the curriculum, but I can determine how to teach the content, and which skills to develop. As an educator, I have control of the lived curriculum, and that is a new sense of ownership for me. Previously I have felt controlled by curriculum and now I am empowered by it.  Understanding that lived curriculum is under my control will influence how I plan my classes moving forward.

Although we have taken steps towards decolonizing the curriculum, it still a separate entity. I believe it is up to the educators to incorporate indigenous perspectives of knowing into the content – despite what the curriculum content outlines. Some of the barriers that I face is a lack of knowing HOW to decolonize curriculum. In social studies, indigenous perspectives are easily included as topics of discussion, however, integrating First Peoples ways of knowing into every class is still something I am working on.

The same goes for digitization, although it is recommended that teachers integrate technology, purposefully incorporating digital tools is harder than you think. It is easy to provide students with a digital copy of the textbook and get them to respond to the reading on an online platform. But I would argue, this is not true digitization. Integrating technology into meaningful learning experiences is a vital pursuit of education. Not only will it help students develop crucial 21st century skills, it can also help increase student engagement. Educators should rethink how they deliver curriculum and consider lived curriculum, decolonization, and digitization.

All these ideas depend on teachers’ resources, skills, and time. But I believe it is still a worthy pursuit. Moving forward I want to create intentional lesson plans that consider the curriculum as a platform for innovation, rather than just a comfortable restriction that teachers deal with. I hope to dedicate more of my personal time, developing my own understanding of the curriculum, to restructure how I present content and ideas to students. Furthermore, I plan to look for professional development opportunities that will aid my own skill development and create space for collaboration.

 

Active Learning Strategies: a Point of View

Introduction

I am a kinesthetic learner. I learn best through doing and hands on activities. Fortunately for me, this I not the only way I can learn. When I reflect on my own education, the learning experiences that stand out the most were from participating in athletics. Things like teamwork, collaboration, perseverance, hard work, determination, leadership, communication, decision making and goal setting.  I would argue that these skills have been more useful in my adult life than other academic information like Pythagorean theorem or that Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492.

To be clear, athletics and sports are not the only place to learn these valuable skills. There are many avenues to learn life skills, however in my experience they are most often learned through ACTIVE participation. Active learning strategies can be a variety of learning opportunities that include games, group activities, and hands on learning.

As an educator it is ESPECIALLY important that I provide students with the opportunity to actively learn. In physical and health education this is easy, however in socials studies, I have needed to be a little more creative. I have hosted jousting tournaments and built games that replicate historical events, like my version of Catan that displays a medieval economy. Additionally, I have tried to increase collaborative student group work and decrease teacher lecture time.

 

Summary

Active Learning Strategies continue to kindle my interest, especially how they can engage students and what they could look like in an online environment. Roehl, Reddy, & Shannon, (2013) describe active learning methods as educational activities that involve students in interactive opportunities and encourage them to think about what they are doing.  Moreover, when implementing active learning strategies, it is vital that class time is “devoted to problem solving, skill development, and gaining a deeper understanding of the subject matter.” (Roehl et al., p. 46).  In addition, students who learn actively, acquire skills to transfer knowledge to different contexts and demonstrate deeper understanding of course content. (“Using Active Learning in the Classroom”, 2011).

While researching further into active learning, I am both astonished by the variety and overwhelmed by the sheer amount of ideas. The first thing that I have learned is that COLLABORATION is key. To create effective active learning strategies, that are reasonable for teachers to implement, educators need to work together. The second thing I was reminded of, was that it is better to TRY an active learning strategy and FAIL, then to slide back into lecture style teaching (however tempting it may be).

 

Importance

But what does that mean for the online environment? Teachers are now facing a new era of education, where the classroom is evolving into digital environments. It is not enough to digitize a textbook to post online, the key is to develop interactive digital content “that support learning objectives” (Austin & Mescia, n.d., p.1), and are different than a traditional class.  Although daunting, we as educators have an amazing opportunity to rethink our teaching strategies and be completely creative in how we deliver active learning opportunities.

