“Making Technology Acquisitions Work In Our Schools: Focus on Curriculum, Training, Resources and Support" - Guest Blogger, Don Rawitsch

When it comes to changing K12 curriculum for the betterment of teaching and learning, you occasionally see yourself as a singular voice crying in the wilderness. This isn’t necessarily true, of course, as there are many voices crying out for positive changes.

THEJournalSo it was a RE@L week of serendipity last week when we read this fine article by Cathie Norris and Elliot Soloway in the online T.H.E. Journal: “Reinventing Curriculum: The Underlying Challenge to Moving Education Forward.” Click here to read their article. We at RE@L are committed to move education forward too, and it was a delight to find two well-respected authors and doers carrying the same torch of reform.

CathieNorris

Cathie Norris

ElliotSoloway

Elliot Soloway

We loved this opening line from their article: Schools banning mobile devices (today) will be as effective as schools banning books.” Norris and Soloway articulately remind us of the need to focus new thinking on a new Curriculum and its new Delivery, as both are changing before our very eyes.

We thought their description of the Three New Trends in Curriculum describes perfectly what those changes are and what needs to be done to “reinvent curriculum”….now! We are pleased to see that they have committed their blog to a year-long focus on re-inventing curriculum, and soliciting fresh ideas from others, everywhere

Since RE@L has been focusing on these same issues, we want to share with you our own thoughts, which are in agreement with Norris and Soloway. To that end, our frequent guest blogger and RE@L colleague, Don Rawitsch, has posted his thoughts in response: Read on for Don’s response!

Here’s Don’s commentary: “Norris and Soloway, in their recent blog (cited above,) have emphasized the importance of providing teachers with high quality curriculum plans and products if they are to maximize the benefit of using technology in their classrooms.  They warn about two false propositions that can affect education adversely: 1) the use of technology in and of itself will improve student learning and 2) a teacher can construct an effective curriculum by searching the Internet for learning activities shared by generous educators at no charge.

An effective Learning Curriculum is a plan containing the following components:

DonRawitsch-CoverObjectives – what students should know or be able to do after experiencing the curriculum;   Activities – what students will do in the curriculum;   Tools & Materials - used in the Activities;   Assessment – how to determine the degree to which the objectives were met.

Two other key considerations also need to be kept in mind:

  • A curriculum can define a student’s educational program in a particular subject area for multiple years, a single year, a defined portion of a year, or just a week or so.  As an example, the concept of a single product, such as a textbook, defining the entire 4th grade mathematics curriculum is not nearly flexible nor complete enough.
  • Assessment is often thought of as a test at the end of a portion of the school year.  Assessments can be used for various purposes at the beginning, middle, or end of a curriculum segment, and are often much more useful to both teacher and student.

UnknownThe DIY (do it yourself) Curriculum, constructed from pieces found all over the Web, definitely allows for flexibility, but runs the risk of lacking the coherence that promotes student interest and understanding. Teachers can feel stuck between the large curriculum companies who have long followed the textbook model and the need to DIY. 

However, there is an alternative, as many creative curriculum products have been produced by smaller publishers, especially in the area of technology-based instruction.  Such companies offer flexibility in their products but preserve the benefits of professional publishing over DIY:

  • Comprehensive planning in the development of curriculum;
  • Team development by experts with the help of educator advisors;
  • Access to specially designed technology tools that can be licensed for classroom use;
  • Products piloted in multiple districts and schools, with a variety of teachers, to make improvements prior to release.

imagesAs a result, teachers and their schools can expect to see, and should indeed require, the following features in professionally published curriculum products:

  • Clear statement of national curriculum standards supported by the product and an index of the activities that correlate to each of those standards;
  • Modules of instruction that each contain objectives, activities, and tools and materials needed;
  • Suggested methods of assessment for the instruction offered in the product;
  • Subject matter background information for teachers who are not experts in all aspects of the content;
  • Step by step instructions for each student activity, including suggestions on logistics for carrying out student investigations, small group activities, and preparation of materials;
  • An easy-to-read user guide for any technology tool used in the activities;
  • Methods for training teachers in the use of the product, with alternatives to live workshops that save the participating schools teacher time and money;
  • Methods for electronically facilitating communication between and among teachers for sharing ideas and results from using the product with students.

Water-Capture-2Providing increasingly more technology for student use is helping to bring school environments closer to the reality of how technology will be used in society for work and leisure.  But without an equal effort placed on obtaining and supporting high quality curriculum information, materials, and support for teachers, schools will cheat themselves out of a beneficial return on investment for their technology expenditures.

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RE@L identifies with Don’s observations. We have been critical in former blogs about the “ready, fire, aim” policy of schools putting 1:1 programs in the classroom without the necessary resources of staff support to deliver it effectively. There’s a ray of hope here, however. The large size of each school’s capital EdTech investments. and the effectiveness concerns of the local taxpayers who foot the bill, have caused districts to look broadly for that support and search for valid vendors who can supply what’s missing. Norris and Soloway have raised the bar on this issue and so has RE@L.

There’s more to come from each of us. So, stay tuned!

Readers, send us your thoughts/reactions/comments on this topic.  

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Tom King & Dale LaFrenz

Dr. Tom King has served for over 40 years as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Saint Thomas in the School of Education. The Saturn School of Tomorrow, formerly a St. Paul Public School, and his visionary response to educational reform, was a lighthouse on the frontier of school change. Tom was an experienced high school teacher of mathematics, a school administrator, and Director of Technology for the St. Paul MN Public Schools. He is also a member of the RE@L Team. Dr. Dale LaFrenz is Chairman of RE@L and one of the founders of MECC Software who brought “Oregon Trail” to millions of K12 kids everywhere. He has written extensively on the history and evolution of Ed Tech. His work in forging new paths for MECC’S “edutainment" software was instrumental in connecting school-markets, kids, teachers and consumer-markets/kids/parents, and now serves as the new launching pad for RE@L apps and software.