The curriculum in most schools is often a massive, outdated binder that sits on a shelf collecting dust while the real teaching taking place in classrooms has little, if any, relationship to what is included within that binder. As Director of Curriculum with fifteen years experience (Ellen) and a blended learning expert (Chris), we decided to try and remedy this.
This wasn’t our first attempt. Sometime ago, Ellen set out to brush the dust off of the curriculum documents on the shelves and make them come alive. The vision was that the curriculum documents could be shared and linked so that everything a teacher needed would be in one place. But we quickly learned just “going digital” wasn’t the answer. The curriculum now just sat in a folder on a hard drive. In fact, in a way, it was even worse; each stakeholder seemed to require a different digital platform. There were suddenly too many places to go to gather, revise and share information.
There was no easy way to give everyone what they wanted until now--when we decided to go Google. Google had allowed us to breathe new life into our curriculum and meet the needs of all stakeholders in one place.
Breathing “Fresh Air” into the Curriculum
As we discussed the curriculum for our school’s new class, it came to us that using Google Sites as a way to communicate classroom expectations, curriculum, lesson plans, assignments, and evidence of learning to parents and students might be the best way to stop curricula from collecting dust. With Google Sites and the live-updating nature of Google Apps for Education, we could finally link the real work of the classroom to the curricula. Thus, we set out to use Google Sites and Google Apps for Education as a platform to create a living, breathing learning roadmap: the Fresh Air Curriculum in our Innovation Lab, where we have combined curriculum, coursework, and communication in a one-stop-shop fashion via a Google Site.
This summer, we worked to identify what elements go into making a good curriculum. We added a layer of gamification overtop of these essential curriculum elements, but if you look past that layer you will see all the key pieces to the curriculum waiting for our kids! We’ll be deploying the Fresh Air Curriculum in our Innovation Space this September, but to give you some ideas for your own curriculum, here’s how we tackled those crucial curriculum elements.
Essential Questions, Guiding Question, and Standards
In the Storyline page of our Fresh Air Curriculum, we’ve listed our mission statement and big picture goals for the class. As the class grows and changes year by year, or even week by week, the curriculum will be able to grow right along with it. These three fundamental curriculum elements form the backbone of any course, but are often written years previous and not put front and center in the classroom for students to see what they are supposed to be learning. We can update our essential questions when appropriate and continue to change our guiding questions to best meet the needs of our students. As students see the site changing, we are hoping they will see it as a reflection of their growing expertise and ability to drive the direction of their learning.
We’ve also embedded a Google Doc on the Storyline page which will act as a class journal. I (Chris) plan on updating it once a week with either thoughts as the teacher or, even better, allowing students to write the updates. The Storyline page will help keep the community informed on where we’ve been and where we are going. We also hope to use it to get the community involved, using the journal as way to reach out to parent experts and local businesses and arrange for them to come in and work with us.
Content, Resources, and Materials
Via the Quests page, students will have access to all the tiered lessons in the class from the beginning. They can choose any lesson they want to do at anytime because we’ve literally turned the curriculum map into an actual Minecraft-themed Google map complete with Quest Markers (click on Markers, then check Quest Markers and Zoom in to see some of the lessons students can complete). Students can choose which Quest they want to undertake and be linked directly to the resources, materials, and screencasts they’ll need to complete it.
On the back end, since these resources are written in Google Docs, the Quest map is live-updating! Best of all, instead of learning via directed instruction, students will have choice and voice as they decided what Quests they want to complete. I’ll be there to guide them, rather than lead them, along the questline they choose. If they don’t find a Quest that catches their interest, there will be a link on the site for them to submit their own Quest for approval. Little do they know, if a student designs an amazing quest, we’re going to have them add it to the Quest map for everyone to enjoy!
Skills and Assessments
As we said before, it’s important for kids to know how and what they are being graded on. It is also important that students have agency over their learning. So often, rubrics are static and standards one size fits all. What we love about embedding assessments is that one can update them instantly and have the live changes reflected on the site immediately.
This year, the rubric students will be using in the Innovation Lab will change throughout the year to reflect their growing expertise and to ensure we continue to keep them in the zone of proximal development, but it will remain in the same place on the site so student workflow will not be disrupted. Their major assessment, their Quest Logs, will be Digital Portfolios made with Google Sites and will be linked to our class site. Students and parents will be able to view these Digital Portfolios and see what everyone in class is working on, while also getting the chance to read their reflections. When students are ready to leave our school, we can make it so they can take these portfolios with them.
A One-Stop Shop
We believe turning curriculum into a class site that parents can access at anytime and students need to access to complete course work is an exciting way to keep our teaching relevant, focused, and open to the community. This type of curriculum can be used in any classroom. I (Chris) used something similar to this to teach high school English and Ellen has been working with other teachers across different subjects and grade levels to make this the standard for curriculum and communication in our schools.
Having everything in one spot, combined with the easy to update nature of Google Apps for Education has made it easier for us to meet the needs of all stakeholders and ensure better learning outcomes for our students.
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