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3 Steps to a Living Curriculum

3 Steps to a Living Curriculum

Boxed curriculum does exactly that: it boxes in learning, narrows the scope of possibility, and leads kids to believe that learning is a chore. Living curriculum does the opposite: it unleashes learning, opens up possibility and adjacent possibility, and leaves kids excited to continue learning. Living curriculum grows and adapts for a richer, more meaningful learning experience.

3 Steps to a Living Curriculum:

  1. Know your students! This seems like a really obvious first step, but honestly, if you don’t know your students it will be impossible to break free of the box(ed) curriculum. How do you get to know your students? At Anastasis, we dedicate our first days of school to getting to know our students and building a learner profile. We ask all kinds of interest and passion questions, we play a card game that helps us identify their Learning Style preferences, Multiple Intelligence Strengths, and Brain Dominance, and we build a Learner Profile. To take students beyond pre-fab curriculum, you have to know them first. What are their strengths as a learner? Where do they find struggle? All of this information will make you a better guide in the learning. It will also allow your students to understand themselves as learners and their classmates as learners. It will change the ecosystem in your classroom!
  2. Break free of the box. You have to break free of the boxed curriculum before you can truly experience a living curriculum. Boxed curriculum is like teaching students through paint by number. Or like exploring the world via a map. Sure, maps are a predictable. You can see the whole landscape in a simple, two dimensional layout. They give us answers and a 10,000 foot look at a landscape. They allow us to gather some information about the world: where major landmarks are in relation to other major landmarks, what rivers/lakes/mountains we might encounter. With a map, we can chart a course and head a direction. But it isn’t living. Looking at a map is not the same as exploring the world. With inquiry, you may have a guidebook that helps along the way, but it is actually all about the journey. Where boxed curriculum is about answers, inquiry is about the journey to the answer. Living curriculum is immersive learning where students get to create their own map including the features and nuances that are important to them (this is why knowing them is step 1!). Learning is too complex and beautiful to be captured by boxed curriculum. When students are immersed in the journey, they can appreciate the scale of a mountain, the wildlife and ecosystem of a river. A living curriculum is not prescriptive, it is an autobiography of learning written by the student as they learn. A living curriculum uses inquiry because the path to learning is more about following a direction than arriving at a destination. Each year, I create a new set of inquiry guides for our teachers and students. The main inquiry questions stay the same every year (we love the PYP questions!): “Who We Are,” “Where We Are in Place and Time,” “How We Express Ourselves,” “How the World Works,” “How We Organize Ourselves,” and “Sharing the Planet.” Then, under each line of inquiry, I come up with a direction for our inquiry block and additional suggestions for different lines of inquiry that students could follow. Each block has a Pinterest board where we can collect resources for learning during the block. These are books, videos, apps, lesson ideas, articles, experiments, field trip possibilities, etc.
  3. Invite teaching partners and students to collaborate. This is the LIVING part of living curriculum. This is where the curriculum actually comes alive and changes and adapts organically as the learning process unfolds.  Pinterest is a great place for this to happen and, be honest, you are there anyway! Using our Pinterest boards, I start gathering resources I think might be useful, then I invite teachers and students to collaborate with me. As they follow a direction in inquiry, inevitably it leads their learning in unexpected places that I couldn’t have imagined. Inviting teachers and students who are doing the learning to collaborate, the curriculum comes alive. It adapts and changes and grows with us. Living curriculum. Our learning becomes fully immersive, and rich. Students are creating their own maps as they explore learning.

Want to see an example of Living Curriculum in action? Check out this example from Anastasis!

Where to find the card game we use to build our learner profile: The Learning Genome Project

Follow me on Pinterest to see our Living Curriculum grow!

Founder of Anastasis Academy, The Learning Genome Project, 5Sigma Education Conference, tech integration specialist, instructional coach, writer, dreamer.

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  1. This last item about collaboration between teachers and students is key. And, it’s also true for collaboration among school leaders and teachers and school leaders and students. No matter what, we have to have an ongoing dialogue that leads to better learning.

  2. Contrasting the two phrases “living curriculum” and “boxed curriculum” is brilliant. Students need to feel as though they’re part of the class and not just along for a ride the teacher takes them on. Your map analogy clearly illustrates how students get checklists in many classes and once they’re done with that list, they get a grade. That certainly does not replicate life and we need to move towards more inquiry. Of course, this isn’t possible without considering the backgrounds and interests of our students. If we know them then we can connect with them and use that to guide and assist our students as they learn. I will look into Pinterest as I am just starting to utilize that resource. Thanks for sharing your insightful commentary!

  3. I love the idea of creating curriculum outside the box. The innovative idea that students are allowed to control curriculum seems like a far stretch for so many educators, but in reality is what students are longing to grasp. I would love to experiment in the classroom with project based learning curriculum for the entire year, and yet understand that would be nearly impossible given the state and federal demand on test preparation. As I explore “breaking out of the box, I imagine a classroom full of possibilities, and creativity. A place where students are interested, and engaged in learning every single day. What better way is there for students to take a serious investment in their education? My only concern is meeting the needs of students that are considered “low” in the eyes of the educational system. How would I meet their needs and provide appropriate accommodations while challenging other students?

  4. I totally subscribe to the point about knowing the student. Very often it is difficult to strike a balance and ensuring everyone’s learning ability is catered towards in a big class. It can also be very difficult to ensure teaching is age appropriate. Beginning a new class by knowing them personally helps to provide insights into each students strength and weakness.

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