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Free Radical

What kind of curriculum is yours?

Tony Sherborne
22:45  |  01 August 2011

You've probably played the game: if you're an animal what would you be? But I bet you've never tried it with your science curriculum. Yet metaphors, with their ability to reduce the unfamiliar and complex, ensnare many aspects of our thinking and work. If science education is to excel, the hidden metaphor base our teaching and learning on needs to be examined.

This could be a timely exercise. If the UK Government stays true to its h the aim of "slimming down" the National curriculum, schools are going to need creative thinking to fulfil Michael Gove's vision of "lessons that really inspire and engage pupils."

So what kind of curriculum is yours? I don't mean your idealised vision. I mean the one your students would recognise as being acted out in the classroom most of the time. You get to choose from 3 powerful metaphors that William Pinar described (in 1975): 'production', 'growth', and 'travel'.

Production is likely to be the correct answer for many schools who follow 'objective-led teaching', with a heavily prescribed curriculum framework geared towards high stakes assessment (like GCSE in England). In this metaphor, the student is essentially raw material to be equipped and transformed into a finished 'product', with a set of desirable skills and knowledge (which is how curriculum documents and lesson plans are often conceived).

You have to be braver to choose one of the other two metaphors in today's accountability culture. In growth metaphor, you're the gardener, taking responsibility for the development of each student (plant) according to his/her individual needs – to fulfil their unique potential. In the travel metaphor the educational experience is seen as a planned journey, designed to be "as rich, as fascinating, and as memorable as possible".

No prizes for guessing it's travel that inspires upd8's curriculum development (although to be fair we try to incorporate the other two). We like to think of the 'perfect science curriculum' as an adventure holiday to a foreign land. The programme involves experiencing as many as possible of the unmissable sights and sounds (and tastes, touches and smells), that the country has to offer.

We've not achieved this vision yet, but the ideal 'traveller's curriculum' would balance pre-planning and spontaneity. Important destinations (like big ideas in science) would all be included. But it wouldn't be much of a trip if you had to spent one day in every town, however dull (as we often seem to do in science). Instead there would be sufficient time to explore wondrous landscapes, in the expectation that investigating what's interesting leads to deeper learning in the long run. And just because there's one basic journey doesn't mean it can't accommodate a range of different students and situations. The best adventure trip combines a huge variety of activities, with a range of optional excursions, and trips of different durations and methods of travel.

Could a science curriculum really be like this? And what would the outcomes be, for students and teachers?

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