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Design the School Curriculum

  1. May 2, 2010 #1
    All right, after a violent coup overthrowing the current establishment you've been appointed supreme overlord and dictator-for-life of your school district. What do you do? You have as much money is as reasonable. (Enough to hire teachers with professional experience in their fields, but not enough to install water slides, let's say.) As supreme overlord and dictator-for-life, you don't need to answer to anyone, you're free to pursue your prerogative. Your actions can be regarding how you hire teachers, what curriculum will be taught, what discipline will be like, or whatever. Basically, how will you try to fix the school system? (Since this is a physics forum, it would be appropriate to concentrate on math and physics education, but feel free to talk about other areas.)

    I'd start by sending the less intelligent half of the school to vocational schooling. They don't get anything out of school anyway, and just waste resources. Maybe if we had a skilled workforce we could bring some jobs back to America.
    I'd hire better teachers naturally enough. In math class, I'd burn our Glencoe books. (That's good advice for any class, really.) I'd adopt the Gelfand correspondence series of books, which would be supplemented with certain books from the New Mathematical Library series, and a couple of books by Kunihiko Kodaira. I'd probably include Serge Lang's Basic Mathematics book in Pre-Calculus.
    I'd use Campbell for Biology, and I guess I'd force the English class to read Elements of Style. But enough about me. How would you fix the educational system?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 3, 2010 #2


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    How do you define "the less intelligent half"?
  4. May 3, 2010 #3
    I would suppose by various factors such as processing speed(the rate at which they encode and retrieve information), ability to solve problems, ability to think abstractly, etc.
  5. May 4, 2010 #4


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    I would argue that those factors are influenced and affected mostly by outside environmental factors. I believe that nobody is born as intellectually incompetent. And by statements such as

    One is essentially marginalizing them as second-rate people.

    I'm sorry if I'm totally bringing this topic into a totally different conversation, but I am annoyed when people claim [ without empirical evidence ] that a percentage of the population are intellectually incapable of learning and processing information as the other half - the supposedly "intelligent" group of people.
  6. May 7, 2010 #5


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    I can't argue with a recommendation to use Campbell for biology, other than that's only suitable for an AP class, not your average high school course. I'd definitely reject anything in the "Texas" curriculum.

    I won't agree with requiring "Elements of Style" since I have my own disagreements with that. I'd rather use a more standard grammar text. People can find their own style later, but the license to use that style comes from a good foundation in basic grammar. (As a friend of mine pointed out many years ago when I wore white shoes in winter..."It's okay to break the rules as long as you know the rules you're breaking.")

    I also have to agree with thril3rnit3 that the arbitrary assumption that half the population is incapable of learning is by itself a bad premise for teachers. If any of my teachers believed in that, I'd fire them (in my ideal dictatorship world). There is a portion of the population with genuine developmental disabilities who will not be able to learn easily. But, for most of the population, I think they are capable of learning if given the right motivation.

    Just as an example, I was on another forum recently where a high school student was describing his punishment for truancy (okay, he was complaining about it). I had to explain to him that his "punishment" was the basic way I was raised...come straight home from school, do homework until dinner, eat dinner, finish homework, and only an hour to chat with friends. I don't know if his parents appreciate it or not, but I told him straight up that they were being pretty lenient, because if I was ever caught in that situation as a kid, I might as well have been under house arrest. So, I don't assume that kids not reaching a certain level of achievement are incapable of it, but rather that it might be the way they are being raised, or that nobody has ever challenged the to that level before.
  7. May 8, 2010 #6
    I would definitely include an advanced selection of courses. Basically create two branches, one of normal/average education, and the other of advanced students. Some may argue that this already exists, however, I find them far from suitable for any advanced students. Schools should be pushing students as much as possible. Forget about probability in grade 8 (In my province), make them start pre-calculusin grade 7, calculus 1-2 grade 8-9, Linear algebra anda logic course before they finish high school. Possible? Definitely, the only reason this seems difficult is because students are forced to learn things slowly. Five years of high school for a tiny bit of knowledge. How about physics in grade 8? That way they can eventually take an advanced course in grade 11.

    This has several advantages, one of them being that, once in university, undergraduates will be able to focus on even more advanced topics, and therefore increase chances of developing/advancing theories.

    Personally, being stuck in a school where advanced curriculum means enriched english, I find the idea appealing. Why not introduce seemingly hard topics early on? There's a reason why some children/adolescents are able to know calculus/algebra/analysis etc... at ages <14, they have been pushed a little more than the average student.

    What do you people think of this?

  8. Jun 11, 2010 #7


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    Returning to this topic...if I were dictator for life and got to design a school curriculum, here's the approach I'd take.

