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Roles: Simple Advice for Curriculum Developers

Exerpted from "Development of New Curriculum" National Standards and the Science Curriculum: Challenges, Opportunities, and Recommendations, Rodger Bybee, ed., Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, Kendall Hunt Publishing Company, 1996.

Chapter author: Arthur Eisenkraft, Fox Lane High School, Bedford, New York

Contributors: Erma Anderson, Mike Dougherty, Irene Eckstrand, Ellen Friedman, Charles Groat, Patricia Morse, Patricia Smith, and Bill Von Felten.

The National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1995) provide a powerful set of guidelines for the improvement of science education. Standards on content, teaching, and assessment imply major revision of the content and structure of curriculum materials. The science education community must translate the Standards into adequate and appropriate curriculum.

Given the complex structure of a curriculum aligned with Standards, some commercial publishers indicate that they are not in a position to develop curriculum de novo. This task may fall more easily to professional development groups, whose work is supported by grants from various funding agencies. Teachers, including district and state curriculum experts, form another group who will develop new curricula in the post-standards era, particularly in the light that new curricula need not be limited to full year courses. Modules of varying purpose and length are developed by many different groups, including science teachers. Some teachers initiate the process of curriculum development with years of experience, and others will be novices. In either case, considering the myriad of other responsibilities that teachers face, they certainly will need help to develop curriculum materials aligned with the Standards. Working scientists and science educators also will participate in the development of curricula aligned with the Standards. As individuals from these professional groups are recruited to the process of curriculum development, they must become familiar with the message of the Standards. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, all curriculum developers must keep in mind the students who will use the new material. The principles of Standards ultimately are aimed at the experiences, thoughts, understandings, and abilities of the students.

Simple Advice for Curriculum Developers

First: Pay attention to the entire landscape of the Standards. A developer should not head directly to the content area of interest and overlook the landscape of recommendations for good pedagogy in which the content section is embedded. In order to produce curriculum material aligned with the Standards, the developer must look at aspects other than content (that is, subject matter, history and nature of science, inquiry, technology). The developer must devote equal attention to standards for assessment, teaching, and professional development.

Second: Capture the spirit of the Standards. The standards document is a descriptive set of policies that present an orientation toward good science instruction and curriculum. Inclusion of a particular standard for the sole purpose of getting another check in a rubric for standards-alignment makes no sense. Such additions are trivial and transparent. An example of this add-on approach to alignment is the decision to meet the recommendations for a historical approach by including small photographs and biographies in the margins of textbooks, without any attempt at meaningful integration of these additions.

Third: A set of filters does exist. The Standards are also prescriptive and can be seen as a filtration system in which only the best curricula will survive. The Standards can provide operational definitions to help curriculum developers decide on the merits of a program. For instance, the Standards address the need for a student to carry out a full investigation, including hypothesis formation, experimental design for hypothesis testing, data collection, and analysis. A developer must be aware of this recommendation as a non-negotiable item in the design of science curriculum.

Fourth: The Standards should not stifle creativity in curriculum design. This recommendation could come as a bit of a surprise, following the third admonition. However, an essential aspect of using the Standards is that creativity on the part of the curriculum developer and the teacher at work in the classroom must be supported rather than thwarted. Flexibility exists in the way a recommendation is carried out rather than in a choice between key aspects of the Standards. Once again, a cohesive view of the Standards will be helpful. The Standards provide a sense of what is good in science instruction, but a curriculum (and an individual teacher's style) should not be limited by Standards. The Standards describe a fundamental approach to sound instruction and support excellence in design of curriculum and delivery of instruction.

Fifth: Respect the teachers who will use your standards-based curriculum. An excellent textbook that sits on a shelf, unused, or is given to students and misused, cannot achieve the goals of the Standards. Teachers are the crucial ingredient in the implementation of a new curriculum. The Standards speak to professional development of teachers, in addition to outlining effective pedagogy. Teachers must be included in the process of curriculum development, regardless of the group of players who are primary in the process. Teachers are the best source of information about what specifically will and will not work in a science classroom. They bring a strong note of reality to the process, through their familiarity with schools, communities, and the classroom environment. Development of an innovative curriculum, however, requires the input of exemplary teachers who can see beyond what has been done to what could be accomplished.

Sixth: Keep in mind that curriculum development is all about students. In the process of designing a new curriculum that is aligned with Standards, a developer must not lose sight of the goal, which is good science education for all students. As the recommendations of Standards are applied, the ultimate target, the students, must be in every consideration. One way to do this is to consult students and listen carefully to what they say. Their comments are not always sophisticated, but the views of students are a primary source of data to guide curriculum development. For this reason, field testing is an important component in the development process.

Seventh: All teachers are different. The range of styles, experiences, and skills among different teachers varies considerably. Some teachers can use a simple outline of curriculum with success; others need extensive help with implementation of even a complete curriculum. A new curriculum aligned with the Standards should take into account the teaching and training standards as they relate to the wide continuum of experience, style, and knowledge of science.

Eighth: All curriculum is not for all students. A strong curriculum must reflect the range of interests, prior knowledge, learning styles, and student abilities. If the curriculum is to be used by a general class, this range will be wide. If a curriculum is suitable for a narrow range of students, the target audience should be clearly specified. The Standards speak to what all students should be able to do, but this level of scientific literacy should not limit those students who yearn for a deeper or more specialized treatment of science topics.

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