Curriculum Construction - Week 10 - Reading Reflection 3

Lucas Longo - 2016

My learning experience during this quarter in the Curriculum Construction course was rich and informing. There were clear learning objectives stated at the start and referred to throughout the quarter. The readings were dense and lead to deep discussions during class activities. It was fascinating to watch a well designed curriculum in action and experience the pedagogical moves first-hand. The assignments engaged me with the content and elicited reflections or considerations that were new to me. Unfortunately, the curriculum design final project fell short of such a full learning experience for me.  

This illustrates how hard it is to reach the desired learning outcomes for every student in a class. Far from being a design flaw of the curriculum, group work involving a ‘real’ client is unpredictable by nature. In my group’s case, although we worked well together and produced an interesting body of work, I felt that I could have learned more in terms of actually designing a curriculum. The nature of the course we redesigned, the needs and desires of the client, and the way our group interacted lended itself to a less than satisfying experience.  

The original course has a fixed set of content topics that must be covered: probability, statistics, and regression analysis. Without these, students would not be able to complete their final project, which involves analysing real data from a company to better inform business decisions going forward. Summative assessments in the form of exams are also a central part of the curriculum. Our group therefore decided to simply introduce the final project earlier in the quarter and rearrange the content order to accommodate this shift. The rearrangement also substituted the final exam for in class data critique exercises during the last 3 weeks of the quarter.

This rearrangement lead to three phases where the first dove straight into straight probability and statistics; the second introduced the final project and regression analysis; and the third was critiquing case studies. In my vision, the changes would need to be deeper. The final project should be the driving thread of all the content delivery, especially in the first phase. For example, I would introduce the concept of calculating a binomial distribution by having the students create a question about their company’s data that could be evidenced through this method. Instead we moved forward without purposefully relating the atomic concepts of the subject matter to the real-life data and bigger picture applications they lend themselves to.

“In a certain sense every experience should do something to prepare a person for later experiences of a deeper and more expansive quality. That is the very meaning of growth, continuity, reconstruction of experience.” (Dewey, 1998)

Our interactions with the client and their vision about what they needed also contributed to a superficial approach towards the task. We were well aligned with the concept of ‘flipping’ the classroom and create a blended online learning experience for the students. The discussion about the curriculum ideology they wanted was unclear, or rather, completely open to our suggestions. Our contact with them was therefore limited to two sessions at the start of the quarter, leading to a feeling of building a project that we would ‘throw over the wall’ for the stakeholders to adopt it or not, with a certain feeling of lack of care. I would have met with the client at least twice to discuss our progress and line of thinking. Unfortunately these kinds of meetings didn’t even happen within our group.

I actually felt a little sting of jealousy as I walked by other groups in our class working together on their curriculum redesigns. I was thirsty for having ideological discussions about how to deliver the content in this blended environment, what content was necessary or not, and why we were proposing certain changes. Our group process was very departmentalized where each one was individually responsible for a siloed section of each deliverable. It worked and it was efficient but for me it lacked a level of engagement I was hoping for.

To correct for this, I applied some of the lessons learned in the class to a project in another class, Beyond Bits and Atoms, where the final project had to be an educational tool we built. Inspired by the concepts of Embodied Learning, I created an iPad app where students learn about plotting equations on a graph by physically interacting with the x and y values (http://goo.gl/f3PZhf). In the process I realized that either a teacher needed to scaffold the experience or have the app itself lead the learner through a learning progression.

Using the concepts of Wiggins & McTighe’s (2005) backwards design principles (UbD) I analyzed how I should create a storyboard sequence within the app that would lead the learner to realize the relationship between x and y. Although no formal assessment was present in the application, the learner was given prompts and leading questions that provoked critical thinking about the process and hopefully leave some residual understanding (Dewey, 1998). I was also able to achieve disequilibrium even with engineers and PhD students who supposedly understood graphs well. The embodied nature of controlling the x and y axis proved to be harder that most thought it would be, causing surprise and even some ‘aha’ moments!

Even though this project is far from an actual curriculum, it provided me with the stimulus, provocations, and challenges inherent to curriculum construction. From a content perspective, the app is highly relevant to high school students and is aligned with a few Common Core State Standards, lending itself to be fairly non-controversial. It is also simply implemented in a classroom, provided the necessary infrastructure is in place (1-to-1 tablets and internet connection) since it can be used as a standalone tool as well a classroom lead activity. It has a low-floor for entry and a potentially high-ceiling for learning, making it flexible enough that teachers can use it in their own context.

In conclusion, the course gave me essential tools and resources that actually transferred to another class and project. It presented me with several lenses to think about not only curriculum, but also presentations, papers and research in terms of content, learning progressions, and the political nature of designing, implementing, and adjusting curricula. The following quote precisely frames what I felt was present in the course and the impact it had on my knowledge:

“Learning that supports transfer involves organizing facts around general principles and understanding their reach, understanding why things happen as they do, drawing explicit connections among ideas, evaluating ideas in ways that draw distinctions as well as identifying commonalities, having multiple opportunities to apply learning in deliberate practice under increasingly complex conditions, and receiving feedback around both thinking and performance that helps students develop metacognitive abilities (self‐regulated planning, learning and problem solving strategies, and reflection) that can drive further independent learning.” (Darling-Hammond, Pecheone, Jaquith, Schultz, Walker, & Wei, 2010, p.9)

Thank you.


References:

Darling-Hammond, L., Pecheone, R., Jaquith, A., Schultz, S., Walker, L., & Wei, R. C.

(2010). Developing an internationally comparable balanced assessment system that supports high-quality learning. In National Conference on Next Generation K–12 Assessment Systems, Center for K–12 Assessment & Performance Management with the Education Commission of the States (ECS) and the Council of Great City Schools (CGCS), Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://k-12center.com/rsc/pdf/Darling-HammondPechoneSystemModel.pdf

Dewey, J. (1998). Experience and education. Kappa Delta Pi.

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding By Design. (Expanded 2nd edition)

Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.