What is Curriculum?

Curriculum. A word I have head for many years, but until I became a student in the Faculty of Education had not really given much thought to as I have really only understood it to be a word pertaining to education. So what is it? Well, as I began my 4th semester in education, my definition of curriculum was:

  • An outline of the expectations to be learned at a given grade level across all subject areas. These outcomes are determined by the ministry of education and all teachers are to follow and complete them in their teaching. They are to be used to guide the teaching, not dictate how the concepts are to be taught. It is up to the classroom teacher to determine in what order and by what methods the outcomes will be learned by the students.

But is that really what curriculum is?

My experiences with curriculum and learning in elementary and high school were very traditional for the most part. We learned from the textbooks that were provided by the school, wrote tests, and occasionally wrote some assignments or papers, or did some projects based on the information we were learning. I very seldom had teachers who went “off book” to teach anything. It was those teachers who went beyond the textbook though, who have stayed with me to this day. I had a teacher in grade 6 who would give us visual word puzzles (rebus puzzles) to expand our minds and vocabulary, and would read to us from books like the Horrible Histories series to show us that there was more to history than boring facts. In grade 7 I had a teacher who had us plan a pretend trip to Arizona (I seriously thought it was real at first!) to practice our math skills, and had us create our own bands, complete with album covers and tour itineraries, as part of art and social studies projects. It was these projects and teachers who showed me that curriculum doesn’t have to be boring, but why then, do I write such a boring answer to the question of what is curriculum?

I think that this comes from a societal “norm” of having to give the “correct” answer, or the one that is perhaps most common. I know that curriculum is encompassing of all learning, and is more about the experiences that students have, rather than the government mandated list of expected outcomes for each grade level. I feel like I often get caught up in thinking that there is a “right” and a “wrong” answer, and since I want to do well in my courses, I should give the “right” answer, meaning the one that is expected. I think that this is often the case with the understanding of curriculum by in-service teachers also. Everyone is so concerned with doing the right thing, pleasing the parents, the faculty and the government, that they sometimes forget that education is an experience, and encompasses more than just what is in a textbook or on a list of outcomes. Sure, there are certain areas that each grade level focuses on, but why must we get so caught up on only those lists and the “rules”? Are we limiting what we teach our students and how we do it?

Sir Ken Robinson has some great thoughts on this:

I really appreciate his thought that kids aren’t afraid to be wrong! Yet I think that traditional education creates a structure that makes us think we can’t be wrong and that there is only one right answer. I think that the way we typically think of curriculum totally supports this idea. We think, as teachers, that there’s only one curriculum and that we must teach it in the “right” way. How can we change that?


I think I’ll go watch some more videos now! I really enjoy Sir Ken Robinson’s perspectives on education and human potential and am excited to try and apply some more of these thoughts to our conversations on curriculum, and was blown away by the young boy’s interpretation of “what do you want to be when you grow up” and how to bring happiness, health, and creativity into the curriculum. Who knows, maybe I’ll be an education hacker!

One thought on “What is Curriculum?

  1. Julie Anne Machnaik says:

    We do DO school well, don’t we! The traditional way of learning and knowing is so engrained in us – we have to disrupt what we’ve come to think of as ‘common sense’ (but I’m sure you’ll have some views on that in future postings). 🙂 Your understanding of curriculum is growing as you reflect on your own school experiences – I would love to meet your Gr. 7 teacher – at least you experienced how curriculum can be interpreted differently. Sir Ken Robinson IS inspirational – so what ‘curriculum reconceptualist theorists’ do you think have influenced his philosophy of teaching and learning?

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