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Model Curriculum Units

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
May 10, 2013


I am pleased to provide the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education with information regarding the Model Curriculum Units (MCUs) that the Department (ESE) is producing as part of our Race to the Top grant. These curriculum units bring to life the MA Curriculum Frameworks for English Language Arts and Mathematics (incorporating the Common Core State Standards) that the Board adopted in 2011, as well as our frameworks in U.S. History/Social Studies and Science and Technology/Engineering. While the Commonwealth has had a strong foundation in standards and assessments, we had traditionally left curriculum development to local school districts. Teachers and administrators told us they would welcome guidance and assistance from ESE. As a result, we included this initiative in our Race to the Top proposal.

What is Curriculum?

For this work, we defined curriculum as "what is taught in schools." This would include content areas, such as English, mathematics, science, history, foreign languages, and the arts, or more generally the subjects or courses that students take in school. Curriculum can be recorded in many ways: e.g., pacing guides, curriculum maps, and course syllabi.

At the outset, we determined that we would work with Massachusetts educators to develop curriculum units using a model called Understanding by Design (UbD), which is also referred to as "backwards design." This model has educators "beginning with the end in mind" - designing curriculum with the end results they want to see from students in mind from the very beginning. The model was developed by international experts, Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, both of whom have provided workshops and support to many districts in the Commonwealth. By selecting this model, we built upon the foundational work that many districts had already done over a number of years. Jay McTighe has worked directly with DESE on this project since the beginning, providing initial training, consultation, and direct feedback to teachers on their curriculum units.

Educators develop Understanding by Design curriculum units in three stages:

  • Stage 1 - Identify the desired results and standards: what are the enduring understandings that we want students to gain and the essential questions we want them to be able to answer at the conclusion of the unit?
  • Stage 2 - Determine acceptable evidence of understanding and proficiency: what will we ask students to demonstrate and/or produce at the end of the unit? As part of Stage 2, there is a Curriculum Embedded Performance Assessment (CEPA) that students will complete to demonstrate their new learning. These can be hands-on projects, performances, demonstrations, and/or presentations. A CEPA is more than a single, end-of-unit test.
  • Stage 3 - Plan learning experiences and instructional strategies we will use, including resources and specific lesson plans.

Race to the Top Proposal

As part of our the Race to the Top proposal, we committed to developing 100 model curriculum units, pre-kindergarten - grade 12, in English language arts, mathematics, U.S. History/Social Studies, and Science and Technology Engineering. There will be at least 25 units for each of the four content areas. Several units for selected vocational- technical subjects are also being developed. Each of these curriculum units identifies the standard(s) to be taught, an embedded performance assessment (CEPA), an outline of lessons, possible digital resources to use (available from our partners at WGBH), and detailed lesson plans. Teams of teachers from across the Commonwealth are compiling the model curriculum units with the assistance of DESE staff members and curriculum facilitators.

Results to Date and Future Opportunities for Professional Development

In summer 2011, teams of educators developed 30 model units. These units are currently being tried out in 65 Race to the Top districts. Teachers are providing feedback which we will use to improve the units this summer. During the summer of 2012, about 60 additional units were developed; these units are currently undergoing review by content experts. This summer, we will complete the remaining units, as well as add specific units in the areas of culinary arts, financial literacy, and civics. In addition, we will make the final revisions on the 60 units developed in 2012 and prepare those for "try-outs" during the upcoming 2013-14 school year.

Districts are not required to use the model curriculum units. We are encouraging them to do so, either using the units as is or amending them to best meet the needs of their students. The model curriculum units are also a vehicle for professional development. For example, we are using them with groups of teachers to demonstrate how the new frameworks differ from our previous frameworks and how instruction looks different in classrooms.

These model curriculum units will also serve as an important foundation for professional development in future years. We envision that they will be revised and adapted locally. Moreover, these units can serve as the starting point for groups of teachers developing their own curricula, common assessments and instructional strategies. These processes are a rich form of professional growth which allows teachers to "own" the curriculum they teach to their students.

Enclosed is a sample model curriculum unit in grade 3 English language arts. At our meeting on May 21, Associate Commissioner Julia Phelps will provide an overview of this exciting initiative. Teachers who are writing and trying out these units will join the presentation to discuss with the Board how they are using the model curriculum units as a resource to improve teaching and learning.

Enclosure: Download PDF Document  Download Word Document Sample Model Curriculum Unit

Last Updated: May 16, 2013
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