What is the purpose of a curriculum map? Let’s think about that for a minute. The academic definition:
“Curriculum mapping is the process indexing or diagramming a curriculum to identify and address academic gaps, redundancies, and misalignments for purposes of improving the overall coherence of a course of study and, by extension, its effectiveness (Hidden curriculum, 2014).
However, most teachers use a curriculum map in the same way we use Google Maps: finding your way when you are lost.
I have a horrible sense of direction. I have lived in Colorado my entire life, and I still use Google Maps to get to the grocery store. In fact, it took me 4 years of living in Boulder, CO before I was able to get around town easily. Now with Google Maps, I don’t need to remember any landmarks or directions. I can just plug in my destination and hit START. The problem: I have lost an even greater sense of directionality. Nicholas Carr, in The Glass Cage, explores the impact of automation using his human perspective. For example, he describes how Google Maps has made people lazy at reading maps; in fact citing stories about the Inuit Native Americans relying on maps more so than thousands of years of traditional, handed-down family wisdom. Instead of understanding our place in the world as that of an explorer and discover, we are always the center of every map we enter into Google. We watch that haloed, stylized triangle as we glide toward our red, inverted-drop-shape destination. As a result, we don’t have to remember as much or make connections to where things are located in space. As Carr suggests, we are a “ward of our phones” (Cadwalladr, 2015). We become victims of automation. In fact, Carr (2015) goes so far as to say that by relying so heavily on Google’s GPS navigation, we will “rarely, if ever, have to exercise our mental mapping skills” (Carr, p. 137). We are no longer wayfaring; just focusing on the destination.
The same phenomena happens to teachers as they rely too heavily on curriculum maps to guide their instruction. Instead of immersing themselves in the landscape of their curriculum content, noticing its unique features, they no longer make connections between content areas; how mathematics and science are interrelated. For example, a science teacher may ask their mathematics colleague to introduce a concept that will be needed in science. However, “less frequently do math teachers ask science or technology teachers to apply math concepts” (Bybee, 2013, p. 77). Even less frequently, especially at the elementary level, to teachers create opportunities for students to make their own connections. Teachers need to support students in making interdisciplinary connections, while attending to how they can “access disciplinary practices [that are] shaped by what goes on in [their] particular learning environments” (Hand, Penuel, & Gutierrez, 2012, p. 255). Research supports that when students bridge out-of-school concepts with in-school content, they make “robust, authentic connections” (Gutierrez, et al. 1999). When teachers make connections between the different content areas, STEM education becomes a coordination of specific concepts that will be used in other courses. If teachers are blindly following their curriculum maps, they are unable to see or fully understand the power of discovering and learning.
Teachers have become lazy at collaboration, critical thinking, and facilitating the learning of their students. Instead of designing real-world learning experiences that give students opportunities to connect their learning to authentic problems, teachers are merely presenting content. When teachers complain about not being able to “cover the curriculum” I immediately understand that they are presenting content and not guiding students to discover their own learning. As teachers, we need to begin thinking of ourselves as designers, not lecturers. Instead of believing that the teacher holds all of the knowledge necessary to complete a task or solve a problem, teachers and students should work alongside each other to design a learning experience that immerses everyone in a flow state. The role of the teacher should be one of designing powerful learning experiences, not just delivering content. In doing so, teachers who “co-construct the learning experiences with [their] students meet the desired learning goals” (Martin, 2016).
Curriculum maps? Where your students are going, they don’t need curriculum maps! They need innovation; not standards, grading, or even prescribed curriculum. They need learning experiences that will be remembered long after they graduate. Students must have experiences that will change the landscape of education forever; that will change the world. They need a Flux Capacitor!
What will you do that will be remembered 300 years from now?
Teaching has never been about fame or fortune or recognition or grades or standards or curriculum. It has always been about making change that will last. Marty McFly jumps into the delorean because he trusts Doc Emmett Brown to take him back in time. He understands how the time machine works: reach 88 miles per hour and the flux capacitor propels you into whatever date you set on the dashboard time circuits. But, what he doesn’t understand is that Doc has made some serious modifications to the delorean!
To the future!
That is innovation. Doc Emmett Brown rotates the delorean’s tires so that they are horizontal with the pavement, and then launches the rocket boosters straight into the future. Instead of backing up or finding a longer street, Doc knows that he needs something completely different. He can’t rely on how he went back in time earlier. Teachers need to stop teaching in the same way they were taught or how they even taught last year’s students. In fact, teachers need to stop teaching how they taught the day before, or before recess! Instead of following the curriculum map, textbook, basal reader, or lesson plan, teachers need to make some serious modifications. They need to innovate their teacher so that they can take their students to the future! To be clear, this will not result in academic gaps, incoherent content, or ineffective instruction. When I put my Google Maps away, I notice the landscape around me; the street names and how they are ordered; the weather; the mountains and other landmarks. When teachers put away their curriculum maps, they will notice their students’ needs, passions, what the world needs, and how they all intersect to form ikigai: the Japanese concept of a reason for being. Everyone has an ikigai, but formal education has clouded it. The real role of teachers is to help students on their journey to discover their life’s meaning and how they can make the world a better place, not how they can pass a standardized test. When was the last time you believed that you could change the world? Education is a journey. It involves looking at your classroom of thirty students with fresh eyes; looking at your curriculum through the lens of design thinking, and structuring your lessons so that students are discovering skills and knowledge, not just memorizing facts. Once you do this, and get out of the way, you will be overwhelmed by the flood of creative ideas and innovative thinking that will emanate from each and every one of your students! Life is too short to not discover how you can change the world.
Bybee, R. (2013). The case for STEM education: Challenges and opportunities. National Science Teachers Association Press.
Cadwalladr, C. (2015, January 19). The Glass Cage: Where Automation Is Taking Us review – on course for disaster. Retrieved May 01, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jan/19/glass-cage-automation-nicholas-carr-book-review
Carr, N. G. (2015). The glass cage: how our computers are changing us. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Gutierrez, K. D., Baquedano-Lo´pez, P., & Tejeda, C. (1999). Rethinking diversity: Hybridity and hybrid language practices in the third space. Mind, Culture, and Activity: An International Journal, 6, 286–303.
Hand, V., Penuel, W. R., & Gutiérrez, K. D. (2012). (Re)framing educational possibility: Attending to power and equity in shaping access to and within learning opportunities. Human Development, 55, 250-‐268.
Hidden curriculum (2014, August 26). In S. Abbott (Ed.), The glossary of education reform. Retrieved from http://edglossary.org/hidden-curriculum
Martin, K. (2016, December 07). The Evolving Role of the Teacher. Retrieved March 30, 2017, from https://katielmartin.com/2016/12/07/the-evolving-role-of-the-teacher/