Educative Curriculum Materials, Part 3: Teachers as Creators

Happy Friday, everyone. Welcome back to Part 3 of my series of educative curriculum materials.

Two weeks ago I wrote about how I worried that curriculum materials were overspecified in ways that could be suppressing pedagogical design capacity.

Last week I wrote about how I thought translations of some of the information in curriculum materials into different forms of media might help in efforts to invite the development of pedagogical design capacity while also supporting it.

This week, I’m thinking about the potential of digital curriculum materials from a different angle. One of my lab mates, who works as a technology coach at a middle school, mentioned last week that one of the broad goals at her school this year is to help kids become not mere consumers of technology, but creators. This got me thinking: The translations of information I discussed last week, powerful as they might be, still position teachers as consumers of curriculum materials and not creators. On this particular dimension, nothing I’ve said so far really moves the needle.

Is there a way to use a digital platform to place teachers in a creative role as they work with curriculum materials? Even if it’s possible, is it something to strive for?

I’ve written before about why I think taking teachers’ roles as designers of curriculum is important, and why a digital platform is a place to do it. The short version is this: Making a digital curriculum manipulable — maybe even “programmable” (Hoyles & Noss, 2003) — has the potential to make curriculum developers’ intentions visible in a new way. Allowing teachers to make adaptations within the system and see effects of their adaptations could communicate the rationale for some of the design decisions made by the curriculum developers at a point in time when that information is useful to teachers — that is, when they are considering an adaptation that may or may not be aligned with the original intent of the activity, lesson, or unit.

So, that’s why positioning teachers as creators of some sort is something worth exploring. A question that remains, though, is what parts of curriculum materials creation are best left to teachers, and what parts curriculum developers are better positioned to do. Asking teachers to design curriculum from scratch is, after all, a really tall order with everything else they are expected to do. What can I, as a curriculum developer outside of the classroom, do to support teachers while still respecting their roles in the design and creation process?

As I’ve reflected on this issue this week, I’ve realized that I’m not the only person to have thought about this. To close out this series, I thought I’d highlight a couple of examples of research that discusses teachers as creators of curriculum and think about what those studies suggest about the most fruitful divisions of labor between curriculum developers and teachers.

First, de Araujo, Otten, and Birisci (2017) shared a case study of a teacher implementing a flipped classroom model for the first time. The teacher followed a textbook as she created lecture videos she expected students to watch before they came to class. Then students spent class time working on problems by themselves or in groups. The authors found that with these videos available as a resource, students did not reference the textbooks much, even while working on problems. They also noted that while the teacher used much of the content from the textbook, she did make some significant changes in terms of adding or skipping content. As such, the videos could be considered a curriculum material in and of themselves — one created by the teacher. This provides one model of the line between curriculum developer and teacher in terms of materials creation. Perhaps curriculum developers simply keep doing what they’re doing, and teachers use video or other digital creation tools to create a new version of the materials that suit their particular needs.

Relatedly, Bates (2017) described an effort to build a tool that allowed for direct adaptation of a pre-created curriculum resource. She and her collaborators created a digital mini-version of a curriculum as described in a textbook and built in tools that allowed teachers to re-order, “snooze,” or skip activities. When teachers made these changes, they received feedback about the potential implications. For example, if they deleted an activity that was intended as an important prerequisite for a later activity, they were advised that additional adjustments may be needed to compensate. Thus, like the teacher in the above flipped classroom study, teachers using Bates’ tool were also creating new versions of an existing textbook. The difference, in this case, is that teachers received feedback on their changes. This additional feature changes the roles a bit: curriculum developers create the first version of the curriculum and also serve as advisors (of sorts) on the process of adaptation, through the provision of automated feedback.

Finally, a third research team (Confrey, Gianopulos, McGowan, Shah, & Belcher, 2017) built a different kind of tool. Called the Math Mapper, their tool allowed teachers to select and sequence resources pulled from other sources (often the Internet), then receive feedback on the coherence of their chosen sequence of activities. This model changes the roles yet again. Here, teachers create the first version of their curriculum, and the curriculum developers serve as advisors (through feedback) on how to make improvements.

It’s not clear which one of these is the most productive approach. Most likely, different approaches will be best suited to different contexts. The first version, where teachers create their own versions of curriculum, is more or less what happens with any implementation, although the videos allow the textbook to be eliminated altogether. Such an approach works well for many teachers, but not always. That’s what makes me believe that the two kinds of feedback systems, discussed in Bates (2017) and Confrey et al. (2017), are worthy of further investigation. Effective feedback systems for teachers creating curriculum will be a huge challenge to create, but I have a feeling it will be a worthwhile effort.


Bates, M. S. (2017). Leveraging digital tools to build educative curricula for teachers: two promising approaches. ZDM, 49(5), 675-686.

Confrey, J., Gianopulos, G., McGowan, W., Shah, M., & Belcher, M. (2017). Scaffolding learner-centered curricular coherence using learning maps and diagnostic assessments designed around mathematics learning trajectories. ZDM – Mathematics Education, 49(5), 717–734.

de Araujo, Z., Otten, S., & Birisci, S. (2017). Teacher-created videos in a flipped mathematics class: digital curriculum materials or lesson enactments? ZDM – Mathematics Education, 49(5), 687–699.

Hoyles, C., & Noss, R. (2003). What can digital technologies take from and bring to research in mathematics education?. In Second international handbook of mathematics education (pp. 323-349). Springer Netherlands.


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