Monday, January 2, 2012

Curriculum mapping in standard little boxes

Writing is horizontal ... except in maps.
I was struck by a few things the other day when the Mrs. was putting together her curriculum maps for the year ... her curriculum coordinator was demanding that all teachers use the same template so there wouldn't be any confusion and there wouldn't be multiple formats coming in to her office.

1) Why does the template have boxes labeled by the month?

My math classes are split into chapters/ units that have never corresponded to months all that well. The lengths of the months is different as well because of the random nature of vacations, exams, sporting events. We're in block scheduling so the second semester has a completely different pace than the first. Obviously, some variations are less disruptive than others but the month-by-month format seems to be the format that least well corresponds to the course. English classes don't think month by month either. Nor does pretty much anybody else. Why insist on it?

Then you have the long words that don't fit. Unless you teach math, "Prop ortio nal Reas" isn't that meaningful nor is "Probl ems and Linea."

Adding to the silliness is the repetition, as shown here.  This teacher has broken the course down to the weekly level ... and repeated everything. Enlarge the image above ... by my count he pasted "Linea r Equa tions" 56 times.Why? Because he wasn't allowed to combine table cells.  Legibility is sacrificed and some of the words don't even show up in the cells but we were able to keep the format.

Writing is horizontal. Except here, where six letter words are split with a single "r" on the next line and there's no thought of proper hyphenation. This is crazy.  The formatting should not take higher precedence than the content.

2) Why does the Coordinator assume that the course changes significantly from year to year?

Maybe it varies in some classes, but the essence of the transcript is that we are awarding a credit for Algebra I. For that to mean anything, the Algebra I class needs to have some consistency from section to section and from year to year. If it doesn't, then something is wrong. The "C" in Algebra I means that the student has accomplished a certain amount of algebra with a certain amount of facility and thus can be admitted to Algebra II and placed appropriately.

Or you need to give a grade for "Individualized Mathematics" and be ready to explain it to anyone who needs to know. If you're a single tutor of a single home-schooled kid, then this is the rule. When you are dealing with a few thousand kids, however, each kid's transcript needs to be clear. When you are hiring a math teacher to teach Algebra I, you need to know what that entails.

3) Different formats would complicate things for parents.

This complaint is a weird one to me. Even if I thought a parent would read the curriculum map, certainly not a winning bet, I would expect that the parent would have a harder time with the terms and descriptions than with the organization. Labeling the top of the chart Sept, Oct, Nov gives less information than sections 1, 2, 3 and much less than "Polynomials", "Slopes and Lines", "Linear Functions".

A format that provided greater information is preferred here as well as one that doesn't force weird splits in short words: "Probl ems and Linea"

Remember that the original idea (in Jacobs, Heidi Hayes: Mapping the Big Picture ) was for the teachers to make the map so they could identify missing pieces and make the entire school curriculum into a coordinated whole.

If the course isn't taught month-by-month, why map it that way? The teachers are the audience. The point is to identify gaps ... months do not add to that information. Further, Common Core and other standards purposefully do not specify when a particular topic be addressed or how ... why examine it that way?

4) What kind of confusion could possibly arise - doesn't the curriculum coordinator know enough about the curriculum that she could interpret pretty much any format?

Unfortunately, no. If she is like ours, she only wants you to enter all of this data into an online database that she has paid a lot of money for (and needs to justify the expense). The online database was never designed to accommodate teachers and this is what you get.

But she gets to push a button and the database will scan through and determine whether you've addressed standard F-TF (Functions, Trigonometric Functions).

She couldn't just look herself because she's never taught math and has no idea what we put in the boxes.

5) Why does everything have to fit into one box even when different?

Here's the funniest thing (and we get to use this screaming gem of a program so the word "funniest" is coming through clenched teeth) ... Everything in the month goes in the same box, so you have extra lines put in so you can keep the resources for topic one aligned with the content, skills, and assessment for topic one.  Add a few words to clarify one thing and you have to go back and adjust all the other columns ... which gets all messed up when the font size changes.

