Curriculum that creates connections

Successful learners are able to connect new information with what they already know; a school that aligns its curriculum both horizontally (integrating classes over the course of the year) as well as vertically (building on previous learning in successive years) creates excited learners. For instance, theme-based learning in the elementary years entices students to explore all facets of a topic: a few weeks living as Ancient Romans can expand students' knowledge of debating in the Senate, marketing in Roman numerals, engineering aqueducts, and creating military strategies to expand the Empire.

When these students reach their High School years, this role-playing experience remains with them as they read Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, piece together document-based essays for their AP World History exam, or learn the basics of solar engineering in an Environmental Issues class. The experiential knowledge base of their elementary years aligns vertically with this new knowledge, enabling students to create their own connections.

Homework is an essential part of this student ability to create connections without external guidance. Using classroom time for learning and discussing new material, information, writing ideas, and basic skills forces students to come to class having prepared each assignment; students quickly become aware that any lack of preparation on their part holds back the entire class. This approach allows students to feel as if they are part of an intellectual community: each student feels responsible for arriving in class with the ability to contribute to his peers’ learning. Discussions allow students to approach and to examine their own ideas, connections, and conclusions, making kids feel smart. When their contributions are respected, students respect their teachers and their peers.

Homeschoolers have long approached education in an integrated way; in recent years, Idaho public schools have utilized grants to integrate their curriculums vertically in each subject area. Looking at curriculum not as a proprietary commodity, but as a total package of interrelated skills -- subject knowledge, independent exploration, and community engagement -- creates the kind of learning that changes students' lives. While integrating curriculum both horizontally and vertically takes time, cooperation, and effort on the part of teachers within a district, such efforts will give schools the greatest return by creating lifelong learners who are successful in their adult careers.

first published by Marie Furnary
7/03/09 on