I believe the first step is to re-examine the curriculum. Determine what is most important for students to KNOW and what SKILLS are the most important for them to develop. Then we can create meaningful learning experiences for students using digital platforms. With the aid of online synchronous meeting platforms, and many digital tools, educators can create a space that will allow students to interact with one another and participate in active learning.

 

Conclusion

Looking towards September, and the new school year I want to re-examine my curriculum and see where I can infuse active learning experiences. From what I have learned, active learning can easily take over a classroom, and replace previous teaching strategies. In doing so, students will be given the opportunity to develop vital life skills while developing deeper understanding of the content. Ideally, I would not spend any synchronous class time lecturing my students. Instead all class time would be dedicated to group work, class activities, and hands on learning. Admittedly, I am at least a few years away from revolutionizing my teaching practices, but I am determined to work on it. I still believe that Active Learning could be the key to engaging students in skill development and ownership over their education.

 

References

 

Austin, D., & Mescia, N. D. (n.d.). Strategies to Incorporate Active Learning into Online Teaching. Retrieved from http://www.icte.org/T01_Library/T01_245.pdf

 

Roehl, A., Reddy, S. L., & Shannon, G. J. (2013). The Flipped Classroom: An Opportunity To Engage Millennial Students Through Active Learning Strategies. Journal of Family & Consumer Sciences, 105(2), 44–49. doi: 10.14307/jfcs105.2.12

 

Using Active Learning in the Classroom. (2011). In Instruction at FSU Handbook (pp. 75–102).  Retrieved from https://distance.fsu.edu/docs/instruction_at_fsu/Chptr8.pdf

To me curriculum is …

To me curriculum is like a straitjacket … comforting yet restricting.

Like a well swaddled infant, a straitjacket provides a nice hug of support and reassurance. The curriculum does the same. Curriculum provides structure and guidance for teachers to plan their lessons. It gives clear goals to attain, and ideas on which areas are most important. Additionally, the curriculum ensures that topics are not repeated in different grades.

Curriculum (and straitjackets) give a visual explanation to outside viewers of WHY the teacher is acting the way they are.  For example, in physical and health education, I was questioned (more than once) on why I had included dance as an activity (among other things).  I responded by directing the ‘questioners’ to BC’s new curriculum  which clearly outlines the importance of participating in a variety of activities including rhythmic activities. Curriculum, like a straitjacket, provides support and comfort for educators.

Despite the comfort we may feel, straitjackets are restricting, as is the curriculum. Curriculum limits what content a teacher covers and how much time they spend on it. The curricular objectives becomes a checklist, where educators focus on covering all the content rather than developing their students understanding.

Adhering strictly to the curriculum, limits teachers and their interests to a set of subscribed expectations.  Much like a straitjacket, curriculum is often ill-fitting, and prevents students from exploring and developing their personal interests. For example, I teach is independent directed study, which allows students to create their own project, in their area of interest. However, a major challenge I face is finding curriculum that will accurately represent their creative ideas, and evaluate the work they put in. Both straitjackets and curriculum are restricting to whomever is using them.

Despite the conflicting feelings, curriculum (and straitjackets) can also be a form of entertainment and inspire teachers to do amazing things. Like the great Harry Houdini, teachers can use the curriculum to entertain, amaze and inspire their students.

Curriculum can introduce a crowd to new ideas and an innovative way of doing things. Additionally, curriculum can ignite curiosity, provoke wondering and create a space for learning.

Within the curriculum, teachers can create personalized learning opportunities for their students. And provide a space to explore, interact, and develop as individuals. Just because there are guidelines doesn’t mean that there isn’t also autonomy and inventiveness..

To me curriculum is like a straitjacket. It serves a clear purpose, has both positive and negative aspects and is a fascinating topic to discuss, with endless opportunities for the creative.

 

Images retrieved from pixabay