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If you've ever thought that a computerized lesson planner would be helpful, here's something you'll want to take a look at. And it's free...

Curriculum Planner

By Bill MacKenzie

planner.jpg (24373 bytes)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

Currently the ministry is using the Ontario Curriculum Centre protocol for determining the quality of submitted units.

Why Now?
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 "backward design."

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.

Expectations Organized
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 task.

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 the classroom.

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 welcome tool.

Bill MacKenzie is an Intermediate teacher who is currently the information technology support teacher for the Upper Grand District School Board.