Designing an integrative curriculum

Survey findings indicate 82% of respondents support a curriculum with a “real-world” focus, a curriculum that is problem-based and integrative. Let me see, what would such a curriculum look like? Good question – let’s turn to our educators and read what they wrote.

In their own words:

  • I believe a town meeting and getting the media involved to advertise the new direction the schools, especially the high schools would be taking for this a basic undermining of the old classic liberal arts education. However, this would be one option for a student. Those who chose to study the ‘classics’ and to enter college through the traditional curriculum could still do so, if that is what was required by those particular institutions of higher learning.
  • Convince teachers, administrators, and parents that the ability to apply learned skills in academic areas is essential to success in life. That there is more than one way to succeed, that a four year degree is not the answer for all students.
  • Allow entrepreneurship classes to take the place of a core academic class in meeting state and university graduation requirements.
  • How can we do high school classes that help student’s meet high school requirements? We know that integrated curriculum is much more effective then silo education (i.e. separate math, science, English) but graduation requirements are based on this traditional way of looking at education. We need to be supporting integrated curriculum and allow for non traditional ways of meeting graduation requirements.

This integrative curriculum, what would it look like? Recently I began reading the paper with an entrepreneurial vision focusing on features related to education. Last week in the Chicago Tribune articles seemed to jump off the page. Applying an entrepreneurial vision to curriculum design and instruction – the outcome: an integrative curriculum.

Let me highlight a couple of the articles:

Friday, April 27 – Class caters to healthy life –Charter school gets lesson on how to revamp lunch menus and eating habits.

  • IN BRIEF: Jean Saunders, an advocate from Healthy Foods Campaign and Noble Network for improved nutrition and environmental health in Chicago Public Schools spent a day in a 9th grade English class at Pritzker College Prep.
  • SITUATION: Hands-on demo cooking green tomatoes, adding food facts into a discussion about “To Kill a Mockingbird”

What’s taking place in the English Class at Prizker College Prep? Taking a closer look at the core content: literature, economics and politics of food, health and food science, chemistry of food, history, ethics and character building.

Saunders’ lesson included:

  • a discussion of what people ate during the Great Depression, comparing and contrasting with what people eat today;
  • people living off the land, the agrarian culture of growing the food locally, today children eat food processed and boxed;
  • the price, availability and benefits of healthy food
  • food substance and fat content

Sounds very engaging and I am sure the kids will remember Jean Saunders. Pushing the entrepreneurial envelope further — extending the reach beyond the classroom and really thinking outside the box. What are some actions kids can take? It’s an opportunity – moving beyond jumping through hoops – What if….

  • the English class (teacher and students) connected with the social science teacher and a few entrepreneurs in the Restaurant business and/or Whole Foods and launched a health food cafe (one or two days a week).
  • the kids connected with local farmers, or Chicago Green Drinks or the Foresight Design Initiative and worked at community gardening. A great way to get parents involved. Chicago takes pride in moving to become one of the greenest cities in the country. What an example to set —- working with kids in the classroom.
  • The kids worked as teams to develop a business plan for promoting healthy or green products or services in the school or local community. They could ask the math teacher to help them with their financial statements — start-up costs, and sales projection. The Life Science teacher would help kids frame the scientific method to solving problem(s) within the local community.

There are a lot of possibilities here — for a class, better still, a school to cater to a healthy life.

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Entrepreneurship and Education Reform

Framing a Youth Entrepreneurship Education Agenda presses forward, the first point draws the attention on all sides, state and district-wide, classroom and communities. The second talking point, education reform draws from entrepreneurial thinking and strategic planning. Survey respondents identified key areas in need of reform: rethinking mandates of standardized testing, and the design and implementation of an integrative curriculum.

Three respondents — in their OWN WORDS: Standardized Testing and AYPs

  • Stop having teachers teach to “the test.” My 10 year old daughter does not receive real life, problem solving situations where she forced to use her talents of creativity. At this point in time she is taught to recognize what will be on “the test.”
  • Get rid of the current framework of the ISAT. This test quashes innovative, creative, and therefore, potentially entrepreneurial thinking and achievement.
  • Too many graduation requirements and not enough time for electives; teaching to the PSAE Test
  • At this time, all electives are in a “survival mode.” With many schools not making AYP [adequate yearly progress], districts are focusing only on core academics and are not interested in adding and/or sustaining any course that does not actualize the increase of academic achievement in the cores. Therefore, adding entrepreneurship education is going to be a tough sell. Increased graduation requirements and double dosing are robbing students of elective opportunities.

Speaking of AYP and standardized testing, in Wednesday’s Chicago Tribune (4/25) featured HS District 218 (Oak Lawn, located southwest of Chicago) and its 10 day intensive drill preparing students for state tests and the ACT. Headline reads:

Lesson Plans taking back seat to exams –A high school forgoes curriculum for 10-day intensive drills aimed at preparing students for a battery of state tests, college entrance exam” – Difficult call to make for district and school administrators. Students and teachers are pressured to demonstrate adequate progress. A lot of time is put into teaching kids how to take standardized tests. Policy makers set the standards, educators lose control over the delivery of services. Other viable alternatives? I think so.