Mommy, where does curriculum come from?

Many years ago when I started this teaching business I thought the stork (a euphemism for textbook publishers) brought curriculum.  About year two of my teaching career the school was going to update the math curriculum so we ordered preview copies of textbooks and looked to see which fit what we wanted to do closest, then modified what we wanted to do to fit what the textbooks said we should do.  Poof, we had a four year curriculum.  After all, the authors of the textbooks had letters after their names and therefore should know more than we “no letters after our names” teachers.  But the seeds of doubt on the stork story were being planted at this time.  I had some Apple IIes and some TRS-80s and wanted to teach programming.  (At the time I did not know there was such a thing as CS.)  I checked on the stork.  In 1983 the stork did not deliver programming curriculum.  There was no watermelon patch (the internet) to look through so there was me, Seymour Papert’s “Mindstorms” and some programming magazines.  Curriculum appeared.  It was sort of an immaculate conception thing.  One day it was not there; the next day it was.  There was not a lot of thought, research, prep or anything else intellectual involved.  I needed something to do with these computers now, so I dreamed something up the day before school started and started building curriculum on the fly.  Thirty-plus years later I am still building curriculum on the fly.  The stork still has not showed up but luckily the watermelon patch has gotten real productive.  Just to keep the analogy going the watermelon patch can be pretty tricky, some are rotten and you really do not know it until you cut it open and others are not quite ripe.

Many years have gone by and for math curriculum I still rely on the stork, but now I no longer try to fit my curriculum to what the authors with the letters after their names say to do.  Now I know what I want to do (still no letters after my name but a whole lot of water under the bridge) so I see what the stork has to offer and cut-and-paste the heck out of it to make it do what I want it to do.  Cherry picking is just so much easier than growing my own.

For years I have had to cherry pick for my CS and programming curriculum.  The trouble is the cherries are really small and far apart, after all they are in a watermelon patch.  The stork just has not come through.  Since I have all that water under the bridge I have a pretty good idea of what I want to do and where to find resources in the watermelon patch.  The trouble is I have a lot of water under the bridge and therefore can separate the good watermelons from the bad.  Most of the new CS/programming teachers are living in a drought.  They could use a stork.

As much as I hate to say it, the stork has to come through if CS is going to succeed in small schools and rural states.  In Montana most schools are small and rural.  The experience just does not exist to build a decent curriculum or, in most cases, a decent syllabus.  No matter what our opinion of stork designed curriculum, the stork drives curriculum for many teachers, especially new ones, many schools and even a few states.  It has to come through if there is going to be some kind of homogeneous “sort of agreed upon” CS curriculum.  Those guys with the letters after their name do sometimes make sense.

A curriculum is more than a semester syllabus.  It is a multi-year program that builds from the beginning to a penultimate course, be it an AP course in some form, a locally developed course or a dual-credit course.  The stork has the power and time to produce something that big.  Those of us making our curriculum with little cherries are purely in survival mode.  What the stork brings also gets shared nation-wide.  It gets teachers looking at the same load of stork poop.  The teachers may not like what comes down but at least there will be a lot more big cherries to pick from.

Are there any K-12 curriculum writing projects in progress?  Maybe I just am looking in the wrong parts of the watermelon patch.  Many years ago I watched the grandfather of the UCSMP math curriculum be developed and written.  (It was written at the University of Montana.)  It was big news in math teaching circles.  The NCTM Journal promoted the curriculum writing project.  I can find no news on CS curriculum writing projects.  The CSTA has a good set of Standards built but I can find no curriculum development based on those.  The CSTA site has some curriculum outlines but these are not to useful to beginning CS teachers.  Beginning teachers need something with suggested assignments, pedagogical suggestions, and hand holding.  Something that says “Do this, this and this.”  Something that is 100% canned and ready to go.  Something that will work for a couple of years until the teacher learns how to wander the watermelon patch to find the tasty ripe ones.

At this point we need some people with letters after their names to step up and write some good stork poop.  I am not thinking someone should come up with a K-12 curriculum.  I am thinking more like a two or three year curriculum that is not two or three years of programming in language X.  It would include programming but would address other CS topics.  Of course what those “other CS topics” are is part of the Great Debate.

I am so glad I have no letters after my name and besides, as can be seen by my mixing of storks, watermelons, cherries and bridges, my writing style is not fit for public dissemination.

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5 Responses to “Mommy, where does curriculum come from?”

  1. Alfred Thompson Says:

    Well code.org does seem to be filling some of the stork role. But probably not enough of it.

  2. Andrew Williams Says:

    Epic. This is what I’ve been fighting for for the better part of thirty years. Maybe it’s because I’m overly hopeful I’ve avoided putting my dreams down on paper, but it is something I have started in earnest.

  3. Chad Purdy Says:

    CodeHS.com claims to offer something along these lines. Though, without having actually used it, I can’t vouch for its completeness.

  4. Mike Zamansky Says:

    Not much to say here other than great post.

    Love “so I see what the stork has to offer and cut-and-paste the heck out of it to make it do what I want it to do.”

  5. Briana Morrison Says:

    There are some people working on K-5 curriculum and others working on 6-8 curriculum. Don’t know of anyone working on a comprehensive high school curriculum for multi-years (other than PLTW) – I think most people assume that you’ll take single year classes and string them together. Something for those of us with letters after our names to think about. Thanks 🙂

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