Curriculum Making 101 (Part 2 of 3)

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NOTE: This is Part Two in a series of posts coming out of a Curriculum Bootcamp we held at Youth Radio this fall to introduce a small group of young people to the process of creating learning experiences for peers. It’s part of a larger effort within Youth Radio’s new Innovation Lab for young people, working in partnership with veteran educators, to develop materials that will enable teachers and learners everywhere to engage youth in media and tech creation.

groupA Teaching State of Mind

Now that we all had a general understanding of the innovation lab and its mission (see day one blog post), it was time for our team to think about the skills people would need to build a multimedia storytelling platform. We also wanted to think about the way people learned in order to build an effective curriculum over the course of the year. In other words, it was time to get in touch with our inner teachers.

To help our young curriculum planners think about curriculum, we brought in two former classroom teachers, Robyn Gee and Teresa Chin, to lead the day’s activities.

What Make a Good Lesson?

The group started the day with the icebreaker prompt, “Think back to a great  learning experience or lesson that has stuck with you. What made it so memorable?”

A few responses:

  • A math teacher who taught the quadratic equation by having the students chant it aloud every day with enthusiasm

  • A martial arts teacher who taught breathing techniques by sparring with students and physically tapping them when they didn’t do it right

  • A science teacher who demonstrated the importance of water conservation by having students brush their teeth over a bucket and then noting how much water they used

  • A humanities teacher who taught about middle eastern history by having students debate issues relating to Israeli/Palestinian conflict and then arranging for a Skype interview with a person who lived in Tel Aviv.

  • A science teacher who had students assemble the modern continents from a paper map of Pangea . When the “plates” moved together, the paper scrunched into mountains.

Based on these anecdotes, the young team members came up with a list of characteristics that great lessons/teacher shared:

What to do/characteristics of good lessons:

What not to do:

  • Interactive

  • If lecture, include discussion

  • Individual experience sharing

  • Charismatic teachers

  • Clear, simple instructions

  • Visual aspect

  • Surprise/attention-grabbing/a-ha moment/reveal

  • Inclusiveness

  • More than one teacher/resource/voice

  • Credibility

  • Small class size/small groups

  • Stakes

  • Dynamic/audible

  • Competition (when done well)

  • Incentive

  • Turn the lights off AND be boring

  • Shaming (but it works for some)

  • Teacher is too quiet to hear

  • All lecture













One of the main points that emerged from our discussion was that many people had different ideas of what made a good lesson. Some of the young people liked lectures, while others said they needed to move around to learn. We took a few minutes for students take a multiple learning styles quiz to learn more about their personal learning styles, and reinforce their awareness that a good curriculum would need to address different types of learners.

TIP #1: Remember that your learning style isn’t necessarily your students’ learning style. Build curriculum that touches on multiple intelligences.

The Importance of (Lesson) Order

Now that all group members were aware of the importance of learning styles, it was time to start thinking about how they came into play when building an actual curriculum.

The students were split into two groups made up of three students, one from the media education department, one from the app lab, and one from the newsroom. They were handed an envelope containing small bits of paper with the names of various pre-written social media lessons on them, as well as a few blank pieces of paper.

They were given 15 minutes to order the pieces of paper and build a Facebook 101 curriculum (they could add or subtract lessons if they wanted to).about how they came into play when building an actual curriculum. To put this concept into practice, Robyn and Teresa had students come up with a lesson plan order for a fake class on the basics of Facebook. The target audience was set to be adults who were unfamiliar with the basics of social media.


LESSONS (cut up on separate pieces of paper) – in no particular order.

*What is Facebook/Social Media? (PRESET AS THE FIRST LESSON)

* How to create a profile

* Friends — how to add them, how to delete them

* Security – how to adjust what someone sees in your profile

* History of social media

* Benefits and drawbacks — when is FB worth it?

* Promotion — how to get the most out of your updates?

* Troubleshooting – what happened to all my friends, password hacking, etc

* How to post a status and check other people’s profiles. What shows up in my newsfeed?

* Facebook alternatives

* Deleting your profile — what to do when you’ve had enough

* Screening for catfish

* Facebook for professionals/businesses – how to set up your own like page

The two groups’ curricula had several similarities. They both agreed that the deleting your profile lesson should be followed by Facebook alternatives, and both should come at the beginning of the curriculum. They also listed simple hands-on skills, like how to create a profile, before more sophisticated use lessons, like Facebook for professionals/businesses.

Tip #2: Balance “passive” lecture and “active” hands-on lessons in order to engage students of various learning types. Don’t have too many of the same in a row if you can help it!

Tip #3: When ordering lessons, start with what skills you want students to be able to do at the end of the unit, and work your way backwards.

But the curricula also differed in interesting ways. The groups disagreed on the best way to start the class. One group wanted to get theory (History of social media, benefits and drawbacks) in the beginning so students could wrap their heads around the concepts before they committed to the use of the technology. The other group wanted students to engage with the hands-on portions right away, starting with setting up your profile and friending before learning about the potential drawbacks of the technology.

Tip #4: Making a curriculum is like cooking eggs – we all have own style, and there is more than one way to get the job done!

The day ended with a discussion of the concept of “scaffolding,” a teaching term that refers to when teachers activate prior knowledge when introducing a new concept. The group reflected on the importance at various times of both teacher modeling and letting students dive right into a new concept — essentially allowing them to learn via hands-on trial and error before informing them about best practices or common mistakes.

Tip #5: Modeling is important, but students also learn by making mistakes. When teaching a new skill, you sometimes want to order lessons in such a way as to force students to figure things out via trial and error.

For more “teaching about teaching,” check out our next blog post: Lesson Planning on Day 3 of our curriculum boot camp!


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