January 26, 2011 // Local

Teachers work with Notre Dame to develop curriculum

By Judy Bradford
Developing a curriculum can be a lonely, arduous task.
But the job has become a fun way for teachers in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend to share ideas and grow professionally, through a project sponsored by the Alliance for Catholic Education at the University of Notre Dame.
An interactive web-based project called Collaborative for Academic Excellence allows selected teachers to work together as they create a social studies curriculum for kindergarten through 12th grade.
“Instead of one person sitting down to do it, it means putting more heads together, which means more experience,” said Sara Moeller, a seventh- and eighth-grade literature and social studies teacher at St. Jude Catholic School in Fort Wayne.
Moeller, like the other 119 participating teachers, attended a week-long workshop last summer to kick off the project. By the end of this summer, they will be done. And because they are sharing their ideas with diocesan teachers in Memphis, Tucson, Phoenix and Tallahassee, the project will become national in scope.
Moeller especially likes how geography has become integrated into each two-to four-week unit.
“Geography can be boring on its own, just teaching countries, but if it’s blended with history, it becomes contextually exciting,” she said.
The project also gives teachers the latitude to seamlessly incorporate a Catholic identity — and share ideas on how to do that. Moeller says that gets really exciting for the eighth-graders, in particular, because they study freedom of religion.
“When we talk about the beginnings of the United States, and our freedoms, we talk about the candidates and their beliefs, and how our rights are protected. This way, we can integrate the Catholic identity all year long, instead of just talking about it for two weeks.”
Second-grade teachers have been able to share ideas on how to fit the U.S. bishops’ Faithful Citizenship theme into their lessons, says Kathy Wanecke, who teaches second grade at St. Monica School in Mishawaka.
“As we work on social studies, we can really tie into how we become a faith-filled citizen. That’s what is so beautiful about a Catholic education,” she adds.
Wanecke also likes the logical cohesiveness of the lesson plans that are being developed. “The stepping stones are going to be more visible, and there will be a nice flow. Students will be building upon what they’ve already learned, and the process is broken down to the three levels of K through grade 2, 3 through 5, and 6 through 8.”
Wanecke loves how the project fosters a sense of community among teachers. “At our school, we only have one class per each grade level, so I’m the only second-grade teacher there. It’s been wonderful to get together with other second-grade teachers.”
Participating teachers, who were chosen by the principals, enjoy the secure but user-friendly website where they can easily link with teachers across the diocese, see what’s been suggested for curriculum, and make their own suggestions. They then report back to other teachers at faculty meetings so all teachers in their buildings know what’s happening with the project.
Particularly helpful are the ideas they share on how to support struggling students — and, challenge more successful students. Lesson plans will also engage different learning styles and apply other best practices.
And, teachers won’t be stopping at social studies. Beginning in June, the teachers will start on foreign language and math lesson plans. Other subject areas will follow.
“It’s a process that follows (the concept of) understanding by design,” says Marsha Jordan, associate superintendent of the diocesan schools. “You know what your final outcome is, and you work up to that. It’s a real solid way of developing curriculum so that systemwide, we’re following the same guidelines, and addressing national and state standards.”
And, not doing it alone.
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