Alberta Curriculum Encourages 21st Century Learners
Many of the professional development sessions I have attended in the past year have been in the United States or have been delivered by a teacher from the US. I find it interesting that so often keynote speakers discuss criteria for developing curriculum. Coming from Alberta, this is foreign to me. As a science teacher (General Science and Physics) in Alberta I believe I am provided (and mandated) an awesome curriculum (I’ll provide the grade 10 Science curriculum as an example). Sure, it is not without fault, but the structure and layout is excellent. It is written in a way that encourages a shift towards a 21st century classroom.
The curriculum is divided into four foundations.
1) Science, Technology and Society; and understanding the interactions and developments of each. These emphasis give teachers the framework and focus for each unit of study. This makes it easier for teachers to understand the bigger picture, or the point of learning the facts. This brings us to the second foundation
2) Knowledge, which includes the key concepts and actual content that students must learn. These outcomes are well written and logical. For example, students learn about careers in chemistry. This is very straightforward and fact based, so the outcome is written as, identify examples of chemistry-based careers in the community. The word identify tells teachers that students simply need to know the facts. Another outcome in the curriculum states, describe how advancements in cell theory have been enhanced as a direct result of developments in microscope technology. From the way this is written I know that students need to understand an interaction between technology and theory. I know that the point isn’t for students to list 15 different historical microscopes and a dozen different individual discoveries. The point is to synthesize all of those facts into a much more advanced understanding.
3) Skills, which is broad and varies from collaboration and communication to laboratory and mathematics skills. This is pretty awesome. Right within the curriculum you can find (or interpret) an entire set 21st century skills. Students need to collaborate, communicate effectively, build models, display information visually, analyze and interpret. All of a sudden all of those 21st century literacy activities fall perfectly in place in the science classroom.
4) Attitude. It is interesting how these outcomes are written. They are the only outcomes in the curriculum that are written as teacher actions instead of student actions. The curriculum recognizes that it is near impossible to expect students to change their attitudes towards science, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t the job of the teacher to at least try to develop positive scientific attitudes within students. To me, this is where the curriculum makes room for digital and global citizenship lessons. It clearly states that students will be encouraged to demonstrate sensitivity to societal and environmental needs, have mutual respect for people from different cultures, and even take part in collaborative activities.
As you can see, the Alberta Science Curriculum really does allow for all sorts of activities surrounding 21st century skills and attitudes. It also demands that students become aware of the bigger picture of their learning, and focus less on the facts and figures that are memorized along the way. If you are a part of a team developing curriculum for students and teachers, please, take a look at this fine example.
If you happen to be just another teacher, like myself, wondering how to fit all of these new 21st century skills into your existing curriculum, take another look. I’m sure somewhere in your existing program of studies there is room to shift the focus from facts and figures to valuable skills, attitudes, and deeper understandings. Just read a little closer.