I will always remember a conversation with my last division head who remarked that enacting change in a school is like steering the Queen Mary. A slow, laborious process. I understand that I am lucky to be in an independent school where our students do not have high stakes graduation tests looming over their heads (or, more truthfully, they just have different ones in the form of AP and SAT/ACT tests) so that my department has some real autonomy about curricular decisions. As long as we’re not setting our kids up for future failure we can eliminate some repetition and some downright unnecessary material from the curriculum. Christopher Danielson has written eloquently about this issue. Too often, we get hung up on curricular checklists convinced that the kids will suffer in their next class if we don’t adequately ‘cover’ some idea. I am trying to get my department to let go of that idea by trying to open a conversation between the team members about what they really need to have their students know in class X. I’d love to hear how others have conquered (or are simply tackling) this question.
I wonder how much of what we worry about – in terms of “coverage of topics” – would be eliminated if we focused more on “coverage of ideas” or “coverage of how to think mathematically” or “coverage of how to tackle difficult problems”. I think we’ve confused the mathematical habits we hope our students acquire with the mathematical content we hope our students learn. I’d be really curious to hear how your conversations between the team members go.
You’ll note, by the way, that I failed to answer your question of “what happens if class X doesn’t teach facts A-M so they can take class X+1 successfully”. I’m working on that 🙂
I have found a couple of promising Habits of Mind type of statements (the one from Park School is the best in my opinion) and I have shared those out with my colleagues. I’d love to create specific for our school, but I want it to be a collaborative effort,