The Medium is the Message: (1) Taking a closer look at curriculum materials

Earlier this week I read a post on Dan Meyer’s blog where he proposes a hypothesis that print curriculum materials interfere with students’ and teachers’ ability to abstract while doing math.

“It should go without saying that if the contexts in your textbook are predigested with those symbols, tables, line drawings, and coordinates, we’re already in trouble. The context has already been abstracted and we can only hope that every student already understood how to apply that abstraction.

My hypotheses here is that this predigestion is a fundamental condition of print-based curricula and very hard to counteract.”

This led to an interesting question in the comments from Bryan Meyer that really resonated with me as an instructional designer. I’m going to summarize a bit, but the question he puts forward is whether the problem is inherently one of print curriculum specifically or prepackaged curriculum in general (regardless of delivery method).

“I’m just not sure that the release of pieces of a lesson should be in print (or video, or otherwise). Possible trajectories that students might take with a question/task/problem can be hypothesized, but never predicted with certainty. For this reason, I don’t see how we could ever prepare a scripted curriculum in this sense….it should always unfold in response to students and their ways of thinking.”

I didn’t want to reply to this and overtake Dan’s comments. It’s his blog after all, and he’s looking for feedback related more to the hypotheses he’s making this week about the ladder of abstraction. Instead I decided it would be better to address this on my own blog where I have all the space I want to write about it. Rather than dump all my thoughts in one post, my plan is to address various curriculum modes individually – print and digital – followed by my thoughts on prepackaged curriculum compared with “home-made” lessons by teachers.

In case you’re wondering about my ability to address these topics, I have experience on both sides of the issue. I’ve been on the side of the “consumer” buying and using curriculum materials when I taught in public school for 8 years. And now for a little over three years, I’ve been on the side of the “producer” creating commercial curriculum materials. My perspective has definitely expanded considerably over the past 11 years, and I’m excited to have the opportunity to stop and reflect on such an interesting issue.

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One thought on “The Medium is the Message: (1) Taking a closer look at curriculum materials

  1. Pingback: dy/dan » Blog Archive » [LOA] Hypothesis #2: Paper Is A Problem

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