It’s a big accomplishment that called for a big celebration. Even better, it was done in record time. So in early 2011 Dr. Jennifer Corum and dedicated administrative assistants enjoyed celebrating the completed development of 205 courses for the Park Hill School District.
“Absolutely, it was such a feeling of accomplishment for us,” Dr. Corum said, “and it was great to thank everyone for their hard work.” When they completed the high school curriculum, they celebrated with cookies shaped like the letters B, Y, O, C and had brownies with the letters in frosting. They had also held earlier celebrations after taking courses live to teachers at the elementary level and then the junior high level.
Dr. Jennifer Corum, Director of Curriculum
Their success was made possible through use of the BuildYourOwnCurriculum (BYOC) development tool. “It’s much faster using BYOC!” Dr. Corum noted, taking just three-and-a-half to four days to revise a course or develop a new one. “Before, we needed five days – and then as much as another day to type everything. It takes less time now because it’s already customized on a structured scale,” she explained. They worked from July 2010 to January 2011 to develop the 205 course offerings that were once organized in 15 different views or structures.
Dr. Corum also appreciated the ease of using BYOC. “It’s very easy to navigate and input. A big component to me is how responsive School Software Group is. If I ran into a problem, they were very helpful and always quick to respond. They even adopted some of the solutions we worked on together. It was a true partnership!”
BYOC Incorporates Understanding By Design (UBD)
Park Hill had vetted five curriculum design solutions to find the best-fit development tool. In the past the district had used a different product, but it wasn’t up to date with technology, Dr. Corum decided. “In a tech-centered world, we needed a tool that was progressive and would allow us to easily make revisions as needed.”
Another key benefit to Park Hill is that BYOC can be configured to support the district’s recent Standards Based Grading work as well as previous work with Understanding By Design (UBD). “The philosophies of Robert Marzano and Grant Wiggins are built into the curriculum at every level based on where you want students to be,” she noted. “Instead of the old A, B, C grades, we use a 4-point standard. This allows us to learn what areas kids are strong in, and determine what they need to know and understand. Using scoring guides, we aim to get students to a 3-point or better by the end of the school year.” Activities measure and ensure their understanding before moving on.
“BYOC allows us to take a broad view, and then tighten to specific areas,” she added. “It’s like an upside-down triangle. At the top, for example, you might start with science, then move down to a unit on force and motion, and then narrow down to specific topics and learning targets.”
A Holistic Approach
BYOC is designed to foster teacher involvement and communications, Dr. Corum has found. “The system uses a holistic approach. It’s very responsive, and makes it easy for teachers to be involved. It also helps guide our writing and makes it manageable to move between units, topics and learning targets.
Teaching leaders are involved from the beginning. “We were able to work through our current administrative team, and pull together a representative group of teachers selected for leadership in their content area,” she explained. Two teachers per grade level represented each of the nine elementary schools.
“We met with the teachers – had a conversation – and conducted a needs assessment to find out what needed revision or a new curriculum developed. This is important because the curriculum drives our resources.” At the end of each day, the “reflection” completed by each team showed that they enjoyed using BYOC.
BYOC also makes it easier to meet new standards. “It helps us pull in the standards, and make sure they’re all met,” Dr. Corum said. “We can run audits of courses and pull reports to find any gaps, overlaps or missing standards. Most districts just use BYOC for their new curriculum, but we decided to put our whole curriculum into the system.”
BYOC Offers Real-time Transparency
“Our ultimate goal was to improve communications and have more transparency with parents, teachers, students and the community,” Dr. Corum stated. “We also wanted to encourage curriculum sharing, and have something that could be easily updated and revised. I like that the format looks the same throughout the curriculum and every thing follows board-adopted standards.”
Since BYOC is customizable, it’s also easy for teachers to write their own curriculum, including ‘singletary’ subjects taught by only one teacher. For example, one teacher used BYOC to develop her own curriculum for Chinese I and II.
“Elementary teachers are especially resourceful,” she noted. “They would send instructional activities to each other, but often the attachments would get buried in other e-mail. Now teachers can easily upload and download activities on a ‘share site.’” All instructional activities are tied to learning targets, and are available on easy-to-use formats.
“The real-time benefit of transparency is especially important to us,” she continued. “We used to have our curriculum in notebooks, but now it’s very efficient for parents to go online and look at the curriculum. It’s in a customized template that is visually appealing and uses a common language.”
Ensuring Best Practices and Preparing for the Common Core Standards
“BYOC helps us ensure best practices,” Dr. Corum noted. “We can look at courses from districts here in Missouri or in other states to see their curriculum approach in a particular subject area or grade level.” She also finds it gratifying to see that schools from not only Missouri but across the country are now looking at Park Hill’s courses.
Dr. Corum foresees even more benefits in the future from continued implementation of BYOC. “Most updates are needed because of new standards and new courses. In the summer we plan to use BYOC to update our math and communication arts courses based on the Common Core Standards.”
“We are on the brink of using BYOC to its full potential. It’s a tool that has so much depth.”
About Dr. Jennifer Corum
Dr. Jennifer Corum is Director of Curriculum for the Park Hill School District in Kansas City, Mo. She holds a doctorate in administration and has earned national board certification. Before moving into her current position in July 2010, she taught elementary grades in the Shawnee Mission (Kan.) School District, middle school in the Park Hill School District, and was an elementary school principal in Belton, Mo., and at Prairie Point Elementary in the Park Hill School District.