    First, I wouldn't hire anyone who had a bachelor's degree in education. I would require all my teachers to have a bachelor's degree in the subject they are teaching and a master's degree in education. There are no unions in my dictatorship. All my teachers are hired on a probationary first 2 years, so I can evaluate their teaching performance and give them the boot if they are terrible at it. If they get through 2 years on probation, I will give them 5-year contracts...no tenure for life. They have some stability, but need to stay on their toes if they want their contracts renewed.

    As for the curriculum, it would have 4 tracks. These would roughly break down into the following:
    1) Special education/special needs students - these students would get individualized attention with a focus on teaching life skills with as much reading, writing and basic math as they are able to handle. Students may be either full or part time in this track. The full time students are those with severe developmental disabilities who really just need to learn enough to hold down a minimum wage job. The part-time students are those who are fully mentally capable of regular classroom work, but have a disability that requires some special attention, such as a deaf student needing to learn sign language and have a sign-language translator present in the regular classroom.

    2) Vocational track - students who are not interested or do not demonstrate sufficient academic abilities to be college-bound. Half the day is spent on functional literacy in reading, writing and math. Basically, enough to read instruction manuals, communicate clearly in writing such as in a business letter format, and enough math to balance a checkbook and understand on a conceptual level things like credit card interest rates. The other half of the day is spent learning their specific trade. They will have required internships in their trade during their senior year.

    3) Average track - this is for students who are potentially college bound, even if they haven't made up their minds on it yet (i.e., they are capable, but may not have the interest, but could change their minds and want to attend college after a few years working). They will have the full range of coursework, but not to as advanced a level as the 4th track. They will learn English reading and writing, including ability to write a position paper (make an argument). They will have to take two years of either a foreign language or foreign culture course, with the option to take 4 years of it. They will take math at least up to algebra. They will take one class of each of the sciences - chemistry, biology and physics. They will take a civics/US history course (I'm in the US), a world history course, and an elective history course (such as ancient history, or whatever my teachers would enjoy offering as an elective). They will need to take some form of an art course...music, drawing/painting, photography, etc. Whether it is included within the biology course, or a separate course, all will need to learn about human reproduction and family planning, and adult and child nutrition.

    In this track, all of these required courses will be completed by junior year. In senior year, they will have a variety of elective courses to choose from. If they demonstrate sufficient aptitude, in senior year they can cross over to the honors track for some of those electives. They can continue to take "year 2" of a variety of subjects, or can concentrate on one area of interest in senior year.

    4) Honors track - this is for the academically talented students who are highly likely to attend universities. The course offerings will be similar to the average track, but will go into more depth and learning will be at a faster pace. The exception will be math in which they are expected to complete calculus I at a minimum (calc II will be available for those who are "fast tracking"). In senior year, AP or IB type courses will be offered as electives. Students who drop below a B average on this track will be moved to the average track.

    Some blending can occur between the average and honors track. For example, an honors student who is weaker in history than science can take average level history courses and continue in honors level science courses. Students receiving As in the average track can be eligible for honors level in those subject areas the next year if they choose.

    I would have a district-wide standardized test required for graduation, but it would only test basic skills in reading, writing, math, and civics. Students in the special education track would be exempt from it. The test would be written by teachers in the district, not some big testing service, to focus on skills that are applicable locally for any high school graduate. Students who don't pass will not graduate and will be retained an additional year or required to attend summer school for remediation.

    My dictatorship will be somewhat democratic, though. Every 5 years, I would meet with all the district teachers in a given subject area (on a rotating basis so I was always aware of current issues in the district) for a workshop to determine what the minimum competencies would be for graduation, because these may change from time to time and we should adapt with changing times and needs of the students. Once the minimum was established, teachers would be free to choose whatever methods they thought were appropriate to teach those topics, and any additional time they could use to teach any other material relevant to the subject that they wanted to teach.

    My ideal dictatorship would also allow me to pay my teachers to take summer courses in their subject areas or in education at the nearest university so they can stay current in their topic. If they find other summer internship or research experience type opportunities, I would also pay them to participate in those programs. Basically, I don't want my teachers spending their summers working in retail, but would rather pay them to continually update their education. I'm going to require they do a summer program at least once every 5 years for renewal of their contract, be it taking a new course, a research internship, a workshop, or continuing education classes, but will make it an available option every summer.

    So, basically, as dictator for life, I would identify subject areas that I thought were important for student of various paths and abilities to take, but would leave the details of the curriculum to the consensus of the teachers of each subject. I would primarily facilitate those meetings to ensure they are accountable and do design a curriculum that's reasonably rigorous, but can be adapted every so often as society shifts what is important.
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