Curriculum combines the “what” and “how” of teaching. The former embodies the abstract standards and content to be taught, while the latter explains, implicitly or explicitly, how that material should be taught. It also includes teacher-made materials, textbooks, and national and state standards that define the expectations for students at each grade level in each discipline.
Curriculum that is effective provides learning experiences that honor students’ identities, experiences, and worldviews while fostering the thinking and social-emotional skills they need to successfully navigate complex situations in their lives (Bryan-Gooden, 2019). Effective learning experiences incorporate texts, activities, and projects that represent characters and people from diverse cultures, races, ethnicities, religions, abilities, classes, sexual orientation, and gender identities in accurate and appropriate historical and cultural contexts, dispel stereotypes, and center the lived experiences of historically underrepresented groups.
For example, an English class might explore a local Confederate monument and ask how and why it should be memorialized. Students might research and write persuasive pieces using a range of evidence to support their argument. Alternatively, an Earth science class might study erosion and deposition with stream tables that demonstrate how the sand and soil in the area was changed by rivers, canyons, mesas, and buttes over time.
Then, for a STEAM-focused lesson, kids might use an online drawing tool to create their own pop-up book that tells a story about the world around them. Or, they might participate in a Family Creative Learning workshop and use Scratch or MaKey Makey to learn together and develop their creativity. The workshop’s free online Facilitator Guide is created by Ricarose Roque and was designed for elementary and middle school participants in afterschool programs.
A “hidden” curriculum emerges from the culture of a local school district, including the behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs that have been defined by the community. While a hidden curriculum may not be formally listed in the explicit curriculum, it is often a major driver of achievement gaps. Bruner (1960) noted that teachers must cultivate student ideas and values in addition to teaching subject matter.
Fortunately, there are many great resources available to help educators plan a robust and relevant classroom curriculum. The National Academies’ Curriculum Vision Project offers a set of five steps for curriculum development, with the first step focusing on the development of a unifying theme to guide and align all other activities. In a nutshell, the vision for curriculum should include a big-picture “vision” for students’ learning over time and more detailed “skills and knowledge” descriptions that are broken down into more specific lesson plans. Check out this video from the Center for Childhood Creativity on a curriculum that has a strong emphasis on creativity. Then, dive into the many other free and valuable resources that are available to help you implement a meaningful curriculum for your program.