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, 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 courses 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/license 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 few options unless they do some restructuring.
I live and work in Massachusetts with a fast 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 designated 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 packaged courses to help facilitate a speedier change such as Code.org’s materials, Zulama’s complete curriculum series and others use courses 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?