Great Summer Reading on Curriculum & Equity

Great Summer Reading on Curriculum & Equity

Back to school: It’s a terrific time to soak up new ideas. Our recent guest blogs for Getting Smart, the Green Schools National Network and Corwin offer inspiration for the upcoming year.   Teachers are seeking strategies to support a ‘Growth Mindset.’ Find out how your curriculum can make it happen. See how an Ancient history course makeover helped kids plan for the future based on lessons from the past. A Catholic nun, a gay musician, and a Black Muslim walk into a classroom . . . Have you heard this one? If not, check out guest blog on Corwin Connect.  ...
Time To Clear-cut Paper Mache Rainforest

Time To Clear-cut Paper Mache Rainforest

What comes to mind when you hear Earth Day and education? Do you see endangered species posters? Or perhaps a paper mache rainforest? Such projects can be fun. But focusing on exotic animals and ‘wild’ places sends the message that the environment is a place both far away and without people. That keeps kids from understanding a vital fact: humans are part of the environment. Understanding this starts with learning about one’s own place. Can the student who draws a rainforest toucan identify a bird that’s native to the local ecosystem? Can the student who made a cardboard tree name an indigenous tribe that inhabits the forest? I wonder.  Is it time to clear-cut the paper mache rainforest? Not necessarily. But let’s raise the bar. Environmental literacy is an essential 21st century skill that will determine life in the 22nd century. Our kids deserve the best we can give them.   Looking for ideas? Contact me for inspiring examples or helpful...
The Worth of the Earth: Does Your Economics Curriculum Know?

The Worth of the Earth: Does Your Economics Curriculum Know?

Earth Day is around the corner, and environmental lessons will take center stage in many science courses. But what about economics? You might be wondering what economics has to do with Earth Day. After all, isn’t consumption—a driver of the economy– harming the environment? That’s the conventional narrative. And it’s often true. But ironically, the economics curriculum itself can help change that. All it has to do is acknowledge and account for the worth of the earth. You might not have thought about it, but nature provides multiple life-sustaining functions.  Plants produce oxygen and absorb carbon, wetlands filter water, and bees pollinate food crops. Together, theses functions are called “ecosystem services.” Ecosystem services are inherently invaluable. But have you ever wondered what they would be worth in monetary terms? The global value of ecosystem services is estimated at $145 trillion per year. That’s almost double the total global economic output of $75.59 trillion. The ecosystem services figure comes from research led by economist Robert Costanza. The purpose of his work is not to commodify nature, but to ensure the true worth of the environment is counted in economic and policy decisions. This is a key principle of the field of ecological economics. Here’s an example: In ‘mainstream’ economics, a forest has no worth until it is cut down and the timber is sold. The services provided by the forest—providing habitats and oxygen, and preventing erosion, just to name a few—don’t figure into accounting systems.  Environmental damage is written off as an “externality” (an outside cost). But what if the value of these services was counted in business decisions? What...
The Curriculum Makeover Inside Our Community

The Curriculum Makeover Inside Our Community

“When am I ever going to use this?” We’ve probably all heard that from students. To engage today’s tech-savvy kids, many schools are reaching for the latest technologies. While potentially valuable, technology-based “innovation” overlooks something much more basic: the content of the curriculum Creating a “curriculum makeover” does not depend on gadgets or gimmicks. Rather, it is based on one powerful idea: that students’ lives and communities should serve as the basis for inquiry. I’m not talking about one-time service projects or feel-good lessons assessed by the size of the group hug. I’m talking about the rigorous, culturally relevant learning experiences that all students need and deserve. Let’s take a look at the elements of a possible unit. You’ll see that these basic ideas can be adapted for a variety of ages, and that opportunities for meeting standards are (in the words of one superintendent) “jumping off the page.” Consider these guiding questions to drive the inquiry: What social and ecological communities am I a part of? What makes a safe and healthy community? Who makes decisions in our community? Why factors shaped our community’s demographics? What I can do to ensure the story of my community’s future is positive??  These big ideas define content-rich learning outcomes: Cultural, linguistic and ecological diversity contribute to community resilience. Changes in a community can be driven by economic, cultural, and environmental changes. Zoning and land use policies have environmental and social justice implications. Here are just a few sample activities for different disciplines: Social studies: Mapping students’ origins and languages; researching historic settlement patterns in the community; engaging local leaders to shape...
Curriculum and the Power of Story: Empowering students to write a positive future

Curriculum and the Power of Story: Empowering students to write a positive future

This post builds on earlier articles about the curriculum I believe students need to thrive into the future. There is simply not enough room here to describe the stunning units teacher colleagues are designing, so please contact me if you’d like to learn more about this inspiring work and the achievement results. Or, check out our case studies.   To thrive in the 21st (and 22nd) Century, students will need to solve many “grand challenges” ranging from global climate change to local food security. Turning these complex topics into effective learning experiences is daunting at best. How can educators design units and courses that make content accessible and relevant–while also meeting standards? Creative Change has developed a method that uses the concept of story as a powerful metaphor for designing instruction. In this approach (which we call “Inquiry as Narrative”), learning unfolds as a story about real world issues. In the narrative, learners (and other stakeholders) are characters, communities are the setting, and interdisciplinary topics form multiple plot lines. Learners move through the story through a process of engagement, inquiry, decision-making, and action. Through this process, students discover what’s at stake and gain the skills to become “authors” of positive solutions. Here’s how an upper elementary unit on food and health might unfold: Stage 1: The story begins Opening lessons situate learners in the plot and setting. Sample lessons: Through interviews and journaling, students identify foods they eat, like, and have access to. (This opens up questions about food security and social justice.) Students assess the foods they eat based on health and nutritional value. Students use poetry and creative writing to express the food traditions important to their families and cultures. The writing, discussion,...
Beyond Celebrations: Culturally Responsive Teaching and Citizenship in a Multicultural Society

Beyond Celebrations: Culturally Responsive Teaching and Citizenship in a Multicultural Society

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is here and no doubt many schools will observe the day with instruction on diversity and Civil Rights. Perhaps it will be a speaker, a cultural heritage celebration, or posters prominently displayed in the hall. These activities can help students become more aware of race and other dimensions of diversity. But is “awareness” enough to create a more just society—the one envisioned by Dr. King? Realizing this vision requires culturally competent citizens. Renowned multicultural scholar James Banks conceptualizes a “citizen” as an agent of social change – an active, engaged, and caring individual able and willing to advance democratic goals (2001, 2007). To get our kids there, curriculum should help them acquire the knowledge, dispositions, and skills needed to: Participate in personal, social, and civic actions that will help make our nation more democratic and just. Interact positively with people from diverse groups, whether based on ethnicity, race, culture, class, sexual orientation, gender, or other social groups. Develop a commitment to act to make their communities, the nation, and the world moral, civic, and equitable.   How can we make this happen? Culturally responsive teaching (CRT) offers a framework to reach the above goals. CRT uses the cultural knowledge and experiences to make learning more appropriate and effective (Gay, 2010). Becoming a culturally responsive educator involves a range of skills impacting curriculum, pedagogy, and school climate. Here are a few: A culturally responsive educator can: Identify their own biases and recognize their impacts. Challenge the deficit thinking that assumes students of color are less capable and motivated. Identify how biases and deficit narratives manifest...