Dreaming of an ideal curriculum ?

As a graduate student in math elementary education, I have had to reflect these past few weeks on a math curriculum, imagine my ideal curriculum, and share some thoughts on my blog. So, here we go.

  • Examine a textbook series that you have access to. Pick a concept that takes approximately a few weeks to teach. How does your textbook address the need for students to have access to various developmental levels?

I decided to work with EngageNY and, more precisely, the first grade module on place value. Why? Well, first, I wanted to know more about EngageNY , as it had been mentioned several times during my Master, and often associated with comments rather quite positive. Also, I thought it would be a nice curriculum to share on my blog, as it is available online and you can check it out (here). The access is free, quite a bonus for me not to have to buy a traditional textbook.

The module, and the curriculum in general, is quite easy to use. There is a suggestion of a time frame to follow throughout the year, that I, as a teacher, find reassuring. Every lesson includes a clear objective, and a link to the Common Core Standards. It includes plethora of word problems that students are encouraged to solve through representations and number sentences. The Module I studied includes the use of manipulatives to help students make sense of some of the problems, as well as suggestions to extend some of the tasks to better support the more advanced students. Most activities support children’s reasoning and math thinking.

  • How does your mathematics curriculum relate to the “Math wars” that are going on?

If you are not familiar with the Math Wars, here is a link to Wikipedia (here). The EngageNY curriculum is reformed-based, but could stand against some of the common critics against the reformed approach. For instance, EngageNY being fully available online, parents have access to plethora of resources if they need to help their child with homework. The curriculum also includes daily tasks to support math fluency, activities that may be missing in other reformed-based curricula.

  • What does your ideal math curriculum look like?

When it relates to supporting children’s learning, one can dream. I love that. Indeed, there are a few characteristics I would like to see in a written curriculum.

First, the basic and classic: plenty of high-cognitive tasks that strengthen students’ reasoning and thinking in math and opportunities for students to share their thoughts; good value (online may be the best option to update the curriculum regularly with a limited cost) and easy to use (objectives of the lesson, time frame, link to Standards).

Then, some specifics, although I am sure tomorrow, I will have more ideas to add to the list.

1. A curriculum that supports a strong teachers community. No matter how well designed a written curriculum is, at the end of the day, the teacher is going to unfold it in class. And will likely come up with some brilliant ideas to add on. It is like when you go on some cooking websites, and under a recipe, you have dozens of comments  from previous users “I used apples instead of pears, and my 4-year old daughter loved it”, or “add some salt, the ingredient is missing”. Wouldn’t it be helpful for teachers to have access, with the lesson they should teach, to comments from other teachers? (“I used this set of numbers instead, because …”, “I also made a Smartboard® presentation, here it is !”). And then, one can dream even bigger, people who wrote the lessons as well could  answer to some of the comments ? (“sounds like a good idea, you could even try this, etc”). EngageNY, does encourage teachers and parents to send their feedbacks, but a link between comments and lessons would be a step further towards a stronger collaboration.

2. A curriculum that supports  creativity and teaching style. In EngageNY , I find the year-around time frame, breaking down all Standards to be studied throughout the year into daily lessons reassuring. But I would appreciate some kind of “free” time, so that I could implement an activity of my own, without having to trade with another activity from the curriculum. You know, like “Here is a 10 min window to do this task, but if you have a better one, now would be a good time”.

3. A curriculum that allows students to explore concepts on their own before receiving a formal instruction (as well as during, and after, of course). I know it may be seen as time consuming, but I can witness with Time 4 Fractions how much my daughter benefit from solving multiplication or division problems before learning any symbols related to these operations (and actually, even before knowing she is solving a multiplication problem or division problem). While exploring, students would have free access to all kind of manipulatives, a chance to share their exploration with their peers, etc.

4. A curriculum that supports parents engagement. In France, there is rather a strict “separation of powers” between School and Home, to say the least. I like how the U.S. education system opens the door to parent/teacher interaction. If done well, I believe the students can benefit immensely from it. Like inviting a carpenter parent during a Unit on measurement, or training parents willing to volunteer in the classroom, a secured blog or website to share ideas/questions related to what was done in class, and could be discussed at home, etc.

5. And to finish, may I suggest a curriculum that recognizes that lessons sometimes (often?) do not go as expected? Here you go implementing the lesson, with high expectations, trying to replicate the beautiful and nurturing exchanges between teachers and students included in the curriculum, and something happens. A fire drill. Anything. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a curriculum time frame with a “catch up” day from time to time to finish a it-sure-did-not-go-as-I-thought-it-would lesson?

That’s it for now !

Would love to hear from you !

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