Creating Engaging Curriculum

Date of event: May 22, 2014

Location: American Red Cross – Rauner Center

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We asked our partners what they hoped students would say about their programs. Wouldn’t you love to be a student in this classroom?
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Dr. Vaughan

Among educationland’s buzz phrases “student engagement” is incredibly popular, but what does it really mean? How do we, as community partners, engage students in a meaningful way in the short amount of time that we have them?

Dr. Kelly Vaughan helped walk us through these very questions as we discussed the use of big ideas, essential questions, Bloom’s Taxonomy, and creative engagement strategies in curriculum development.

What’s the BIG IDEA?

Great programs have a clear purpose. That purpose can also be defined as the “big idea.” Dr. Vaughan asked us to think about what we would want a student to say if they had to answer this question 6 months after the end of our program, “What did you learn?” The big idea is the “hanger” or “umbrella” on which the entire program is organized. Examples are: safe sex, healthy relationships, musical dynamics.

Turning the Big Idea into an Essential Question

Essential questions turn the big idea into a thought-provoking invitation for engagement. Great teachers use essential questions in themed units to help students define and refine what they are learning about. Examples of essential questions are: What does it take to be a hero? Why do people engage in violent activities?

We have the HOTS for Bloom’s Taxonomy

Once a strong program foundation is built by defining what students should know at the end, engaging students in a meaningful way through thought-provoking questions becomes much easier. Dr. Vaughan introduced us to the revised version of Bloom’s Taxonomy and the delineation between lower-level thinking skills (LOTS) and higher level thinking skills (HOTS).

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HOTS: creating, evaluating, and analyzing LOTS: applying, understanding, remembering

Dr. Vaughan made the great point that just because a question falls in the LOTS category doesn’t mean that it’s not important. In fact, we need to be mindful that LOTS help us successfully get to HOTS. For example, if a program is exploring healthy relationships, a facilitator may want to ask a lower level questions like, “Define the role of power in a healthy and an unhealthy relationship.” Good teachers use opportunities like this to informally assess what students already know about the topic or what they understand from the program so far. Once the teacher addresses misconceptions and introduces new concepts, she can move students to the higher level thinking processes by asking them to: examine a situation (analyzing), justify a critique (evaluating), or produce something new (creating).

I realized that all students, regardless of age, can and should get to higher order thinking. – Robin Koelsch, Foundations of Music

I want to incorporate “creating” into our curriculum.  – Caleb Probst, CAASE

Creative Engagement

Great teachers are very intentional in their engagement of students. They prime students by activating prior knowledge (“Tell me what you think of when I say the word asthma.”) and getting them excited about the upcoming content (“How can you protect yourself from bullies?”). Next, they introduce new information, balancing knowledge and skill development. Students need time to practice and explore this new information. Lastly, quality teaching leaves room for assessment (“What did the students get out of this session?”) and closure.

Great questions and creative engagement strategies can be infused into each of these lesson components. Dr. Vaughan shared some of her favorite ways of incorporating questions and engagement strategies into her teaching:

Last, but not Least

No blog post can fully describe the bubbling ideas and exciting collaborations that took place at this training. All of our trainings this year produced innovative ways of interacting with the students we serve, and we LOVE to see the smiling faces of our partners.

We hope you’ll join us at our Summer Institute on July 9 – registration coming soon. Contact us to make sure you’re on our invitation list for this and future trainings!

Thanks for a great year, and we wish you a very relaxing and rejuvenating summer!

Annie, Karen and Katrina
CIS of Chicago’s Community Partnership Team
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