Posted in Curriculum, Education, Humanities, New Ideas, Sixth Grade, STEM, Teaching

Summer Reflections Part VI: My Final Thoughts

Thinking back on my first few years as a teacher, my definition of curriculum was very different than it is today.  I used to think a curriculum had to be organized in a certain way and based on a series of standards that were then transformed into grade-able objectives.  I thought the standards needed to be aligned with the state standards and include every grade-level standard listed.  Now, if I were teaching to a standardized test that the students had to take yearly, then perhaps my definition of curriculum would have been accurate and still relevant now.  Luckily, I don’t teach to a test or work at a school that utilizes high-stakes testing as a way of assessing students and teachers.  

My goal as a teacher today, is to inspire students to be creative and independent problem solvers.  Therefore, I view curriculum very differently today than I once did.  A curriculum is a skeletal framework for teachers to use to guide their teaching.  It is very basic and simplistic.  It leaves plenty of room for creativity in its implementation.  A curriculum is based upon a meaningful and purposeful set of standards used by my school or other, cutting-edge educational institutions.  For example, my STEM curriculum is based upon the Next Generation Science Standards.  From those standards, I craft objectives in student-friendly language that are easily assessed and understood by the students.  My current understanding on curriculum is a far cry from what it once was, which, like life in general is perfect.  Change is necessary and inevitable to bring about growth.

This summer, I revamped my first STEM and Humanities units.  I employed ideas learned from the professional development texts I read this summer.  I wanted to leave room for the students to solve problems, do the thinking themselves, and generate questions.  I wanted to create team-based projects that allowed for the development of real-world skills they will need to be successful later in life.  It was a lot of fun, fine-tuning my previous ideas.  I felt like a movie editor, cutting, pasting, adding, deleting, and splicing together a masterpiece.

During the last two years in our Humanities class, we started the year with a unit on Community.  We wanted the students to understand what it means to be a part of a community as well as to gain a better understanding of the school community as well as the town in which the school is located.  We provided the students with several field experiences, as we discussed the history of Canaan.  The students completed group activities and writing exercises as they learned more about the town’s rich and diverse history.  I bet you didn’t know that the first integrated school in America was located in Canaan, NH.  It was the Noyes Academy.  That’s a pretty cool knowledge nugget if you ask me.  In years past, the Community unit lasted ten weeks or more.  It almost felt too long, like any book by Stephen King.  So, for this coming year, I tweaked it a bit.  I cut some field experiences out, while trying to keep the valuable and meaningful ones in tact.  I feel very good about the changes made.  I’m also very excited because it will provide us the ample opportunity to create a unit on the up coming presidential election.  That is sure to be a blast.

As for my STEM class, I went back in time a bit.  I found that over the last two years, the students have struggled effectively understanding the scientific method as well as how to write a purposeful lab report.  As we began the last two years with an astronomy unit, I never had a chance to introduce the scientific method or the proper lab report protocol until later in the year.  This made experimentation challenging and actually took longer than necessary as I had to over-explain the processes involved.  So, I switched things up a little and went back to the way things used to be.  Our first STEM unit for this coming academic year will be focused on chemistry.  The students will learn and practice utilizing the scientific method before they generate a self-chosen experiment of their own, which they will complete with a partner.  The culmination of the unit will be a class science fair during Parents’ Weekend in October.  Not only will the students learn the valuable testing methods needed to be a successful science student in their future science courses, but it also will allow the boys to be creative, create their own testable problems, and showcase their work in a creative manner.  In my mind, it doesn’t get much more perfect than that.  

While I didn’t bring about major changes in my curriculum for this next academic year, I did employ new ideas and data from past experiences.  I refuse to be stagnant like a dirty, bacteria-infested pond.  I feel the need to change how and what I teach yearly so that I can grow and develop as an educator and enjoy what I am doing in the classroom.  

Wait a minute, I know I shouldn’t be doing this in this particular blog entry as it is focused on how I revised my curriculum, but I feel the need to mention it now for fear of forgetting it.  I think I figured out why I accomplished so much this summer.  It was about my need to change and grow.  The older I get, the more nervous I become by not having a Master’s Degree.  I’m worried that I will lose my job or not be able to get another teaching job because of that.  So, I find that I am constantly reinventing myself as a teacher.  I’m always reading new books, blogging, taking courses, talking to other teachers, and trying to be sure that I am the most effective teacher my students need me to be.  So, it was my need to change as well as my fear of not having a more advanced degree that brought about the work I accomplished this summer.  Wow, that took me six entries to figure out.  Perhaps I didn’t want to admit it to myself or others.  It feels good to write it down for the world to see.  I’m scared and far from perfect like almost every other human on this planet.  And you know what, it feels pretty darn awesome.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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