Updating the Curriculum

by Beth Knittle on March 22, 2015

Many school curricula have remained pretty much unchanged for decades some could argue centuries. The basic common elements of English, Math, Science and History are constants it is the other curricular options that seem to come and go over time.

When I was in middle school/ high school we had a choice of home economics options; sewing, cooking, money matters, early childhood education. There was also a “shop” track; woodworking, automotive repair, metal working, business accounting, keyboarding, and short hand.   These are not seen in many schools, as some are made irrelevant due to advances in technology, some are seen as limiting to stereotypes and not politically correct. Others have fallen by the way side as state and federal standards have taken up more and more of the valuable minutes of a school day. Even foreign language options have shifted over time. French and Spanish were the only options during my school days. Now my old HS and neighboring schools still offer French and Spanish along with German, Chinese and Arabic.

Many school districts are trying to modernize the curricular options they offer. They wish to add courses that prepare students for new job opportunities and college studies. Some course might include coding, mobile app design, broadcasting, interactive media, game design, etc.

I have been doing some research contacting schools around the region and some of my former colleagues working in independent international schools across the globe.

There seem to be common issues in updating the curricula; here are a few in no particular order.

  • What certification is needed? Is there even a viable certificate?
  • What department do they belong to?
  • What courses to offer? The sequence?
  • Do we create stand-alone courses, incorporate in existing classes or both?
  • Who develops the curriculum? Can we purchase one?
  • How to shift the pedagogue from traditional teaching to project based team orientated learning environments.

I have discovered that the independent schools have greater flexibility and are able to hire teachers who have industry certificates that show skills in various software applications and programming languages, most also require a more general teaching certificate. Public schools do not have that luxury and are hindered by state licensing boards that have not modernized the options. Vocational schools do have some more flexibility with vocational licensing but for comprehensive high schools these are not options unless they do some restructuring.

I live and work in Massachusetts with a fastest growing industry in computing jobs, yet it is not part of most MA school curriculum and many college degree options in computer science are highly competitive and require prior experience. We are clearly playing catch up. Code.org has some information on the state of computer education in MA.

In schools were they have begun to develop programs they are creating new academic/ interdisciplinary departments. Those that seem the most successful (high student involvement and a variety of options) have a designate department head. Departments’ names vary:

  • Practical Technology
  • Applied technology
  • Information and Computer Science Technology (ICST)
  • Interactive Media and Computer Science (IMCS)

Most faculty members teach in two departments for example Studio Arts & IMCS or Mathematics and ICST.   Personally I am partial to Interactive Media and Computer Science.

Some schools are adopting pre-packaged course to help facilitate a speedier change such as Code.org’s materials,  Zulama’s complete curriculum series and others use course from iTunes U and Khan academy. There is course material out there the main obstacles seem to be teacher preparation, certification and finding time in school day.

The change is coming and is necessary though many schools have made minor adjustments to meet the immediate need most are developing long term plans to address the change. Though fewer are advocating for change at the state level to make the curricular additions easier this to me seems an essential step.

How are your schools addressing the need for change?


Missing in Action

by Beth Knittle on March 22, 2015

I had pledge to myself when I started this blog so many years ago that I would post at least twice a month.  I was not able to keep that commitment and did not make a single post in February.  The crazy New England winter and family matters played a role. It is now March and time to recommit to at least a twice a month post.


Making the Most of the New Year

by Beth Knittle on January 6, 2015

A new year means a time for reflection and a new start, as educators we get two every year.  We start fresh each school year and get a boost mid-way through with the start of a new calendar year.  I take the winter break to reflect on how the year is going and what type of course corrections need to be made.  How will I make the most of the second half of the school year? How will I make 2015 the best year for my students?

My students are teachers who are working in a relatively new mobile learning environment.  My greatest desire for them is to find joy in being learners, to celebrate their risk taking and exploration of mobile learning.  I want them to feel free to make mistakes and take pride in learning from them.  They have been given the opportunity to transform their classrooms by integrating digital technology in a 1:1 learning environment.  I plan on supporting them by providing a variety of examples, modeling the tools, supporting in creative class instruction, facilitating teacher to teacher and teacher to student collaboration.

The air is full of excitement, opportunity and a little bit of nervousness there is no better time to dive in and figure it out together.


Happy New Year!

December 29, 2014

I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for reading my thoughts over the course of the year and sharing yours as we continue to learn. I wish you all a Joyous New Year may it be filled grace, peace and love.

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A Teacher’s Thoughts on Testing

December 24, 2014

A colleague of mine shared with me An Open Letter to American From a Public School Teacher, by Michael Mau.  It is a really is a good read and gets you thinking. I know many educators who are questioning why they are still in education. The classroom educational experience has undergone many changes in the […]

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Degrees of Urgency: Some Thoughts

November 10, 2014

The state recently released “a report to the people of Massachusetts from the Massachusetts department of higher education Oct  2014” It is a pretty lengthy read on why we need more graduates particularly in the STEM fields of nursing and computer science.  The background context is colleges are underfunded.  There was much discussion on how […]

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The Power in Connections

September 29, 2014

After Hurricane Sandy effected the northeast I headed down to NJ to lend my folks a hand.  The main highway I would normally take was closed in many spots so I had to drive north, across Massachusetts and then south.  On my way I passed convoy after convoy of tree service, fuel tankers and power […]

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