By Bill MacKenzie
The Ministry of Education is currently piloting a
software program that most teachers are likely to find extremely useful in helping them to
better organize their lesson planning.
In light of the recent dramatic changes to the curriculum, the Ministry
of Education has engaged a company of software designers to work with Ontario educators to
develop a tool to help them in the writing and sharing of curriculum units.
The Curriculum Planner is not only an organizational tool but also a
valuable resource. The program consists of curriculum expectations for every grade and
subject area, teacher companions for special education, ESL, evaluation, teaching and
learning strategies, sample units constructed using the Curriculum Planner, bibliographies
on a broad range of educational subjects, examples of student work and information on
ministry-licensed software. That's quite a package.
The Learning Curve
As you can imagine, the Curriculum Planner is a large
program, taking over 100 MB of hard drive space, and learning the program will require a
considerable outlay of time. The ministry has just announced that it is providing funding
support to boards for the equivalent of one day of release time for one teacher per school
for training on this software.
By standardizing the way in which teachers create units, the Ministry of
Education is providing an electronic means for the sharing of material across the
province. The ministry has included in the Curriculum Planner several units that are not
only illustrative examples but also classroom-ready lesson plans. So far, only elementary
units are available. Material for secondary teachers will be ready in the near future.
Material created using the Curriculum Planner can be downloaded to a
floppy disk and shared with others. A web site has been developed where new units can be
downloaded over the Internet. Teachers may also send in their units to be considered for
posting on the web site, which is located at plandev.media-x.com.
Currently the ministry is using the Ontario Curriculum Centre protocol
for determining the quality of submitted units.
With the demise of the Common Curriculum, the ministry has
moved in a new philosophical direction. Recognizing these changes, the designers of the
Curriculum Planner have relied upon the work of Grant Wiggins, amongst others, for models
of how best to organize meaningful lessons. The Curriculum Planner embraces the idea of
Teachers begin by identifying expected learning objectives for students.
The Curriculum Planner provides an easily searchable database of all ministry
expectations. Next, teachers determine how best to impart this information in a meaningful
way. A variety of teaching strategies is listed. Finally, teachers must determine how they
will know that students have learned the assigned material. They can choose evaluation
techniques and recording methods that are provided in the planner.
By putting expectations first, the designers of the Curriculum Planner
make teachers more aware of the curriculum and steer educators away from teaching what is
merely familiar or of interest.
In prioritizing the learning expectations at the beginning of the
planning process, the importance of accountability is emphasized. Teachers in Ontario are
increasingly accountable to both their administrators and parents with respect to the
curriculum. The planner provides a helpful tool to assure all concerned parties that the
expectations are being met.
Given the large number of expectations, the Curriculum
Planner can generate a useful record of what has been taught. For example, an Intermediate
teacher with a split Grade 7/8 class has over 1,000 expectations to cover. Without some
tool to stay organized, even the most experienced of teachers would find this a daunting
Not all expectations are created equal, however. While the Curriculum
Planner does provide a method of tracking and organizing expectations, it does not provide
any helpful strategy for assigning a priority to them. Teachers should look to their
division chairs and administration for guidance in this area. The Curriculum Planner is,
nevertheless, a helpful tool assuring both the teacher and their administrator that a
variety of teaching strategies, assessment methods and student groupings are being used in
As a database, the Curriculum Planner can quantify the various
expectations and strategies that a teacher uses, not only for one unit or even for a given
subject area, but for a whole term or entire year. For example, a teacher can create a
profile that includes all the subjects he or she has taught during the year. The profile
will compile all the expectations, strategies and resources that a teacher has used into a
neat summary that can then be shared with an administrator.
The Curriculum Planner is being introduced now because of the widespread
use of computers by teachers. With the implementation of the electronic report card, most
teachers have a basic working knowledge of computers and databases.
Who is it For?
This software isn't for everyone. Teachers with banker
boxes lining the shelves of their garages and classrooms may take one look at this program
and roll their eyes in disbelief. Highly experienced teachers will have to spend hours not
only learning a new program but inputting their lessons into the Curriculum Planner. For
many nearing retirement, this may seem like a waste of time.
Less experienced or new teachers, on the other hand, may look at the
planner as a godsend. Here is a program where everything is clearly laid out and
explained. If you are just finding your way in the profession, the Curriculum Planner may
be for you. As a teacher with almost 10 years experience, I look upon the planner as a
Bill MacKenzie is an Intermediate teacher who is
currently the information technology support teacher for the Upper Grand District School