Colorado Encouraging Teacher Collaboration To Implement Standards

Colorado has launched the District Sample Curriculum Project, a teacher-driven project that provides educators with ideas for how to put changing educational standards into classroom practice. The project was needed as the state has moved into an era of new state standards in 10 content areas including the Common Core standards in math and literacy.

The District Sample Curriculum Project is a resource for teachers seeking concrete ways to address the new standards. The project is guided by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) and provides a starting point teachers build on with their own ideas or the needs of their particular district, writes Kevin Simpson of The Denver Post.

“This is generated by teachers, relevant to teachers and teacher-driven,” said Brian Sevier, who heads the project for CDE. “This isn’t anybody directing instruction or telling districts what to use or what it should look like.”

In the spring of 2012, teachers decided to work voluntarily on weekends and collaborate with colleagues on ideas for how to approach the standards. The work attracted educators from a representative sampling of Colorado’s 178 districts and began with creation of a general template that would be adaptable to any district.

The state’s Education Department solicited applicants from every grade level and content area to start creating the actual samples after getting feedback from more than 3,000 teachers across the state.

“Once we had the germ of the idea from the field, we started thinking about helping teachers understand what it means to sequence these across the year,” Sevier said.

They came up with more than 700 individual “overview samples” — a kind of curriculum map over an entire course or year. Then came a review process that included examination by people from higher education, the business community and administrators to ensure they were aligned with the new standards.

Currently, the final step involves visiting districts and working with teachers as they build samples into full instructional units — including assessment options and other resources. The goal is to have more than 130 units available online by the end of March next year.

One of the project’s founding principles is that local control and context drives all teaching decisions. In one rural district, a unit assessment revolves around a county fair and employs geometry to determine the sizes of livestock holding pens. In another, the teacher approaches literary cause and effect through examining the reintroduction of the moose.

In Lake County, an Education Department facilitator helped seven district math teachers add their own touches to lessons, setting the stage for them to begin creating even more.

According to Karl Remsen, a teacher at Lake County High School in Leadville, while the Common Core can seem intimidating, local teachers’ participation in creating sample curriculum has aided the transition.

“I think we’ve accelerated our ability to make that change in our school,” Remsen said. “It’s the difference between the person who writes the book and the person who reads the book. We helped to write the book, so we have a pretty good understanding of what’s in there.”

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