"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Bringing a Curriculum into Life inside a Classroom

Although drawing standards for basic education is a daunting task, this remains a dwarf compared to what implementation requires. Designers of a new curriculum are completely in fantasy land if the required resources are not considered. New standards, if these really represent a change, come with equally new demands from each of the factors that play important roles in education: teachers, textbooks and assessments. The professional development necessary to prepare teachers for the implementation of a new curriculum alone can be gargantuan.

Basic education in the United States currently faces such challenges with the Next Generation Science Standards. With the states currently preoccupied with changes in math and English language arts as prescribed by the Common Core, it has become apparent that reforms in science education must take a careful and slow approach. Too many changes occurring at the same time can easily overwhelm the system. This, of course, is in striking contrast with what is happening in the Philippines. Basic education in the Philippines faces even a more daunting task since education policy makers and politicians have decided to overhaul completely the system, introducing major changes simultaneously (adding kindergarten, adopting a mother-tongue multilingual medium of instruction, adding two years at the end of high school, applying a spiral curriculum, and basically rewriting all of the standards). The phased implementation provides an impression that the reforms are being introduced piece by piece, but in reality, these phases are only artificially defined at each level or grade, not at each separate aspect or piece of the reform. Reforming math and English first before science is different from reforming math, English and science only at grade 7. Thus, in the United States approach, designing a new science curriculum for K-12 does not require to be finished at this time. It can wait especially if either the time, money or effort it demands is simply not available. Such option is not possible with an "all-embracing" reform such as the Philippines' DepEd K to 12 curriculum.

Addressing a new set of standards and curriculum places an enormous burden on the existing educational system. The scope of this task can be appreciated by looking at the approach and care the developers of the new science standards have taken. One factor in education is the teacher. Professional development of teachers that target the new standards is key. If this step is not done right, implementation will surely fail. To expect that a simple series of inspirational talks, seminars and workshops would suffice clearly underestimates the challenges involved. Inspirational talks are only sufficient for moving teachers to improve on an educational system that is not changing. Working harder, working better, inspiring teachers to do these can only work for a system that is already existing. It does not work for something that currently exists solely as a plan.

Jean Moon, Sarah Michaels, and Brian J. Reiser wrote in Education Week, the article "Science Standards Require a Teacher-Learning Rethink". In this piece, the authors stated the following:
"Just as it is difficult to teach what one does not know, it is difficult to teach what one cannot even imagine."
Moon, Michaels and Reiser are currently working on a new teacher development program for the new science standards. The heart of this program is what the developers call "Exemplar". The following slides taken from their presentation provides an overview of what this program is all about:





An exemplar is a model. It is real and not imagined. Teachers preparing for a new curriculum need to see a good model in action. An example that deals with the nature of air is presented in the next slides of this presentation (This can be downloaded from the Tidemark Institute page), which demonstrates that such a lesson has been applied with real teachers before a real class of students. Preparing these development programs clearly requires a lot of time and effort. A finished module such as the one presented here is not yet deemed to be ready for prime time. Currently, it is planned to go through pilot testing. Imagine that, the professional development program for teachers needs pilot testing. This is not the curriculum yet that is being piloted. It is only the training that is deemed required to prepare the teachers for the new curriculum. This will definitely take time. There are no textbooks yet. As the old saying goes, "One should not put the cart before the horse". To do things right, the resources demanded by the new curriculum must be in place first. Contrast this approach with what the Philippines Department of Education has done to its basic education program.








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