Keeping Students Excited About Learning—The Key Elements of a Dynamic Curriculum
“I had no idea that’s what could happen,” exclaimed one tenth grader after viewing photographs showing the before and after of the devastation caused by the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, 2011.
It’s one thing to study the science of a tsunami. It’s quite another to see the actual havoc it can wreak.
Thanks to multimedia and digital tools, we can engage kids as never before, illustrating teaching points through real-world examples. And in the process, help students personalize concepts and develop empathy.
According to Dr. Melissa King, K12’s director of early learning and product advancement, this is an exciting time to be in education. Thanks to 21st century technology that supports dynamic learning experiences, we can pinpoint the exact tool that will hit the mark for the concept we want to teach and use multimedia to make curriculum come alive.
And make no mistake; a quality curriculum is the necessary foundation for adding all the bells and whistles. What makes a good one? According to King, the key elements are:
- It’s appropriate for the learner (e.g., developmental level, current skill set, etc.), with ongoing assessments and adaptive capabilities.
- It’s designed by subject matter experts.
- It supports relevant principles of learning from cognitive science research.
To determine whether curriculum is appropriate, you must know your learner. This involves diagnostic testing to assess prior knowledge and skill levels. It also entails continual assessments throughout a course.
K12 curriculum builds in assessments at the activity, lesson, and unit levels, providing teachers and Learning Coaches with frequent checks on a student’s progress and the ability to make adaptations. For example, students can repeat a lesson or retake a quiz when needed, or work ahead if they have already mastered the concept. Advanced students can complete optional lessons that go beyond the required course content or create a project that investigates a concept more deeply. Working at the appropriate pace for their proficiency level keeps students from both extremes: boredom and frustration.
One way that Allyson Arnwine, M. Ed., an English and social studies teacher at K12’s Texas Online Preparatory School, accounts for different learner skill levels is by assigning novels and creating reading groups based on students’ reading levels. For those students who are already reading at the college level, she selects a high-level novel. For those struggling with reading, she chooses a novel that’s somewhat easier. The key is providing students with material that is challenging but not too difficult.
“I always set the bar in my classroom high; not out of reach, but high enough to take them out of their comfort zones and show them what they are really capable of. This makes them want to succeed and do even more. In the end, they walk away with such a sense of accomplishment and a step up, or two, in their self-esteem,” says Arnwine.
It takes a team of subject matter experts, interactive and instructional designers, writers, researchers, and more, with deep expertise in their respective fields to create a quality curriculum. Each team member is needed to ensure concepts and information are presented in the best way and are accurate as well as engaging.
For a behind the scenes look at what’s involved, watch K12’s Dr. Dan Franck, senior science content specialist; Ralf Provant, manager of the 6–12 learning environment; and David Shives, art director, as they team up to create a science program that teaches concepts through online simulations and interactive content.
Based on Cognitive Science
A curriculum built on principles gleaned from cognitive science research—such as the underlying thought processes and knowledge base required to learn, and the appropriate developmental stage at which to introduce a concept—does the best job of helping students build understanding and master difficult concepts.
Based on the research, K12’s curriculum carefully sequences subject matter from one grade to the next, allowing students to build on what they’ve already learned. The curriculum is based around “big ideas,” the larger, underlying concepts within each subject from which all related ideas are derived. For example, the concept of matter occurring in three states—solid, liquid, and gas—is presented in pre-K using an example even young children can grasp, water. Later grades introduce increasingly sophisticated concepts such as changing states, mixtures and solutions, volume, mass, atoms, the Periodic Table, and chemical reactions.
While a top-notch curriculum isn’t the only factor that contributes to creating a positive learning experience for students, it’s an essential one. Pair K12’s dynamic curriculum with our expert teachers who are passionate about helping students succeed, add the latest multimedia and digital tools, and you’ve got a winning formula for keeping students challenged and excited about learning!
Anne Vogel is a senior writer for K12. With a degree in communications from Virginia Tech, and a master’s degree in linguistics and TESOL Certification from George Mason University, her passion for language and writing is clear. Her varied career includes six years teaching English as a Second Language at California State University–Long Beach, after which Anne returned to her native Virginia and taught at her alma mater, Fairfax High School. For the past ten years, she’s worked as a writer and editor for nonprofit and corporate organizations in the education and government contracting sectors. With friends across the globe—thanks to her teaching days—she loves to travel. But the destination she enjoys most is Marietta, Georgia, where her favorite nephew lives.
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