Educational Buzzwords

Within the world of education, there are several words that are used repeatedly. I wanted to make sure I understood them correctly, so I did some research to find out what they really mean. Here’s what I’ve found, along with samples that we use for our homeschool.

Curriculum – the set of courses, and their content, offered at a school or university

As you can see here, a curriculum is simply a list of courses, with a brief description, offered at a school or university. When you buy a “math curriculum”, it is really a misnomer. You are buying text and materials to teach with, but you ultimately have to decide what the content of your course is going to be.

For example, for my third grader, here are the courses I might “offer”: Reading 3, Math 3, Writing 3, History: Yo-Yos, Science: Primates, History: Valentine’s Day, and Science: Garden Plants.

If you wanted to, you could even come up with a fancy numbering system, like colleges do. And, of course, you don’t have to do this at all. What I think is most important here is that a curriculum is simply an annotated list of the courses offered at a school – not a set of books you use. A curriculum is not even a list of goals or objectives. Those are specific to the course being taught.

Course – education imparted in a series of lessons or meetings

As I realized that a curriculum is simply a list of courses offered in a school, I also realized that the school work could be broken down into these courses. Some courses make sense to plan for a year, or even a semester – like reading, math, writing, etc. Depending on your overall method of homeschooling, other courses could be shorter.

If you use unit studies, each topic would be a course. If you want to spend 18 weeks on History courses, and 18 weeks on Science courses, plan 9 two-week courses in each subject. You could even throw in some Life Skills/Life Sciences courses in there. Of course, if you prefer to have full-year courses, this could also be done regardless of your methods. History 3, for example, could include a unit on each of the major holidays, the American Revolution, the Colonies, and Native American Indians. Physical Education 3 could include a mini-unit on up to 10 different team sports, as well as scheduled physical activities three times a week.

Please keep in mind that I am not speaking of simply listing the pages to read or study over several weeks. While many experienced homeschoolers have had success with this, I am talking about something a little deeper. I am talking about actually finding the purpose for each course and each assignment. I am talking about creating a focused foundational education for my children. Up to this point, because I never focused on the goals and purposes of the materials and assignments, we have not had this kind of education.

Course of Study – succession or combination of courses taken

So, if curriculum is a list of courses offered at a school or university, and a course is education imparted in a series of lessons or meetings, then it follows that a course of study is important, too. While the curriculum lists all courses offered, the course of study lists all courses taken. It can also be a list of required courses for a particular diploma or degree. Now, this may not seem important if you have elementary students, but I have found it very helpful to think about this.

In order to “graduate” elementary school, my students must complete all Reading courses (0 [for Kindergarten], 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5), all Math courses, all Writing courses, and 6 credits of both History/Social Studies (which may be a combination of History and Social Studies courses) and Science. They must also complete at least 3 credits of Physical Education, Life Skills, and Fine Arts courses.

In order to “graduate” middle school, my students must complete: all Literature, Math, and Writing courses; 3 credits of both History/Social Studies and Science; and 2 credits of Physical Education, Life Skills, and Fine Arts.

High School completion requires: 4 credits in each of Literature, Math, Composition; 3 credits of History/Social Studies and Science; 2 credits of Pysical Education, Life Skills, and Fine Arts.

I know, I know…I’m started to sound like school at home. Honestly, though, organizing our school work this way has given me peace of mind. Well, some panicking at first, but ultimately peace of mind. If anyone were to look at our records, they would find them organized and understandable. I don’t need to explain this to anyone. It is logical and ordered.

Scope and Sequence – content overview of all the units taught throughout the year, including the length of time to be spent of each unit.

Now, if you’re planning your school in terms of courses, you might prefer a syllabus. But this could come in handy too because a syllabus is a little more detailed than a scope and sequence.

Like the curriculum, a scope and sequence is simply a list of the topics you plan to cover throughout a school year, as well as a list of the length of time for each topic. If you are planning a course that is shorter than a year, then your scope and sequence for the course would simply list the topics for the course, and the length of time on each topic.

This simple scope and sequence could easily be converted into a detailed syllabus, but if you are using pre-planned texts and materials, it’s probably not necessary to go into that much detail in your own records. If you are planning a course from scratch, however, you will want to work out a detailed syllabus.

Syllabus – an outline and summary of topics to be studied in a course.

What a great way to plan school work! You can easily see if you are in line with your plans, and you are constantly reminded of the work you are doing, as well as the work you have completed. For me, there has been nothing more frustrating than a lesson plan page filled with seemingly random page or lesson numbers, and no real explanation or reminder of what the lesson is.

A syllabus is a great way to review material for teaching, as well as review what has been taught. I have not decided yet whether testing is really necessary, but there has to be someway to determine if the goals have been achieved. And if you are teaching without goals, how do you know what your students are learning?

Lesson Plan – a teacher’s detailed description of the course of instruction for an individual lesson.

I think we all know what a lesson plan is. But it is easily confused with a Lesson Plan Book. You know the ones I’m talking about: those grids that have 6-8 columns for classes, and 5 rows for each day of the week.

Now, in all fairness, those types of books have a purpose, too. But the overall format of your course will determine how detailed your lesson plans are. If you are teaching every minute of a course to your 8 year old, you might need a detailed lesson plan.

There are many detailed forms available. Just Google “lesson plan template” or search in Microsoft Word for tons of options.

Goals and Objectives:
Objective – aim: the goal intended to be attained (and which is believed to be attainable)
Goal – the state of affairs that a plan is intended to achieve and that (when achieved) terminates behavior intended to achieve it

Now, I have put goals and objectives together because they seem to be interchangeable. However, in educational terms, they are often used differently.

In some texts, experts use goals to describe the final outcome that is expected in a specific category. Objectives are often the smaller steps toward that final goal. Of course, modern state education websites now call them Standards and Benchmarks.

But how does that fit into homeschooling, you ask? Goals and objectives are exactly what I was missing from our homeschool. They are what can give your homeschool life. Without the goals and objectives, the lessons have no purpose – no meaning.

Now here is the key. It is my belief that you cannot teach something without having a reason for teaching it. You can’t just take a book and teach a series of lessons because someone else says it should be taught this way. You have to have a reason for it. I will say it again – youhave to have a reason for it. You don’t have to share that reason with the world. You don’t even have to share it with your students. But you should have a reason for teaching what you are teaching.

Some would say that you have to define your goals and objectives and plan your courses and curriculum around that. Others would say that you need to determine the overall purpose of your curriculum and plan accordingly (from the top down). One way isn’t better than the other, but you have to figure out what works for you.

Either way, you should have a philosophy of education that your goals and objectives tie into, and you should choose textbooks and materials and plan courses that reflect your philosophy of education. It’s all related and, if well organized, can give your homeschool more meaning than you ever thought possible.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Gearing up for 2009-2010 « Ramblings from the Heart
  2. Trackback: Education Buzzwords: Curriculum Revisited « Ramblings from the Heart

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