Contributed by Laura V.
How have you integrated Curriculum Trak into your school culture?
Curriculum Trak has allowed our school to cement our view that our curriculum is not our textbooks. For many years, our school has emphasized this to teachers and families, but the use of Curriculum Trak makes it very evident. The school standards are taught, regardless of the next lesson in the textbook. By first establishing the standards in our maps and then connecting lesson plans to maps, teachers know what they should be teaching. It is not possible to take the easy way out and just teach the next lesson in the book because there may be no school standards that relate to that lesson. Teachers must take careful consideration to ensure the lesson fits with school standards. Teachers may need to adapt a lesson or portion of a lesson in order to accomplish the desired school outcomes. Curriculum Trak also reinforces that our school is a community of administrators and teachers working together to provide the best education possible for our students. Teachers having the ability to update their own curriculum within the given parameters has made a stronger program.
What steps did you take to train, support, and encourage your teachers in their mapping efforts?
Portions of our maps were already complete due to Curriculum Trak importing our data into the maps. We put the information in the maps that we knew was solid, and then the teachers only had to work on certain sections of the map, rather than all of it at once. We began training the summer before our teachers began using Curriculum Trak. Guidelines were established by the school on how each section was to be completed. We created PowerPoints that the teachers had access to as well as a tip sheets, FAQ page, and formatting guides. The teachers having the information at their fingertips in advance was key to creating cohesive maps across all disciplines and grade levels. We set aside time as a school for teachers to be able to complete their maps. The teachers directed any questions to the same “expert” administrator so that they knew no question was too small and someone was always there to support them.
What unexpected insights, findings or benefits have you discovered from your mapping efforts so far?
One additional benefit of Curriculum Trak (besides what was answered in the first question above and further in the paragraph below) was attaching state or national standards our school standards. We have always worked as a school to articulate that our school standards meet or exceed the state standards. The use of Curriculum Trak helped solidify this to both our teachers and parents. All teachers, and not just the administration, were responsible for the comparison of what they taught to the state standards. Everything standard from a course that is not attached must have a reason associated for its exclusion (such as taught in another course/grade or is contrary to our Christian beliefs and values).
Our elementary teachers have especially been more cognizant of our established curriculum since using Curriculum Trak. For this group of teachers, curriculum had largely been a binder that sat on the shelf that was taken out on occasion. Teachers now must interact with their curriculum on a daily basis, rather than just teaching the next lesson in the book. Using the Lesson Planner in conjunction with the maps helps teachers to see that what they do on a daily basis is part of a bigger picture of what is taught in each grade level and each discipline.
What advice would you offer to schools just starting the process?
It is very helpful to do some preliminary work before beginning Curriculum Trak. Our school already had year plans in place for every course that had been developed over a number of years. We also had established most of our subject standards for each grade. The teachers focus was more on how they were teaching and assessing, rather than on the what. In order to build a good Map, there should be certain areas that are well established. With all that teachers already do, creating everything from scratch is very difficult and a school would probably get a wide range of maps of varying quality and effort.
It is very important that teachers know how to write proper standards. We focused on this for a whole year in advance of using Curriculum Trak. We have found this is not always the case and training has aided in this process. It is important for teachers to work together with the assistance of an administrator to ensure the proper progression of skills and content. Teachers at our school must go through a process if they want to change certain aspects of a map such as standards; however, other areas of change give them the freedom to make the maps their own. Teachers knowing what they can and cannot change on their own in a map is very important because they have the ability to make changes that may not be appropriate.
What tips, strategies, or tools did you find most helpful in advancing your efforts?
From the beginning, there has been one person who is “the expert” on Curriculum Trak. If all questions are directed to the same person, then the way the Maps are created and updated are the same. Although the videos provided are helpful, our school uses them as a secondary source of information. We share the information on how our school wants it done, and then the teachers can use the videos to review anything they don’t fully understand. Our school has created PowerPoints on all aspects of both Mapping and Lesson Plans that the teachers have access to at all times and can use as a reference. All teachers were required to attend summer sessions on Curriculum Trak before they began using it in the fall. The sessions were on mapping and lesson plans.
It is critical for the Maps to be established and detailed before teachers start using the Lesson Plans. For our middle and high school, they began using both the same year, but it wasn’t a problem because they had worked on the information in their maps the year before we began using Curriculum Trak. The elementary teachers needed to work on their Maps an additional year before they were ready to use the Lesson Plans. God was good because in that year is when Curriculum Trak created the Flex Planner which works much better at the elementary level.
One area that we found especially important was to set up the formatting of how we wanted the Maps to look. When you are a large school with many maps, it is so helpful to have them all with a similar look, rather than each teacher choosing their own format. Establishing that ahead of time and giving the teachers a formatting page, saved a lot of work for the administrator of the Maps. Sure, there still are some who don’t remember and need reminders, but that’s much easier to solve.
Where are your mapping efforts leading you? What’s next as a result of your efforts?
We are very excited about the edition of the Student Outcomes feature of Curriculum Trak. We have recently revised our Student Outcomes and are looking forward to attaching them to specific units and lessons. We deliberately did not rush into this process in order that we can train our teachers on what this means to us as a school and how we will document their efforts. First we will work to attach them, and then we will begin formulating specific assessments at each grade level. This would be much harder to do without the assistance of Curriculum Trak.