Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Briefly, a definition.

When thinking about what "curriculum" is, I had to go to friends and colleagues to ask them.  It's an interesting habit of mine, going to others for an opinion or thought before forming my own.  But I digress.  I want to get back to that sometime, though. 

One of my colleagues (who follows this blog I think), when I confronted her about curriculum, said she could spare a minute.  I asked, "what is curriculum?"  She politely declined to answer my question, stating, "Puhhhhhhh.  Another time, another time."  I probably don't remember it word for word, but suffice it to say that, even after begging for just a one sentence answer, she couldn't do it.  She huff-puffed away down the hall, as I stared after her confused and flustered.

Of course, I can start with a dictionary definition of "curriculum," which states it as a noun: "the subjects comprising a course of study in a school or college."  I'm always interested in the Latin root of words, as my kids would probably groan about when I ask them about the meaning of a "prokaryote" or "eukaryote" in Latin.  Curriculum is derived from "curricle," which is an open, two-wheeled buggy pulled by two horses.  I love horses, and I love Latin.  How did I not know what a "curricle" was before this moment?

Anyway, curricle then comes from "currere," or "to run," in Latin.  So a curriculum is a race.  A race where the winner is your brain.  You take courses in school to build your skills and knowledge.  But for what purpose?  What curriculum are you "running" when you are on a college prep trajectory?  What curriculum are you "running" when you are getting your GED?  Does each "race" prepare you for a later race (curriculum) that you will be running?

Curriculum 21 by Heidi Hayes Jacobs suggests that we, the teachers "negotiate the path [or race], but ultimately it is the student who determine how they will, or if they can, take steps on the path."  So, as we are developing a definition of curriculum individually, locally or nationally, we must work to deliver a trail or path that is both challenging and engaging, but not impossible to traverse.  Of course, this path must be meaningful to the generation who is on it.  We have to think about the skills they will need to navigate the high school path and future paths on their life journey.  In building our curriculum in any sense of the word, we must "translate [these skills] into highly discrete classroom applications connected to assessment types" (Jacobs, 28).  In other words, we need doable activities and work that easily show student knowledge and insight.

I hope to change an revise this beginner definition of curriculum soon.  Stay tuned for more on the science fair, and possible extra credit opportunities!

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