Teachers and administrators at the Mount Airy City Schools are busily preparing to roll out the new Common Core/Essential Standards curriculum set to debut next year — a curriculum that will place more emphasis on critical thinking and problem-solving skills and focus less on rote memorization.
The new curriculum is designed to refocus education in the state to better prepare children to live in a global, technology-based economy. It comes on the heels of North Carolina’s application to opt out of the No Child Left Behind Act, a much-maligned federal initiative.
Although the benchmarks designed to measure the success of the new educational model are still in the formative stages, administrators in the city’s school system say one thing is clear: The new curriculum will be much more rigorous and will force children to think critically, analyze information and use complex problem-solving strategies to reach a conclusion.
“Students will no longer just be giving a set answer to a problem,” said Vickie Cameron, executive director for curriculum and instruction in the school system. “They’re going to have to be able to explain the process they used to come up with the answer. This is about teaching our children how to look at information with a critical eye.”
Cameron said the intent of the new curriculum is to make learning relevant in a real-world environment.
“The world has changed and we have to change to meet the demands of the world,” she said.
Educators within the city schools have been working on developing the new curriculum since the beginning of school this year, and have been spending nearly all their non-teaching time developing lesson plans based on the new standards.
“All of our early release days have been dedicated to working on the new standards and developing curriculum maps,” Cameron said. “They’re now working on specific grade levels and subject areas at the schools.”
Every teacher in the city schools has been provided with hard copies of the new standards to allow everyone to be on the same page throughout the change.
“We’re fortunate that we’re a small school system, so when we’re working on the new courses all the teachers at a specific grade level can get involved,” Cameron said. “This gives everyone a vested interest in developing our new standards and they’ve told us they want to be involved if they’re going to be teaching that specific subject. The teachers have risen to the occasion.”
To date, all teachers in grades kindergarten through second have developed a curriculum based on the new standards and have completed work to mesh the curriculum with selected teaching units. “They’ve even selected the materials they want to use in the classroom next year,” Cameron said.
Language arts teachers also have been working on selecting classroom materials to be used next year, and the school system will be buying new textbooks and reading materials using Race To The Top funds provided by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.
The new materials will be expensive, Cameron said, but are critical to meet the goals of the new initiative.
“You can develop all the curricula you want, but without the materials to provide the rigor we’re going to be providing it would be very difficult,” she said.
With all the planning involved in developing such a broad change in standards, it would be easy to think that the city’s teachers are overwhelmed, but Cameron said the opposite is true.
“I don’t think the new curriculum will be that difficult for our teachers, because they’re all already excellent teachers,” she said. “This is simply going to be another tool for them to use. I think the key to this is for us all to work together. This isn’t easy. It’s difficult, but I think the team we have in our school system has been amazing to watch throughout this process. I think they see the value in these new standards.
“The bottom line is we want our children to love learning throughout their lives,” Cameron added. “This is about those ‘a-ha’ moments when a child finally understands something and their eyes light up.”
Reach Keith Strange at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1929.