Owning The Curriculum


I spent a couple of days last week hunkered down working designing a CS Ethics course and of course it got me thinking about designing courses in general.

One of the topics I've ranted on is my disdain for canned curricula. I've never been a fan. This isn't to say I don't want to leverage other people's work. I'll take sample curricula, lessons, and all the resources I can get my hands on but I'd never just deliver them as is. Even back when I started as a math teacher and I had the NYCDOE lesson plan books to use as samples, I'd use those lessons as sources to develop my own.

I was reminded why I do this as I was developing my ethics course. I want the course to have a significant amount of programming and for some of the projects US census data and the NYC data mine look to be good sources of data. I was led to these sources from some project ideas I found online but those projects provided the data pre processed. Had I been using these sources as a canned curriculum things would be fine until something changed. Either the resource went away or the direction of the class required something different. In either event, had I been happy to merely use someone elses canned materials I wouldn't be prepared.

It turns out that you've got to do some digging before you can effectively use a resource like the US census data. Maybe you can use the American Fact Finder. With it you can download a refined data set as a CSV but you'll still have to figure out how to use the tool and which data sets you need. Another approach is to download the data via FTP but then you have to figure out how the files are arranged.

All of this is to say that you can't just go to census.gov and trivially get what you need and you certainly can't just send students there and say "good luck." I spent more hours that I'd care to admit last week figuring out the ins and outs of a variety of data sources and I've got many more hours ahead. It's taking a lot of time but at the end of the day, I'll own the knowledge.

At the end of the day the first time you offer a course most of your pre planning is going to go out the window. You need a framework, a direction, and a start but first time through you don't know how or where things will really go. If you're using someone else material, good luck when things take an unexpected turn. If you own the course, you'll be prepared.