Map from Portland to Minnesota

Planned Curriculum vs. Organic Learning

By Kelby Zenor, Rubicon International

Coyote in a Field

Planning our long-anticipated summer family road trip from Portland, Oregon to White Bear Lake, Minnesota has made me examine my personal philosophy behind Curriculum Mapping.  Odd, right?  In life I am a planner, which makes mapping my curriculum something I really enjoy. Finalizing where my students will begin and end with scheduled stops along the way allows me to rest easy in the planning process. In this same way, I enjoy planning the journey for our summer road trip, but just like the road trip, I am having to build in time to take deviations from my script.

Road trips for me, go beyond the idea of getting from point A to point B, it’s about the experience that occurs between the two points.  While it’s nice to know where we will begin and our ultimate destination, the magic is often found in that wrong turn, or the impromptu stop to visit the world’s largest prairie dog.

Impromptu stops can be something as simple as indulging in ice cream cones on country roads, or scouting a lake on the map to let the dog and kiddos take a dip, or pulling over on a July day (yes, July) to make snow angels on the side of the road because while cruising in the mountains, your car suddenly breaks down. (Yes, all these experiences have been part of my past trips).  These are the moments most remembered and the the ones  that we can’t plan.

Kids in Yellowstone River

Do you see the parallel with curriculum mapping?  I plan my calendar of units (point A to point B) with some expectations but the magic of the learning occurs when a student brings in an article on a new scientific discovery and we take off on that tangent to learn about the scientific process and determine what we would do if we found a new animal in the Amazon forest. This “impromptu stop” while divergent from the original plan is still a valuable learning experience for us all and will often be more memorable than a planned activity.

MAYBE THIS WASN’T IN THE PLAN BUT I AM SURE I CAN HIT ALL THE ESSENTIAL SKILLS AND CONTENT WITH THIS NEW FOCUS. THIS TAKES FLEXIBILITY, ADVENTURE, AND DESIRE FOR ORGANIC LEARNING.
Camping

As a foster parent, I have to turn in my road trip plan to be approved by the state – all the stops identified, all the campgrounds staked out, all the magic pre-determined.  I feel weighed down by this because all the best campgrounds are first come, first served. I might get tired and not want to drive for 8 hours one day and there may be an amazing ghost town that we stumble upon. What if we want to stay and explore our own abandoned ghost town?

I feel paralyzed by anticipated potential of unexpected unknown adventures as I develop our plan.  I understand the purpose and reason behind turning in my road trip. The state needs to know where these kiddos are going and where they can be reached for their own safety. With this in mind, I am trying to balanced the knowledge of our very planned trip without losing sight of the beauty and adventure of happenstance.

So, I am at my cross roads (no pun intended) of organic adventure and planned experience.  Instead of having to choose one, I am hoping to have these run parallel, creating a planned outline of my trip and all the while knowing that I will allow for those magical impromptu moments to occur.  I see this as the goal of curriculum mapping too.

WE HAVE TO USE THE CURRICULUM MAP AS A GUIDE AND TO FIND OPPORTUNITIES TO BRING IN ORGANIC LEARNING MOMENTS THAT WILL ENGAGE, EXCITE, AND ULTIMATELY CAPTIVATE OUR STUDENTS INTO LEARNING. 

We can’t forget the importance of building a process of curriculum writing that expects and more importantly anticipates the stops and adventures.  I am reminded of what I heard Douglas Reeves once say at a conference:  “Zero errors = Zero Learning.”  Not all impromptu learning will be magical. We will stop and see something that is “way lame”. Not all planned learning will be the adventure we expect either. We will plan something that just didn’t work for our students. The trick is to realize that even in our “error” learning experiences we will provide learning and growth to students. Just because the world largest prairie dog turns out to be a rather mundane ceramic statue, doesn’t mean that the risk to veer off course was in vain.  Allowing for these organic moments to occur will only make us better road trippers and teachers. It will ultimately make our students better adventurers and learners.

Questions Asked

I asked myself a few questions before starting my road trip plan, but as I wrote them down, I realized that these are really the questions I would want to ask myself as I sit down and plan my curriculum.

Where do we need to go and how much time do we have?

What are the places we really want to stop and see?

Where do my kiddos come from?

What excites my current kiddos?

Have I built in time for the unknown?

What do I need to do to prepare my kiddos for this great adventure?

How will I reflect changes to the itinerary?

Are you wondering what this epic road trip plan looks like?  I will tell you this much, it looks like FUN with many opportunities for adventure.

Map from Portland to Minnesota

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