Free curriculum resource helps educators teach to Common Core standards

The latest version of SAS' free Curriculum Pathways software includes lessons for students in grades 6-8 as well as high school.

A popular online education resource now provides interactive curriculum tools specially tailored to correspond with both state standards and the Common Core standards—and U.S. educators can use the product free of charge.

SAS, a major business analytics company, released a new version of its Curriculum Pathways web-based resource on Aug. 15. The new version of SAS Curriculum Pathways includes expanded content (including content aimed at middle school students), a more user-friendly interface, and enhanced search capabilities that allow teachers to find material for specific state or Common Core standards.

Forty-four states and the District of Columbia follow the Common Core standards, a college and work preparation framework introduced in 2009 by state officials. The standards currently prescribe benchmarks in English/language arts and mathematics.

In math, for example, the standards outline a detailed progression of student achievement goals, from kindergarten students developing basic understanding of numbers to high school students making mathematical models of everyday scenarios.

Although previous versions of Curriculum Pathways provided curriculum mapping for 13 states for grades 9-12, the new version maps to standards in each of the 50 states for grades 6-12. Teachers can search for resources to match a particular standard, or do the reverse and see which standards a resource can fulfill.

According to SAS, more than 50,000 teachers and 12,000 schools use SAS Curriculum Pathways. At no cost, educators at traditional, virtual, and home schools can access highly interactive content for grades 6-12 in English/language arts, math, science, social studies, and Spanish.

“I think it’s important to remember that just because we put classes online does not make [them] interactive, does not make [them] engaging,” said Bruce Friend, director of SAS Curriculum Pathways. “We can bore kids as quickly online as if we just put them in a traditional classroom with a textbook.”

The curriculum resource includes a wide range of interactive formats, such as “read, research, and respond” guided questions, web lessons, and audio tutorials.

“I really like the new interactive tools because they look like a video game—which gets the students engaged—but they’re geared towards higher-order thinking,” said Katie Higgins, an English teacher and 2011 Mooresville, N.C., High School Teacher of the Year. ”Unlike the drill-and-kill videos that are more rote memorization, these get kids to think critically.”

Higgins praised tools such as Curriculum Pathways’ Writing Reviser and Punctuation Rules for being “incredibly interactive—students can actually click and drag a comma into where it’s supposed to be.”

Joy Elliott, a math teacher at Northern Middle School in North Carolina, said she particularly appreciates that the lessons can be differentiated according to students’ abilities.

Elliott explained how she would teach the math topic of slope: The whole class would begin with an “Audio Inquiry,” a basic activity that shows the definition and applications of slope and is followed by a quiz. By studying the results of the quiz, Elliott would decide how to review with struggling students, and she would know which students to send on to the next activity, a more challenging “Web Inquiry” that might have students measuring the slope of handicap ramps around the school or watching videos online.

Both teachers said Curriculum Pathways is a great way to help students pace themselves, because each student can choose how many times to review an activity and decide when to move on.

This kind of self-guided learning is ideal for preparing students for a digital future in a digital workforce, Higgins said.

“Students can pace themselves when researching, understanding, and learning—I think in the future they may not have a boss telling them exactly what they need to do,” Higgins said. “Inquiries teach students to research and evaluate their own research, rather than just having someone tell them what they need to know.”

Higgins and Elliott both said they have one-to-one laptop programs at their schools. But Higgins said that before she had the “luxury of one-to-one,” she used Curriculum Pathways in a variety of other ways: with a single computer and a projector; in a computer lab; or with a few computers set up as a station as students rotated activities.

Elliott praised SAS Curriculum Pathways as “as good as or better than” tools the school system has paid money to use.

“So what’s the catch?” asked Curriculum Pathways Director Bruce Friend with a laugh, acknowledging that many people ask how such an extensive resource can be free. “To answer that question is to know who SAS is as a company.”

Friend said “the short answer to a long history” is that SAS considers it a “corporate responsibility” to help teachers by “helping make learning fun, making kids interested in learning, and keeping kids in school.”

He noted that many of the educational tools available online are static PDFs, adding: “We need to transition into being more interactive, more engaging—and I think that’s where SAS is really successful.”

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