Like when a browser is set differently (full-screen vs. windowed) or when you print.

Did I mention that the web form accepts Word formatting, so a copy and paste job from the equally useless Word document you did three years ago) comes with 80KB of unbreakable hidden formatting? Yeah, it does. We spent so much time trying to make it look right, we finally broke down and re-typed every word. And every link to the "Standard" had to drill down through the entire document ...

Nothing changed.
Nothing improved.
No benefit to the students.
No mysterious "missing content" suddenly found.

Just five in-service days wasted changing from a Word document which was a printout from the last web company mapping system, itself a conversion from the excel spreadsheet which was a conversion from a word document which had been in wordperfect format fifteen years ago.

I still have the binder.


  1. I like my curriculum coordinator and am happy to comply with her request (not demand)

  2. What is the point of the mapping stuff? Shouldn't it be done by the curriculum coordinator, rather than by each individual teacher? Or perhaps this should just be something that the powers that be (state or national standard board) provides? If nothing else, shouldn't they provide something that you could easily modify if necessary?

  3. I just stumbled upon your posts, and I must say you're right on the money. I've taught high school history for close to thirty years, and I am just about ready to lose it with this mapping crap. I've done the same sort of thing in a different format at least two times during my career...I received disapproving looks and comments from my younger colleagues when I advised them to NOT break a sweat with this NEWEST BEST THING EVER because it will go away until the NEXT Newest Best Thing Ever comes along. (Of course they're all pissed now because the new six figure salaried Curriculum Map Administrator is telling them their Maps need better "Essential Questions" or more defines "Learning Objectives" etc. And don't even get me STARTED with Professional Development...we had to do "bonding exercises" to start of the the school year, and yes, we too are subjected to cute, color coded, elementary school activities to get us to sit with adults we might not normally sit with. We're adults, yet we're treated like children. And that doesn't even TOUCH the content of these PD days...I'm drowning in jargon. Last time I checked I was a high school history teacher, and a good one. I swear administrators and politicians do everything in their power to make THAT job more and more repugnant.

  4. And let me just add, once again, the simple point that I teach high school history. I teach a variety of courses, including Advanced Placement. I know what I'm doing. But I have very serious issues with the so called "reformers," and I am politically a liberal. Fact: "Differentiated Instruction" just means you stick a bunch of kids of widely different ability levels in one classroom and tell the teacher to "reach them all." I am completely confused about the logic which underscores this current practice. It's not just inefficient-it's dumb. And in my school it translates into a classroom where my colleagues are trying to teach academic content and skills to students, in ONE classroom, who range from the academically gifted to those with Down Syndrome. THAT is the truth, but God Forbid we be Politically Incorrect and suggest that the practice serves no one and is fundamentally stupid. Our school district also embraces the fundamentally flawed belief that "All students can learn at the same high level." Call me a pragmatist, but anytime you say "all" and "everyone," I have serious objections. And I'm not the one making the value judgement about the different and amazing gifts kids have. I'm just stating the obvious-they aren't all going to Harvard, nor should they. I knew pretty early on in my teenage years that I wasn't going to M.I.T...but in those "Dark Days," I was able to take a Math class that was geared to my abilities, and my "self-esteem" remained intact. I can write a PHD dissertation on Sir Frederick Lugard and Indirect Rule in Nigeria, but I can't put together a table from IKEA by reading the manual. I have students who can, along with students who can look under the hood of a car and figure out what's wrong with it. I envy their abilities, but why do we insist that those kid are somehow lacking in "self esteem" because they have a different set of skills than the kids going to Harvard? Adults, particularly those who do not teach kids, hammer home the notion that plumbers, electricians, construction workers, or mechanics are somehow "less able" than the kids who move on after high school, to a four year college. It's a disgrace, and it's stupid.