Thursday, September 6, 2012

Curriculum Content in the Age of Common Core


     I ran across an interesting article on a blog today entitled “I Never Needed to Know That.” The blogger noted things that he learned in High School that he never used. He mentioned Algebraic equations and the like (sorry Mr. H). A lot of good points were made in this article. Is it necessary to be able to do 35 long (I mean really long) division problems without error? Does knowing how to identify the difference between a demonstrative pronoun and a demonstrative adjective demonstrate intelligence or ability outside of a worksheet? (I can do that, by the way, in both English and Spanish. Don’t I sound smart?) Furthermore, technology truly changes the game. Do we need to teach certain skills that are easily and readily taken care of by assistive technology? For instance, while I did a walkthrough in physical science today, a question came up in discussion and the students turned to me to see if I could figure out the answer. I said I would give it a shot, so I literally spoke to my iPad (Google App) and had an answer in .024 seconds. How does this kind of technology change our curriculum?

     The article truly did cause me to stop and think about what is necessary in our curriculum and the changes to it over the next few years. Should there not only be a “canon” in our literature (Shakespeare, Dickens, Poe, and Dickinson) but also in the content of our other subjects (mitosis, Antietam, chemical equations, and polynomials)? Do we have a duty to pass on a cultural literacy from this generation to the next?
This question has been floating around the hallways, emails, and meeting places of MHS this year. We began a discussion this summer about the changes coming and needing to come our way: Common Core State Standards, the needs of our students and their futures, amazing and breath-taking technological advances, and least importantly, new testing requirements. These have caused us to stop, evaluate, re-examine, and re-vision what it means to do school. We know that change in education is coming and absolutely necessary, but how far, and at what cost? Do we sacrifice content at the altar of process and product? In other words, does content go by the wayside as we begin to focus on creation, delivery, and collaboration?

     Our middle school PE/girls basketball coach recently sparked further conversation on this topic by speaking of the need for a cultural literacy, a shared group of knowledge that ties us as a community (in the larger sense) and provides us the shared thinking needed to discuss ideals and what it means to live together in this country. He shared a book with the English teachers called Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know by E.D. Hirsch. As all good English teachers do, our English teachers shared what they read with everyone else, inspiring a daily email and daily “bellringer” in English class wherein students and staff are given five terms from what Hirsch thinks every American needs to know: Here is today’s list:
Acronym
Acrophobia
Acropolis
Actions speak louder than words
act of God
I got four out of five fairly easily but had to Google acrophobia—fear of heights. I knew it was fear of something. So I got a B+ today.

     As a principal, this discussion about our profession and our practice encourages me and excites me. I know we will be making changes in the future. I also know some things must stay the same. But to have my faculty actively engaged in this discussion strengthens me and sharpens me as I try to be an instructional leader to my school.

     I have much more to say, especially concerning how we handle content when we do live and teach in a different world and different setting from our formative educational years, but I will save it for another blog post. Please, give me your feedback in the comments section below.

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