Curriculum Mapping as a Journey Part 3: Exemplars

  So it has been awhile since my last blog post on our curriculum mapping journey, but that is because much of our work in this process has occurred at the conclusion of this past school year.  As groups have worked on curriculum updates, they have started to integrate the quality curriculum map rubrics into their review and revision of their maps. We are finally at the point where we have curriculum maps that are ready to publish on our public site as of this July 2015. 
Lessons Learned:  What I found was that it takes time for educators to internalize the expectations for curriculum design.  For many teachers, this was the first time in crafting enduring understandings and essential questions at a unit level.  What we learned that it takes a few iterations to complete this task.  
Enduring Understandings:  For example, in some cases, some teachers would put a long list of enduring understandings (EU) for a unit.  Upon further review and in sticking with the expectations of 2-3 enduring understandings per unit, we found that if they had a lot of EUs listed, it often meant that they were putting content in that section.  Another lesson learned for Enduring Understandings was that sometimes the first inclination in some content areas (such as math and science), was a tendency of many teachers to make them too specific, rather than broad, big ideas that have enduring value beyond the unit and classroom.
Essential Questions:  Another challenging area for development was with the writing of essential questions.  As we went back to review our initial drafts of the essential questions, we first asked ourselves if the questions had an easy answer.  If they did, then that was a quick check to determine that they were not essential questions, and were likely guiding questions that you might use within a daily lesson.  
Content:  For the most part, this was the easiest area for our teachers to write.  Any refinements that had to be made were to make the content more transparent by providing more specific details, rather than broad themes or topics.
Skills:  The skill section was definitely an area that needed to be revised in most cases.  During the review process, the first characteristic we looked at was whether the skills were measurable and also displayed a wide variety of Bloom’s taxonomy and levels of depths of knowledge (DOK).  The second element we reviewed was to make sure that the statements were actually skill statements and not activity statements.  Then finally, we checked to make sure that the skills were detailed enough and aligned to content and standards.  The area where we had to make the most revisions had to do with providing a variety of skill levels along Bloom’s taxonomy and DOK levels.
The Power of Exemplars:
It was not until we started to review other units in other disciplines and looked at exemplars that educators started to get a fuller picture of what an exemplar unit would look like.  The following are some exemplars pulled from the Mendon-Upton Regional School District’s own maps to share with our teachers.  

The biggest lesson to keep in mind that this truly is a journey and there is not a straight path from beginning to the end destination of a final draft of a curriculum.  You are always readjusting your coordinates, revising your plans, and overcoming what at first seem to be great hurdles, but with time and perspective become minor.  In the end, we will have a clearer understanding and picture of our curriculum K-12 that can be publicly transparent and shared with parents, community members, teachers, and students.

Curriculum Mapping as a Journey Part 2: Quality Maps

In my last blog post I communicated our beginning steps to curriculum mapping journey within our district.  After a significant amount of effort, time, and collaborative conversations of our teachers, we are finalizing the first draft of many of our curriculum guides.

So the question that comes is…what is next?  
How do we move from a first draft to a published curriculum map that can be used and shared with all stakeholders (teachers, students, parents, and community members).

After completing a first draft of the curriculum map, then it is time for the review and revision process.  When writing curriculum, a good analogy is to consider what it is like when you write a paper in a course you are taking.  The first step is pre-writing, which involves pulling together your resources and creating an outline.  The second step is the writing process, where you create your draft of your written work.  Then typically you would look at the rubric and expectations and go back and edit your own draft.  Next, you would have someone else read your paper and provide feedback.  Using that feedback you revise your paper and then submit it to your teacher or professor.  The same process applies to writing curriculum maps.  Below we have a sample checklist that walks you through this process, along with a quality map rubric.  When looking at the rubric–think “proficiency.”

Curriculum Map Checklist

Quality Map Rubric

The rubric above defines what a quality map looks like, but it is important to always go back to some of the reasons why we are creating curriculum maps.  One reason is to have transparency and communicate what we want are students to be able to know and do in our courses.  In thinking about communication, it is important that we keep in mind the following:

Quality Map 

A quality written map is defined as: a map wherein map readers do not need the map writer or writers present to correctly interpret the map’s data.

