Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Loads of Content...What do I do?

Many countries have some form of government ministry or department of education that, among other things, designs and elaborates curriculum that schools are required to follow by law.

Chile has a recently developed national curriculum which is actually pretty good, especially in comparison to what we had before. You can check it out here, if you are interested.

A common concern is the excessive amount of content that teachers are required to teach and that students are required to learn. This issue has been thoroughly discussed by many authors, who have also tried to propose solutions, such as Grantt Wiggins and Jay McTighe.

I am especially worried about this now because I am currently making efforts to plan for a transdisciplinary unit of inquiry, in which students can practice important skills, develop attitudes, gain understanding of transferable concepts, and be aware of (and take action towards) issues of global importance, all of this through inquiry.

However, at the same time, I must comply with what the state mandates I should be teaching.

How can my students achieve all these great understandings, attitudes and skills, meaningfully through inquiry, and at the same time "learn" a long list of topics that they will later be evaluated on through a standardised test they are required to take?

I believe that if students are offered meaningful, real world experiences, where they can explore and experiment, practice skills by doing, inquire into their interests, and reflect on their prior knowledge and how their understandings are changing through time, they will learn much more than they could ever show us by answering multiple choice questions in a standardised test. This is, in summary, why I truly believe in the PYP and the IBO.

BUT... I have to make sure that I am "covering" the content... bummer...

So I have been trying to solve this issue and came up with an idea that I am currently trying out and wonder what the results will be.

I have begun by making a list of all the topics and content that I am required to cover (you wouldn't believe how much it is).

I have then identified the concepts that underly the topics and content.

Using both the concepts and the topics, I have created generalisations (big ideas, enduring understandings, "mini" central ideas).

The central idea of the unit of inquiry is actually a generalisation of these smaller generalisations, a meta-generalisation if you will.

Here is a snapshot of what I did:

So all these generalisations build up to the Unit Central Idea, which is:

Investigating the diversity of living things that inhabit the planet allows us to better understand them and how they interact, as well as find better ways to take care of them.  

Now, I hope to develop a unit of inquiry in which students can develop their understandings of this Central Idea by practicing tons of investigation skills, through which they can explore the generalisations mentioned above.

Do you have content based national requirements to follow? How do you get these to co-exist with your programme of inquiry? How are you achieving balance between a concept based programme and a concept/skill based programme?

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