07 August 2005

Same Difference

Theoretically, we offer the same standard classes at each secondary school in my district. The junior highs each have Life Science, Earth Science, and Physical Science for grades 7, 8, and 9 respectively. The high schools offer biology and chemistry (along with other courses). If biology is taught at each place, and students receive the same credit at each school, then shouldn't the description of the class as well as the curriculum be standard, too?

My district worked a bit on identifying some standard curriculum last spring. This will represent the "musts" for teachers. They may individually choose to add onto the list, but nothing may be omitted. So this will take care of one problem.

The second (course descriptions) gets a little bit more interesting. Teachers are very territorial about what gets published in a course catalog---even if the class is supposed to be the same at each school. In a few weeks, when all of the secondary science teachers are together again, we're going to have to come to some sort of consensus about the course descriptions. I plan to wear a raincoat in case of pissing contests.

Here is a sampling for just the biology course descriptions:

School A:
This course covers basic concepts of biology in a classroom and laboratory setting. Students will study cells, genetics, ecology, evolutionary prinicples, and human body systems. Nothing will be blown up. Please do not ask. Students should expect to have regular homework assignments, including lab reports, class projects, and individual assignments.

School B:
This is a laboratory oriented general biology course. Successful students will be able to organize and maintain a comprehensive notebook of work in this class. Students will apply concepts to lab situations by creating and completing experiments of their own design. Topics will include cell studies, a survey of living organisms, anatomy, physiology, genetics, and ecology.

School C:
This course is lab-oriented with emphasis on high-interest topics relevant to future citizens. Topics included are developmental biology, anatomy and physiology, cell studies, genetics, and ecology.

Okay, so we have some similarities across the district in terms of how we advertise biology. We more or less agree on the topics. I'm wrestling with what it is that makes a good course description. My hunch is that it doesn't include comments about homework, notebooks, or citizenry. Those are individual teacher options---how one chooses to organize the prescribed curriculum.

I did sneak a look at the descriptions for math classes. They have already been standardized around the district. They have the following format:
  • Who should take the course and why.
  • The topics covered in the course.
  • What class can be taken following this course.

I wonder if I can convince the science teachers to buy into this. Perhaps if I provide a template to work from, they will be able to manage things.

Why the rush to do Course Descriptions for a school year that is still more than a year away? Well, this may be the one time all of the teachers are together. The Recommendations we made in terms of curriculum last spring will be adopted this fall---and course catalog information is due in December. Plus, we will be doing materals adoption this year. Shouldn't teachers have a clear idea of what their course is supposed to be before they pick out textbooks and other supplementary classroom tools?

I'm hoping that there won't be blood spilled over writing common course descriptions. But I know what happened when this topic was broached a couple of years ago: there was panic in the streets. Perhaps the allure of new curriculum materials and all of the other support the district is providing will be enough of a carrot to play nice.

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