Monday, April 11, 2011

Curriculum Evaluation Task Force: Nearing the End

Since November, I have been working with a diverse group of math and science teachers to evaluate and put forth a recommendation for a new middle school physical (and earth) science curriculum.

Our group consists of the following:
  • A Grade 6 Math Teacher
  • A High School Math Teacher
  • A Grades 7/8 Life and Physical Science Teacher
  • A College Physics Professor
  • A High School Environmental Science Teacher
  • A Grades 7/8 Earth and Physical Science Teacher
  • A Grade 8 Math and Physical Science Teacher
  • A Grades 7/8 Math and Physical Science Teacher
  • A Grades 11/12 Physics and Chemistry Teacher
  • A Grades 6-8 Earth, Life, and Physical Science Teacher
  • A Grade 6 Math and Science Teacher
  • A Grade 6 (Elementary School) Teacher for All Subjects
  • A High School Earth, Physics, Physical Science Teacher
  • 4 Physics Education Research Graduate Students
As you can see from the list, our group spanned grades 6-12, plus college. As a group we taught life science, earth science, physical science, physics, chemistry, and math. Our least experienced teacher had been teaching for a few years, while our most experienced teachers had been teaching for 3 decades.

We are now coming to the end of our work–last Saturday we met as a large group for the last time. On average, teachers put in about 100 hours of work each. They were paid for their time, and we always provided breakfast and lunch during our long Saturday meetings. In the coming weeks, we will be finalizing reports on our evaluation and recommendation.

For me, I'd say the most difficult part of the process has been to manage the tension between (1) pushing forward so they could accomplish the work within a timeline, and (2) providing time and space for norms, voice, and collective ownership to develop. My strategy was to almost always focus on (2), but to drive hard and with clear purpose on (1) whenever the group needed me to do so, and then to back off again to let the rewards of cultivating (2) pay off.

Although the road was rocky, I think we have accomplished much, largely in terms of planting the seeds for a strong professional learning community. The teachers feel they have learned a lot through this process, and they didn't want it to end. Throughout the day on Saturday, teachers were discussing how the were going to stay involved and not let the experience, knowledge, and excitement they've developed go to waste. A few teachers were talking about how they had already joined a curriculum selection team for math in their school. Other teachers are moving on to our 9th grade curriculum selection process. Others will be helping to plan our summer professional development academy and/or piloting in the fall. A mother-daughter pair on the team expressed to me how valuable this project has been them to spend time with each other on matters of their profession. I think this sentiment has been true for everyone. It has given just enough structure, time, and sense of purpose to allow teachers to come together on matters of their profession. I can only wish them good luck moving forward, as I won't be here to see it happen.

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