Smart Curriculum

I’m not sure why this Jared Zimmerman Flickr Photo seemed ideal for this post — but here it is.

On Sunday (Aug 9) I wrote about a recent THE Journal article about the decline of computer science classes in U.S. schools.  It was based on a survey conducted by the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA). The post enjoyed a number of thoughtful responses. 

I was especially taken by Dave Winter’s comment,

Computer Science is in between a rock and a hard place as far as curriculum is concerned. The half life of knowledge in this area is so small. We need quickly changing curriculi to match the pace of change in this field. We look to building capacity in teaching and all organisations trying to develop.

Dave then transends, I believe, the computer science issue, when he says,

The world is in need of smart people and therefore smart curriculums.

This is what got me thinking. 

     What is a smart curriculum?

          What does it look like?

               How is it different from a dumb or slow curriculum? 

What is curriculum?  I remember our conversations about the definition of curriculum in one of my first education classes at Western Carolina University (“Go Catamounts”).  Drawing from memory and from a quick review of web-based definitions, curriculum seems to be the “what” and the “how” of teaching/learning — the content and the method.

In recent years, the federal government (here in the U.S.) has placed the determination of the “what” in the hands of state departments of education, and the “how” in the hands of the research community.  Is this “smart curriculum?”  You may honestly believe that it is — and I respect that. 

But I have to wonder, are our state departments of education — staffed by smart, knowledgeable, experienced, and dedicated educators — capable of keeping up with a rapidly changing world through 5-year updates.  Can the research community keep up with a rapidly changing information environment, with new tools emerging almost every day, that might be re-purposed by inventive teachers into powerful learning experiences?

Can smart curriculum come from centralized education institutions, or can it only come from empowered classroom teachers?  I vote for the teachers.

Dave closes with,

What would we start to include? html5, xna etc ipod apps android.

I’d rather leave it up to the teacher — or better yet, up to the student.  You have an iPod.  Teach yourself to code for the iPod and finish the year with an app that makes it to the iTunes store.  Enjoy playing video games?  Learn to use XNA’s tool box, create a video game, and get reviews from at least five gamers.

Of course, this sorta throws standardized tests out the window. 

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7 thoughts on “Smart Curriculum”

  1. Your last point is spot on: leave it to the student.

    Many of the people I know in software (having done it for 25 years) have had a project that jazzed them enough to sit down and do the hard work of learning programming (mine was baseball simulations). Once learned, general computer science skills, and more importantly, thought processes, are highly transferable. For someone with experience in a few programming languages, learning one more just isn’t that hard.

  2. Just a note that sometimes the state Education department is not necessarily staffed by experienced educators. A friend of mine recently went through his geographical area’s renewal for accreditation. The two representatives from the state who were determining the fate of this school and evaluating their quality had ever worked in a school in any formal capacity. They had neither been teachers or administrators. In fact they both came from corporate customer service backgrounds. Makes you wonder what goes on in some states.

  3. I absolutely agree with your point about whether state departments (and Charlie Roy made a good point about them not necessarily being staffed by experienced educators – but my experience would be off topic) being able to keep up with new technology with a 5 year renewal cycle. Point blank, they can’t. And so we’re left with a patchwork network of teacher leaders within schools, some districts racing ahead while others struggle in the dust. Aside from getting state-level education department staff involved that are at least digital settlers and who are familiar with the technology, and getting state and local boards to support new curricula that involve digital literacy with funding and support staff, there’s the whole curriculum review process that can easily take a year in and of itself. I’m reading Beth Simone Noveck’s Wiki Government, and it’s made me wonder… why not Wiki Education? Do you think we’re headed towards that type of collaborative policymaking in the education industry?

  4. Let’s not forget that the process of curriculum development itself takes time, especially at the state level, so that “5-year” update was probably started around the time the previous one was released…meaning that at the end of its cycle that up-to-date material is now almost 10 years old. Couple that with the use of textbooks that have a life cycle of 8-10 years (books which were already out of date the day they got the last stamp of approval by the editor before publication) and it’s no wonder centralized institutions can’t keep up.

    Just as businesses need to be “nimble” to be able to survive in an economy that is changing more and more rapidly, schools need to do business differently. We can’t expect the world to slow down and wait for us to figure it all out first.

    1. LOL! I guess that did deserve some explanation, though I can only infer from what surrounded this one in the photostream. I’m pretty sure it was a group of computer enthusiasts who were playing around with robotics. The gamma thing was some sort of worn interface, where the young man’s actions resulted in actions performed by the robot.

      Thanks for asking!

  5. “Learn to use XNA’s tool box, create a video game, and get reviews from at least five gamers.”

    In my programming class, we did just that. It was a fairly flexible project. The teacher told us to find some XNA tutorials, follow them closely, modify the code (need to show understanding of the code) and debug issues by ourselves. We did end up using our school’s XBOX system to play some of our games.

    It was a lot of fun. Marks were rewarded for effort and creativity. It did essentially “[threw] standardized tests out the window.”

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