Curriculum Design for a 21st Century School

The Abbotsford School District is engaged in a review of educational services in the Hansen family of schools.  In conjunction with the District’s Strategic Plan and the BC Ed Plan, there is compelling need to personalize and engage students actively and deeply in the learning process.  This is the opportunity to reflect on research based best practices for both teaching and curriculum design.

Abbotsford has embraced Robert Marzano’s Art and Science of Teaching as a structured approach to instruction in classrooms.  This year and in years to come, administrators and teachers will use Marzano’s framework for teaching.  This is an important part of a process to create and use a common language of instruction.

Add to this, the challenge of preparing our students for the 21st Century and beyond.  We must be aware that today’s students will enter a job market that values skills and abilities far different from the traditional workplace talents that so ably served their parents and grandparents. They must be able to collect, synthesize, and analyze information, then conduct targeted research and work with others to employ that newfound knowledge. In essence, students must learn how to learn, while responding to endlessly changing technologies and social, economic, and global conditions.  Our mandate then is to create learning environments that will prepare students to learn in different and exciting ways!  We are looking to transform classrooms across the school district into collaborative classrooms to address Social and Emotional Learning.

Traditional academic approaches — those that employ narrow tasks to emphasize rote memorization or the application of simple procedures — won’t develop learners who are critical thinkers or effective writers and speakers. Rather, students need to take part in complex, meaningful projects that require sustained engagement and collaboration.

Our work to date has taken us to a study of inquiry-based learning.  The inquiry approach, also known as problem-based, project-based or challenge-based learning, presents an ideal platform upon which to base our work. 

‘The power of inquiry is its potential to increase intellectual engagement and foster deep understanding through the development of a hands-on, minds-on and ‘research-based disposition’ towards teaching and learning. Inquiry honours the complex, interconnected nature of knowledge construction, striving to provide opportunities for both teachers and students to collaboratively build, test and reflect on their learning.’ (N. Stephenson)

What is the best curriculum design based on research upon which to design an inquiry model?

At the outset, it should be clear that curriculum design is not a ‘program’; nor is it another fad or add-on to a teacher’s workload.  Curriculum design is a process whereby teachers give coherence to the desired learning and desired methods of presentation. 

Two promising approaches to curriculum design are worth pursuing.  The first is Understanding by Design and the second the Universal Design for Learning.  In the next blog, Understanding by Design will be explored with a district focus.  There are presently two schools in Abbotsford with experience using UbD as part of the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program (MYP).  It will be worth a look at this framework as a district structure.

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