OFSTED’s Inspection Framework for 2019 includes references to curriculum intent, impact and implementation; a recent Headteacher Update article suggests ‘Curriculum intent is about curriculum design, the emphasis being on how effectively schools provide a broad and balanced curriculum for all pupils, opening rather than closing doors to future success.’ So what is curriculum design comprised of – and how do we go about it?
Along with several Cambridge Maths team members I attended this year’s annual ISDDE conference in Pittsburgh, USA. During my time there I was fortunate enough to be involved in discussions with Prof. Zalman Usiskin, Prof. Natalie Sinclair and Prof. Geoff Wake. Our conversations centred around moving curricula (known as ‘standards’ in the US) forward, about challenging preconceived ideas of what form these should take, and how their research aims to enrich and extend existing curricula.
An initial point to consider is how curricula are designed and represented. What should curriculum statements look like? How should they be organised? What are the issues if you are trying to develop a curriculum specification from scratch? These are some of the questions we have been facing at Cambridge Mathematics.
Among the many ideas discussed we reached agreement that a curriculum has to be designed with a particular ‘client group’ in mind, bringing mathematical knowledge that makes sense to them. Another important point was raised concerning the approach often taken when a course is failing. New ideas, resources or tools are seen as add-ons to solve an issue, whereas a more productive approach may be to consider them as integral to the course.
When changes are made, such as focusing early on ideas of data, or deciding to embed the use of digital technology, we need to consider the way this changes how the mathematics itself is approached – and the potential changes to the actual concepts encountered and the concomitant perceptions, lenses and models that might be invoked.
When trying to create innovative steps in a curriculum, researchers have certain critical questions to ask before, during and after the process. These may well act as prompts for teachers in the classroom in developing their own schemes or series of lessons:
- What are our/my beliefs?
- What are we assuming?
- Where do we start?
- What is the goal?
- What is the weakness being addressed? How can we design something to solve this?
- What are the questions that need to be asked?
- What exists? What traditions are there? What is the cultural context?
- What are the possibilities?
- How are curiosity and surprise created in pupils and others?
- How will we play with the maths?
- Is it working for me?
- Will it work for other teachers? In other contexts?
- What is global? What is local?
- What are the pupils doing / wanting to do that was interesting to them that can be capitalised upon? How can they learn some maths from this motivation?
- What will happen next?
After / reflection
- Did it flow? How? Why?
- Were the needs (of pupils, teachers, the mathematics) met?
- What issues were expected / unexpected? How were they tackled?
The group also spent some time sharing experiences of developing a variety of curricula in differing contexts. Interestingly, two key themes emerged: firstly, the importance of the critical skills of budgeting or costing time, money, resources, people, etc., which permeate everyone’s lives and encompass a huge amount of mathematics; and secondly, belief in the importance of encouraging joy, delight and positive attitudes in and towards mathematics in every context.
How do you design for mathematics learning, and what questions are key to this process?
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