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A Coordinated Wide-Spiral Curriculum
(with coordination across subjects and over time)

We invest in a goal-directed designing of curriculum & instruction` because we want to help students learn useful ideas-and-skills, such as the ideas (Crosscutting Concepts & Core Ideas) and skills (Scientific and Engineering Practices) in the new K-12 Science Education Standards.  For teaching both ideas and skills, an effective coordination of curriculum-and-instruction is valuable.


A Wide-Spiral Curriculum for Ideas & Skills

Because design "includes almost everything we do in life," design activities can be used in all subject areas, letting us build Educational Bridges from life to design — "in many subjects across a wide spiral curriculum" — and then to science and back into life.

If we use design activities "in all subject areas," students will have similar design-experiences in many subjects.  These experiences could be one aspect of a wide spiral curriculum that has wide scope (so related learning experiences can be coordinated across different subject areas) and uses spiral repetitions (so related learning experiences can be coordinated over time).


Because "we want students to learn a wide variety of ideas (Conceptual Knowledge) and skills (Procedural Knowledge)... [and] different instructional approaches are useful for teaching various aspects of these ideas-and-skills, ... we should try to design eclectic instruction by combining the best features of each approach in a blend that produces an optimal overall result – a greatest good for the greatest number – in helping students achieve worthy educational goals."  Therefore, I'm proposing that Design Activities (and teaching principles of Design Process) should be one part of an eclectic blend in a wide-spiral curriculum for ideas and skills, with design-based instruction supplementing other instruction, not replacing it.

This page describes general principles for coordinating a curriculum to teach ideas and skills, with some specific applications for design activities (using Design Process) to help students learn useful skills.



Coordination of Curriculum-and-Instruction — How? (Part 1)

Learning occurs in a short-term narrow spiral when activities with mutually supportive educational functions (but offering different types of experience, contexts of application, or levels of sophistication) are distributed over time during one course.

If, by using Design Process and in other ways, the learning experiences in this course are coordinated with related experiences in other courses the students are currently taking, this produces a short-term wide spiral.

And if this wide approach continues for a long time, the result will be a long-term wide spiral.


Coordination of Curriculum-and-Instruction — Who?

Every teacher can coordinate the learning experiences within their own classes.

In typical elementary grades (in early K-12 when students have the same teacher for many subjects), one teacher can self-coordinate experiences across all of the subjects they are teaching, for the whole school-year.  Teachers of different grade levels (K, 1, 2,...) can cooperate to coordinate student experiences over a longer time.

In typical secondary grades (later K-12) and college, subjects are taught by different teachers, so a coordination across subjects (and over time) requires cooperation among teachers, perhaps encouraged by educational policies.


Feasibility?  Do you think a coordinated wide spiral, using Design Activities and teaching Design Process, would be easier to do (and more effective) in early K-12 or late K-12, or [less likely] college?   {I.O.U. - Later, maybe in late October, I'll write a page with some thoughts about practicalities.}

Necessity?  Although full cooperation-and-coordination in a school might be productive, often it may not be practical, and isn't necessary.  A single short-term narrow spiral — if it's done well, so students are offered a high-quality coordinated set of experiences with Design Activities and Design Process — could be very useful, at any age.


Coordination of Curriculum-and-Instruction — Why?

Synergistic Support:  Well designed education has a carefully planned coordination of learning experiences within each course and between courses, to make student experiences mutually supportive in a synergistic system that is more effective in helping students learn the ideas-and-skills that are our educational goals.

Quality of Learning:  A coordinated spiral curriculum, with repetitions distributed over time, will help students build increasingly stronger foundations of ideas-and-skills knowledge.

Transfers of Learning:  A wide-spiral curriculum with coordinated eclectic instruction (including design activities and other learning activities) will help students develop coherently organized systems of knowledge (both conceptual & procedural) that extend across a wide range of subject areas.  Because design "includes almost everything we do," teachers can use Design Process to help students improve their design-thinking in all subject areas, in sciences, engineering, business, humanities, and arts.  These areas are connected to Design Process, because it's used in each area, so they are connected to each other.*  Design Process provides a common context for instruction across a wide range of areas, making it easier to develop goal-directed strategies for a coordinated teaching of design-thinking across the curriculum, with some transfers of learning between areas.    {* These connections are analogous to the transitive principle in math — if A=B and A=C and A=D, then B=C=D — but with BCD connections instead of equalities. }


How? — Integrative Analysis of Instruction

Example of a Table for Integrative Analysis

A goal-directed coordination of activities can help us "make student experiences mutually supportive in a synergistic system."  Some activities will help students prepare for others, and the ideas-and-skills learned in early activities will be reinforced by later experiences, and so on.

We can coordinate more effectively if we understand the structure of instruction more accurately and thoroughly.  To do this, one useful tool is Integrative Analysis of Instruction, which is illustrated in the table (filled with goals & activities for a set of chemistry labs) from a section about goal-directed designing of laboratory instruction that concludes with a summary of benefits:

    In a table the visual organization of information [when you study the cell-entries in rows or columns] can improve our understanding of the functional relationships between activities, between goals, and between activities and goals.  This knowledge about the structure of instruction can help us coordinate – with respect to types of experience, levels of sophistication, and contexts – the activities that help students achieve goals for learning.  The purpose of a carefully planned selection-and-sequencing of activities is to increase the mutually supportive synergism between activities in a coherent system for teaching all of the goals, to produce a more effective environment for learning.

This method of integrative analysis was developed — well, I independently re-discovered it, since this type of analysis isn't new, and is done by other educators* — for the second part of my Ph.D. dissertation* where I used it to analyze an inquiry-based course in genetics.     {integrative analysis for using Aesop's Activities}

* Probably, analysis that is basically similar — but much more comprehensive and complex — was used to construct standards (like Common Core and Next Generation Science) for sophisticated ideas-and-skills curricula, and is being used to design curriculum & instruction based on these standards.


* My PhD dissertation combined two major objectives:

    1. Construct an integrative model of Scientific Method.
    2. Use this model to analyze the instruction — including both the planned activities and the ways these activities are put into action by teacher & students in the classroom — that occurs in an innovative, inquiry-oriented science course.


MORE — Goal-Directed Designing of Curriculum-and-Instruction