Thursday, April 14, 2011

Curriculum development: Micro-scale.

First I have to mention the article I read recently from class, where they talk about the definition of the word "curriculum." They raise an interesting point because the idea of a "common core curriculum" implies different things to different people.  Many people think that curriculum is "a lean set of big ideas that can be tackled in many ways." For others, it's the textbook for that course that represents the curriculum. Still others think that a common curriculum will be "scripted, day-to-day lesson plan[s]."

I find the last definition of curriculum absolutely horrifying. Do people really think that a common core curriculum would result in complete loss of control? The article goes on to point out that it would be ludicrous to create scripted lessons and leave out any teacher input. President of the Common Core organization in Washington, D.C. Lynne Munson said, "we would be fools to create materials in a process that doesn’t draw on the tremendous wisdom of a public-review process.”

So I stand on the side of common core curriculum that thinks of it as a "town common," like a place where everyone meets and collaborates. I have a lot of control in my classroom as far as curriculum goes, too. If someone came into my biology class to tell me, "you're teaching this now," I think I'd be pretty upset! In general though, because I have relatively "new" training in education, I can mold my lessons to fit into whatever curriculum or standards I am supposed to be teaching.

Adjusting to the common core standards in my classroom will be the next time I have to "make curriculum changes." A large part of the common core standards is L-I-T-E-R-A-C-Y as it relates to college and career readiness. Many of my lessons include some funky literacy strategies, but I think some need work. I'd have to paw through them, looking at literacy strategy books and websites (like, a new one we discovered this week). I can think of several units that start with an engaging "hook" that I could wrap into a literacy strategy such as an "Anticipation Guide." I would talk with my PIT group too, getting some ideas and suggestions on how to improve it before I implement it. I'd have to make sure it fits in well too, and isn't just in the curriculum to "be there."

Monday, April 11, 2011 as a collaborative classroom tool.

I wanted to share with my teacher-readers a website I discovered last year: - created by two programmer dudes, Kirill & Levon, who graduated from UW-Milwaukee and are both from Russia.

I have used in a solo project fashion. My environmental science and wildlife ecology students had to narrow down their choices for topics on a final project. is an online brainstorming and mind mapping tool that is free to use for up to three saved documents. They have a couple membership options, with a 50% discount for .edu email addresses (students & teachers). Their best plan is $29/year (with 50% off included in that price) for unlimited access and saving. Personally, I can't think of any project I would have them do where they may need more than one mind map between a whole group. Free users have full access to the site other than the "saved sheet" limitation. But it says on the site that "sheets shared with a user by others [...] does not count against the quota."

My kids last year struggled with the site though, and I hadn't returned to it until now. I think I may use it on the final project for biology. I used to love doing brainstorming clouds when I was a kid, and this is like an easy-to-use, digital version of that. I've only used it on a Mac, and it is SUPER Mac-friendly! I can't say for PC... but who still likes PCs, anyway? You just click "command + enter" to add a "child bubble," and tab to add another child bubble. You can use any combination of colors (which is one piece that makes kind of distracting), and change the size of the font with a quick click. I would compare this tool to OmniGraffle on the MLTI Macbooks... except that it's so user-friendly! I really had to grapple with OmniGraffle when I was first using it, and I got lucky only when I used their templates.

As far as "effective group work," I think that this tool could foster creativity in the group. Too often, the group is anxious to get started on their project. They use whatever idea the leader comes up with, and go with it. I could use this tool as an effective way to "branch" the groups ideas, having them color coordinate their suggestions off the main idea. The main topic, "Orono Bog Boardwalk," is the class assignment, Heidi's ideas are in green, Joey's are blue, and Claire's are in purple. There is a sharing option for, but I have not used it. I would probably have one kid type, while others helped with suggestions. I want to give kids the opportunity to organize their thoughts and form conclusions about the information they'll be working with. It will also give me a chance to see if groups are all choosing the same thing, or if different groups have different preferences. A simple way to see this would be to have each group member put a color-coded asterisk next to their favorite idea. The group hands this brainstorm into me (via email or print), and so I can look over each group's ideas and make suggestions.