In our small, rural district in Huntington County, Pennsylvania, we face a number of challenges including a high rate of poverty, a rather pronounced teacher shortage, and a limited budget. Given these challenges, education technology is a resource we can’t afford to go without.
For instance, just 18 months ago, we had no central place where our curriculum was housed, revised, or accessible to students or to the public. We had no effective way to track what we were teaching, whether our courses were aligned to state standards, and if teachers were adequately addressing those standards. Then we heard about Chalk, an edtech tool that helps districts map curriculum from grades K-12 and eliminates gaps in instruction.
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Starting in January of 2018, we formed building-level teams that met to learn about this tool and start the curriculum writing process. Using a “train the trainer” approach, these teams received professional development via webinars. They then began sharing what they had learned with others in their individual buildings, involving a wider pool of teachers in the process, and providing support, as needed.
Here are five benefits we’ve experienced from using mapping curriculum:
1. Empower district-wide participation: Previously, we simply didn’t have the staff and capability to map out our district’s entire curriculum. This is a challenge for many districts, but one we hoped to overcome. Now all of our teachers have the opportunity to build out their courses, either on their own or in collaboration with their department. Our secondary teachers, in particular, exercise considerable independence in developing curriculum. We can support their autonomy while ensuring rigor and alignment.
2. Align to standards: In the past, we used a state-provided portal to see if our courses aligned to standards, but it was not user-friendly, and teachers either didn’t know how to use it or were not interested in learning. Chalk takes the guesswork out of standards alignment. We can easily attach the Pennsylvania state standards, NGSS standards, or even our own additional standards to our curriculum maps to use as a guide and reference.
3. Compare curriculum and lessons between courses: Comparing the curriculum and lesson plans for two different courses was previously difficult if not impossible, and at the very least required a lot of cumbersome management of numerous documents. But with a system that leverages the power of technology, it’s much simpler. For example, we’re teaching different levels of physical science to students in sixth and ninth grades. Teachers developing those courses are able to see exactly what the students covered previously and what content and concepts will be covered in ninth.
4. Foster collaboration: We have experienced a high level of collaboration between teachers, particularly in our work to map the Algebra 1 curriculum. Algebra 1 teachers from across the district are able to collaborate both in person and virtually to ensure their students have a comparable experience, no matter what teacher they have.
5. Keep knowledge in-house: In many cases, we have classes that are taught by only one teacher, and if that teacher were to leave the district, we’d often lose the course along with them. But now we’re able to preserve that knowledge. For instance, a biology teacher who had developed our anatomy and physiology course had just finished mapping it out before she left the district. The new teacher coming in will be able to refer to her curriculum rather than starting from scratch.
Now that we are close to completing the process of mapping our K-12 curriculum, we will be able to complete our long-term goal of posting our curriculum maps on the district website so that we can better share with parents and the wider community what we are teaching and how we’re aligning with standards.
Putting it all together in a cohesive fashion wouldn’t have been possible without leveraging technology, and it certainly wouldn’t have taken place as quickly or effectively. We also expect to promote even more meaningful collaboration between our new teachers and our veteran teachers going forward as we continue to expand our use of this tool in the next few years.