That One Inspirational Curriculum

Over the last few years, I've heard a lot of people talk about curriculum.

"We need a curriculum that works for everyone."

"If we had a good curriculum, we could get CS in the schools."

"Can't you just take someone else's curriculum and scale things out?"

People miss the point. In my twenty some odd years as an educator and my forty five as a human (including 18 as a parent), I've never heard someone talk about that one inspirational curriculum that made all the difference in their lives.

It's not about the curriculum, it's about the teacher.

The collegeboard web site provides some sample AP Computer Science A syllabi. In them, you'll find things like:



Students will gain additional practice with arrays as they explore the nontrivial task of merging two sorted lists. In addition, students will once again see a comparison between a recursive and nonrecursive solution to an algorithm....

Technically, this covers what has to be taught and what will be on the AP exam but it really misses the point.

I blogged about a few lessons I taught last year. One here:

and here:

The first topic might have a line in the syllabus saying: Finding the mode of a data set and have a description talking about using lists. None of the beauty of the topic is captured in the syllabus. That's all the teacher.

Similar things can be said about the second lesson.

The NY State Common Core Math Curriculum does a little better (not that I'm sold on it) - for example, it doesn't just say "Quadratic Formula" but at least says that it should be derived. It's better, but not by much.

In my experience, Curricula are least common denominator documents and centering education around them rather than teachers is a huge mistake.

A great teacher can inspire and mask a bad curriculum. The reverse isn't true.

Likewise, a bad curriculum can do more to constrain a good teacher than a good curriculum can help a bad teacher to inspire.

Over the past few years, I've met a few CS teachers that really impressed me as teachers but not course designers. I found there courses and curricula sorely lacking, but the fact that they had the gift allowed them to truly inspire their students.

Of course, this is not to say that good class design and curriculum aren't important -- those same teachers would be even better with a better course framework but it has to start with the teaching talent.

Why am I writing about this? Because more and more we see the marginalization of teachers. We see the TFA 5 week training model or summer workshops to create or train new teachers. The theory seems to be, it we script the teaching, this will be sufficient. It might be, if the goal is to get by standardized tests, but it won't be if the goal is to have an inspirational knowledgeable teacher in front of our kids.

For that we have to start with the talent and develop the curriculum around it.


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