Quality Curriculum Mapping Part 1

This screencast is an introduction to the quality curriculum map process. It includes an overview of curriculum mapping beliefs and vision, how to write a unit title, create a pacing calendar, and include the right amount of standards.

Quality Curriculum Mapping Part 2

This is part 2 of an overview of creating quality curriculum maps. It includes some examples on essential questions, enduring understandings, content, and skills, as well as a snapshot of the quality curriculum review rubric.

Curriculum Mapping as a Journey: Part 1— "Why Map?"

Our journey in mapping….not always a straight path and not always easy, but it as we struggle up that mountain, it is important to remember our destination and to reflect on the process.

I’m hoping that the following curriculum mapping journey will be helpful to other districts who are also going through this process.  Another objective is to provide myself and members in my own district the opportunity to pause and reflect on the beginning of our process and in subsequent entries—how far we have come from these beginning stages.

Our Journey In Mapping

1.  Kick-off

 2.  Why Map?  6 Big Ideas in Curriculum Mapping

At the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year our faculty members watched and discussed the following video on the 6 Big Ideas in Curriculum Mapping, presented by Atlas Rubicon representatives, as we embarked on beginning the process of Stage 1 of mapping desired results.

3.  The Vision of our Graduates:  We discussed that all of us were working together to prepare our students to graduate college and career ready and collaborated on what skills we wanted our graduates to have for life.
A graduate from the Mendon-Upton Regional School District Should be able to…..

4.  Curriculum as Building Blocks in Learning.  The Strength of the Standards:  We looked closely at the standards to uncover how they are building blocks of skills that will lead our students to be college and career ready by graduation.

5.  Thinking about Enduring Understandings:  We discussed our own reasons why creating curriculum maps were important.  We discussed setting priorities for the work.

6.  External Support:    We received external support from the DESE DSAC representatives at some grade levels to help with the process:

7.  Framing what is Essential:  Check out this Movenote screencast created to explain how to frame an essential question:


8.  Outline of Curriculum Guidelines:  The following curriculum guideline packet was provided to all teachers to assist them through the various stages of the mapping process.

Best of luck to you as you begin your own journey in mapping!


Essential Questions

As we work on curriculum mapping using the backwards design model, I often hear from teachers that they need assistance in crafting essential questions for the first time.  My quick answer is that essential questions are the types of questions that lead us to ponder the big ideas and enduring understandings. With my history background, I immediately go to the following examples of “What causes civil wars?” or “What is a revolution?”  Then I try to explain how the essential questions fit into the content and standards we teach such as the industrial revolution, French revolution, or the current communications/electronic changes going on today.

It wasn’t until this last week, that essential questions and enduring understandings really took hold for me, as a result of 1:1 conversations with my 5 year old son Liam.  Have you ever spent extended time with an inquisitive kindergartener?  Everything he sees and processes leads to more and more questions and he is not afraid to ask them.  That is when I realized that essential questions are questions that begin at his age and remain with us in some form throughout our lifetime.

  • We were leaving a museum and he heard people speaking in another language and asked “Why are they speaking another language.  Why aren’t they speaking English?”  
  • In a discussion about how much an item costs, Liam asks, “Where does money come from?  How do you get it?  Why does everything cost something?”  
  • Liam has a great fascination with age.  “How old do people usually live?  Why do some people live to be 100 and others don’t?”
  • “If somebody is in another universe, do they know we are here in this universe?”
  • “What were the first animals that lived on Earth? You know, before there were dinosaurs?”
  • “How do spies learn how to be spies?  Do they go to school for that?  What would I have to do to be a spy?” (Ok…so maybe not an essential question, but an interesting question for sure.)
When I hear these questions, I often take a deep breath and ponder how I’m going to answer them with enough detail that it makes sense, but not too much that it is confusing.  I also think about the enduring understandings each question offers: the importance of celebration of diversity and culture, the purpose of currency, the role of genetics and wellness, the laws of the universe, and the history of espionage.

And the answer I gave to how to become a spy? “Yes, they go to school.  Lots and lots of school.  They study languages and cultures, math and science.  They are really smart, so if you want to be a spy, you need to learn as much as you can in school and then go to college.”  🙂

For a more scholarly look at essential questions please check out this resource:  Essential Questions
Otherwise, just spend some time with a kindergartener!